Toronto Film Festival: Judy, Joker, and Jojo Rabbit seek Oscar glory

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Left to right: Stills from Judy, Joker and Jojo Rabbit

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has shouted “action” on the epic six month saga that is film awards season, with the announcement of its first wave of movies.

Among the Oscar hopefuls showing at Toronto in the first half of September will be Renee Zellweger’s Judy Garland biopic, and Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker origin story.

The World War Two comedy Jojo Rabbit – directed by Thor: Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi – will also have its world premiere in Toronto.

Half of the Gala presentations – the most high profile screenings – are directed or co-directed by women, including Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood which stars Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys.

‘Sophisticated, not snobby’

“It’s not so much about the numbers,” says TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey. “It’s more about finding strong films by women that maybe weren’t as recognised in past years. Trying to develop relationships with filmmakers where they’ll bring films back.

“We have been just looking hard for the best films by women we can find, and giving them the highest profile and platforms.”

Toronto is seen as a key launch pad for films with Academy Award aspirations. The top prize at Toronto, the audience award, has consistently gone to a film that has later received a best picture nomination. And the winner of last year’s audience award, Green Book, went on to win the top prize at the Oscars in February.

“What I’m most proud of is the audience here in Toronto which has an uncanny knack for recognising movies that will go on to great acclaim,” Bailey tells the BBC. “They’ve done it all the way back to American Beauty in 1999 and Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle’s film in 2009. Last year with Green Book as well.

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Green Book’s premiere at Toronto last year launched its successful awards season run

“I think there’s something here about a really sophisticated audience that isn’t snobby, but still loves film and can embrace popular filmmaking which can, and that seems to be what allows some films to start their awards run here in Toronto.”

Toronto is one of three festivals, along with Venice and Telluride (in Colorado) that both take place in late August/early September, which traditionally showcase films on the Academy Awards radar.

Over the past decade every best picture winners at the Oscars but one has premiered at one of the three festivals.

Telluride doesn’t announce its line-up until the just before the festival begins, Venice will reveal which big films will play there on Thursday. And Toronto will make a series of further announcements, adding more titles to its line-up, between now and September.

So in the meantime here are some of the films premiering at Toronto, along with many others which will be hopeful of Academy Award recognition.

Jojo Rabbit

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Kimberley French

What you need to know: It’s a dark comedy set during World War II about a young German boy who has an imaginary friend in the form of an idiotic Adolf Hitler, and who discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic.

The buzz: Director Taika Waititi (who also plays Hitler) has won plaudits for his previous comedies What We Do in the Shadows and Thor: Ragnarok.

Festival appearances: It’ll have its world premiere at Toronto, after what is likely to have been strong competition from Venice and Telluride.

Oscar hopes: If it connects with audiences it could well become a frontrunner for best picture.


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Niko Tavernise

What you need to know: It’s an origin story from Gotham City as failed stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) evolves into feared villain The Joker.

The buzz: The trailer has met with huge approval, and has been viewed online more than 50 million times.

Festival appearances: It has its North American premiere at Toronto, so looks certain to play the Venice Film Festival first.

Oscar hopes: Joaquin Phoenix has been nominated three times but never won. Could he become the second Joker actor to take home a statuette after the late Heath Ledger?


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What you need to know: Set 30 years after Judy Garland played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, this biopic – which stars Renee Zellweger – reflects the highs and lows of the actress’s career.

The buzz: The trailer shows how well Garland’s life has been captured.

Festival appearances: It’ll have its Canadian premiere at Toronto, so looks extremely likely to appear a few days earlier at the Telluride Film Festival and Venice too.

Oscar hopes: A much-loved Hollywood actress playing a much loved Hollywood icon clearly has the potential to land Zellweger best actress recognition.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

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What you need to know: Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers, a TV personality who was hugely well known in the US, telling his life story to a journalist played by Welsh star Matthew Rhys.

The buzz: The new trailer created a hugely positive reaction on social media, and Marielle Heller’s previous film Can You Ever Forgive Me? produced standout performances from Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant.

Festival appearances: It’ll have its world premiere at Toronto.

Oscar hopes: Many of the Academy loved Fred Rogers. And many of them also love Tom Hanks. Oscar number three?

Just Mercy

What you need to know: An adaptation of a true story – Michael B Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson, a defence lawyer acting for Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) who faces the death penalty after being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.

The buzz: The book it’s based on is a bestseller, and the studio Warner Bros. recently moved the film’s release date to a prime Christmas slot.

Festival appearances: Toronto will host its world premiere.

Oscar hopes: It’s the kind of story with potential to resonate with voters, multiples nominations are possible.

Le Mans ’66 (aka Ford v Ferrari)

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What you need to know: It’s known as Ford v Ferrari in the US and Canada. And unsurprisingly covers the real life rivalry between the two companies in the gruelling 24 hour Le Mans race in 1966.

The buzz: Director James Mangold is loved by fellow film makers. If audiences react similarly, it could do particularly well.

Festival appearances: Its Canadian premiere will be in Toronto, so is likely to play at both Telluride and Venice too.

Oscar hopes: Christian Bale has landed three acting nominations in the last five years. And is a favourite with Academy voters.

The Goldfinch

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Warner Bros

What you need to know: Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel about a boy (Ansel Elgort) who loses his mother, and in the process gains a valuable painting has been adapted for the big screen

The buzz: The book is several hundred pages long, with a lot to cram in to the film’s two and half hour running time. Fans seem divided as to whether it’ll manage it or not.

Festival appearances: Toronto has grabbed its world premiere.

Oscar hopes: If it is as loved by viewers as the book was by readers, it could be huge.

The Two Popes

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Peter Mountain

What you need to know: The film explores the relationship and opposing views of Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) after he resigns the papacy and Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) is elected as his successor.

The buzz: Netflix has one of the best awards teams in the business and the current plan seems to be give this a big Oscar qualifying push.

Festival appearances: It’ll have its Canadian premiere at Toronto, so looks certain to play at Telluride first. And a film with such Italian associations would also seem an odd omission for Venice.

Oscar hopes: Hopkins and Pryce are both seen as heavyweights. And four of the last five best actor Oscars have gone to performers playing real life figures.

Bad Education

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What you need to know: It’s a high school comedy drama starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney.

The buzz: The script featured on 2016’s The Black List which highlights some of Hollywood’s best unproduced screenplays.

Festival appearances: The film will have its world premiere at Toronto.

Oscar hopes: If it can connect in the same way 1999’s Election did, it could do well.

Marriage Story

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Wilson Webb

What you need to know: It’s very much under wraps at the moment, but reportedly is about two characters played by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver divorcing.

The buzz: Writer/director Noah Baumbach has attracted a strong cast, and he’s seen as a big talent.

Festival appearances: Toronto will have its Canadian premiere, so is extremely likely to play at both Telluride and Venice beforehand.

Oscar hopes: So much is still unknown about the film at this stage, it’s hard to say.

Uncut Gems

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What you need to know: It’s a comedy drama about a jewellery store owner (Adam Sandler) who ends up in debt when he loses a huge amount of merchandise is taken from him.

The buzz: Directors Josh and Benny Safdie are favourites on the indie circuit.

Festival appearances: The film has its International premiere at Toronto, so looks certain to be shown at Telluride first.

Oscar hopes: Could this be Adam Sandler’s moment?

The Personal History of David Copperfield

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Patel won a Bafta for his role in Lion alongside Nicole Kidman

What you need to know: It’s a colour-inclusive version of David Copperfield set in the 1840s with Dev Patel in the title role, and Armando Iannucci directing and co-scripting.

The buzz: Armando Iannucci has gathered a cast of well regarded talent, and has scored success in the past with The Death of Stalin and In The Loop.

Festival appearances: It will have its world premiere at Toronto, and will go on to open the London Film Festival with its European premiere in October.

Oscar hopes: Dev Patel was surprisingly passed over for Slumdog Millionaire, but did land a best actor nomination for Lion. Could this be the year he wins?

The Laundromat

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Claudette Barius

What you need to know: It’s a Steven Soderbergh directed story about the journalistic uncovering of the Panama Papers scandal about alleged financial wrongdoing on a massive scale.

The buzz: It has a very buzzy cast, with the likes of Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman among others.

Festival appearances: Toronto has its North American premiere, so looks certain to first be screened at Venice.

Oscar hopes: Soderbergh directs, produces, was the cinematographer for, and edited the film. So he has more chances than most!

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