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Oscar Watching: Previewing the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival

The Venice Film Festival, which we discussed last week, might give way to some Oscar contenders, but the Toronto International Film Festival is where the awards season really begins. After all, the last five Picture winners played at the fest. If that trend continues, one hoping to find this year’s eventual Picture winner must look no further than this year’s Toronto roster (Note: potential contenders playing at both Venice and Toronto were covered last week and will not be featured in this week’s Toronto preview).

The fest runs from September 6 through September 16 this year and includes at least six features that might make waves with the Academy.

Anna Karenina – Director Joe Wright teams up once again with Keira Knightley, who led his adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, to bring Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel to the silver screen. The film tells the story of the late-19th-century aristocrat Anna Karenina, played by Knightley, and her affair with County Vronsky, played by Aaron Johnson (officially credited here as Aaron Taylor-Johnson); Jude Law stars as Anna’s cuckold, Alexei Karenin. We can pencil this in for (at least) a Costume Design nomination, but the Academy’s never taken too well to previous incarnations of Anna Karenina. Additionally, Wright’s experimental method of shooting the film (mostly) on a London soundstage might not play well with voters. However, in the hands of distributor Focus Features, it might be a major contender. Anna Karenina will hit theaters on November 16, 2012.

Cloud Atlas – Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski, this highly ambitious period/fantasy/sci-fi epic from Warner Bros. intertwines six different stories from six different time periods. If nothing else, the film will be a huge hit with the Academy’s crafts branches, but it might also play well to the acting branch, the largest group of voters. Its all-star cast – Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Doona Bae, Jim Broadbent, Keith David, Hugh Grant, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, and Xun Zhou – tackles a diverse array of roles, not unlike the acclaimed television adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Love from the crafts voters and the acting branch could make for a surprisingly powerful Oscar combination. Cloud Atlas arrives on October 26, 2012.

QuartetDustin Hoffman makes his official directorial debut (though he wasn’t credited for his work, he helped direct 1978’s Straight Time) with this comedy about a retirement home for senior citizens who were once opera performers. When Jean, played by Dame Maggie Smith, comes to live at the home, it causes quite the fuss as her former husband Reggie, played by Tom Courtenay, also lives there; Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon star as other residents. This senior citizen-aimed comedy is in the hands of The Weinstein Company, which always helps, and the Academy often responds to actors-turned-directors: just ask Warren Beatty (Reds), Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby), and Robert Redford (Ordinary People). It’s worth wondering if voters will embrace something so light this year – something one should keep in mind when considering The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (already discussed) as a contender, too – but the Academy’s large contingents of British voters and of older voters could make Quartet, which will hit theaters sometime before the end of the year, an Oscar success.

ArgoBen Affleck directs this fact-based thriller and also leads as a CIA agent who plans to save American hostages by falsifying the making of a sci-fi movie. In addition to Affleck’s leading performance, the stellar ensemble also includes Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Kyle Chandler, and Clea DuVall. However, this kind of film doesn’t always play well with the Academy. Argo needs very strong reviews and massive box-office success like Affleck’s 2010 crime drama The Town, which pulled in over $90 million in the States. Argo hits theaters on October 12, 2012.

Hyde Park on Hudson – Voters aren’t getting tired of biopics, so Roger Michell’s film about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt might be an Oscar hit. While a movie about FDR hosting the King and Queen of England at his New York home doesn’t sound particularly intriguing, Bill Murray already has buzz for his performance as Roosevelt, as does Laura Linney for her work as one of his cousins. Olivia Williams’ turn as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt feels like her best shot at Oscar glory to date. However, with Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, hitting this year as well, will the Academy spread its arms to embrace two POTUS biopics? The smart money is on Spielberg’s film, so distributor Focus Features might give Anna Karenina a bigger push. Hyde Park on Hudson hits limited release on December 7, 2012.

Silver Linings PlaybookDavid O. Russell’s boxing drama The Fighter scored two Oscar wins and five additional nominations in 2009, and now he’s back with Silver Linings Playbook. Bradley Cooper leads as a depressed teacher who falls in love with his neighbor, played by Hollywood’s current “it” girl Jennifer Lawrence, while trying to woo his former wife. Of The Weinstein Company’s Oscar-targeted properties, this broad comedy feels like the weakest one, but Harvey and company will probably see how well it plays at the box office before honing in on its awards chances. Even if it’s just an audience film, at least that’s more money in the bank. Silver Linings Playbook will arrive in theaters on November 21, 2012.

Among the possible awards contenders still seeking distribution are Ginger and Rosa, the Cold War drama led by Alice Englert and Elle Fanning; Great Expectations, Mike Newell’s adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novel that stars Jeremy Irvine and Helena Bonham Carter; Imogene, the Kristen Wiig-led dark comedy helmed by American Splendor directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini; Much Ado About Nothing, a modernized take on William Shakespeare’s comedy written and directed by Joss Whedon; and Venuto al mondo (Twice Born) with Penélope Cruz.

Before closing out this week’s Oscar Watching, let’s discuss how this past weekend will – or, in this case, won’t – play into the Oscar season. Wide releases Total Recall and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days opened to dismal reviews, and neither film could topple The Dark Knight Rises (already discussed), even though that film is in its third frame. While the Colin Farrell-led remake once felt like a possibility for crafts recognition, golden raspberries might be in the film’s future instead. As for the third installment of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise, that was never happening anyway. At the other end of the box office, there are the docs Dreams of a Life, Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film, and Sushi: The Global Catch, which might score Documentary Feature nods.

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Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren loves the wonderful world of film and all that comes with it. He specifically loves long takes, fabulous actresses, and keeping up with the Oscar season - even when it's far too early to make sense of anything.