Major Clues In Oscar Race As Toronto Film Festival Announces First Wave Of Contenders – What’s In? What’s Out?

The nascent 2015 Oscar race has only been taking baby steps since Cannes, but it started to learn to walk with this morning’s massive Toronto Film Festival announcement of 15 Galas and 34 Special Presentations. And this is just the first wave of those TIFF press releases that will detail, if the past is any indication, upwards of 300 films. But how many of them will figure into this season’s awards race, what was left out, and what clues has TIFF given us about films that might first premiere in Telluride over the Labor Day weekend? Or maybe even those not yet officially announced for Venice?

First , we can cross off TIFF’s opening-night film, Demolition starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Fox Searchlight has already taken that film off its 2015 awards plate when the label announced it will open next spring. But it appears TIFF will be launching the Oscar hopes of such movies as Lionsgate’s Freeheld starring 2014 Oscar players Julianne Moore (whose Academy Award-winning performance in Still Alice premiered and was sold at last year’s TIFF) and Steve Carell (Moore will also have Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan there too); Ridley Scott’s The Martian (20th Century Fox) starring Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain; Stephen Frears’ Lance Armstrong biopic The Program with Ben Foster; Sony’s The Lady In The Van with Maggie Smith; and Bleecker Street’s Dalton Trumbo biopic Trumbo with what will surely be an awards-worthy turn from Bryan Cranston. These are Martianall world premieres at TIFF. Then we can throw in the Oscar-baity North American premieres like Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl with a transgender turn from reigning Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne (who like Moore, started on the road to Oscar at last year’s TIFF with The Theory Of Everything). Focus Features’ Danish Girl will have its world premiere though at Venice.

But also on the TIFF list are several contenders with designations of “Canadian Premiere” or “International Premiere” that offer some interesting clues as to where these films may first show up — and that means YOU, Telluride. The Telluride Film Festival is set for September 4-7 over Labor Day weekend and has become increasingly important as a venue to launch so-called Oscar pictures. There is even an the_danish_girl_-_h_-_2015annual party thrown by sponsor Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences there for its members in town. TIFF has been embroiled in a well-publicized smackdown with Telluride over the past couple of years but has relaxed those requirements a bit this year. Any film that first plays another festival can still play in TIFF’s all-important first four days, but not in the fest’s three main venues (Roy Thomson Hall, Princess Of Wales, Elgin Theatre).

I was surprised to see that Universal’s Legend starring Tom Hardy in dual roles as the notorious Kray brothers is listed as an “International” premiere, meaning it is not going to freeheldVenice (where Universal’s September 18th opener, Everest, will launch that festival) but likely would be going to Telluride. Since Telluride does not announce its schedule in advance we can only speculate. Another Universal Oscar possibility, Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender, is not on this initial TIFF rundown and likely won’t be: It was just announced yesterday as the Centerpiece attraction of the New York Film Festival which happens near the end of September. NYFF, which is opening with TriStar’s The Walk and closing with Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic — an acquisitions title — did not designate Jobs as a world premiere. Well we can continue to speculate based on that, so you might wantSteve Jobs to bet the farm then that Steve Jobs will first turn up at Telluride. Its director Danny Boyle considers it a good-luck fest since that is where he launched his Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, and then returned with his Oscar-nominated 127 Hours. He once told me he owed it to Telluride to take his films there.

Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight (Open Road) starring Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton is the other “International” premiere raising eyebrows among Oscar watchers — meaning it is very likely to also be launching in North America at Telluride (and actually will also be a World Premiere in Venice despite that “international premiere” label TIFF has),  as are such “Canadian” TIFF premieres as Netflix’s Beasts Of No Nation with Idris Elba and Lenny Abrahamson’s Room which A24 hopes will be a contender for its lead actress Brie Larson. I would expect to see those titles turn up at Telluride based on this initial footprint.

Looking like it is playing all three major fall festivals will Black Mass trailer imagebe the much anticipated Black Mass from director Scott Cooper and starring Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger and Joel Edgerton (who I hear gives a real Oscar-worthy supporting performance). It is going to Venice and is listed as a TIFF Canadian Premiere, so that means North American honors apparently go to Telluride. That will be the same kind of crazy Fall Festival blitz that Black Mass distributor Warner Bros also pulled off with Gravity two years ago.

There are several other awards players that are going to TIFF, listed as Canadian Premieres , that have already played either Sundance, Berlin or Cannes. Those include Fox Searchlight’s Brooklyn with Saoirse Ronan; I Smile Back  with Sarah Silverman; and the much-acclaimed Cannes Grand Prize winner Son Of Saul. The latter Cannes entry is almost certainly then getting its North American launch in Telluride, but TIFF has scored several other Cannes titles for North American premieres, skipping the lure of the Rockies this time around. They include Palme d’Or winner Dheepan from director Jacquesyouth Audiard, The Lobster with Colin Farrell and  Rachel Weisz, Jia Zhang-ke’s Mountains May Depart and two major awards contenders out of Cannes including Fox Searchlight’s December 4 release Youth from Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino and starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda, as well as Lionsgate’s September 18 release Sicario with terrific performances from Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro.

Interestingly, The Weinstein Company’s much lauded Cannes competition film Carol and Sony Pictures Classics’ much-awaited Truth are not on the TIFF schedule at this point. Both star Cate Blanchett, who may find that she is competing against herself this season. Another potential SPC contender, I Saw The Light,  the Hank Williams biopic starring Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen, also has yet to turn up anywhere, so stay tuned. More pieces of the awards-season puzzle are bound to be revealed over the next few weeks as the all-important festival season gets going in earnest.

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