Toronto Preview: The Big Festival Arrives With a Winning Streak on the Line

Toronto Preview: The Big Festival Arrives With a Winning Streak on the Line

The fall's largest festival has showcased the Best Picture winner for seven years in a row, but it won't be easy to extend the record

The Toronto International Film Festival played hardball with films hitting the fall festival circuit this year, but the results didn't have much impact on a time of year when prestige movies are unveiled and Oscar campaigns are launched.

Toronto still booked far more movies than all the other festivals, with an opening weekend of nonstop premieres for the thousands of media, buyers and industry heavies who make the trek to Canada immediately after Labor Day every year.

The Telluride Film Festival, which just ended, still booked a strong lineup, despite the fact that Toronto denied first-weekend slots to any film that stopped in Telluride first.

See photos: 25 Must-See Movies at the Toronto Film Festival

And the Venice Film Festival, which opened a week ago and runs  through Sunday, still grabbed a few key films before they make their North American debuts in Toronto — including a big one, Alejandro González Iñárritu's “Birdman,” that is skipping TIFF the same way that “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Nebraska” did last year.

Venice got “Birdman” and an Al Pacino double-bill of “Manglehorn” and “The Humbling”; Telluride also got “Birdman,” and added the Cannes film “Foxcatcher,” Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game” and Reese Witherspoon in “Wild.”

And Toronto got more than 200 feature films for its 11 days of cinematic abundance, from Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall in “The Judge” to Bill Murray in “St. Vincent,” from Jason Reitman‘s “Men, Women & Children” to Liv Ullman's “Miss Julie,” from Jean-Luc Godard (“Goodbye to Language 3D”) to Kevin Smith (“Tusk”).

Also read: ‘Birdman’ and ‘Foxcatcher’ Leave Telluride Audiences Blissed Out and Bowled Over

Except for “Birdman,” a major loss, TIFF got almost everything of note from the earlier festivals, including “Manglehorn,” “The Humbling,” “The Imitation Game,” “Wild,” “Foxcatcher” and the documentaries “The Look of Silence” and “Merchants of Doubt.”

In fact, the biggest impact on the fall festival season wasn't Toronto's new get-tough policy – it was the late-September New York Film Festival's preemptive move to grab two major premieres, David Fincher's “Gone Girl” and Paul Thomas Anderson's “Inherent Vice,” before TIFF or Telluride or Venice had even revealed their programs.

Their loss is part of a confluence of timing and circumstances that could place Toronto's seven-year winning streak in jeopardy.

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Last year, “12 Years a Slave” played Toronto (after sneaking in Telluride) and went on to win the Best Picture Oscar, making it the seventh consecutive best picture winner to make that trip since 2007: “No Country for Old Men,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The King's Speech,” “The Artist,” “Argo” and “12 Years.”

But the consensus of experts at this early date is that the 2014 winner isn't likely to be on the TIFF slate. Of the top 10 ranked films in GoldDerby.com's current Oscar predictions, only two are screening in Toronto: “Foxcatcher,” which currently sits at No. 4, and “The Imitation Game,” No. 10.

Also read: It's Angelina Jolie vs. Ben Affleck vs. Michael Keaton as Awards Season Kicks Off

Non-TIFF films on the list include “Birdman,” “Gone Girl,” “Inherent Vice,” the already-open “Boyhood” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and the unscheduled-for-any festival “Unbroken,” “Interstellar” and “Fury.”

That doesn't mean that something from Toronto can't sneak in and win it all: In addition to “Foxcatcher” and “The Imitation Game,” contenders include “Wild,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Mr. Turner,” “Men, Women & Children” and “St. Vincent.”

And even if it doesn't extend its streak as an Oscar showcase, Toronto will remain by far the biggest and best-attended of the major fall festivals, a mammoth compendium of awards movies looking for a platform from which to launch, acquisition titles looking to appeal to the hundreds of buyers in town, foreign films hoping to snare American audiences and documentaries eager to be a part of one of the big festivals that pays the most attention to the form.

It's a formidable market and a huge publicity opportunity, with buyers and media faced with 11 days of more than 100 public and industry screenings each day. Planning a trip to TIFF is like putting together an enormous jigsaw puzzle – except that every time you put in a piece, you're aware that you're leaving out two or three other pieces that might be just as good.

Also read: 22 Fall Movies We're Dying to See – From ‘Interstellar’ to ‘The Interview’

The titles alone give some sense to the scope of Toronto. It has a movie called “Breathe” and another called “Don't Breathe.” It has “Red Alert,” “Red Army,” “Red Rose,” “Red Capriccio” and “Red Amnesia.” “The Elephant Song” and “The Vanished Elephant.” “Episode of the Sea” and “Song of the Sea.” “Still,” “Still Alice” and “Still the Water.” “Tales” and “The Tale of the Princess Kayuga” and “Tales of the Grim Sleeper” and “Twelve Tales Told.” “Cut Bank” and “Cut Snake,” “Winter Sleep” and “Deep Sleep,” “Big Game” and “Big Muddy,” “Tour De Force” and “Detour de Force.” “The Cobbler” and “The Forger” and “The Editor” and “The Equalizer” and “The Grump” and “The Guest” and “The Intruder” and “The Judge” and “The Reaper.”

Plus there are two movies based on “Madame Bovary,” one a period piece starring Mia Wasikowska (“Madame Bovary”) and one an updated version starring Gemma Arterton (“Gemma Bovery”). And two films about real-life chess players, “Pawn Sacrifice” (with Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer) and “The Dark Horse” (the story of New Zealand's Genesis Potini).

And if you're looking for trends, there are two films with homeless protagonists, Oren Moverman's “Time Out of Mind” (with Richard Gere) and Paul Bettany's “Shelter” (with Jennifer Connelly). And Bettany's film also fits into another trend: actors who've gone behind the camera, a list at TIFF that includes Bettany, Chris Evans (“Before We Go”), Melanie Laurent (“Breathe”), Thomas McCarthy (“The Cobbler”), Alan Rickman (“A Little Chaos”), Liv Ullman (“Miss Julie”), James Franco (“The Sound and the Fury”), Chris Rock (“Top Five”) and Jon Stewart (“Rosewater”), among others.

See video: Jon Stewart's ‘Rosewater’ Trailer Shows Gael Garcia Bernal as Imprisoned Newsweek Journalist (Video)

In other words, TIFF has a little of everything, and a lot of some of it. The festival's list of expected guests includes almost 300 filmmakers and 200 stars, and it wouldn't even be scratching the surface to mention that the list includes Jennifer Aniston, Olivier Assayas, Jason Bateman, Noah Baumbach, Paul Bettany, Juliette Binoche, Bobby Cannavale, Steve Carell, Josh Charles, Patricia Clarkson, Jennifer Connelly, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Kevin Costner, David Cronenberg, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Cusack, the Dardenne brothers, Benicio del Toro, Xavier Dolan, Michael Douglas, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall … and, well, that's less than one-fifth of the As, Bs, Cs and Ds.

Rest assured, the rest of the alphabet will make the trip to Toronto, too.