TORONTO TALK -- 8/22/16


Toronto talk: What happens in Toronto doesn't stay in Toronto – and that's one reason why Hollywood loves the Toronto International Film Festival.

Because early awards buzz spreads like wildfire at TIFF, the festival is one of marketers' favorite ways to get films on track for Oscar consideration. A strong showing in Toronto creates ongoing media attention that turns films into contenders.

Not surprisingly, eight of Oscar's last nine best picture winners went to TIFF. The exception was "Birdman" (2014), which played at festivals in Venice and Telluride, but bypassed TIFF in favor of being the closing night selection at the New York Film Festival.

The 41st annual TIFF, which runs from Sept. 8-18, will put a wide range of films in front of the global media crowd and studio executives, many of whom will compete feverishly to acquire hot titles that don't have distribution deals in place yet.

Some of those packing screenings at TIFF will have just been at the 73rd annual Venice Film Festival (Aug. 31 – Sept. 10), where some of the same high profile films showing in Toronto will have world premiered a few days earlier. Others will be flying in after the 43rd annual Telluride Film Festival (Sept. 2-5), which doesn't announce its lineup until just before the festival begins, but typically plays some of the big early buzz titles that will then turn up mid-way into TIFF.

This stems from rules TIFF put in place two years ago to discourage films from playing first at the film buff-driven Telluride festival in the Colorado mountains. Those that do so are now barred from securing the most coveted early slots at TIFF when attendance and acquisitions fever is strongest.

That mandated delay in playing at TIFF didn't seem to make much difference last year. "Spotlight," which wound up winning Oscars for best picture and original screenplay, and "Room," for which Brie Larson won best actress, both played at Telluride and had to accept later slots at TIFF. Nonetheless, "Room" took home TIFF's Audience Award, the festival's only prize.

Here's a quick look (in no particular order) at some of the many films that will be showing in Toronto:

TIFF's opening night selection, "The Magnificent Seven," will have just played (out of competition) as the closing night selection at the Venice Film Festival.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day"), it's a PG-13 rated remake of the classic 1960 western. Starring are: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke. The original, directed by John Sturges ("Bad Day at Black Rock"), starred Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson.

"Seven," from MGM, Columbia and Village Roadshow Pictures, opens wide Sept. 23 via Sony.

In 2001, Fuqua was at TIFF with "Training" and its star, Washington, who won the best actor Oscar in 2002 for his performance.

A strong showing for "Seven" at Venice and Toronto could put the action drama in the early awards conversation despite it being a genre that doesn't typically resonate with Academy voters.

There was a somewhat similar situation last year when the R rated sci-fi action adventure "Mad Max: Fury Road" world premiered in May to a great reception at the Cannes Film Festival. It went on to receive 10 Oscar nominations, including best picture and directing, and six wins.

TIFF's closing night selection will be the comedy drama "The Edge of Seventeen" from STX Entertainment and Gracie Films. Written and directed by first time feature director Kelly Fremon Craig, it stars Hallee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick. Steinfeld was Oscar nominated in 2011 for her supporting actress performance in "True Grit," her first role in a theatrical feature.

"Edge" opens wide Nov. 18 via STX.

One of TIFF's highest profile films is "The Birth of a Nation," from Fox Searchlight Pictures and Mandalay Pictures. Directed by first time feature director Nate Parker, it stars Parker and Armie Hammer. "Birth's" story is by Jean McGianni Celestin & Parker and its screenplay is by Parker.

"Birth" catapulted to Oscar contender status last January when distributors competed to acquire it after a sensationally received showing at the Sundance Film Festival. Fox Searchlight won the film's worldwide distribution rights for a record setting (at Sundance) $17.5 million.

Searchlight summarizes "Birth's" storyline as: "Set against the antebellum South, 'The Birth Of A Nation' follows Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), accepts an offer to use Nat's preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities -- against himself and his fellow slaves -- Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom."

Between its strong reception at Sundance and a storyline and filmmaker/star likely to resonate with Oscar voters at a time when diversity is a prime goal of the Academy, "Birth" loomed from the start as a major awards contender.

Last week Parker made unwanted headlines when reports surfaced about a 1999 rape he was accused of committing as a college student, but was acquitted of at the time. Complicating that was the fact that Celestin, his college roommate then and now his writing partner on "Birth," was convicted of that crime at the time, but his conviction was subsequently overturned.

Whatever the case's final legal status, this new media attention just as the awards season begins is posing problems for "Birth." Rather than keep out of the media spotlight as crisis PR consultants often recommend, Parker has been talking to the media about his past issues.

In a front page article last week headlined "'99 RAPE CASE STILL SHADOWS OSCAR HOPEFUL," the Los Angeles Times reported, "in defiance of the conventional strategy that public figures take a break from appearances when such a story erupts, Parker seems determined to stay in the public eye and face whatever uncomfortable questions arise."

If "Birth" plays at TIFF as well as it did at Sundance, that could help it grow as a prime Oscar best picture contender. Searchlight would, however, face some challenges if the film suffers at TIFF because of the controversy about Parker's past. That might still be overcome given the long road ahead to the Oscars and the fact that Searchlight is a skilled awards marketer with the financial resources to compete effectively.  

"Birth" isn't the only film playing at TIFF that could bring some diversity to this year's Oscar acting races. There's also the PG rated biographical sports drama "Queen of Katwe," opening in limited release Sept. 23 via Disney.

Directed by Mira Nair ("Monsoon Wedding"), it stars Lupita Nyong'o, David Oyelowo and Madina Nalwanga.

Oyelowo received a best actor Golden Globe nom in 2015 for playing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in "Selma." The Academy's failure to nominate him in its best actor race generated major media coverage about Oscar's lack of diversity. "Selma" was a best picture Oscar nominee in 2015. It also was nominated for best original song and won in that category.

Nyong'o won the best supporting actress Oscar in 2014 for her performance in "12 Years a Slave," which won the best picture Oscar. "Slave" won the People's Choice Award at TIFF in 2013.

The French language thriller "Elle," from Sony Pictures Classics, launched last May at Cannes and is now heading to TIFF. Directed by Paul Verhoeven ("Basic Instinct"), it stars Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte and Anne Consigny.

Verhoeven won the International Critics' Award at TIFF in 1983 for "The 4th Man." He was a Palme d'Or nominee at Cannes in 1992 for "Basic Instinct" and this year for "Elle."   

A title playing at TIFF that will have just been in the spotlight at Venice as that festival's opening night selection (in competition) is the PG-13 rated musical comedy drama "La La Land."

Damien Chazelle, its writer-director, was an adapted screenplay Oscar nominee in 2015 for "Whiplash." Starring are: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and Finn Wittrock.

Chazelle's "Whiplash," which won last year's Grand Jury and Audience awards at Sundance, played at the 40th TIFF.

"LLL" opens in limited release Dec. 2 and goes wide Dec. 16 via Lionsgate.

Two films starring Amy Adams will be screening at TIFF, as they will have just done at Venice. The R rated Tom Ford ("A Single Man") thriller "Nocturnal Animals" is from Focus Features and Universal Pictures. Starring are: Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Armie Hammer (who's also being seen in two films at TIFF – "Birth" being the other).

"Nocturnal" opens via Focus with exclusive runs Nov. 18, expands Wed., Nov. 23 for Thanksgiving and goes wide Dec. 9.

Adams' second title at TIFF is the sci-fi drama "Arrival" from FilmNation Entertainment. Directed by Denis Villeneuve ("Sicario"), it stars Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker and opens wide Nov. 11 via Paramount.

Villeneuve was at TIFF last year with his R rated action crime drama "Sicario," which early on generated a best picture buzz and wound up with three Oscar noms (cinematography, original score, sound editing).

Another Sundance hit playing at TIFF is the R rated drama "Manchester-by-the-Sea," opening Nov. 18 in limited release from Amazon Studios and its theatrical distribution partner Roadside Attractions. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan ("You Can Count on Me"), it stars Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams.

Amazon acquired the film for about $10 million after it arrived to great reviews at Sundance. That was Sundance 2016's first big deal, following a slow start with buyers.

Lonergan is a two time original screenplay Oscar nominee – in 2001 for "You Can" and in 2003 for "Gangs of New York."

TIFF usually has a high profile awards contender from Harvey Weinstein and this year is no exception. The drama "Lion," opening in limited release Nov. 18 via The Weinstein Company, is world premiering in Toronto. Directed by first time feature director Garth Davis, it stars Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham and Nicole Kidman.

"Lion's" production company, See-Saw Films, made "The King's Speech," which also was distributed domestically by The Weinstein Company. It won four Oscars in 2011, including best picture and directing and also won the People's Choice Award at TIFF in 2010.

One of the highest profile filmmakers included at TIFF is Oliver Stone ("JFK"), whose R rated biographical drama "Snowden" opens wide Sept. 16 via Open Road Films. Starring are: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as controversial classified documents leaker Edward Snowden), Scott Eastwood, Shailene Woodley and Nicolas Cage.

Stone's a three time Oscar winner – in 1979 for adapted screenplay for "Midnight Express;" in 1987 for directing "Platoon;" and in 1990 for directing "Born on the Fourth of July." Open Road's "Spotlight" won best picture and original screenplay Oscars in 2016.

Another well known director in this year's TIFF mix is Rob Reiner ("When Harry Met Sally"), whose R rated drama "LBJ" is from Castle Rock Entertainment. It stars Woody Harrelson as President Lyndon Johnson and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird Johnson.

Reiner won the People's Choice Award at TIFF in 1987 for "The Princess Bride." He was a best picture Oscar nominee in 1993 for "A Few Good Men." Harrelson was Oscar nominated in 1997 for best actor for "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and in 2010 for supporting actor for "The Messenger." Leigh was Oscar nominated in 2016 for supporting actress for "The Hateful Eight."

         Bottom line: Despite Hollywood's passion for winning Oscars, what it really loves to do is win big at the boxoffice. That was definitely the case for Warner Bros. and DC Comics last weekend as their PG-13 rated action adventure fantasy comedy "Suicide Squad" held on to first place for the third straight weekend.

         "Suicide's" $20.7 million gross brought its domestic cume to $262.3 million, a far greater success than critics who hated the film were anticipating before it opened. At this point, it's the fourth biggest film this summer and the year's eighth biggest hit. Its international total, according to comScore, is now $310.4 million, making its global cume $572.7 million.

         Driven by "Suicide" and a good second weekend drop of just 55 percent for Sony's R rated animated comedy "Sausage Party" ($15.3 million with a cume of $65.3 million), last weekend was up about 22.6 percent from last year, per comScore. A year ago at this time, the number one film was "Straight Outta Compton" with $26.4 million in its second weekend.

         Three openings filled out the top five – Warner Bros.' R rated comedy drama "War Dogs" ($14.3 million), Focus Features' PG rated animated adventure "Kubo and the Two Strings" ($12.6 million) and MGM and Paramount's PG-13 rated historical drama "Ben-Hur" ($11.4 million).

         The year-to-date domestic boxoffice, as calculated by comScore, is up 5.2 percent -- $7.77 billion to date vs. $7.38 billion this time last year.