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« Box Office Report - No Good Dolphin Tale | Main | TIFF Awards Brunch, Or 'But I Saw So Many Movies!' »
Sunday
Sep142014

TIFF: "Still Alice," or Adjust Your Best Actress Charts

The final TIFF feature review. Whew, 25 films screened and written up. And all by closing night! Please give me a round of applause in the comments. I've never been this successful at managing a festival and comments are the only way I know you're appreciating it.

When we first meet Dr Alice Howland in this fine film adapated from the bestseller by Lisa Genova, she is celebrating her 50th birthday. She's happily married to Dr. John Howland (Alec Baldwin) with three grown children whom she adores though she isn't exactly a perfect mother or wife, at least as defined by your typical movie woman, in which case she'd be inordinately obsessed with her husband and children's particulars. In fact, she almost entirely defines herself by her own career and skills (imagine that!) as a respected linguistics professor.  She values articulate communication and higher education and maybe she isn't super imaginative about other forms of expression. In fact, she's downright dismissive about her youngest daughter Lydia's (Kristen Stewart) interest in acting. She gives her a continual hard time about her education and career and is frustratingly absent from all of Lydia's minor triumphs. 

More...

Kristen Stewart is making good choices, upping her game by way of great costars

Alice forgets her train of thought and words here and there but if we weren't watching a movie this might come across as normal slips and at first she takes them as such. But on an evening run she seems to lose her way and her wits entirely once she reaches her college, hyperventilating like a Carol White in a garage -- [safe] (1995) reference coming at'cha. It can't be helped and it's a good sign -- the peripheries of the space around her eerily white and out of focus. At this point she can no longer deny it and sees a doctor fearing a brain tumor. The news is actually much worse: early onset Alzheimers.

From that point forward it's alternating tears, clear-eyed determination (video and text instructions Alice records for herself are at first curious and then harrowing in their matter-of-factness with a tremendously strong payoff late in the film), and a very rapid decline aided in part by quick time jumps in the editing. (Alzheimers has to be one of the most vicious cleverly evil diseases ever and it turns out those with the most active brains lose their mental capacity and memories even more quickly -- at least that's what I think I learned through my stunned wide-eyed horror at watching my Julianne get progressively spacier.) 

30 ROCK reunion alert! Baldwin ♥ MooreStill Alice is confidently told and acted and though Julianne Moore is the main attraction - as well she should be: one line reading of "I have Alzheimers" is crazy brilliant in a throwaway funny way -- the ensemble gets more attention than you might think. That's true particularly of Lydia with whom Alice has the most difficult but actually closest relationship. Alice's attempts to connect with her daughter through a play (Angels in America as it turns out) which is clearly way beyond her mental capacity at that stage in her decline is sweetly tragic. Glatzer and Westmoreland watch all of this with careful attention but always in a low-key slice of life way. That subdued observation might limit Still Alice's operatic and tear-jerking potential as a story about tragic identity loss but it heightens its sensitivity as a compassionate film guide to readjusting expectations and reaching for tiny triumphs in the face of an inexplicably cruel and degenerative illness.

Alice is rapidly losing Alice and one day she'll be gone completely, a stranger in the mirror. But with this touching feature, Julianne Moore beautifully reclaims Julianne Moore. An Oscar run can't be far behind.

the best scene in Still Alice. I shan't spoil it for you.

Grade: B+
Oscar Chances: a Best Actress nomination should lock up the moment this reaches movie theaters and thus becomes eligible. It's the type of low key low budget indie that is most likely to be reduced in the awards imagination to simply a baity hook for its Oscar-free star to finally catch one. But if it goes over well in limited release (and it might) we could theoretically see some excitement around Alec Baldwin or Kristen Stewart in support or the Adapted Screenplay.

P.S. Yes, I've updated my Best Actress Predictions Chart accordingly! The rest of the charts will follow this week.

P.P.S. Full Disclosure: In the late 90s and early 00s I was good online friends with Richard Glatzer who co-directed and co-wrote this film with his partner Wash Westmoreland. I met Richard in person for the first time when he was with Julianne Moore's group at a special screening of Far From Heaven the first time I met her in Los Angeles, 12 years back. Suffice it to say it's a happy twist of fate that this was the surprise word of mouth success at TIFF an even bigger surprise to me (I wasn't aware of its existence somehow pre-fest) and with Julianne Moore as its buzzy leading lady no less!

P.P.P.S. 25 films, all reviewed! Alpha Order
1001 Grams
Behavior
Charlie's Country 
Cub 
The Farewell Party
Force Majeure
Foxcatcher
The Gate
The Imitation Game
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Labyrinth of Lies
The Last Five Years
Life in a Fishbowl
A Little Chaos
Miss Julie
Mommy
The New Girlfriend
Out of Nature
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Sand Dollars
Song of the Sea
Still Alice
The Theory of Everything
Wild
Wild Tales

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Reader Comments (42)

Take a bow, Nathaniel, you've earned it! This coverage was insane... in a good way. You must be tired and you got NYFF next, don't you? You in sleep deprivation, girl! ;) lol

I think we're all very grateful for your hard work. Yay!

And I'm very happy for Julianne Moore. After the races of 2002, she of all people has deserved this weak year. At this point, I need her to walk away with the Oscar. Which is sad because I wanted the same thing for Amy Adams. But I love Juli the longest so she should get it.

Amy Adams has the momentum going for her. Julianne Moore the 'honor the career/it's about time' buzz. Which will prevail? From what the Viola v Meryl showdown has shown us, I'm putting my money on Juli.

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJay

I have absolutely adored the TIFF coverage and I appreciate it even more knowing that you are only one person and you sacrificed much in the way of sleep and sanity to make it happen.

I am very excited for Stil Alice, though I also knew nothing about it until it premiered. I'm surprised by how much i'm looking forward to all these new Kristen Stewart projects!

September 14, 2014 | Registered CommenterMargaret de Larios

I'm wondering if an Into the Woods hit crashes the party how will
the nominations shake out ?

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark

I didn't like Westmoreland and Glatzer's Last of Robin Hood, so I'm going to remain skeptical on Still Alice until I see it. Maybe it's for the best? Low expectations, high rewards?

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKacey

Thank you so much for the great coverage, Nathaniel. I noticed there was a post or two where nobody had commented, but don't think we weren't reading-- it's just hard to comment when the films are obscure!

Not to be greedy, but I'm crossing my fingers for a podcast with you, Nick, and whoever else was at the fest. Last year's was so wonderful.

But thanks again!

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I apperciate you Nathaniel for your TIIFF coverage as someone who can never go. I have been following this film probably more then most mainly because of my love for Moore who I feel is one of the greatest actresses working today and it is wrong she does not have at least one oscar to her name. When Maps to the Stars was taken out of the running I was upset but now with Still Alice surprising many it seems Moore entering this weak year for Best Actress could steam role with a role I have heard compared to Julie Christie in Away From Her and Emmanuel Riva in Amour. The only person I fear can stop Moore's long overdue victory is Rosamund Pike who will be playing Amy Dunne which is such a strong and complex role that the whole film will depend on how strong her performance is.

I too am excited to see the work Kristen Stewart will be doing as it seems working with women like Juliette Binoche and Julianne Moore is giving her some of her career best reviews and I put it to Binoche and Moore setting the example of greatness for her and even though I have never really liked her before I cannot wait to see these upcoming performances.

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

holy mother! I was hoping this movie will be released next year instead,So Julianne can winher oscar next year! after a warm-up nomination this year for Maps to The Stars
THIS YEAR IS SUPPOSED TO BE AMY ADAMS'!
I wonder where these all are gonna go in the awards months, Julianne has two vehicle, while I still wish Amy has a great showcase in Big Eyes

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercraver

I have a strong feeling that Jones will be put in supporting (however wrongfully) for fear that she might not best out titans like Adams and Streep, which might be true.

Still, I think most everyone on this site has to be pulling for Moore now, no? No idea if she has a shot at winning, but if she were to get nominated, I think the narrative would be hard to ignore.

Thanks so much for your hard work as always. You're a trooper and your writing is always a pleasure to read.

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

Great coverage! Thanks 😉

*round of applause*

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Congratulations on cramming in 25 movies and reviewing ALL if them! You're a animal!
Looking particularly forward to this one!

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Jordan - i can see why that might happen as well but it's silly since she obviously has a GREAT shot at getting a Best Actress nomination which is a big deal for a rising star.

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Reading your applause comment I couldn't help but picture you doing a Lady Gaga inspired musical about movie festivals: "I live for the applause, applause, applause. Screen me a movie that I'll love. Update the charts now!"

Still Alice sounds great. Love me some Julianne Moore.

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

sad man -- lol. i would have to ape Lady Gaga during her flop period ;)

September 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

But you would be her comeback! Or completely destroy her...we'll see. ;)

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

I'm also with Jordan, Nathaniel, I'm guessing Felicity Jones will go the Jennifer Connelly route and try her luck in Sup Actress.

And I can't say they're wrong to try - that category is still up for grabs, for now the top spots belong to Emma Stone in Birdman (who'd have thought it huh) and Keira Knightley (another who'd have thought it huh) and I don't see anyone besides La Chastain and the Into the Woods ladies (I also have a feeling Meryl will campaign here and Blunt will go lead but we'll see) with ability to play for the win. I don't see a woman emerging from Interstellar with great reviews and I feel Inherent Vice will be too offputting for an Oscar play.

I'd even say Laura Dern and Patricia Arquette are 'in' it, at this point, And even KStew has a chance.

Nathaniel, for curiosity's sake, if Reese, Amy and Julianne are the ones to beat when the race starts, who do you see winning at this point (imagine that Amy delivers a performance of equal caliber of the other two)?

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

I'll repeat myself, thanks for the great articles. Enjoyed them all.

I'm predicting Witherspoon, Moore, Smith, Cotillard (for Two Days, One Night) and either Pike or Woodley. in lead.

Streep, Moore (Maps), Stewart, Knightley and Scott-Thomas supporting (perhaps Dern).

Of course, this could all change depending on what hasn't been seen yet.

I'll go put on my tin hat and wait for the rocks to fly..

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

I can't believe Felicity Jones is in play ... for anything frankly.
She was so stiff and boring in Breathe In ---- it felt completely unrealistic that Guy Pearce,
or any man, or any cinema goer, would ever fall for her.

Same goes for Like Crazy; the whole premise of the movie didn't work because she was so fucking uninteresting ---- you didn't understand why on earth Anton Yelchin, or any man, or any cinema goer, would ever miss her like crazy.

Is she really good in The Theory of Everything?
Or is it just another overrated oscar-baity biopic performance?

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

Great coverage!

What if Maps of the Stars gets released? Do you think it'd split her votes since there is that Cannes win?

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I do not believe for a second that Rosamund Pike will be a threat to anyone in Lead Actress. Adams is a default nominee, Chastain is being underestimated as a potential double nominee this year, Streep is another possible default -- unless her movie is a complete disaster acting wise, Reese is another default, and Moore will have the backing of Sony Pictures Classics after their fantastic run with an overdue Cate Blanchett.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Go get that oscar Julianne Moore! I can't remember another year when the public is actually CAMPAIGNING for an actor to win an oscar. The reaction to the glowing reviews and then to SPC picking it up was amazing. Even the vast majority of fans who wanted other actresses such as Adams to win would be fine with Moore winning. I pity any actress who wins over her.

So thrilled that Kristen Stewart is finally getting deserved praise. She was doing solid indie work long before Twilight and turning in top performances during it (Welcome to the Rileys is a hidden gem). She has made great choices since Twilight and its paying off for her. I can't wait to see Sils Maria. If she can survive the Twilight mania she can survive anything.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

Read and loved every TIFF post! And such a perfect note to end it on

Hope this becomes an annual tradition

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

It really is about time,it's one of those moments some actors get,a "sorry we forgot you" like Jeff in 09 or Morgan in 04 7 Winslet in 08 but i;m sure it's happened over the decades didnt people say Faye's 76 oscar was amake up win.

Moore has been consistent in nearly everything and jhas had snubs in 99 supporting,09 supporting and lead in 2010,if she's as gr8 as most people say then it's an easy get,can't see Reese winning 2,i don't buy the Adams year thing,Pike will have to be WOW to win,Jones will go supporting cos that's a abit dead,and agree with Nat about ChastainInto the woods will flop bad with critics but maybe be a big hit.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

Bravo Nathaniel! For your efficiency, dedication, and hard work. I also really appreciate the way you choose a varied selection of movies and have a thoughtful individual take on them. (I'm a little skeptical about the quick take rapid consensus of some of the TIFF writing elsewhere).

I'm glad to see you choose some of the less prominent films (like Charlie's Country) and hear about them from you. It's also refreshing to have someone taking actresses performances seriously and with great interest. I get a little fatigued by the idea that "serious" movies have male leads and maybe a few supporting actresses.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Great work Nathaniel! One of your best coverage ever so far.

I don't want to sound greedy... but I'd love to read something about Maps To The Stars and the other great 2014 Moore's perfomance: the already iconic Havana Segrand. Did you manage to see a screening? In Italy it has been realeased soon after Cannes and I thought Moore is INCREDIBLE in it.
After 2002 this is a second peak in her career, No one should stop her now.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFerdi

Super job, Nathaniel! So glad you saw a mix of prestige U.S. films and others. My to-be-seen list is much more informed because of your great reviews! Thanks.

I love Julianne Moore but more interested in Map to the Stars. I like when she plays quirky and weird.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

what a great way to finish up the fest - for you and us
(and i love how this film snuck up on you)

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar

ferdi & pam -- i haven't actually seen MAPS TO THE STARS. but will cover it for NYFF. Those screenings start today. I'm so exhausted i have to miss the first two today but i will be back at it in the afternoon.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Still Alice is a great book. I am really happy for Julianne Moore to have this role.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commentershawshank

im sure were all happy that moore might finally get her overdue oscar, but this movie might destroy me. I lost my grandmother to alzheimers and it was arguably my first brush with dealing with death. This one will surely hurt.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

This is me applauding! Thank you so much for your coverage. It's been so interesting to read about all these films, many of which I hadn't heard about until now.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Still think Streep and Swank can knock out Pike and Jones.... Could this be Adams vs. Moore for the overdue Oscar??

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

****Julianne Moore****

Please Oscar gods...this woman should have at least 2 of these already!

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

I really liked Quinceañera, The Fluffer was very interesting and I'm ready to love Julianne again!

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

So happy to hear that Julianne Moore has another great role in a good film! She deserves it.

I've heard that 'Big Eyes' is kind of a dud and Amy Adams is nothing special in it, so I don't think she's much of a threat to win (although I'm certain she will be nominated). Plus, I don't know how anyone could say she is overdue next to Julianne Moore (or overdue at all).

Reese Witherspoon and Rosamund Pike will be Moore's strongest competitors, I think.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike M.

JULIANNE MOORE! The dream is still alive!

Thanks for all your coverage, Nathaniel!

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Julianne Moore took me by surpise. I thought that after Maps to the Stars she was out of the race.
But then she comes out of nowhere with this movie and surprises all.

I hope we get to see her winning the Oscar. I don't think anyone can't stop her now. It would be great if we get to see Kristen Stewart nominated too.

Also, I read some French reviews for Sils Maria and and some mention the Césars. Curious as if they can nominate her. I mean, we gave an Oscar to Marion Cotillard for Edith Piaf (which was not a great movie imo) why can't they give a nomination/win to Kristen?

September 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Still standing – for your ovation!

September 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCapita

capita - *blushes* thanks for the long one.

Laura - interesting thought about the Cesars. now i'm curious too

Mike M -- i've heard differently about Big Eyes. I think we need to wait until there are actual reviews

September 16, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

To think if Reese Witherspoon wins the gold, we would have Reese Witherspoon, 2 times Academy Award winner and Julianne Moore, zero win. Luckily Julianne wasn't nominated in 2005 so if it really happens they won't be the second pair of Hilary Swank and Annette Bening.

Reese Witherspoon is among my top 5 favorite female movie stars ever since I first watched Pleasantville (Julianne Moore is not on the list, I respect her as an actress but that's that. Respect but not overly enthusiastic) so I won't begrudge her another win. But I will feel really bad for Julianne Moore as she does deserve at least one win. Maybe if Reese didn't win for that ghastly biopic role I would've root for her this year. I know it isn't fair and Oscar is never a fair game but she doesn't need another win just yet. Why is everyone winning for the wrong role?

September 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

@PJ
Not everyone is winning for the wrong role. Cate Blanchett wasn't (in Lead). Or Meryl (I mean for SC of course, but personally I don't mind TIL, even though she obviously had better performances, but well, whatever.)
It's about timing, too. You can win even with a lesser performance if you have the final spotlight. Simple as that.
I wish Julianne all the best. I'd feel extremely sorry for any actress that could possebly beat her. The hate would know no limits...

September 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Into the woods poster out- Streep's face on the poster and top billing... May be hard for people to put in a supporting category..

September 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Until we see ITW, it's an unknown quantity. I fear they have changed the story dramatically to fit with Disney.

That said, the witch is difficult to pin down as either lead or feature as it has been presented as both in Broadway productions with no alteration of the book.

Just found the poster. I like it. Certainly seems to fit the piece.

September 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

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