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Toronto International Film Festival 2012 Preview

We're in the thick of it. If turning the page on your calendar from August to September wasn't enough of a clue (or if you, like me, are one of those people who's calendar doesn't get updated until a month is already halfway over), let the beginning of the Toronto International Film Festival be the sign. 

Yes, folks, Oscar season is upon us, and many of the most anticipated films of the fall (including some we've included in our Fall Movie Preview) are playing at what's arguably the world's biggest film festival.

An Oscar campaign can begin at TIFF. One can also crash and burn there. And there are plenty of films without Oscar aspirations that we have our eye on. Here's a quick preview:

World Premieres at TIFF

Some of the biggest films playing at TIFF have already shown elsewhere (Cannes, Sundance, Venice, Telluride), but the Toronto crowd still has plenty of juicy premieres in store over the next 10 days.

Cloud Atlas is a mighty intriguing project from Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and The Wachowskis (The Matrix). The five-minute-long trailer that debuted a few weeks ago was perplexing, but it signaled big-time vision from a trio of visionary directors. Rian Johnson's Looper, meanwhile, opens the festival. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis and hits theaters at the end of September.

David O. Russell's last film, The Fighter, earned multiple Oscars, as well as nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. His newest film, Silver Linings Playbook, will premiere at the festival to considerable Oscar buzz, especially for its stars — Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. And though The Place Beyond the Pines hasn't been picked up by a studio yet, one has to like its potential. Ryan Gosling and director Derek Cianfrance made magic with Blue Valentine a few years ago. If they can recapture it even slightly, this one will be special.

The Impossible, from director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage), stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts and depicts their struggle to reconnect following the tragic Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. Joss Whedon follows up The Avengers with an adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, while Kristin Wiig takes a step toward more serious (but not too serious) acting with Imogene, a film about a woman who fakes her own suicide to get closer to an ex-boyfriend. Lastly, End of Watch — a found-footage cop drama — stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. That one has a surprising amount of buzz and hits theaters on Sep. 21.

Venice and Telluride Films Screening at TIFF

The big story during the first wave of fall festivals was Ben Affleck's Argo, which played like gangbusters in Telluride this past weekend. Many are pegging it as the Best Picture frontrunner at this early stage, and a strong Canadian premiere would only solidify that further. But its biggest competition (at least from the films we've seen) is also playing the festival (by way of Venice). 

The Master is Paul Thomas Anderson's long-awaited follow-up to There Will Be Blood (which earned Best Picture and Best Director nominations, as well as a Best Actor prize for Daniel Day-Lewis). It has shown here and there across America to very strong reviews, and its Venice premiere was no different. Critics were floored by Anderson's vision, as well as a trio of great performances from Amy Adams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix.

Also doing double duty from Venice to Toronto is To the Wonder, the latest from The Tree of Life director Terrence Malick. Usually one to wait years between films, the TIFF crew surprised everyone when they announced the film would play this year. Unfortunately, Venice scooped them, but perhaps it was for the best; To the Wonder was heartily booed in Italy last weekend (not a surprise for a Malick film, but still). If expectations are sufficiently lowered, the buzz could bounce back, and we might have a stealth Oscar contender on our hands.

Cannes and Sundance Films Screening at TIFF

There are plenty. Amour won the Palme d'Or this year and is aiming to become the first foreign-language film since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to earn a Best Picture nomination. Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, meanwhile, could give its star (Marion Cotillard) a Best Actress prize.

From Sundance, we'll see The Sessions, which stars John Hawkes as a man in an iron lung, and Helen Hunt as a woman hired to take away his virginity. There's also Smashed, a small drama which features a star-making turn from Ramona Flowers herself, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

There are literally dozens more movies worth keeping an eye on too, such as Quartet, Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is based on a beloved novel and On the Road, Kristin Stewart's chance to prove she has the chops to survive the fallout from no moreTwilight. We'll be covering them all, so stay tuned over the next few weeks as we usher in the Oscar season in a big way.


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