TIFF 2013 plays out mostly as expected for Oscar hopefuls

Will Perkins

Did something steal TIFF’s Oscar thunder this year?

Over the past decade or so, the Toronto International Film Festival has become known as the unofficial start to the annual Hollywood awards season. Films that do well at TIFF typically go on to win big at the Oscars and the other major award shows.

The 2013 festival is no different. Indeed, many industry watchers consider this year’s festival line-up to have been one of the best ever, in terms of potential Oscar winners and pure concentrated star power. But while TIFF remains an important bellwether for Tinsel Town trophy time, this year’s fest has not been the Oscar coronation that most expected.

The reason? Many of TIFF’s biggest movies played other festivals prior to their arrival in Canada. The critical consensus was already in by the time the movies screened at Toronto.

“12 Years a Slave” came into Toronto as the Oscar favourite and leaves the festival the same way. Director Steve McQueen’s slavery biopic premiered at Telluride just days before its TIFF appearance, earning rave reviews and a standing ovation at both festivals. Many expect the film to be a major competitor in most of the major Oscar categories, including Best Picture, Best Director (McQueen), Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o). The film’s TIFF bow merely confirmed what Telluride had already revealed.

The harrowing space survival flick “Gravity” wowed Toronto audiences with its technical wizardry and strong performances. Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron and star Sandra Bullock remain solid Oscar contenders for the Best Director and Best Actress categories. “The Fifth Estate,” “Rush,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” and “Dallas Buyers Club” all met TIFF expectations, leaving the Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch, Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey), Best Supporting Actor (Daniel Brühl, Jared Leto), and Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris, Jennifer Garner) categories pretty much as they stood prior to the festival.

There were still a few surprises at TIFF, though. Many expected “Crash” director Paul Haggis’ star-studded drama “Third Person” to drum up some awards season buzz in the wake of its Toronto premiere, but the film left audiences and most critics cold. Another big disappointment was the ensemble family drama “August: Osage County,” starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Both Streep and Roberts have earned praise for their respective performances, but the ending of the movie (which differs from the play on which it was based) seems to have put off some viewers. Word on the street is that the end will be changed for “August's” holiday wide release.

Scarlett Johansson also shocked many festivalgoers with her incredible creepy and brave performance in Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi film “Under the Skin.” The film premiered at Venice a few weeks ago, but TIFF confirmed that the 28-year-old thesp is a real contender for Best Actress this year. The Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman starrer “Railway Man” also came out of left field at TIFF, creating some serious Oscar buzz for both Hollywood vets after the premiere earned a standing ovation.

With many months to go before the Oscar nominations are even announced, a lot could change between the end of TIFF and the night the gold trophies are handed out. TIFF 2013 wasn’t quite the Oscar predictor fest has been in previous years (thanks to the Venice and Telluride film fests pulling the rug out from under a few big Toronto premieres), but the fest certainly went a long way towards confirming what many already suspected.

The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival runs from Sept. 5 to 15.

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