The Toronto Film Festival, which runs ten days each September, has become the unofficial starting point of the Academy Awards season. If you wish a first look at some of the films that will be Oscar contenders early next year, Toronto will be your destination-- not to mention the festivals that run almost concurrently in Venice and Telluride.
But Toronto is extra-special because it also is a movie maven’s haven. The festival is a must for those who are curious about the “small” but nonetheless intriguing foreign films that are well-worth seeing but are not commercial enough to earn wide theatrical releases in the U.S., if they in fact are even picked up for distribution. If you also want to check out the latest documentaries or American independents or non-narrative films, you’ll find plenty of them in Toronto. Or if you simply wish to stargaze, you’ll find scores of famous names and faces strolling the streets of the city.
However, the “name films” that screen in Toronto may be divided into two categories. The first includes those that are being targeted as Oscar contenders. These films will be spotlighted in Toronto in order to create buzz among critics and audiences, and they will open theatrically before the end of the year. Last year, these included ARGO, AMOUR, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, THE MASTER, and CLOUD ATLAS. Some came away with nominations and Oscars. Others-- and for me, this inexplicably includes CLOUD ATLAS-- earned no nominations. (I must report that this year’s Oscar race already has begun with the August releases of the Woody Allen drama BLUE JASMINE, whose seriously deluded central character is superlatively played by Cate Blanchett; and Lee Daniels’ THE BUTLER, a dramatically uneven history lesson which does feature an outstanding performance by Oprah Winfrey.)
The second Toronto grouping includes “major” films that for one reason or another are not viewed as potential year-end award winners. Often, these films will make the rounds of the film festival circuit before coming to theaters in the New Year. Among last year’s Toronto titles that fit into this category are Robert Redford’s THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, Susanne Bier’s LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED, Paul Andrew Williams’ UNFINISHED SONG, Joss Whedon’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, and Sarah Polley’s STORIES WE TELL.
For me, one of the highlights of last year’s festival was attending the public screening of STORIES WE TELL. But alas, it is a documentary-- and it seems to have been perceived as a hard-sell. So like many films whose distributors choose to build up a good word-of-mouth for their films, STORIES WE TELL, after its Toronto-Venice-Telluride trifecta, was screened at festivals in Edmonton, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, Stockholm, San Francisco, and elsewhere before opening theatrically in the U.S. in May.
But the question of the moment is: What are the new films, the 2013 films, that may come out of Toronto with oodles of Oscar hype?
The pre-festival buzz only begins with three films starring Benedict Cumberbatch. This British-born actor is best-known on these shores for playing Sherlock Holmes in SHERLOCK, the BBC-Masterpiece Theatre TV series. He toplines Bill Condon’s THE FIFTH ESTATE, the festival’s opening night selection, which is scheduled for theatrical release in October. Here, Cumberbatch plays WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Peter Capaldi, who recently was named the new “Doctor Who” in the long-running British TV series, is cast as Alan Rusbridger, an editor of The Guardian, the British newspaper.
Let me now quote my wife, Audrey Kupferberg, who is a big fan of both Cumberbatch and Capaldi. “Both are capable of playing bigger-than-life characters,” Audrey declared. “Not everyone is, and it will be fun to watch them attempt to out-act each other.” For a range of reasons, THE FIFTH ESTATE is certain to earn much ink in Toronto.
Also set for release in October is 12 YEARS A SLAVE, the latest from cutting edge British filmmaker Steve McQueen, which features Cumberbatch along with Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Brad Pitt. Ejiofor has in recent years become a personal favorite. A few years back, I saw him on the London stage playing Othello, and earlier this month I saw him yet again in London playing Patrice Lamumba in A SEASON IN THE CONGO.
The final Cumberbatch title, scheduled to come to moviehouses in December, is AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, directed by John Wells and based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer prize-winning play. His costars include Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Julia Roberts-- and Meryl Streep.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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