Showbiz / We’re Calling It! TIFF 2018 Film “First Man” Will Be A Major Awards Contender

We’re Calling It! TIFF 2018 Film “First Man” Will Be A Major Awards Contender

Showbiz Oct 12, 2018

Director Damien Chazelle and stars Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy deliver a stunning account of Neil Armstrong’s fraught path to the moon. Check out why we think First Man will be a major awards contender. 

Back in 2016, wunderkind writer-director Damien Chazelle used the Toronto International Film Festival as a launching pad for Oscar glory, when La La Land, his dazzling resurrection/reinvention of the classic Hollywood musical, took home the festival’s People’s Choice Award. As is often the case, the People’s Choice mirrored the Academy’s a few months later, as Chazelle nabbed his first Best Director trophy (and, for the briefest of moments, even won Best Picture!).

Two years later, Chazelle returned to TIFF with his follow-up, First Man, a white-knuckle drama charting the long, bloody path to the moon traversed by Neil Armstrong and his fellow pioneering astronauts throughout the 1960s. And while a second People’s Choice nod wasn’t in the cards, Chazelle and his returning La La Land star Ryan Gosling built on the buzz they’d sparked in Venice a few weeks earlier, blasting off into awards season as a prime contender in nearly every major category.


First Man Will Be A Major Awards Contender
TIFF 2018: First Man Will Be A Major Awards Contender: Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy attend the First Man premiere during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival at the Elgin Theatre. Photo Credit: George Pimentel/Getty Images/

When you’re retelling a true story that’s not only widely known, but downright iconic, genuinely hooking your audience can be tough. We know going in that, by the end, Armstrong will inevitably take that “one small step, one giant leap.” So how are we expected to invest in and fret over the earlier missteps that comprise most of the film? What’s more, in terms of pure spectacle, while the sight of men training in the infamous “vomit comet” and soaring through the stars hasn’t been done to death quite yet, grounded outer-space dramas like The Right Stuff, Apollo 13 and more recently Gravity have all trod similar territory to thrilling effect. So how do you stand out?

Perhaps the answer can be traced back to Chazelle’s first film, Whiplash, wherein he managed to turn the story of an aspiring jazz drummer competing for a coveted spot in a music conservatory into an honest-to-God horror movie — taut, unrelenting, borderline-unbearable.

He invests First Man with just that sort of nerve-jangling intensity. Simply put, you’ve never seen space travel shot like this — more visceral and intimate than majestic. Chazelle stays in tight on his astronauts, putting you inside the cockpit right along with them, playing up the fact that these mind-bogglingly primitive buckets-of-bolts could bust apart at any moment.


First Man Will Be A Major Awards Contender
TIFF 2018: First Man Will Be A Major Awards Contender: The film puts the viewer in tight with its trailblazing astronauts. Photo Credit:


When an early mission goes sideways in space and Armstrong is caught in an out-of-control spin, you’re spinning with him, on the verge of passing out. (See this film in IMAX, but for the love of God, don’t sit too close to the screen.)

The action on the ground is, in its own way, almost as enthralling, despite being set in NASA boardrooms and suburban backyards. It’s here that Gosling gets the chance to shine. More than that famous First Step, First Man is concerned with the terrible cost of getting to the moon. As the men he came up with perish in flames, as he himself narrowly avoids the same fate several times over, Armstrong internalizes and compartmentalizes the fear, frustration, anger and grief, stowing it right alongside the death of his two-year-old daughter, whose final moments on this Earth open the film. It’s all fuel, driving his ascent. Playing an American hero, the Canadian heartthrob is a marvel of quiet intensity, again showcasing his talent for hinting at an ocean of troubles beneath still, steely eyes.

He’s ably supported by the rest of the ensemble, including Jason Clarke as Ed White, the first man to walk in space, and Corey Stoll as “Second Man” Buzz Aldrin, the swaggering, camera-friendly foil to Armstrong’s no-nonsense man-on-a-mission.


First Man Will Be A Major Awards Contender
TIFF 2018: First Man Will Be A Major Awards Contender: The relationship between Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and long-suffering wife Janet (Claire Foy) anchors the film’s Earth-bound action. Photo Credit:


But there’s a reason it’s Claire Foy, breakout star of Netflix’s The Crown, who’s given top billing alongside Gosling on the poster. The young Brit delivers a searing, deeply felt performance as Neil’s wife Janet, who bears the weight of lost friends and the constant spectre of death alongside her husband. As Neil inches closer to that big glowing orb in the sky, he also pulls away from her and their two young sons, forcing the ever-supportive but increasingly frustrated Janet to fight, on her own, for their fragile family. More so than Gosling, it’s Foy who’s been at the forefront of Oscar talk coming out of Venice and Toronto.

If there’s a quibble with First Man, it’s that it may be a touch overlong, a touch indulgent in a few extraneous moments it chooses to linger on in this decade-spanning saga. But like the historic event it chronicles, the film’s missteps do little to dwarf the stunning sum of its achievement.


First Man Will Be A Major Awards Contender
TIFF 2018: First Man Will Be A Major Awards Contender: Director Damien Chazelle walks the red carpet during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Photo Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images/


First Man opens wide across North America on Friday, October 12.

Main Image Photo Credit:




Matthew Currie

Matthew Currie


A long-standing entertainment journalist, Currie is a graduate of the Professional Writing program at Toronto’s York University. He has spent the past number of years working as a freelancer for ANOKHI and for diverse publications such as Sharp, TV Week, CAA’s Westworld and BC Business. Currie ...