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Everybody's at the Toronto Film Festival! Hey, where's Oscar?

September 4, 2008 |  1:14 pm

Ever since "American Beauty" broke out at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1999 and won the Oscar for best picture, many other ponies followed and went quite far in later derbies: "Crash," "Capote," "Sideways," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," etc.

Last year, four of the five best-picture nominees, including winner "No Country For Old Men," played at the Toronto festival (the lone holdout — "There Will Be Blood"). However, this year the overwhelming majority of the flicks considered to be the best-pic front-runners aren't here.

Here's a list of the top M.I.O.A.s (Missing in Oscar Action) with their release dates: "Australia" (Nov. 26), "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Dec. 25), "Defiance" (Dec. 12), "Doubt" (Dec. 19), "Frost/Nixon" (Dec. 5), "Gran Torino" (December), "Milk" (Dec. 12), "The Reader" (December), "The Road" (Nov. 21), "Revolutionary Road" (Dec. 26), "Seven Pounds" (Dec. 19), "The Soloist" (Nov. 21), "W." (Oct. 17). None of them played at Cannes, Venice or Telluride either.


These fests have often proved to be great launch pads for small artsy pix, but last year some Oscar consultants claimed that "Atonement" made a mistake by unspooling at the fests. They believe that a big commercial epic like that would've done better to just go right to theaters, thus avoiding the wolf packs of film critics and industry rascals at events like this who often go gunning for commercial fare — just because, well, they're wolves out to prove how intellectually superior they are.

In fact, though, "Atonement" had a terrific reception at Toronto last year, so I'm not sure I buy this argument. These consultants are just desperate to explain how an early front-runner to win the top Oscar got nominated for best picture but not best director, thus becoming doomed.

However, this year the Toronto festival does feature many Oscar contenders in other top races (and maybe some in the best-picture contest too, such as "Slumdog Millionaire") among the 312 entries at the 34th edition of the event. And in keeping with the founding spirit of what was originally called a "festival of festivals," many of these movies have played at other festivals already.

The Berlin fest launched "Happy-Go-Lucky," the latest from helmer Mike Leigh with a star-making turn by Sally Hawkins. Cannes contenders "Blindness," "Che" and "Synecdoche, New York" will be reintroduced in Toronto after mixed receptions there. Toronto also offers a wider viewing of Telluride hits "I've Loved You So Long" with Kristin Scott Thomas and Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire." And the just-ending Venice filmfest premiered the Coen brothers' latest, "Burn After Reading," as well as scripter Guillermo Arriaga's directorial debut  "The Burning Plain."

Toronto has its share of world premieres including "Appaloosa" from director/star Ed Harris, who launched "Pollock" here in 2000, and the sure to be controversial documentary "Religulous" with Bill Maher. However, Toronto missed out on Clint Eastwood's "Changeling." That Depression-era drama starring Angelina Jolie in a much talked about performance will be the centerpiece of the much smaller New York Film Festival at the end of the month.

Other Academy Award contenders being shown in Toronto: "The Brothers Bloom," "Dean Spanley," "The Duchess," "Good," "Miracle at St. Anna," "Nothing But the Truth," "Rachel Getting Married," "The Secret Life of Bees," "Waltz with Bashir," "Wendy and Lucy" and "The Wrestler."

To learn more about these flicks, these preview pieces by a top-notch crew of fest veterans are well worth a read:

John Horn of the Los Angeles Times - CLICK HERE

David Germain of AP - CLICK HERE

Cameron French of Reuters - CLICK HERE

Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today - CLICK HERE

Anne Thompson of Variety - CLICK HERE

Anthony Kaufman of the Wall Street Journal - CLICK HERE