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With today’s announcement of the first (and biggest) batch of galas and special presentations for the 41st annual Toronto International Film Festival, is it too early for me to say the movie awards season is off and running? Just on the surface it appears that TIFF will be showing off even more expected Oscar contenders than usual. Lots of them are World Premieres, while others are “International, “North American” or “Canadian” premieres. Those designations will help you read into which films are going first to Venice and/or then Telluride — two other important Oscar bellwether fests that happen just before TIFF gets underway. Telluride keeps its lineup secret until just before its Labor Day weekend event, but there are clues here. Venice’s already announced opener, La La Land, the Ryan Gosling/Emma Stone musical from Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, is listed as a “Canadian” preem, which means it will also be seen in Telluride.

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So is Paramount’s Arrival from director Denis Villeneuve. That means you can see that first in Telluride as well. Villeneuve had a good experience there with Prisoners in 2013and this year he’s bringing the sci-fi film starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Another Amy Adams movie, Tom Ford’s much anticipated Nocturnal Animals, which co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal and famously sold at the 2015 Cannes for $20 million to Focus Features, will have its World Premiere in Venice but skip Telluride in favor of a North American premiere at TIFF. Focus will be skipping Telluride entirely this year but taking Cannes competition film Loving and also J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls to TIFF in addition to the Ford drama. Another presence usually felt at Telluride, Fox Searchlight alsowill  be at TIFF but MIA in Colorado with its Sundance sensation The Birth of a Nation getting its “International ” premiere. On the other hand — based on the TIFF release’s wording — Open Road’s terrific and amazing true boxing saga of Vinny Pazienza, Bleed for This will be at Telluride before TIFF. Miles Teller is a certain Best Actor contender in that film, which also boasts a number of fine supporting turns including Aaron Eckhart. Open Road is giving it a prime November release berth.

American Pastoral
Lionsgate

Among TIFF’s World Premieres that will have Oscar watchers especially interested are Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon, which has strong buzz ahead of its September 30 release date. It stars Mark Wahlberg as does Berg’s other 2016 entry Patriots Day, which will be released at the end of the year and won’t be on the early fall festival circuit. Other TIFF WPs with an eye to awards season include the Weinstein Company’s touching drama Lion with Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, which gets an Oscar-friendly late-November release, and Disney’s true chess drama Queen Of Katwem which is one of two David Oyelowo contenders, the other being Seretse Khama biopic A United Kingdom. Ewan McGregor’s startlingly good directorial debut American Pastoral based on Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winner gets a prime slot, as well it should. It’s a powerhouse and should put Dakota Fanning in the Supporting race for the first time.

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Universal Pictures
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Open Road Films

There is lots of buzz about Bleecker Street’s Holocaust-denier drama, Denial, especially for star Rachel Weisz. And also among World Premieres will be Universal and Illumination’s animated holiday entry Singwhich I know Chris Meledandri is especially proud of and hopes to have in the already crowded Animated Feature race. By going to TIFF, they are making a big statement with this one. The 20 minutes the studio showed at CinemaCon looked very promising. Oliver Stone’s excellent Snowdenanother Open Road film, is listed as a World Premiere as well — but wasn’t it also at Comic Con last weekend? Joseph Gordon-Levitt nails the title role (and the real Edward Snowden shows up at the end, lovingly photographed to boot). STX’s closing-night World Premiere of Kelly Fremon Craig’s coming-of-age comedy The Edge Of Seventeen will be closely watched for potential. It comes from Oscar-winning producer James L. Brooks, and the footage shown at CinemaCon looked great. Opening-night film The Magnificent Seven is not an awards player but a splashy way to start TIFF, which has a very checkered history with openers. Awards consultants are very leery of that jinxed slot.

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Roadside Attractions

Among other awards players headed to TIFF are several, as usual, that started the journey in Cannes. Chief among them is Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, with a career-best performance from Isabelle Huppert. It is one of at least three new movies starring Huppert that are headed to TIFF along with North American premiere Souvenir and Canadian premiere Things to Come from director Mia Hansen-Love. It appears the two former titles won’t be in Telluride, but the latter, which debuted at Berlin in February could be. I’d heard rumors that Huppert would be getting a tribute in Telluride and therefore assumed the higher-profile Elle would be there too, but that Sony Pictures Classics release appears aimed directly for TIFF. Their sensational German comedy Toni Erdmann is headed for both Telluride and TIFF following its Cannes debut in May.

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Toronto International Film Festival

The Orchard and Participant’s very fine Neruda with a great Gael Garcia Bernal performance is following the same trajectory. A couple of Cannes competition winners, A24’s Jury Prize champ American Honey and Iranian Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi’s Actor and Screenplay Cannes winner A Salesman are locked for TIFF, as  is Jim Jarmusch’s wonderful and droll Paterson, which Amazon is saving for end-of-year release. And another Amazon awards hopeful out of Sundance, the acclaimed Manchester by the Sea, also will be at TIFF and, if buzz is correct, Telluride as well.

This is the first of many Toronto announcements this summer, and I expect at least another couple of Oscar hopefuls to make the trek to a fest that is likely to display upward of 300 titles including tons for acquisition. Occasionally even one or two of those so-far-distributor-less movies find their way into Oscar season. Stay tuned as we hit the launch pad for the Venice/Telluride/Toronto fall fest trifecta, with New York close on their tail.