The Toronto International Film Festival doesn't have the prestige of Cannes, the indie clout of Sundance, the beauty of Telluride or the careful curation of Venice.
But it has some of what all of those other festivals have — and a lot more.
In many ways, Toronto is all about volume. It has more movies than most — 289 features at last count. It is one-stop shopping (or viewing) for those who want to see Oscar hopefuls, or potential blockbusters, or provocative documentaries, or challenging foreign films from Cannes and elsewhere, or cinematic art projects or just about anything else that can be projected on a screen.
So the press will descend, the buyers will descend, the sellers will descend, the publicists will descend. Even some regular moviegoers will descend on the streets of Toronto — mostly the downtown streets, with the festival having pretty thoroughly abandoned its former center in the Yorkville district — every day from Thursday through Sept. 16.
Toronto goes from Michel Gondry's "The We and I" to Bernardo Bertolucci's "Me and You." From "Quartet," with first-time director Dustin Hoffman directing Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay, to "A Late Quartet," with first-time director Yaron Zilberman directing Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Chris Walken. From Joe Wright's no-doubt lavish "Anna Karenina" to Joss Whedon's shot-in-12-days "Much Ado About Nothing." From from the kids' movie "Hotel Transvylvania" to Martin McDonagh's bloody comedy "Seven Psychopaths" (below). From the documentary "Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp" to the semi-doc "A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman."
It'll be a chance for viewers to get their first looks at the Wachowskis and Tom Twyker's sci-fi epic "Cloud Atlas," at David O. Russell's "The Silver Linings Playbook," at Mike Newell's "Great Expectations."
It'll provide a larger stage for a few films that made their first impressions at Telluride and Venice: Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder," Ben Affleck's "Argo" and Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha," among others.
And it'll be another unveiling for the late summer's hottest buzz title, Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master."
If recent history is any indication, one Toronto movie will go on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. In 2007, "No Country for Old Men" started a five-year TIFF-to-Oscar streak that continued with "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Hurt Locker" (which debuted the same year as "Slumdog," but wasn't released until the following year), "The King's Speech" and "The Artist."
Of the five, none actually showed first in Toronto (though "Slumdog" and "King's Speech" were only preceded by Telluride, which other festivals like to think doesn't really count because it doesn't announce its titles ahead of time).
But this TIFF-Oscars connection had begun in 1999 with "American Beauty," the first film to use the festival as stop one on the Oscar campaign trail.
That makes it fitting that on the opening night of the festival, Canadian-born director Jason Reitman is staging one of his celebrated all-star live readings of a classic script in Toronto – with "American Beauty" as the script in question, and a cast that includes Bryan Cranston (in the Kevin Spacey role), Christina Hendricks (Annette Bening), Woody Harrelson (Chris Cooper), Mae Whitman (Thora Birch), Sarah Gadon (Mena Suvari) and Adam Driver (Wes Bentley).
Reitman will have some competition on Thursday night: the official opening-night film is the world premiere of Rian Johnson's "Looper," with the North American premiere of Walter Salles' "On the Road" later that night.
The first public screening at Toronto, though, took place at noon with a free screening of "Sans Soleil" – and industry audiences could have started earlier than that, with screenings that began as early as 8:30.
The festival will end in 11 days and a thousand or so screenings, with the closing-night premiere of "Song for Marion," an Andrew Williams drama that has picked up strong buzz for its lead performance by Terrence Stamp.
Along the way, TIFF will also have a two-day documentary conference, a series of conversations with artists and politicians and businessmen, an Asian Film Summit, and a wide variety of other programs.
TheWrap will have extensive coverage of the films, the people and the deals from Toronto.