Why does Toronto International Film Festival matter?

Last week, Venice Film Festival rocked the film industry with the opening of Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu’s “Birdman,” which has become an instant favourite to dominate next year’s Oscars. Other movies such as Reese Witherspoon’s starrer “Wild” and Alan Turin’s biopic “The Imitation Game” generated no lesser enthusiasm following their premieres at the Colorado-based Telluride Film Festival.

Today, it’s Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) turn to start unveiling its roster of movies. North America’s biggest and most prestigious festival will open its 39th version with John’s The Judge, which follows a lawyer (Robert Downy Junior) as he returns home to defend his father – a judge – who is accused of committing a murder.

TIFF’s opener last year, the Wikileak’s founder biopic “The Fifth Estate” failed to impress audiences and the industry, and was quickly overshadowed by Venice’s and Telluride’s openers, “12 Years A Slave” and “Gravity.” Hence TIFF is under pressure to deliver headline-grabbing masterpieces in order to survive the competition from other festivals.

The problem is that most the highly-anticipated movies in TIFF have already been screened in other major festivals, such as Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” which tells the true story of an eccentric rich heir (Steve Carell), who lures an Olympic wrestler (Channing Tatum) and his brother (Mark Ruffalo) to move into his estate to train in for the Olympic games, with a tragic outcome. The picture was premiered at Cannes International Film Festival in May to a rapturous reception, sparking Oscar predictions for its cast.

Other Cannes favourites, such as Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, a dark biopic of 19th-century British painter J.M.W Turner, and David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars” have also found their way to the Canadian city.

Even Al Pacino, who will be honoured in Toronto, will be bringing his two movies “The Humbling” and “Manglehorn” after they opened in Venice earlier this week. In the former, he portrays an aging actor who falls for a young lesbian, and in the latter he plays an eccentric man who struggles to come to terms with the loss his beloved wife.

Other movies arriving in Toronto via Venice include: Abel Ferrara’s “Passonlini,” Rami Bahrani’s “99 Homes,” and David Olehofen’s “Far From Men.”

In addition to “Wild,” which follows a broken woman as she embarks on a rediscovery journey in the wild, and “The Imitation Game,” a biopic of the British WWII code breaker Alan Turing, several of Telluride’s selections will be featured in Toronto such as Andrew Piccolino’s “Good Kill,” in which we see Ethan Hawke playing a drone pilot who begins to question the morality of his work, and Jon Stewart’s directorial debut “Rosewater,” which depicts the ordeal of a journalist (Gael Garcia Bernal) who was falsely accused of spying for the United States during the 2009 presidential elections in Iran.

Having not been forgotten since its premiere in January, Sundance Film Festival’s winner the musical drama “Whiplash, ” which depicts J.K. Simmons as a cruel music teacher tormenting an aspiring young drummer, is  also a guest at TIFF.

Having all the aforementioned titles being touted to feature in next year’s Academy awards’ different categories, prompted some to wonder whether TIFF has lost its exclusivity of being the Oscar compass? After all, many of the past Academy best picture winners were introduced to the world in Toronto, such as Slumdog Millionaire, Argo, The King’s Speech.

Unlike other festivals, Toronto remains the gates to the coveted North American market, and thus attracts more stars, filmmakers, sellers and buyers, distributors, publicists and media outlets from all the over the world. So while other festivals discover movies, Toronto acts as their springboard to commercial and awards success. Hence it’s incumbent on any awards-hopeful movie to be seen in Toronto, even if it wins accolades in big European festivals or smaller US ones, if they wish to attain global visibility and avoid sinking into oblivion.

Last year, both Oscar winners “12 Years A Slave” and “Gravity” opened in Telluride and Venice respectively, igniting an industry buzz, but it was TIFF that introduced them to the wider world and propelled them on their journey to the coveted Oscars, thanks to its far reaching media coverage and the massive presence of the global film industry.

Of course, TIFF will unspool its own premieres including: Jason Rietman’s “Men, Women and Children”; “This is Where I Leave You,“ starring Tina Fey and Jane Fonda; “The Theory of Everything,” with Eddie Redmayne portraying physicist Stephen Hawking; Bill Murray’s “St. Vincent“; and “Nightcrawler,” featuring Jake Gyllenhaal as a drifter who becomes a freelance videographer.

Within the next 10 days, one or more titles will emerge from the mist of over 300 movies and rise above the fray. And whichever does, will be taking the long tumultuous journey to Oscar’s night next February.

TIFF will close with the British film “Little Chaos” from director Alan Rickman, who will also star in it next to Kate Winslet.