They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?:
Toronto International Film Festival Preview

By J. Don Birnam

September 7, 2016

Loving

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The digital ink is not even dry on our analysis of the Telluride Film Festival and its implications for the 2016 Oscar race, and yet we are pulled now towards the Great White North as the Toronto International Film Festival (“TIFF”) prepares to get under way. While not as outwardly splashy as Telluride, Toronto always has the possibility to provide a surprise or two. And its People’s Choice has been an almost flawless predictor of a Best Picture nomination for nearly a decade. Who will get that enviable boost this year?

TIFF: A Quick Primer

The Toronto International Film Festival has always been a popular affair, be it because of the friendly Canadian stage it’s set in, the time of year, or the quality of the selection committee. But approximately nine years ago TIFF rose to unquestionable awards-season prominence when it curated for screening two little-known indie flicks that did not even have a distributor (one of them was about to go straight-to-video). They were Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker, of course, both of which found patrons at that year’s fest, and both of which went on to win the highest honor in film in back-to-back years.

Since then, Toronto has prided itself in being somewhat of a harbinger, anointing movies like The King’s Speech before AMPAS could do it six months later.

All good things must come to an end, though, and competition was bound to ruin Toronto’s fun. Seeking to capitalize on our constant obsession with exclusivity and mysteriousness, savvy Oscar campaigners decided almost immediately after Toronto that they could get generate even more buzz by landing a few days before TIFF. To get the buzz-creators buzzed up, so to speak.

And so you have it that Birdman and Spotlight, for example, made quick stops in Venice and Telluride (both more exclusive, secluded festivals than TIFF’s unapologetic mass popularity), before heading North of the border.

While this has miffed Toronto (you can’t blame them), at least they’re still getting those films, and this year’s two Venice/Telluride darlings La La Land and Arrival will be seen in Canada next week.

But to fill the void of highly anticipated premieres, TIFF has compensated by bringing big name movies (if not big quality ones) in order to attract maximum star wattage. The program directors can afford to do this because, unlike Venice or Telluride or even the New York Film Festival, TIFF consists of over 100 titles spread out over dozens of theaters and another dozen days. They can offer a spot, questionably, to Jonathan Demme’s Stonewall, but also make room for, eh, Room, Freeheld, Trumbo, Spotlight, etc.




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This year is no different, as we next explore.

A Look at the Lineup

Most of the big names we saw at Telluride will also head on to TIFF. But we will also have a chance to discover other movies that had premiered at Sundance or Cannes (or other fests) but that skipped Colorado, including the mired-in-controversy Birth of a Nation and the popular Cannes hit Loving.

In the middle, though, is the by now expected lineup of middling world premieres meant more than anything to attract big names. The Queen of Katwe will bring David Oyewolo and Lupita Nyong’o, Snowden the nerdy Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Oliver Stone biopic, and Denial the premiere of Rachel Weisz’s new film.

The fest will also be the staging ground for Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, for Mark Wahlberg’s Deepwater Horizon, and even for the remake Blair Witch. None of these look like Oscar fair (but you can’t be sure until we see them), but all are sure to bring in many stars.

TIFF has also set itself up as a harbinger of Best Foreign Language Oscar contention, with hits foreign selection committee one of the ones with the best tastes. This year, German submission Toni Erdmann will be there (though, to be fair, it was at Telluride and will be in New York as well), along with Romanian submission Sieranevada, Saudi Arabian’s first ever romantic-comedy and submission Barakah meets Barakah, and Swiss cartoon entry, My Life as a Croquette. I’ll try to catch some of these and get ahead of that race.

First Prognosticating of the Year

So while I do not expect any of the movies that are first making appearances at TIFF to be great Oscar players, we will be looking for the reaction of this crowd to the films. Telluride may have liked Moonlight and La La Land for example, but will the Canadians? The festival may no longer have first dibs, but it surely can boost or sink buzz as it’s getting started.

Most important, though, is that ever-coveted Grolsch’s People’s Choice Award, the top prize at TIFF that is voted on by the festival goers. Room won it last year (The Imitation Game the year before that), and Spotlight came in third. The award shows that a movie has the very important “likability” factor; it shows that it has the chops to appeal to large voting bodies.

Sad movies like Manchester by the Sea are never going to win at TIFF. The happy-go-lucky Canadians want something uplifting and emotionally rewarding. If there is anything that fits that bill more than La La Land this year, I know not of it. I fully expect that to win the award by miles, and that is my first prognostication of the year. (I normally wait to be humiliated by my wrong NYFCC and LAFCC picks, so I’m getting a head start on being wrong this year).

Twitter: @jdonbirnam
Instagram: @awards_predix


     


 
 

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