10 Contenders Gunning for Oscars at the Toronto Film Festival

Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, George Clooney and Viggo Mortensen are all in high-profile projects unspooling at the Sept. event.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for DIRECTV

We know that Tuesday's Toronto International Film Festival lineup announcement contains a future Oscar contender or two, and other films fated to fizzle fast. But there's no telling yet which is which -- especially considering the huge Oscar hopefuls that won't be at Toronto Sept. 8-18.

Clint Eastwood is still busy editing J. Edgar. Paramount, perhaps inspired by the twin Oscars The Fighter won (plus a best picture nom) after last year's late-season release, is holding Jason Reitman's Young Adult, scripted by his Juno partner Diablo Cody and starring Charlize Theron in what sounds like an Oscar-bait role, back from the fest circuit. That's an eyebrow-raiser, since Reitman has favorite-son status at Toronto and many would have bet money it would be there.

The Weinstein Company's The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep as Brit capitalist battleax Margaret Thatcher, is much buzzed as her possible 17th Oscar-nom vehicle (and third win). It's not on the first list for Toronto, though dramatic late entry announcements remain possible, and few can orchestrate a race like Harvey Weinstein.

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Toronto is the crucial first stage of the Oscar race (set up by the Telluride and Venice fests around Labor Day). Last year, The King's Speech was lofted by Telluride applause to triumph at Toronto and the Oscars, thanks in part to a clever campaign. Here are ten potential contenders that will be at Toronto:

Albert Nobbs: Glenn Close won an Obie Award in the 1980s for playing the heroine, who passes as a male butler in nineteenth-century Ireland. You can bet Roadside will want to push for more awards. Whether or not voters share Close's decades of passion for the project, if there were an Oscar for longest rehearsal, she'd win.

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A Dangerous Method: David Cronenberg's movie about Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Jung (Michael Fassbender) and a troubled beauty (Keira Knightley) could whet Oscar's appetite for period drama, and break Cronenberg right out of the arthouse into the Kodak Theater. Sony Pictures Classics, already riding high after piloting Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris to record-breaking heights of commercial success and the kind of mainstream splash that can presage Oscars, had better break out a second batch of bubbly in case they've got a new hit on their hands.

The Descendants: Writer/director Alexander Payne gets an Oscar nom (or win) every half-decade or so, and star George Clooney about every two, so they're both about due for another. Clooney's part as an emotionally AWOL dad flung by fate into bonding with his daughters after their mom's Waikiki accident could strum Academy heartstrings. Clooney's own movie, The Ides of March, about political scandal, which he directs and costars in, may not have quite the heat Payne's does, but it increases Clooney's already extreme prestige and ups the profile of both projects.

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Peace, Love & Misunderstanding: Director Bruce Beresford hasn't been nominated since 1984's Tender Mercies, but perhaps his On Golden Pond-ish-sounding movie about three generations colliding one weekend at a hippie grandma's house will put voters in a tender mood. Likelier to hog Oscar attention: former counterculture goddess Jane Fonda as grandma. But first the flick needs a distributor and a release date this year.

Moneyball: Even with Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin scripting and Brad Pitt starring, a fact-based movie about the revenge of a bad-news baseball team that takes on the rich teams sounds like an improbable hit. On the other hand, they built it, so Oscars may come.

W.E.: All right, you're skeptical. Madonna's name does not have quite the same Oscar cachet as, say, Streep. And she's the director. But TWC is seriously high on the picture's prospects, and it's about minor characters in The King's Speech, the Duke of Windsor and his uncommon commoner wife Wallis. The setup sounds like Julie and Julia: it bounces back and forth between the oldtime characters and a modern woman obsessed with them. Either TWC is messing with our heads, or they've got the genuine article.

50/50: Sight unseen, there's a 50/50 chance Jonathan Levine's young-guy-with-cancer drama and/or comedy starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen will be maudlin or smart, sharp, and touching. 

The Artist: Too bad the Academy doesn't have a category for silent black and white movies -- this would win in a cakewalk. Cannes went nuts for it, TWC will flog it relentlessly, but to have a serious shot this curiosity would have been much better off coming out back when there were ten best picture slots. 

Tyrannosaur: Peter Mullan was the talk of Sundance as a raging Yorkshire alkie who falls in with a Christian married lady in Paddy Considine's directing debut, but the talk had better be very loud, considering that Strand will have a ha'penny campaign budget. And kicking a doggie to death in the first scene is a novel way to court Academy members.

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Tilda Swinton was swindled out of an Oscar nom last year, many think, and her new role as the mom of a Columbine-style teen killer sounds like the kind of gritty yet emotional stuff that can perk up older Academy pulses. Think Monster, only the monster is her kid. Oscilloscope will be pushing Swinton hard, and it would take a hell of a push.