Official tally: 15 movies watched, a dozen photo shoots pulled off, 7,800 hors d'oeuvres consumed in the company of famous people. (Oh, and about a gallon of Runts candies, scored from the glamorous Hollywood Foreign Press Association & In Style party's glorious all-you-can scoop candy station and scarfed under cover of darkness at screenings.)
But we risk exhaustion and malnutrition for a reason: Good movies. Some of them great. And after a promising first half, the second half of the festival delivered big-time, adding powerhouse performances and major A-list Oscar buzz to the mix. Here's some of what we discovered … start planning your fall moviegoing and Oscar pools now!
Reese Witherspoon will make you cry.
Actually, you should blame Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the bestselling memoir Wild about trying to fix her fractured life by setting off on an epic solo hike. Witherspoon and the movie put you inside Strayed's head as she grapples with her literal and figurative baggage and reflects – sometimes just for split seconds – on the death of her mother (Laura Dern), the end of her marriage and her self-destructive slide into drug abuse. Excellent in quieter moments as well as raw emotional ones, Witherspoon shoots to the front of the Best Actress race. Too bad there's not a Best Supporting Scenery award. Or Most Tissues Required.
Jennifer Aniston deserves her awards buzz.
With scars, a back brace and lank hair that would normally make her hairstylist pal Chris McMillan stab himself with his scissors, she's even more de-glammed than Witherspoon. But beyond the superficial, she viscerally makes you believe she's a woman in pain in Cake, playing a bitter, Percocet-popping accident victim who becomes intrigued by a fellow patient's suicide. You'll want to pop at least an Advil just watching her move. And her dark humor makes you care about the character's fate.
Steve Carell can be really, really creepy.
He's utterly transformed as deranged billionaire John E. du Pont in Foxcatcher, looking down his schnoz at the world as he develops an unhealthy obsession with down-and-out wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and Olympic gold. (No, not the same kind of totally warranted obsession the rest of us have with Channing Tatum.) It's a bleak movie, but look for Oscar to recognize the riveting performances by Carell and Mark Ruffalo (as Mark's more well-adjusted brother, Dave), and possibly Tatum too.
Liam Daniel / Focus Features
Creeptastic Carell faces major competition already from Eddie Redmayne, sensationally good in The Theory of Everything conveying the charm, brilliance and supernova-sized stubborn streak of Dr. Stephen Hawking, from his early days as a student through his gradual paralysis by a motor neuron disease. Benedict Cumberbatch faces off against Redmayne in the high-IQ game, smart and spiky as another complicated genius, British codebreaker Alan Turing, in The Imitation Game. And Bill Murray is at his bittersweet, offbeat best in St. Vincent as a cranky Brooklynite who befriends the little boy next door. (Also riding big buzz: Michael Keaton in Birdman, which screened at the Venice Film Festival but not Toronto. He's hilarious as the faded former star of a superhero series trying to direct a Broadway play that's spinning out of control – as the movie spins into some wild, sure-to-be-controversial twists.)
And the ladies…?
Witherspoon seems like a lock for a Best Actress nomination, and possibly Aniston, if Cake gets a distributor and a release date this year. Felicity Jones, as Stephen Hawking's determined wife Jane in The Theory of Everything, could go after a lead or supporting nod. And Julianne Moore, as a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in Still Alice, and maybe Kristen Wiig, as a mentally ill lottery winner in Welcome to Me, could figure into the race.
Of course, it's fun to make early predictions – but we haven't even seen plenty of heavyweight movies yet, from Gone Girl to Christopher Nolan's sci-fi thriller Interstellar to Angelina Jolie's World War II epic Unbroken. One thing's for sure: I'm gonna need more Runts.