Toronto, You’re Up

With Telluride drawing to a close yesterday and Venice winding down (still need to hear on the festival’s surprise closing selection, “The Tempest”), the film world now turns to the last big international film festival of the year -Toronto. In recent years, TIFF has been a major launching pad for Oscar-bound films. Campaigns are often built based on the buzz that emerges from the audiences in Canada (go figure).

This year, Telluride seems to have stolen much of the heat from TIFF’s fire; many of the big-ticket films already got their world or U.S. premieres last week in Colorado (as I have been reporting), including “Black Swan,” “The King’s Speech” and “127 Hours.” Still, there are a few players yet to keep an eye on, including Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” and John Cameron Mitchell’s “Rabbit Hole.” And since TIFF audiences generally tend to share some of the same tastes as the Academy, it’s still very much worth noting what kind of reaction those already-premiered contenders get. Is “The King’s Speech” gunning for front-runner status? Is “Black Swan” too freaky or can the psycho-thriller be an across-the-board contender? Can Cannes darlings “Another Year” and “Blue Valentine” sustain their early buzz? Is Ben Affleck’s “The Town” for real or just a well-crafted, entertaining genre piece?

What’s that? Oh, right, I haven’t told you about “The Town” yet. Debuting yesterday (earlier today? screw time zones) in Venice, Affleck’s sophomore effort as a director is receiving the same kind of half-surprised, pleasantly ecstatic reviews that greeted his first movie, 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone.” All arrows point to the film being a crisp, well-acted crime thriller; you know, the kind that used to be a Hollywood staple but now studios seem to have completely lost their ability to make (“Takers,” anyone?). Comparisons to “The Departed” even have people speculating on some possible awards love, but I doubt it. “The Departed” had two major factors that drove it to victory: 1) Martin Scorsese being looooong overdue for Oscar glory, and 2) a whole bunch of prestige projects that fell flat on their faces in 2006 (“All the King’s Men” and “Bobby,” anyone?). This year, so far, most of the big contenders are justifying why they were on the radar. Even with 10 nominees, it would be a squeeze for a tight, efficient genre flick to make it in the way, say, “District 9” did last year. “Inception” will probably fill the Academy’s “see, we’re not out of touch with audiences” quota. Still, as a big fan of “Gone Baby Gone,” I’m glad Affleck is keeping the form up, and look forward to an entertaining night at the theater come September 17.

In other news, there seems to be all kinds of craziness going on with “The Tree of Life” and Apparition’s distribution deal. We’re now at the point where I’m just going to stop paying attention until I see a trailer with a firm release date (none of that “Coming Soon” crap) at the end.

Updated the Contenders section slightly. Figure I’ll make Oscar predictions every two weeks for now, so the next round will be Sep. 15. Get pumped.

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