From Mister Rogers to Dolemite, Oscar race revs up in Toronto

Next week's Toronto International Film Festival helps determine the awards season players

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Labor Day means the end of the summer movie season, and Thursday's launch of the Toronto International Film Festival marks the kickoff of the Oscar race. 

At last year's festival, "Green Book" debuted among a crowded field of Oscar hopefuls — "Roma," "A Star is Born," "If Beale Street Could Talk," "First Man" and "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" among them — and quietly took the fest by storm.

Tom Hanks in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."

After pulling a surprise victory for the fest's voted-on-by-the-fans People's Choice Award, "Green Book" steamrolled through awards season and went on to win Best Picture at February's Academy Awards ceremony.

So what's this year's "Green Book?" TIFF is rolling out hundreds of films from around the globe that will vie for top honors at the fest, many which hope to begin the long march toward Oscar gold in the streets of Toronto.  

The hopefuls and otherwise notable films at this year's festival, Sept. 5-15, include "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," a seeming no-brainer in which Tom Hanks stars as Mister Rogers; "Ford v Ferrari," about Ford's rivalry with Ferrari in the 1960s, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale; "Harriet," a biopic about Harriet Tubman starring "Widows'" Cynthia Erivo; "Jojo Rabbit," a WWII-set black comedy about a child who becomes imaginary friends with Hitler; "Judy," a biopic about Judy Garland with Renée Zellweger in the lead role; "Just Mercy," with Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan, based on the memoir of a man who was imprisoned for murder despite contrary evidence, aaaand...

"The Report," about the investigation into the CIA's torture tactics in the wake of 9/11; "Joker," with Joaquin Phoenix as the iconic Batman villain; "Marriage Story," about a couple going through a cross-country divorce, from director Noah Baumbach; Steven Soderbergh's "The Laundromat," with Meryl Streep as a woman who takes down a law firm tied to the rich and powerful; and "Dolemite is My Name," with Eddie Murphy playing "Dolemite" star Rudy Ray Moore, in a film by "Hustle & Flow" director Craig Brewer. 

Those last three films are all from Netflix, the streaming giant which has made a strong showing at the fest in recent years. ("The Irishman," Martin Scorsese's hugely anticipated Netflix original, won't be at TIFF, but will premiere in late September at the New York Film Festival.) 

If TIFF is where Oscar dreams begin, it's also where, in some cases, they come crashing to the ground.

Going into last year's fest, "Beautiful Boy" and "Boy Erased" were both considered awards season contenders, and had more or less fizzled by festival's end. So from that list above, expect several films to have their awards hopes snuffed out by festival's close.   

TIFF is known as the most fan-friendly of the major film fests, and features a parade of stars who walk red carpets and glad hand with the fans who swarm the downtown streets like iPhone wielding members of the paparazzi.

Among the stars slated to attend this year's festival: Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Murphy, Brie Larson, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Michael B. Jordan, Jennifer Lopez, Joaquin Phoenix, the Weeknd, Jessica Biel, Robert Pattinson, Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep and dozens upon dozens of others. Roll a bowling ball down King St. and you're bound to hit someone famous.

Last year, some 450,000 people attended TIFF and dumped nearly $200 million into the city's economy; not bad for an 11-day popcorn binge. Coming out of TIFF with a leg up in the Oscar race is one thing. But no matter the films, Toronto emerges as the festival's biggest winner of all.