With today’s anxiously awaited announcement of the first wave of films for the 43rd annual Toronto International Film Festival, the first serious footprint on the upcoming Oscar season has been made.
Even though the September 6-16 event comes after Venice and Telluride a week earlier, TIFF is enormously influential in terms of helping to set the table for a slew of awards contenders, and if this initial list of 17 Galas and 30 Special Presentations is any indication, the season appears to be promising a lot of films dealing with heavy family issues (Beautiful Boy, Ben Is Back), humanist dramas (What They Had, Life Itself, Roma), political and hot-button issue movies (The Front Runner, White Boy Rick, The Hate U Give, Widows) and highly personal films like If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ first effort since the Oscar-winning Moonlight. There’s not a whole lot of lighter fare on tap — so far at least.
Jenkins’ film is among a handful of follow-ups from some of our most recent Oscar winners including Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) with the TIFF world premiere of Widows; Damien Chazelle (La La Land) with First Man, which will open Venice first; and Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) with Roma, also headed to Venice first. And for those who might have thought the major studios were starting to cede the season to indies and specialty divisions, there already appears to be a heavy presence of contenders from the majors including Warner Bros with Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born, as first reported in Deadline last week, getting its North American premiere at TIFF after appearing in Venice. Universal has Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong picture, First Man, while big Fox makes perhaps its last splash at TIFF before fading into Disney with the George Tillman Jr.’s racial drama The Hate U Give, as well as the aforementioned Widows. Sony has both Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner and Yann Demange’s White Boy Rick on tap in Canada.
Speaking of Fox and its uncertain future, its specialty division Fox Searchlight is the reigning Oscar Best Picture champ with The Shape of Water, which got its launch during the fall fest trifecta last year, and the company is back full force as it awaits its fate with Disney. Announced for TIFF today are Robert Redford’s crime drama The Old Man and the Gun and a dramatic change of pace for Melissa McCarthy with Can You Ever Forgive Me? Perhaps their prime contender this year, the period drama The Favourite, is known to be headed to Venice and the New York Film Festival but appears to be bypassing TIFF, at least on the basis of today’s release, which is only the first of several to expect from Toronto over the course of the next month. Whether it shows up in Telluride is pure speculation at this point, and I know that as of late last week Searchlight was weighing their options with the film that stars Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone and Olivia Colmstill and is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. I heard it was invited everywhere.
As for the presence of the streamers it appears TIFF, unlike Cannes, is open to offerings from Netflix since both Roma and The Kindergarten Teacher (a Sundance refugee) are among those slated in the official selection so far. Amazon is diving in with a heavy presence including the world premieres of Beautiful Boy, starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, and Dan Fogelman’s multi-layered Life Itself, in addition to Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cannes prize winner Cold War. Cannes foreign-language debuts often are a big source of programming for this fest, and this year is no different with several including Shoplifters, the Palme d’Or winner from Hirokazu Kore-eda, which will close the TIFF 2018 Special Presentations Programme. Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum, the splendid Jury Prize winner out of Cannes from Lebanon, gets its North American premiere and hopefully a big launch for the Academy Awards Foreign Language competition that begins the next month. Always catering to a strong international presence, TIFF has an especially strong lineup of world-class filmmakers on tap already this season and you can expect it to grow.
Of course the competition for movies that are the big hopes for the six-month-long awards season that begins in earnest with Venice/Telluride/Toronto is fierce and will be overlapping starting Wednesday, when Venice will announce its official lineup — much of which we have already figured out. TIFF helps in this regard by the way its labels selections as either world premieres (first seen at TIFF), international premieres (not seen in Venice or Cannes), North American premieres (coming from Cannes or Venice) and Canadian premieres (Sundance or Telluride got there before Toronto). Telluride, which runs August 31-September 3, does not announce its schedule until August 30 and forces participants to keep quiet about it until then. Part of the reason is that the increasingly important but always cool fest doesn’t put labels on it films, even if the press eventually does. There was a dust-up between the two fests a few years ago regarding which film goes where first, but it appears to have calmed down. Still, TIFF gives the prime programming slots in the first four days of its fest to world or North American premieres, which does give pause to distributors in mapping out their festival strategy.
It’s not scientific, but judging from the TIFF press release we can speculate on what is — and more intriguingly isn’t — going to be seen first in Venice and Telluride this year. For the latter in the isn’t category the biggest surprise for me was the fact that Toronto nabbed the world premiere of Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk. I thought the Annapurna release was a natural for Telluride since that is where Moonlight got birthed and berthed, and Jenkins has been a constant presence since becoming a staffer at the festival several years ago.
Of the movies that might be going to Telluride and then Toronto, here are a few guesses: First Man, Cold War, Dogman, The Front Runner, The Old Man and the Gun, Roma, Shoplifters, Can You Ever Forgive Me? and White Boy Rick. Again, it’s all just speculation at this point and those few titles are just a drop in the bucket of what Telluride will manage to pack in over the course of four days. The 47 movies listed today for TIFF is only about one-fifth of the eventual number that will be on display in Canada over those 10 days in September.
In less than 24 hours, we get the official 411 on Venice. And so we are off to the races.