3 Toronto Takeaways

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As TIFF concludes its 10-day run, it has served up 339 films, leaving several dominant impressions that show this year is like no other.

The Oscar Crown Is Up for Grabs

The past four best picture winners at the Academy Awards -- No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker and The King's Speech -- played Toronto, where they established their awards potential. Last year especially, Speech, which triggered standing ovations, was hailed as an early favorite. This year, though, even the best-received films did not seem surrounded by quite the same air of inevitability. Certainly, Fox Searchlight's The Descendants, after a sneak peek at the Telluride Film Festival, earned plenty of plaudits. But Alexander Payne's first film since 2004's Sideways deals with issues of loss, grief and denial, hardly the uplifting fare the Academy tends to favor. THR's The Race blogger Scott Feinberg predicts that "the movie will have an uphill climb for a best picture nod." Still, star George Clooney -- who also was busy promoting The Ides of March, the political drama he directed -- was universally hailed as a likely best actor nominee, with Payne a potential writing and directing contender. Other movies burnished their awards credentials: Sony's Moneyball proved it is more than a baseball yarn; the Weinstein Co.'s The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius' silent movie, delighted audiences just as it had in Telluride and Cannes; Sony Pictures Classics' Jungian drama A Dangerous Method made a bid to become the thinking man's choice; and Steve McQueen's Shame, which Searchlight snatched with promises of mounting an Oscar campaign for Michael Fassbender's revealing performance as a sex addict, caused a stir.

Sex Is Not a Sure Thing

Shame wasn't the only movie daring to reveal all. Sarah Polley's rom-com Take This Waltz took a detour into a frankly naked shower scene. "When it came, and I saw my full frontal, I had an actual heart attack -- and I'm proud to have done it," says co-star Sarah Silverman. Gina Gershon and Juno Temple bared all in William Friedkin's Killer Joe. Lars von Trier was shopping presales for his next project, Nymphomaniac, promising a movie about "the erotic life of a woman from the age of zero to 50." Even David Cronenberg's Method, while far less explicit, made sex its main obsession. Still, the adage "sex sells" has never been all that true for the U.S. market. The last time Searchlight made a foray into NC-17 territory with 2003's The Dreamers, the film collected only $2.5 million domestically, compared with $12.5 million internationally. Could Shame suffer the same fate? "Shame is a brilliant movie, the best film I've seen in two years or more, but the sex could be a problem in the States," predicts veteran buyer Markus Zimmer of Germany's Concorde Films. "Of course, in Europe, we're used to rougher stuff."

It Wasn't Buy, Buy, Buy

Last year, the Weinstein Co. made a splash at the fest, trumpeting Speech and snapping up titles like Dirty Girl, which it bought during opening weekend. This year, though it was in the hunt for Shame, like several other companies it was slower to open its checkbook. Instead, TWC used Toronto to promote its upcoming slate -- Artist, My Week With Marilyn (with an awards-worthy turn by Michelle Williams) and Ralph Fiennes' Shakespearean Coriolanus -- while also doing damage control on Madonna's W.E., which got knocked around by critics in Venice. SPC, celebrating its 20th anniversary, was just as busy, ballyhooing a half-dozen movies from Agnieszka Holland's In Darkness to Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In. But like the others, by mid-fest, SPC hadn't made a splashy purchase.

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