New York and Venice had each set sail into awards season amid a squall of potent announcements by the time Toronto entered the fray on Tuesday with a flotilla of programming highlights.
The world premiere of Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts will open the jamboree on September 10 alongside plenty of marquee screenings.
The first public screening of Jay Roach’s blacklisted screenwriter biopic Trumbo with Bryan Cranston heads to Canada, as do Stephen Frears’ Lance Armstrong drama The Program starring Ben Foster, Michael Moore’s doc Where To Invade Next, Peter Sollett’s Freeheld with Julianne Moore and Ellen Page and Hany Abu-Assad’s The Idol.
Between now and the end of February, awards season watchers will be rubbing their hands in glee at the clickbait free-for-all that beckons.
The annual parlour games can begin in earnest. Which films will premiere where? The Hateful Eight, A Bigger Splash and Snowden are a few presumed heavy-hitters yet to declare.
Awards strategists know their onions, but the vagaries of the production cycle, the uneven campaign playing field and the mood of programmers, buyers, critics and audiences when they see a film can make guessing games a treacherous business.
What is the best route to success from a particular launchpad? It changes every year. In 2014, Venice launched Birdman, Berlin The Grand Budapest Hotel and Sundance Whiplash. The year before Telluride birthed 12 Years A Slave, Toronto Dallas Buyers Club and Venice Gravity. Rinse and repeat.
Sight-unseen prognostications are risible but oracles find firmer ground as the season wears on. Either way, the noise surrounding certain titles will become increasingly shrill in the weeks and months ahead.
What is beyond doubt is the collective influence of the early autumn trifecta of Toronto, Venice and Telluride and the swelling primacy of New York as a platform of note. AFI FEST and London are also growing in stature and can play a strategic role in a campaign.
All genuine contenders that have not already screened in Cannes, Berlin or Sundance will find their slot in the second half of the year and many like Palme d’Or winner Dheepan, Youth and Son Of Saul will look for a new burst of life.
It is already known that world premieres of The Walk and Miles Ahead bookend New York, while Steve Jobs is the centrepiece screening.
Venice, which announces on Wednesday, has already secured the world premieres of Black Mass and festival opener Everest.
So, to dive into parlour games: the North American premiere classification of Toronto selections The Danish Girl — marking a Tom Hooper-Eddie Redmayne reunion — and Atom Egoyan’s Remember suggest both are destined for the Lido.
Similarly Telluride seems the likely launchpad for Steve Jobs given the Danny Boyle-Rocky Mountains love-in on 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire.
A slew of films that earn Canadian premieres in Toronto also seem likely to premiere in Colorado: Netflix’s Beasts Of No Nation, Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion Anomalisa, the Catholic Church abuse drama Spotlight with Michael Keaton et al and Brie Larson starrer Room.
Beasts Of No Nation will provide a useful pointer of Netflix’s awards heft, although it might be wise to reserve judgement on its strategy to this season alone.
Bleecker Street, the theatrical release partner, opens the film day-and-date theatrically with the October 16 worldwide digital launch in those territories where Netflix is active.
Netflix may not need to invest in an awards campaign because its members will have access to the film with or without the scent of prestige. Unless it sees awards kudos as a driver of subscriptions.
And what about Bleecker Street, a new distributor that will want to prove its worth on Beasts and Amazon Studios’ Elvis & Nixon? It remained unclear whether the latter would debut this year or next.
As the digital giants stretch their claws, the international independents who are behind so many of this season’s potential contenders – The Program, Black Mass, Legend and Room, to name a few – will be watching with bated breath.