Film world's attention is in Canada during the Toronto International Film Festival

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Toronto — It was just after 9 p.m. on the opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival and activity from the first day of screenings was winding down when a familiar face went out for a stroll.

Along King Street, the main artery of the festival and home to premiere screenings and red carpets throughout the fest, Jason Segel wandered slowly down the center of the street, dancing in and out of the streetcar tracks that run down the center of the road.

The “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “I Love You, Man” star was alone — no publicist, no entourage — and as he traipsed underneath the marquee of the Princess of Wales theater, he paused to shake hands and pose for selfies with a few fans. One awestruck onlooker let out a surprised yelp when she noticed him in his blue sweater and jeans. As Segel continued down the street, the young woman remarked to her friend, “I’ve never gasped that loud!”

There were plenty of gasps throughout TIFF, which marks the unofficial (but sort of official) kickoff to Hollywood’s Oscar season. There were gasps from fans, who lined the streets to watch red carpet arrivals featuring the likes of Hollywood superstars from Tom Hanks to Jennifer Lopez to Brie Larson. There were gasps from audiences, who were wowed by screenings of films such as “Dolemite is My Name” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which played to thunderous applause and standing ovations at the fest. And there were gasps from the stars and filmmakers themselves, elated to be a part of the festival, now in its 44th year.

“I’m so relieved!” said filmmaker Taika Waititi, at a party Sunday night following the world premiere screening of his WWII satire “Jojo Rabbit.” The movie went over like gangbusters at its sold-out showing, and marked the arrival of what is sure to be a major contender come Oscar time.

Hollywood and film fans take over Toronto during TIFF, which hosts screenings for 10 days across the city. (The fest wraps Sunday.) More than 400 films from around the world are programmed during the fest, which is known for being fan-friendly, and allows film lovers to catch glimpses of their favorite stars both on screen and in person. Fest attendance is estimated at more than 400,000 film lovers.

Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan waved to fans and signed autographs along the red carpet on Friday prior to the premiere of “Just Mercy,” a drama about a death row inmate (Foxx) whose young lawyer (Jordan) fights to reopen his case and exonerate him. It’s a handsome, accomplished drama that hits the right emotional notes and could earn Jordan his first Academy Award nomination.

Eddie Murphy’s triumphant starring turn as Rudy Ray Moore in Netflix’s upcoming “Dolemite is My Name” earned him a standing ovation following its premiere Saturday night, and has the star high in the Oscar conversation for the first time since his nominated turn in 2007’s “Dreamgirls.” The film, from “Hustle & Flow” director Craig Brewer, has laughs and heart to spare, and Murphy gives his best performance in decades. The film is set to premiere on the streaming service next month after a short run in select theaters.

Other awards contenders at the festival include “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which features Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers but is not centered on the Rogers character, but rather a journalist who profiles the beloved children’s star; “Marriage Story,” a devastating drama with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a couple going through a bitter divorce; and “Judy,” with Renee Zellweger as screen star Judy Garland.

“Jojo Rabbit” premiered Sunday with several large questions looming over its head — chiefly, can a WWII comedy with a cartoonish portrayal of Adolf Hitler at its center manage to be funny and not wildly inappropriate? — and managed to not only answer them (yes!) but achieve a level of heart and relatability that speaks to the need for tolerance and understanding in today’s world. It’s not only one of the year’s best movies, but it presents a strong argument for instituting an award for ensemble cast at the Academy Awards.

“Jojo Rabbit” stars Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Stephan Merchant were among those packed into Toronto bar Arcane on Sunday night, along with Waititi and “Saturday Night Live” star Kate McKinnon, following the premiere.

For the stars, it was a chance to dance, mingle and blow off steam at the festival’s midway point before the machine cranked up again a few hours later. Monday brought more premieres – including the highly anticipated “Joker” and the auto tale “Ford V Ferrari” – and those premieres brought with them more elated fans, more parties and yes, more gasps.  

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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