Toronto International Film Festival: A fine time to play Where’s Oscar?

Tom Long
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It’s uncertain whether Oscar will be attending this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

What is certain is that there will be the annual deluge of quality films at the fest, 289 features and 83 shorts from 72 countries. And star power will again shine brightly, with everyone from Al Pacino to Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon to Adam Sandler and Steve Carell to Tina Fey expected to attend.

It will be huge. It’s always huge — more than 400,000 attendees pumped some $180 million into Canada’s economy last year.

But again, the question a lot of people will be asking is: Where’s Oscar?

Understand, TIFF has helped launch the majority of Oscar winners over the past decade. “12 Years a Slave,” “The Artist,” “The King’s Speech,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Hurt Locker,” “American Beauty” — all played Toronto.

This year, though, is notable for how many films aren’t coming to the festival. Many potential Oscar contenders — Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken,” the Sondheim musical “Into the Woods,” Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice,” the list goes on — seem to be skipping the festival circuit altogether and opening late in the year. Others, including David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” and the Michael Keaton-starring “Birdman” — currently drawing raves at the Venice Film Festival — have simply opted to go with other festivals.

Part of this has to do with Toronto’s new policy on world premieres — if you want an early berth at the fest, which everyone does, it’s got to be your first time out. And part is likely the whims of Hollywood scheduling. But there will be no clear frontrunner for Oscar gold — as was the case with “The Artist,” “The King’s Speech” and “12 Years a Slave” — when the festival begins Thursday.

Which isn’t to say there won’t be a great many contenders present. The Cannes sensation “Mr. Turner” from director Mike Leigh, a biography of the eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner, will surely keep star Timothy Spall in best actor contention. And the Stephen Hawking romance “The Theory of Everything,” with Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, looks ripe for awards contention.

Reese Witherspoon will have two high-profile projects at the festival, the hiking redemption adventure “Wild” and “The Good Lie,” about Sudanese refugees. And festival fixture Jason Reitman brings the modern dysfunction drama “Men, Women & Children.”

Obviously, the possibilities are near endless, including the chance that something will break out of the shadows and bowl everyone over. It happens.

Actually, it happened 25 years ago when a young filmmaker from Michigan named Michael Moore debuted his documentary “Roger & Me” in Toronto; that anniversary will be honored this year and Moore will speak at the festival’s annual Doc Conference. Also on the agenda will be Bill Murray Day on Sept. 5 with free screenings of “Stripes,” “Groundhog Day” and “Ghostbusters,” as well as the world premiere of Murray’s latest, “St. Vincent.”

You’ve got to love any festival that has a Bill Murray Day. Then again, if you love movies, you’ve got to love Toronto.

The 39th annual Toronto International Film Festival

Sept. 4-14

Tickets and schedule:

Phone: (888) 599-8433

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