Was it really only a year ago that Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore launched their eventually victorious Oscar campaigns for “The Theory of Everything” and “Still Alice” at the Toronto International Film Festival? How time flies. Both thespians are back with new projects at the festival, and one thing is clear: They’re doubling down for another shot at Oscar.
There’s certainly historical precedence for an actor to dominate the Academy Awards in consecutive years — looking at you, Tom Hanks — but it takes that rare combination of material and timing. Last year, Redmayne turned in a career-defining performance as Sir Stephen Hawking in a role that checked a lot of the right boxes for awards season glory: the true story element, the disability angle, the triumph over adversity and an impressive degree of physical transformation.
Redmayne decided to take that “transformation” ball and run with it. His Best Actor win follow-up finds him playing Lili Elbe, a transgender pioneer and one of the first trans women to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. Early reviews for “The Danish Girl,” which debuted at Venice before coming to TIFF, suggest that Redmayne’s work is even stronger here than in last year’s winning role. Better get that tux dry-cleaned.
As for Moore, her devastating work in “Still Alice” might not have been a true story, but it was still riveting — so much so that Oscar buzz started for her at the film’s TIFF premiere before it even had a distributor or a release date.
So how is she following that up? With “Freeheld,” in which Moore plays a gay woman battling cancer — and unjust marriage laws. And this one is based on a true story. Moore stars as Laurel Hester, a decorated detective in Ocean County, New Jersey, who just wanted to have her police pension transfer over to her domestic partner (Ellen Page) and ended up sparking a turning point in the fight for marriage equality.
As Oscar bait goes, that’s a pretty stacked deck — true story, triumph over adversity, facing discrimination, cancer. But the recent Supreme Court triumph for marriage equality could actually work against “Freeheld,” turning a look at galling injustice into an interesting footnote in the history of an eventual triumph.
So will the Oscar follow-up gambits of Redmayne and Moore pan out, leading them to dual repeat showings at the Academy Awards? It’s not that unlikely a prospect, actually — but then again, it’s still a long way to Feb. 28.