Toronto Film Fest 2014: Still Launching Pad for Oscars?

foxcatcher_1_carell_tatumA few years ago, the Toronto Film Fest was the major focus of many Hollywood campaigns for the coveted Oscar Award.  But the situation is changing quickly, and Toronto now has competition from other early fall festivals, specifically Telluride (which precedes it), Venice (with which it overlapses), and even the N.Y. Film Fest, which takes place two weeks later.

There are certainly plenty of potential awards contenders among Toronto premieres and galas.

“Black and White,Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer in a custody battle;

“The Equalizer,” starring Denzel Washington, reuniting with Antoine Fuqua, who directed him in 2001 in his Oscar-winning part;

“The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch;

“The Judge,” featuring Robert Downey Jr. i a non-comic strip role;

“Men, Women and Children,” directed by Jason Reitman;

“Nightcrawler,” Jake Gyllenhaal, in Dan Gilroy’s film-directing debut;

“Theory of Everything,” with Eddie Redmayne as scientist Stephen Hawking


Cannes Film Fest Hits


“Mr. Turner”


Dark-horse Awards Possibilities:

“Cake,” with Jennifer Aniston;

“Miss Julie,” new version with Jessica Chastain;

“My Old Lady” with Maggie Smith;

“Rosewater,” Jon Stewart’s helming debut;

Oren Moverman’s “Time Out of Mind” with Richard Gere;

Two Al Pacino vehicles: “Manglehorn” and “The Humbling”;

Two Reese Witherspoon star vehicles: “The Good Lie” and “Wild.”

Each festival announcement offers important clues to the outcomes of the upcoming awards-season. The inclusion of a film is seen as a critical validation.

But the fact is, the key to the awards race is often the unexpected surprise. Last year at this point, “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” were not on the radar.

When Oscar ceremonies switched to an earlier date in 2004, Toronto’s awards importance increased. Toronto premiered “Argo” in 2012, which went on to win Best Picture.

But last year showed a shift. Toronto’s two awards heavy-hitters were “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” — which had their premieres in Telluride and Venice (Gravity was opening night).

Toronto also showed “Philomena” (Venice) and “The Great Beauty” (Cannes).

Toronto’s biggest claim to fame was the world premiere of “Dallas Buyers Club,” which went on to win the two male acting awards: Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.

Other 2013 Toronto films that had been touted as awards favorites were “August: Osage County,” “The Invisible Woman,” “Prisoners” and “Rush.” All but Ïnvisible Woman” scored Oscar nominations, but not many of them.

Toronto’s 2013 lineup also included “The Fifth Estate,” “Kill Your Darlings,” “Labor Day,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” “One Chance” and “Parkland,” most of which were critical and/or commercial flops–certainly not major awards contenders.

Was last year an oddity, or a sign of the shifting landscape of the fall festivals?

As Toronto’s primacy is in question, other fall festivals are gaining steam, including Telluride, Venice, and the quickly rising New York festivals. This year, Venice premieres “Birdman,” New York has “Gone Girl” and “Inherent Vice.” Meanwhile, “Boyhood,” “Foxcatcher,” “Mr. Turner” and “Whiplash” have already established their awards cred at other festivals.

Tim Gray of Variety has ovbserved: If Toronto is losing an awards focus, it’s like a market correction. No festival should be all-powerful, and the switch means Toronto will regain its equilibrium as an awards venue, and as a showcase for acquisitions and offbeat films that need attention. That’s how Toronto rose to prominence, and that’s a role it can play well.

At today’s press conference, TIFF director-CEO Piers Handling said there will be 260-300 feature films this year. He also talked about the festival’s new policy, which specifies only world premieres in the first four days: He said it doesn’t affect the selection, but does affect the scheduling.  Clarity was needed because “There’s a lot more focus on festivals and a lot more prominence.”