Toronto: A Dress Rehearsal for Oscar Night?


The upcoming space thriller from writer-director Alfonso Cuaron features Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts on a space shuttle mission that goes horribly awry after a satellite crashes into their craft, stranding them in the abyss with depleting oxygen reserves. The film got rapturous reviews after premiering at the Venice Film Festival, with Todd McCarthy calling it "the most realistic and beautifully choreographed film ever set in space" and "a thrillingly realized survival story spiked with interludes of breath-catching tension and startling surprise."

With seven of the past 13 best-picture winners having played at Toronto, odds are that the 86th Academy Awards victor is about to unspool at the festival.

Although the Toronto Film Festival is not primarily a competitive event, the eyes of Hollywood will be on its People’s Choice Award, voted on by the audience itself. Last year, it went to Silver Linings Playbook, which, more than five months later, would see its star Jennifer Lawrence capture an Academy Award. Two years before that, Toronto hit The King’s Speech won best picture, and two years before that, festival favorite Slumdog Millionaire triumphed on Oscar night. A few films are arriving in Toronto on a wave of applause.

Warner Bros. is hoping that Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, the 3D space odyssey that opened the Venice Film Festival and orbited through Telluride, will continue to build momentum at its Sept. 8 gala screening, just as last year’s best picture Argo did. “A best pic nom for sure,” Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton tweeted after producer Frank Marshall proclaimed Gravity the best film he saw at Telluride. 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen’s unflinching look at slavery in the American South, also stunned audiences in Telluride, and its distributor Fox Searchlight is looking to Toronto to confirm its standing as a contender. But both films face plenty of competition in Toronto: Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange, took the high-profile opening-night slot.

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Jason Reitman, who used Toronto to show off awards favorites like Up in the Air and Juno, is bringing Labor Daystarring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. And Ron Howard’s Formula One-set Rush is looking to start its awards engines as well. The Weinstein Co. will use Toronto to stoke buzz around Justin Chadwick’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, in which Idris Elba plays Nelson Mandela; John WellsAugust: Osage County, which Meryl Streep headlines; and Stephen FrearsPhilomena, in which Judi Dench plays a mother seeking the child she long ago put up for adoption (it drew cheers in Venice). 

Sony Pictures Classics’ crowded dance card includes Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, which won Berenice Bejo best actress honors in Cannes, and Ralph Fiennes’ plunge into the life of Charles DickensThe Invisible Woman. And Focus will bow Dallas Buyers Club, which promises to continue the upward career trajectory of star Matthew McConaugheySeven of the past 13 best-picture Oscar winners played Toronto. That means the odds are that the eventual victor at next March’s 86th Academy Awards is about to unspool.