Toronto International Film Festival: Where Oscar Movies Go to Premiere

The fest marks the start of Oscar campaigning season. Which films might grab a statue this year?

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Mike Cassese / Reuters

Director Rian Johnson takes a photo while posing with actor Bruce Willis during the news conference for the film "Looper" at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival September 6, 2012.

Forget France, Canada is where the Oscar action is. As the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) continues to light up screens with more than 200 showings before it closes on Sept. 16, there’s a high probability one of the films in the diverse mix will walk away with the Academy Award for Best Picture come February. That’s what history tells us anyway.

The last five Best Picture winners—No Country For Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech and The Artist—all played the festival ahead of North American releases, giving the 37th annual TIFF plenty of credibility as the top Oscar predictor in the world. Since the 1999 showing of American Beauty, which went on to win Best Picture, Toronto has steadily increased in Oscar visibility. (TIFF’s first premiere of an Oscar winner was Chariots of Fire, released in 1981.) But with so many independent moviemakers and mega-studios well aware of the TIFF touch, it has gotten difficult to sort out exactly which films will vie for a statue, let alone if any of the TIFF premieres will actually see the lights on Oscar night.

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Cameron Bailey, the festival’s artistic director, tells the Huffington Post he doesn’t worry about all that Oscar fuss when choosing movies. He’s more interested in creating a diverse mix of domestic and international films, movies from both the big guys and the independents. To that end, the 2012 lineup features directors from 72 countries.

“We’re in a big city where you have hundreds of different cultures all on top of each other,” he told the Huffington Post. “I wanted our festival to feel like it represented the flavor of Toronto.”

The 20 gala films will receive the most attention, including the world premiere of Rian Johnson’s Looper. But that’s not the only film getting plenty of Oscar buzz at TIFF. Big stars of the 11-day festival vying for attention include Cloud Atlas starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, Anna Karenina with Keira Knightley, Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage film Argo, and the Paul Thomas Anderson drama The Master. That doesn’t even include movies starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell and Helena Bonham Carter.

Along with the big name stars—both on the screen and in person—come a host of independent and international films hoping for a Slumdog Millionaire-type success. (The movie was slated to go straight to DVD until a great showing at TIFF.)

With 11 days in September setting the stage for February, there’s still plenty of time—and miles—between the Toronto International Film Festival and the red carpet in Los Angeles. But, for right now anyway, Toronto is where the Oscar previews play.

READ: Richard Corliss’s review of The Master from the Venice Film Festival