Toronto Film Festival: 'The Martian,' 'Room' get critics talking

Some of the films that have recently screened at the Toronto Film Festival and that have piqued reviewers' interest include the films 'The Martian,' which stars Matt Damon, and 'Room,' which stars Brie Larson.

Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP
'Room' stars Brie Larson.

As the Toronto Film Festival continues, more movies are piquing critics’ interest and already getting buzz as possible Oscar contenders for later this year. 

The film “The Martian,” which stars Matt Damon as an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars and is directed by science fiction legend Ridley Scott, is getting many positive reviews after having screened in Toronto. The film co-stars many well-known actors, including Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Michael Peña, and Donald Glover. 

The movie is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Andy Weir and is set to be released in theaters this October. That’s a release month that led the 2013 sci-fi movie “Gravity” to box office success.

From Toronto, critics are writing of "Martian," “[Matt Damon’s character] Watney’s [survival] tactics offer a constant sense of excitement,” “smartly made … constantly absorbing rather than outright exciting,” and “enthralling…. [I]t could conceivably rekindle interest in the space program and inspire a new generation of future astronauts.”

However, one critic found the characters who make up the crew on Earth trying to get Mark Watney home to be “stock characters tossing around technical language with no semblance of interior lives” and another called the movie’s ensemble “a galaxy of stars … with very little to do.”

Meanwhile, reviewers were also intrigued by “Room,” a movie starring Brie Larson that’s adapted from the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue. The film, which is directed by Lenny Abrahamson, centers on a woman and her son who are kept captive for years. The son has never experienced anything beyond the small space in which they live. One critic writes that the film is “involving and moderately heartwarming here and there, even if doesn’t reach the higher levels of psychological insight and emotional profundity to which it aspires” although Larson and Tremblay give “strong performances.”

Others were more won over by the movie as a whole as well as the lead actors, with one calling the film “suspenseful and heartrending" and calling Larson "superb,” while another critic wrote, “Larson is a revelation alongside stunning newcomer Jacob Tremblay…. [The movie is] relentlessly compelling.” 

Reviewers are also paying attention to the movie “The Danish Girl,” which stars last year’s Best Actor Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe, formerly Einar Wegener, who underwent what is believed to be one of the first sex reassignment surgeries. 

Many reviewers seem to agree that Redmayne delivers a great performance, with critics writing that he “gives the greatest performance of his career so far” and is “powerful” and “undeniably affecting.” Some, however, were less enamored with the actual film, with critics calling it “slightly stiff … somewhat stodgy” and “a determinedly mainstream melodrama that doesn’t really offer new perspectives [on] its theme.”

History shows that this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner may be one of the films currently being screened in Toronto for movies. The importance of Toronto in the Oscars race has increased over time. The 1999 eventual Best Picture winner “American Beauty” got a lot of attention in Toronto and is often credited with being one of the first movies to receive buzz there that it was able to carry to the Oscars. Since then, recent Best Picture winners like “12 Years a Slave,” “Argo,” “The Artist,” and “The King’s Speech” all appeared at the festival (last year’s Best Picture winner, “Birdman,” did not).

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