TRUTH - Robert Redford & Cate Blanchett

TRUTH - Robert Redford & Cate Blanchett



The Danish Girl - Eddie Redmayne as Lili

The Danish Girl - Eddie Redmayne as Lili


Film festivals: Film festivals are the first stop on Hollywood's railroad to the Oscars.

High profile festivals in Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York provide convenient platforms in September and early October to show Oscar hopefuls to audiences of critics, film buffs, studio executives and the media crowd. When all goes well for a film at these first tier festivals, an early awards buzz starts circulating. That, in turn, leads to films being included on the lists of likely contenders.

Since the name of the game early in the awards season is simply to get noticed and talked about as a possible nominee, these festivals are very influential. Many big titles don't play in competition, but that doesn't matter. It's not necessary to win awards to kick start an Oscar buzz. Just being part of the media coverage about the hot titles that were well received by festival audiences is enough to start the ball rolling.

          The 72nd annual Venice Film Festival, the world's longest running film festival, just wrapped up after running Sept. 2-12. Its top award, the Golden Lion, was bestowed last Saturdayon the Venezuelan drama "From Afar." Directed by first time feature director Lorenzo Vigas, it stars Alfredo Castro. ItsVenice victory should propel "Afar" for consideration in a number of best foreign film races.

          Warner Bros., RatPac Entertainment and Cross Creek Pictures' R rated action crime drama "Black Mass"looms as a strong best picture Oscar contender. It made a big splash when it world premiered out-of-competition Sept. 4 at the glamorous Venice festivities.

          "Black"also was very well received shortly thereafter at is North American premiere at the film buff driven 42nd annual Telluride Film Festival, which ran from Sept. 4-7 in the Colorado mountains. It's having its Canadian premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which runs from Sept. 10-20, and opens domestically Sept. 18 at about 3,050 theatres.

          "Black's"trio of back-to-back festival showings mirrors what Warner Bros. did with "Gravity," which won seven Oscars in 2014, including best directing, in a down-to-the-wire best picture Oscar race whose winner was "12 Years a Slave."

          Directed by Scott Cooper ("Out of the Furnace"), "Black" stars Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Dakota Johnson. It should play best to adult men.

          "Black," which is based on the true story of one of the most notorious gangsters in U.S. history, takes place in 1970s South Boston. Edgerton plays FBI Agent John Connolly, who persuades Irish mobster "Whitey" Bulger (Depp) to help the FBI eliminate their common enemy, the Italian mob. As their unholy alliancespirals out of control, Whitey is able to evade law enforcement and consolidate his power.

          A goodcomparison for "Black" is Warner Bros. and Plan B Entertainment's R rated 2006 Oscar winning crime thriller "The Departed." Directed by Martin Scorsese ("Gangs of New York"), it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson.

          "Departed" was a critical and boxoffice success. After opening Oct. 6, 2006 to $26.9 million, it went on to do $132.4 million domestically. It was nominated for five Oscars and won in four categories – Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing.

          Another film festival title that's also arriving with an awards buzz this weekend is Universal, Cross Creek Pictures and Working Title Films' PG-13 rated IMAX 3D epic adventure"Everest,"which was the opening night selection at Venice Sept. 2. It opens this weekend at about 500 theatres in IMAX 3D and goes wide Sept. 25.

          Directed by Baltasar Kormákur ("Two Guns"), its ensemble cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley and Robin Wright. It's opening Sept. 18 in 3D IMAX and limited engagements and will go wide Sept. 25.

          "Everest," which should play best to adult men and also to women over 25, is inspired by incredible events surrounding efforts to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain as two expeditions are challenged beyond their limits by one of the fiercest snowstorms ever. 

          Nearly 400 films are being shown in Toronto over the course of 11 days with the highest profile titles screening as galas or special presentations, depending on whether they've played elsewhere prior to TIFF. Here's a quick look at a few of the titlesgenerating a noticeable early awards buzz.

          Fox Searchlight's R rated comedy drama "Demolition"had the coveted opening night spot at TIFF, but it won't be in this year's Oscar race because it's not opening until next Apr. 8. Nonetheless, its prime exposure in Toronto will certainly help create pre-awareness among moviegoers and the media crowd that should wind up being helpful at the boxoffice.

          Its director, Jean-Marc Valee, was a film editing Oscar nominee in 2014 for "Dallas Buyers Club," which he also directed. Starring are: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts and Heather Lind.

          Gyllenhaal plays Davis, a successful investment banker who's struggling after losing his wife in a tragic car crash. Despite pressure from his father-in-law (Chris Cooper) to pull himself together, Davis continues to unravel. What starts as a complaint letter he writes to a vending machine company, turns into a series of personally revealing letters.

          AfterDavis' letters get the attention of a customer service rep (Watts) with emotional problems of her own, the two form an unlikely connection. Davis begins building his new life, starting with the demolition of his old life.

          Universal, Cross Creek Pictures, StudioCanal and Working Title Films' R rated biographical crime thriller "Legend," another TIFF gala, opens domestically Oct. 2 in limited release. Its director, Brian Helgeland ("42"), won the adapted screenplay Oscar in 1998 for "L.A. Confidential." Starring are: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning and Taron Egerton.

          Helgeland's wrote "Legend's" screenplay, which is adapted from John Pearson's book about the infamous British twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray and their crime empire in 1960s London's East End.

          20th Century Fox and Scott Free Productions' PG-13 rated 3D sci-fi action adventure "The Martian"is another TIFF gala drawing major media attention and receiving enthusiastic reviews. It's from"Gladiator" director and three time Oscar nominee Ridley Scott. Starring are: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain and Kristen Wiig.

          Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney, who's presumed dead after a fierce storm during a manned mission to Mars and is left behind by his crew. But Watney has managed to survive and, stranded on the hostile planet, signals Earth that he's alive.

          Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring "the Martian" home while his crewmates plot a daringrescue mission.

          Like "Gravity" two years ago, "Martian" is a high profile, critics pleasing sci-fi adventure with solid boxoffice prospectsand a good shot at awards consideration.

          Focus Features and Working Title Films' biographical drama "The Danish Girl" had its world premiere at Venice and is a TIFF special presentation. It opens domestically in limited release Nov. 27 and goes wider Dec. 11.

          "Danish" director, Tom Hooper ("Les Miserables"), won the best directing Oscar in 2011 for "The Kings Speech." Starring are: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander and Amber Heard.

          The film takes place in Copenhagen during the early 1920s. Redmayne, who won the best actor Oscar in 2015 for playing Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," is already generating a strong best actor Oscar buzz for his performance in this love story in the transgender role of Lili Elbe.

          As a male called Einar Wegener, he was painted by his wife, the artist Gerda Wegener, who had him pose for her dressed and made up as a female. Afterwards, Einar chose to assume a new female identity as Lili, undergoing female sex reassignment surgery.

          Another TIFF special presentation that's attracting media attention as a likely awards contender is Open Road Films and Participant Media's R rated biographical drama "Spotlight," which has already been very well received at Venice and Telluride. It opens domestically Nov. 6 with exclusive engagements, expands Nov. 13 and goes wide Nov. 20.

          Directed by Tom McCarthy ("The Station Agent"), it stars Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and Mark Ruffalo. McCarthy was Oscar nominated in 2010 for co-writing the original screenplay for "Up."

          "Spotlight" is the true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation into one of the world's oldest and most trusted institutions. The newspaper's Spotlightreporting team probed allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church during a year-long investigation, uncoveringa decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston's religious, legal and government establishment.

          It's being talked about as the best movie about newspaper journalism since Alan J. Pakula's 1976 post-Watergate drama "All the President's Men," which starred Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

          Television journalism was also in the media spotlight at TIFF with the very well received world premiere last Saturdayof Sony Pictures Classics and RatPac Entertainment's biographical drama "Truth." It opens Oct. 16 with exclusive engagements in New York and Los Angeles and will subsequently expand nationwide.

          Written and directed by first time feature director James Vanderbilt, whose writing and producing credits include "Zodiac," "White House Down" and "The Amazing Spider-Man," it stars Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss and Dennis Quaid.

          "Truth" is based on the book "Truth and Duty" by Mary Mapes (Blanchett), an award winning CBS News journalist who was the producer for news anchor Dan Rather (Redford).

          The film's story revolves around Mapes and Rather's final days at CBS after airinga controversial "60 Minutes" report in 2004 that President George W. Bushhad received preferential treatment during the Vietnam War that put him in the National Guard rather than on the battlefield. When that story turned out to be untrue, it endedMapes and Rather's careers at CBS and came close to destroying CBS News in the process.

          Rather was on hand in Toronto for "Truth's" premiere and reportedly liked the film. Both Blanchett and Redford are already being talked about as likely Oscar contenders.Blanchett won the best actress Oscar in 2014 for "Blue Jasmine" and won best supporting actress in 2005 for "The Aviator." Redford won the best directing Oscar in 1981 for "Ordinary People," but has never won for acting.

          Blanchett is also a potential best actress contender this year for The Weinstein Company's R rated romantic drama "Carol,"which was very well received last May at the Cannes Film Festival. It opens domestically in limited release Nov. 20.

          Directed by Todd Haynes ("Far From Heaven"), "Carol" stars Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Sara Paulson. It's based on the 1952 lesbian romance "The Price of Salt" by Patricia Highsmith.

          Netflix, Bleecker Street Media and Participant Media's war drama "Beasts of No Nation" is another high profile TIFF special presentation that's already done well at Venice and Telluride. It opens domestically Oct. 16 in theatres and also on Netflix.

          Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga ("Jane Eyre"), it stars Idris Elba, Abraham Attah and Ama K. Abebrese.

          Elba plays an African warlord who turns a young boy (Attah) into a child soldier/killer fighting in a civil war in an unnamed African country. Attah's performance was just honored at Venice with the Marcello Mastroianni Award for the Best New Young Actor or Actress.

          The R rated biographical drama "Trumbo," from Bleecker Street Media and Groundswell Productions, is another highly anticipated special presentations at TIFF. Directed by Jay Roach ("The Campaign"), it stars Elle Fanning, Bryan Cranston and Diane Lane."Trumbo" opens domestically in exclusive runs Nov. 6.

          Cranston is being talked about as a best actor contender for playing highly successful Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, whose career was destroyed when he was blacklisted in the late 1940s for being a Communist.

          Bottom line:Toronto is in the global media spotlight right now, but before you know it the festival action will shift to New York for the 53rd annual New York Film Festival (NYFF) from Sept. 25 – Oct. 11.

          Among NYFF's many high profile titles is Universal, Legendary Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions' R rated biographical drama "Steve Jobs," which will be the festival's Centerpiece presentation Oct. 3.


"Jobs," the story of Apple's legendary co-founder, opens wide domestically Oct. 9. It played very well at Telluride and seems a safe bet to be a leading awards contender.

"Jobs'" director Danny Boyle won the best directing Oscar in 2009 for "Slumdog Millionaire."Aaron Sorkin, who won the best adapted screenplay Oscar in 2011 for "The Social Network,"  adapted the "Jobs" screenplay from the book by Walter Isaacson.