By Steve Pond
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - A handful of movies went up the mountain to Telluride and came down anointed Oscar contenders.
Another few navigated the canals in Venice and were celebrated Italian style.
But now it's time for the Big One.
The Toronto International Film Festival, which kicks off on Thursday night with a gala screening of Bill Condon's WikiLeaks movie "The Fifth Estate" (plus 20 other public screenings and 59 press and industry screenings that day alone), is the behemoth of the fall festivals, the one that shows almost everything over 11 days in Canada.
By the end of that week and a half, we'll have a better idea of whether it was the thin air or the unflinching artistry that made everyone rave about Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave." We'll get a sense of how the consensus will form on Jason Reitman's "Labor Day," which divided the crowd in Telluride. We'll have an inkling of whether Stephen Frears' Judi Dench vehicle "Philomena," which won raves in Venice, will travel effectively to this side of the Atlantic.
And we'll know a little more about "Gravity," which will come to TIFF for a few screenings (including one in 3D IMAX) that will presumably bowl over those of us who've only heard about how amazing Alfonso Cuaron's space drama is from those who saw it on the Lido and in the mountains.
Of course, we won't learn everything: Canadians are so proud of their homegrown filmmakers that we may not get a more accurate reading on whether Denis Villeneuve's "Prisoners" - which is reportedly very tense and very long - has what it takes to be a Stateside hit or an awards movie.
But a lot of other questions will be answered, a couple of films may come out of TIFF anointed frontrunners in the awards race, a fair number of good movies will be lost in the shuffle, and a few all-night bidding wars will turn unheralded filmmakers into shooting stars.
Toronto is big and unwieldy, vital and frustrating. It's impossible, and it's essential. It's an embarrassment of riches at times, a graveyard for well-meaning failures at others. It has served as a launching pad (not the only one, but a crucial one) for the last six Best Picture winners: "No Country for Old Men," "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Hurt Locker," "The King's Speech," "The Artist" and "Argo."
"Gravity," "12 Years a Slave," "August: Osage County," "Rush" and several more films are heading to Toronto in an attempt to extend that Oscar streak to seven years, while a few others ("Captain Phillips," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Saving Mr. Banks" among them) will stay away and hope they can bring the streak to an end.
But even if a non-TIFF film stops the victory march, Toronto is still the showcase of the fall festival season.
And a look through its lineup is a daunting experience. The festival is showing movies called "Paradise," "Paradise Falls," "Paradise: Hope" and "Paradiso." "The Major" and "The Mayor." "The Lovely Month of May," "August: Osage County," "September" and "October November."
(In a juxtaposition that was no doubt irresistible to a scheduler, "September" will be followed by "October November" in one TIFF theater on September 9. Couldn't they have fit "August: Osage County" before those two?)
Villeneuve directed two of the festival's films, "Prisoners" and "Enemy"; so did Ron Howard, with "Rush" and the documentary "Made in America." Daniel Radcliffe and Benedict Cumberbatch each appear in three - the former in "Kill Your Darlings," "Horns" and "The F Word," the latter in "The Fifth Estate," "August: Osage County" and "12 Years a Slave."
Heck, you could make an entire film festival (or plan a dizzying vacation) out of the TIFF films with place names in their titles: "American Dreams in China," "At Berkeley," "Bethlehem," "Brazilian Western," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Exit Marrakech," "A Field in England," "Friends From France," "Ladder to Damascus," "Our Man in Tehran," "Parkland," "Palestine Stereo," "Palo Alto," "Rome, Open City," "Sunshine on Leith," "Southcliffe," "When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism" and probably a few others I missed.
But missing things is an inescapable part of Toronto. The festival has too much to see, too much to do, too many screenings and too many parties and too many actors and directors and executives to talk to, particularly in its front-loaded opening weekend.
Locked into specific dates by their agreement with the International Federation of Film Producers Associations, Toronto will begin on Rosh Hashanah and end just after Yom Kippur this year, which has forced the festival to program additional screenings to accommodate festivalgoers who observe the holidays.
But since TIFF has added the new Glen Gould Studio and will take over the entire Scotiabank 14-screen multiplex for the first time ever, the Big One has the space to get even bigger.