The Kick-Off: Toronto International Film Festival

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If you’re an Oscar-watcher, there is no film festival more important than TIFF.  Sure, Cannes may be more prestigious, but for films wanting to generate buzz for the Academy Awards, it’s all about Toronto.  Hollywood studios love to premiere their award contenders at Toronto because it’s relatively cheap, non-competitive and there are a lot of attendees.  For all intents and purposes this festival puts the ball in play and basically starts the Oscar season.

Well, it’s not exactly accurate to say that the festival is “non-competitive.”  While there are no juries and no traditional awards given per se, the Toronto’s attendees rate each film they see.  The highest rated at the end of the festival gets arguably the biggest single boost of the season before the precursor awards: The People’s Choice Award.  Make no mistake, the film that wins this award at the end of the festival – barring some out-of-left-field bizarre choice – automatically becomes a force to be reckoned with for the gold.  Since the start of the new millennium, four People’s Choice winners have been nominated for Best Picture, two have won the top prize, and all but two have had some sort of presence at the Academy Awards.  Last year’s champ?  The King’s Speech.

Several major films will be making an appearance at this year’s event, including:

  • Albert Nobbs – Personal doubts aside, Glenn Close’s fifteen year-long passion project received a lot of love from Telluride.  Many pundits including our own Clayton Davis are pegging her as a front-runner for Best Actress.  Keep an eye also on Janet McTeer as a possible Best Supporting Actress nominee.
  • The Artist – It’s amazing how quickly this silent film went from baffling curiosity to one of the biggest Oscar threats of the season.  While it could be argued that a movie as unique as this one couldn’t possibly win Best Picture, keep in mind that a Bollywood-esque Dickensian fable was outside the beltway of the typical “Oscar film” as well.  Jean Dujardin’s Best Actor buzz has also been heating up.
  • Coriolanus – One of Shakespeare’s finest tragedies gets a gritty modern adaptation, and Vanessa Redgrave has been chalked up as a front-runner for Supporting Actress.
  • A Dangerous Method – I’ve been seriously worried about this film ever since its mixed reception at Venice.  I really hope that Cronenberg hasn’t neutered himself for an Oscar push.  To make matters worse, the play itself is decent but nothing to write home about.  Fingers crossed…
  • The Descendants – Alexander Payne practically invented the modern bittersweet mid-life crisis dramedy with Sideways in 2004.  But in seven years what was groundbreaking is now the norm.  Will he be able to blow us away yet again?
  • Drive – Not much to speculate that hasn’t already been said, except our own Joey Magidson will publishing an early (and very enthusiastic) review of this highly anticipated thriller from Nicolas Winding Refn very soon.
  • The Ides of March – One of the most buzzed-about contenders of the fest, George Clooney’s adaptation of Farragut North could be very topical given the current political climate.  Then again, the Venice crowd was relatively unenthused by this one.  We’ll keep an eye on it, regardless…
  • Like Crazy – The darling of Sundance could definitely top this festival as well.  If it does, Drake Doremus’ romance will be in a prime position for “indie darling” status of the Oscar season.
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene – This disturbing thriller about a young girl who escapes from an abusive cult in the Catskill Mountains won an award for Sean Durkin’s direction at Sundance and is already being called “the next Winter’s Bone” (whether or not that’s a good thing I leave up to you).
  • Melancholia – Lars “I’m a Nazi” von Trier’s ostensibly most depressing film yet will probably not win any populist awards, let alone the Toronto Prize.  Still, Kirsten Dunst could be a serious player for Best Actress if it provokes in a big way.
  • Moneyball – So far the only review that has trickled in for Bennett Miller’s baseball drama is a very enthusiastic take from Jeffrey Wells.  Not the most credible source, I admit, but he does mention to some interesting possibilities, not least of which are the Best Supporting Actor chances of Jonah Hill.
  • Rampart – Oren Moverman’s The Messenger was a sensitive, painful drama about possibly the worst job in the world.  He returns with Ice Cube and Woody Harrelson to recall the Rampart scandal that befell an anti-gang unit of the Los Angeles Police Department and indirectly led to James Hahn’s defeat by Antonio Villaraigosa for Mayor of L.A.  The police procedural drama has become somewhat overcrowded in recent years, but perhaps Morverman’s film can breathe new life into it.
  • Shame – Most readers know by now my immense admiration for Steve McQueen’s Hunger, and the raves out of Venice have only increased by anticipation for this film about a sex addict and his relationship with his equally troubled sister.  Such sexually explicit material will most likely be an anathema to the Academy, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from seeing it if it delivers.
  • Take Shelter – I have long asserted that Michael Shannon is far more of a contender than pundits are currently predicting, and I think that the buzz for this acclaimed psychological thriller will only grow at Toronto.
  • W.E. – Yeah, yeah, I know that Madonna’s period piece about Wallis Simpson was eviscerated at Venice.  But come on…aren’t you at least a little curious?  Plus, I smell a Best Costume Design nomination…
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar, to me, is a gold standard of improving a book through cinematic interpretation.  Here, she tackles Lionel Shriver’s compelling but flawed epistolary account of maternal ambivalence with Tilda Swinton, who may actually *gasp* get her first Best Actress nomination.  I swear, you’d think she was making the movie just for me…

Most importantly, though, our own John Foote will be there, publishing his TIFF Diaries throughout his time at the fest.  We will be one of the few Oscar sites that have a direct representative there, so remember stop by The Awards Circuit often for the latest scoops from the Toronto International Film Festival!