Pete Hammond

I was interviewing Bradley Cooper yesterday and we talked about the emerging 2013 awards season. “I guess we’ll know by Toronto what it’s going to look like this year,” he said remembering he was in back to back World Premieres there last year with Silver Linings Playbook and The Place Beyond The Pines (which Focus bought at TIFF).

That’s certainly true to some degree but in terms of Oscar tea leaves, today’s announcement of the first leg of this year’s all-important Toronto International Film Festival lineup was both significant and a bit of a head scratcher that will have awards watchers looking even more intently to Telluride, Venice and the New York Film Festival to get a more complete picture of just what this season is shaping up to be.

Related: Toronto Fest Unveils Gala Premieres For Oscar Bait Films

Though there were many expected contenders among the 17 galas and 56 special presentations listed , there were curious omissions of movies that might have seemed like no-brainers to go to Toronto. Where for instance were the expected North American debuts of Cannes favorites like The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Robert Redford‘s tour-de-force work in J.C. Chandor’s stunning All Is Lost or Alexander Payne‘s very well-received Nebraska? Are these movies holding out for a prestigious NY slot instead?  I would be willing to bet (call it a hunch) that all three turn up in Telluride over the Labor Day weekend just before TIFF begins.  Payne loves Telluride and goes even when he doesn’t have a film to show. Redford and the Coens would seem naturals for long overdue Telluride Film Fest tributes. Neither has ever been (of course Redford has his own little ski town festival to keep him occupied). This is the perfect opportunity for that and because Telluride doesn’t announce its schedule in advance  and doesn’t label anything as a “premiere” other fests don’t mind movies that they are debuting sneaking in there first.

So though their absence from the initial Toronto lineup may be baffling to some, it could be that the stars are aligned for Telluride, not Toronto in this instance.  And remember Redford hopped from Venice to Toronto last year for The Company You Keep and may not want to repeat in Canada so soon. Appearing at Telluride wouldn’t preclude these films from a NYFF slot but Toronto definitely could dampen the enthusiasm of the New Yorkers.

And where is Paul GreengrassCaptain Phillips from Sony which I hear features an award-worthy performance from Tom Hanks? Could the October release also be headed to NY, a favorite of producer Scott Rudin who debuted Sony’s The Social Network there and skipped the early fall fest trifecta altogether?

Other titles missing in action so far include Martin Scorsese‘s Wolf Of Wall Street, Spike Jonze‘s Her, Bennett Miller‘s Foxcatcher (his Moneyball debuted in Toronto two years ago), DianaScott Cooper’s Out Of The Furnace,  The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty directed by and starring Ben Stiller, Saving Mr. Banks, Lone Survivor, The Immigrant and The Good Lie to name a few but obviously not every Oscar-touted title being released between September and January is going to show up at Venice, Telluride, Toronto  or New York.  Then again Wolf Of Wall Street would seem a natural for NYFF and I heard Disney might be thinking about an AFI Fest premiere for Saving Mr. Banks in November since the film ends at the Chinese Theatre where AFI is held and where Mary Poppins (the subject of the movie) debuted in 1964.

As for Warner Bros’ The Good Lie with Reese Witherspoon, I hear rumblings it could be headed for a Telluride spot even though it only recently finished shooting in Africa. But I would have thought it might be ripe for a Toronto debut since its director Philippe Faladeau is Canadian and his Monsieur Lazhar was Canada’s Oscar nominee a couple of years ago. This is not to say that all of the films listed above won’t be going to Canada this year. In 2012 for instance TIFF added titles to the Gala section and Special Presentations as late as mid-August so there is room. Last year there were a total of 20 galas and 70 Specials which if TIFF were to match this year leaves space for about 17 additional titles overall in just these two sections. And of course they still have the docs and midnight shows among others to announce separately. This is a massive film festival.

Among the films that are on the list with serious Oscar ambitions are a gaggle of Weinstein Company titles including the high profile Meryl Streep/Julia Roberts vehicle, August Osage County, Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom, the feel good Paul Potts showbiz biopic One Chance, and Stephen Frears’ Philomena, a recent pickup said to have a phenomenal Judi Dench performance. Missing from Weinsteins’ Oscar-ready year-end lineup at TIFF so far is Grace Of Monaco and James Gray’s Cannes Competition film, The Immigrant  which could turn up at Telluride I would think.

Dreamworks and Disney landed the opening night slot for Bill Condon’s Wikileaks film, The Fifth Estate, and considering the low Oscar wattage of recent TIFF openers (Looper in 2012, a concert film the year before), this is significant and should really be a boost to the awards profile of this one. The trailer certainly is promising. Paramount may not be headed over the border with Wolf Of Wall Street or Nebraska but will debut Jason Reitman’s Labor Day at TIFF. Duh. The Reitman name is all over this festival. I bet it also turns up at Telluride on, uh, Labor Day weekend as Reitman’s Up In The Air and Juno did. Warner Bros is zipping from Venice opening night film to Toronto with the George Clooney/ Sandra Bullock Gravity directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and also have Hugh Jackman’s thriller Prisoners from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, the latter probably being the reason it’s included. There isn’t much pre-Oscar buzz on the title yet. Universal is counting on Toronto to push its Ron Howard  70′s-set racing film Rush into the Oscar race, and it deserves to be there. I’ve seen it and it’s Howard’s best in a long while.

Among others who are clearly going to be using TIFF for their Oscar season launch are Fox Searchlight with Steve McQueen’s  12 Years A Slave (which could be headed for Telluride first), and Focus Features touting Matthew McConaughey’s startling turn as an early AIDs victim in Dallas Buyer’s Club,  a role Focus head James Schamus told me in Cannes was “once in a lifetime”. Sony Pictures Classics will also be back in Toronto with Cannes pickups The Past from Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) and the Critics Week hit The Lunchbox. Sundance Selects will be presenting North American premieres of their Cannes winning pickups Blue Is The Warmest Color and Like Father, Like Son.

Among films coming to Toronto without U.S. distribution in place, I would say there are definite awards possibilities  for Oscar winner Paul Haggis’ very personal Third Person which stars Liam Neeson among others and which I previewed in rough form. It’s the kind of adult drama that could play very well with the right distributor behind it. It’s not at all certain it will even be released this year. Haggis’ Oscar-winning Crash was bought at Toronto and waited until May of the following year to open. It didn’t hurt its Oscar chances obviously and the Festival was a good luck omen for Haggis.

One guy used to winning awards on the TV side is nine-time Emmy winner Matt Weiner (Mad Men, The Sopranos). I ran into him at the Motion Picture Academy last night where he moderated the tribute to Wong Kar Wai before a screening of The Grandmaster He was clearly excited when he told me that his feature directorial debut, You Are Here, had just been selected for TIFF. “It’s playing at 3 PM Saturday at the Ryerson!,” he said offering screening time, day and location.

However the final lineup shakes out, this year’s TIFF is looking like a feast for those of us trying to get an early temperature on the upcoming awards season. It’s all starting again.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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