Will Oscar Season’s Early Contenders Survive the Toronto Film Festival Onslaught?

On the heels of the smaller festivals in Venice and Telluride, Julia Roberts, Robert Redford and Lady Gaga are among the hundreds of stars heading north

Toronto International Film Festival
Connie Tsang / TIFF

Oscar season just had a delicious appetizer. Now comes the all-you-can-eat buffet.

That’s the role that the Toronto International Film Festival plays in awards season: It’s an abundance of riches, an 11-day blowout in which just about every Oscar contender that isn’t still in the editing room will unveil itself in front of the international press and a bunch of movie fans.

As always, Toronto opens on the Thursday after Labor Day, just a few days after the conclusion of the Telluride Film Festival and a week after the opening of the Venice Film Festival. Those two fests have already showcased a good number of awards movies — and this year, they’ve given fans of quality cinema an unexpectedly rich array of films, to judge from the reactions coming from the canals of Italy and the hills of Colorado.

Now it’s up to TIFF to show most of the Telluride and Venice hits to a new, bigger audience, to build on (or, occasionally, tamp down) the early awards buzz and to add a whole new batch of contenders and pretenders to the mix.

A handful of heavyweights will be anointed, most of them in the first five days of TIFF, from opening night on Thursday (when David McKenzie’s “Outlaw King” and Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9” are the main attractions) through the Monday, September 10 Toronto premieres of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma,” David Lowery’s “The Old Man & the Gun” and Xavier Dolan’s “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan,” among others.

Of course, “Roma” was already declared a Best Picture contender in Venice, where Cuaron’s black-and-white, highly personal drama premiered. It was one of a few films that have gotten the awards season off to a roaring start, along with Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong film “First Man” and Bradley Cooper’s remake of “A Star Is Born” with Lady Gaga.

Those three films are already front runners, if any movies can be said to truly have that status at this early stage.

The festival will also be the moment of truth for a number of awards hopefuls that have skipped the smaller Venice and Telluride festivals and are premiering at TIFF.

“Beautiful Boy,” starring Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell and adapted by “The Broken Circle Breakdown” director Felix van Groeningen from the memoirs by David Sheff and his son Nic, is one of the films that comes in with the highest hopes.

So do “Ben Is Back” (Peter Hedges directs his son Lucas and Julia Roberts), “Life Itself” (“This Is Us” creator Dan Fogelman puts a multi-generational family saga on film rather than TV), “Widows” (“12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen makes a heist movie with Viola Davis), “If Beale Street Could Talk” (“Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins adapts a James Baldwin novel), “Green Book” (“There’s Something About Mary” director Peter Farrelly gets serious with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali) and “Mid90s” (Jonah Hill makes his directorial debut with a skateboarding movie).

Meanwhile, a batch of smaller films will try to seize some attention at a festival where that isn’t always easy. Those include “Hotel Mumbai,” orphaned by the Weinstein Company and picked up by Bleecker Street; “Gloria Bell,” with Julianne Moore starring in Sebastian Lelio’s English-language remake of his marvelous “Gloria”; “Teen Spirit,” with Elle Fanning as an aspiring singer in the directorial debut of actor Max Minghella; and “Hold the Dark,” another tense film from Jeremy Saulnier, whose previous work includes “Green Room” and “Blue Ruin.”

TIFF’s documentary slate, too, is typically robust, with not only the new Michael Moore film but also new work from Frederick Wiseman (“Monrovia, Illinois”), Errol Morris (“American Dharma,” about Steve Bannon), Werner Herzog (“Meeting Gorbachev”) and Rithy Panh (“Graves Without a Name”).

Plus, most of the actors who came out of Telluride and Toronto as presumed nominees — Robert Redford for his final acting role, “The Old Man & the Sea,” Lady Gaga for “A Star Is Born,” Melissa McCarthy for her serious turn in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” — will be in Toronto looking for confirmation that they are indeed the bee’s knees.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, with 255 features and 88 shorts from 83 different countries screening in Toronto before it comes to an end with Justin Kelly’s “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy,” starring Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart in the story of a celebrated literary hoax.

So cineastes and awards-watchers had better belly up to the buffet, and bring a very big appetite.