The Toronto International Film Festival, set to launch this week, sets the Oscar conversation

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Ryan Gosling is headed to the moon. Michael Moore is on his way to Mar-a-Lago. And Hollywood is starting its long, slow march toward the Oscar podium.

September is here, and as those first day of school pictures start filling up your feeds, the movies are starting to put on their serious face. Summer was fun -- although things could have gone better for the Rock's "Skyscraper" climb and Melissa McCarthy's "Happytime" puppet project -- but awards season is underway, and it's time we turn our attention toward the Toronto International Film Festival. 

The Oscar season launch pad kicks off Thursday and wraps Sept. 16, and the fest is set to dictate the conversation on this year's players and failures when it comes to those cute little gold statues. 

The last three Best Picture winners all screened as part of TIFF, as did many of the other nominees; last year, five of the nine nominees were part of the fest's programming. 

The extremely fan-friendly festival takes over the streets of downtown Toronto, and allows moviewatchers the opportunity to become star-watchers. Big-time stars such as George Clooney and Lady Gaga walked the red carpet last year, and the fest has gotten so large that even Toronto's hometown boy Drake will be a part of this year's opening night ceremonies.

Gaga will be back, too, with her much-touted "A Star is Born," with the Lady stepping into the role Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland took on before her. The film marks the writing and directing debut of Bradley Cooper and is said to be the real deal. 

Also earning early buzz is "First Man," from director Damien Chazelle ("La La Land"),  which stars Gosling as Neil Armstrong. In addition, there's writer-director Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight" follow-up, "If Beale Street Could Talk." Based on James Baldwin's novel of the same name about a couple who fall in love and face turmoil when the male is accused of raping another woman, "Beale Street" is one of the world premieres this year's TIFF is touting. 

Other films on the world premiere docket include "Widows," the crime drama from director Steve McQueen, his follow-up to "12 Years a Slave"; "Green Book,"  director Peter Farrelly's road trip comic-drama which stars Viggo Mortensen and "Moonlight" Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali; Jonah Hill's writing and directing debut "Mid90s"; "Beautiful Boy," with Steve Carell and "Call Me By Your Name's" Timothée Chalamet as a father and son dealing with the throes of addiction; and "Ben is Back," which stars Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts and tells the story of a troubled young man returning home on Christmas Eve. 

Several TIFF films are of local interest: there's "White Boy Rick," which recounts the tale of Richard Wershe Jr., a teenage drug dealer turned FBI informant in 1980s Detroit; "Driven," which centers on the FBI's sting operation to entrap Motor City native John DeLorean; and "Fahrenheit 11/9," the latest from director Moore, which centers on the presidency of Donald Trump. 

Moore has a long history with TIFF, dating back to "Roger & Me," which premiered at the festival 29 years ago. He's been back with several movies since, including "The Big One" in 1997, "Bowling for Columbine" in 2002 and "Where to Invade Next" in 2015, and the sure-to-be-talked-about "Fahrenheit" makes its world premiere on the first night of the festival. 

You'll no doubt be hearing about it in the coming days; the film is set to be Moore's loudest since its spiritual predecessor "Fahrenheit 9/11," the top-earning documentary in history. And you'll also be hearing about the big films that play during the aptly named "festival of festivals" until you hear the words "and the Academy Award goes to ..." in February. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama  

 

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