Toronto: Opening Weekend Is Missing That Awards Season Sizzle

Only one film with built-in awards-season cachet will bow before Monday

In a departure from recent Toronto Film Festivals, opening weekend is shaping up to be a somewhat muted affair.

Last year, three major Oscar contenders, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and Dallas Buyers Club, played during the first few days, creating a frenzied weekend. And in 2012, Argo and Silver Linings Playbook bowed on the Friday and Saturday, respectively. But this year, the only film with built-in awards-season cachet (meaning its principal talent has been an awards magnet in the past) bowing before Monday is arguably Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children, which makes its world premiere Saturday at the Ryerson Theatre. (Reitman's Juno and Up in the Air scored best picture nominations, though his more recent Young Adult and Labor Day did not.)

Longtime festival attendees say there's little doubt that Toronto Film Festival director Cameron Bailey's anti-Telluride policy is having a chilling effect on the Oscar prowess of the opening days. The new edict bars films that already have bowed at the Telluride Film Festival from screening in the first four days of Toronto, pushing heavies like Benedict Cumberbatch's The Imitation Game and Reese Witherspoon's Wild out of the weekend. As a result, the must-see vibe of past opening days has been replaced by the feeling of a dress rehearsal.

But Bailey counters the notion that Toronto 2014 isn't an Oscar launch pad.

"Since it's only Friday, that means most of the first weekend's films haven't yet been seen," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. Furthermore, he adds, "We've certainly observed the interest in awards [contenders] among some members of the media, but that's never been our focus."

David Dobkin, director of opening night film The Judge, addressed the Telluride controversy in a thinly veiled remark before his film kicked off the festival Sept. 4, calling the Toronto Film Festival a place where "a world premiere is a world premiere." Though Warner Bros. has hopes that Judge stars Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall will be in the Oscar mix, the film itself is not expected to be a best picture contender.

The ripple effect of the festival's back-loaded lineup could even be felt in the domestic acquisitions marketplace. "There's a huge hole Friday," says one buyer. "There is nothing on my schedule between 8:45 a.m. and 6 p.m."

In fact, the anti-Telluride rule has resulted in an unprecedented number of private buyers' screenings sanctioned by the festival. Because the first weekend is relatively quiet, sales agents are using the opportunity to present to distributors movies that aren't playing until later in the second week (many acquisition executives will be gone by Wednesday). For example, Chris Evans' directorial debut Before We Go screened Sept. 5 and will junket during opening weekend even though it won't hold its world premiere until Sept. 12. Ditto for Tobey Maguire's Bobby Fischer pic Pawn Sacrifice, which won't officially debut until Sept. 11.

"I've never seen anything like it," says another buyer.

Whether it affects the eventual prices is still to be determined.

"It's hard to say ahead of the actual market," says A24's Noah Sacco. "How the films are spread across different festivals doesn't really matter at the end of the day. The volume of what is available to purchase in the marketplace is what drives the marketplace more so than when they premiere."

Pamela McClintock and Etan Vlessing contributed to this report.

Email: Tatiana.Siegel@THR.com
Twitter: @TatianaSiegel27

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