What you need to know about the 2016 Toronto Film Festival Galas and Special Presentations

Have real Oscar players returned to world premiere at TIFF? Maybe...or maybe not
Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt in 'The Magnificent Seven'

The Toronto International Film Festival announced its first wave of gala premieres and special presentations this week and as we’ve seen over the past decade it was a coded reveal of where some of the more anticipated films of the fall season will debut.  Every year the reveal finds each film classified as a World Premiere (Toronto), North American Premiere (Venice or a previous festival) or a Canadian Premiere (Telluride or Venice and Telluride). And while landing “The Magnificent Seven” remake will potentially give TIFF its most star-studded red carpet opener ever (and a selection everyone figured out months ago), it’s the rest of the line up that’s worth a closer look.

Toronto primarily continues to be a second screening or “catch up” festival (at least for the press) and, frankly, for many in the business that’s not a bad place to be for a week in early September.  Sadly, and for the third straight year, it means TIFF’s competitors Venice, Telluride and the New York Film Festival are seemingly landing the top world premieres of the season, especially when it comes to awards season films.  That being said, 2016 might not be as dire as the past two years. The Weinstein Company are bringing their Best Picture hopeful “Lion,” Jim Sheridan’s “The Secret Scripture” is prime Oscar bait and there are a few other hopefuls different studios or independent producers are hoping will stick on the awards season wall.

Let’s check out the list of this year’s first round of selections with some specific notes on just how they fit into the upcoming Oscar mix, whether they are just acquisition plays and where they might just debut first (hint: a lot of the good ones don’t hit Toronto first).

“Arrival” (Denis Villeneuve)
Villeneuve’s latest is expected to debut at Venice and then screen at Telluride. Spotlight will be on Amy Adams for a Best Actress nod.
[Canadian Premiere]

“Deepwater Horizon” (Peter Berg)
A true world premiere for TIFF, Berg’s latest is rumored to be a similar, quality commercial play along the lines of his last endeavor, “Lone Survivor.”
[World Premiere]

“The Headhunter’s Calling” (Mark Williams)
Gerard Butler stars in this indie drama that screams TIFF player just from its official still (not always a good thing). An acquisition title that will try to surprise.
[World Premiere]

“The Journey is the Destination” (Bronwen Hughes)
Ben Schnetzer stars as real life photographer and activist Dan Eldon who covered a number of tragic conflicts in Africa. Looking for distribution and that’s probably it.
[World Premiere]

“JT + The Tennessee Kids” (Jonathan Demme)
Concert doc about Justin Timberlake’s last tour. Guess it gets him on a red carpet.
[World Premiere]

“LBJ” (Rob Reiner)
Coming perhaps a bit too soon after a Bryan Cranston L.B. Johnson film on HBO, this theatrical version finds Woody Harrelson as the iconic post-Kennedy president. Currently does not have distribution, but word is there are offers on the table. Could be one of those films that announces a deal right before the premiere.
[World Premiere]

“Lion” (Garth Davis)
The Weinstein Company’s major Oscar player is listed as a World Premiere at TIFF which, arguably, gives the festival a true “must see.” Could it sneak at Telluride? Harvey’s done it before…
[World Premiere]

“Loving” (Jeff Nichols)
Nichols’ second film this year after “Midnight Special” debuted at Cannes and is skipping Telluride for a North American premiere at TIFF. Don’t be surprised if it screens at NYFF as well.
[North American Premiere]

“A Monster Calls” (J.A. Bayona)
Bayonne’s long awaited follow up to “The Impossible” is a true world premiere and potentially one of the only real awards breakouts at the festival. Outside of below the line, however, is it really an Oscar movie?
[World Premiere]

“Planetarium” (Rebecca Zlotowski)
The Lily-Rose Depp and Natalie Portman drama looks like a Venice world premiere. It’s also still looking for distribution in the U.S.
[North American Premiere]

“Queen of Katwe” (Mira Nair)
Lupine N’yongo’s first live action role since “12 Years A Slave” (don’t think about it too much, it’s depressing), “Katwe” is a Disney release that will be looking for some critical acclaim before it opens later in September. Not a lot of true awards buzz around it, but things change.
[World Premiere]

“The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé! : A Trip Across Latin America” (Paul Dugdale)
Another concert doc. More rock stars on a red carpet.
[World Premiere]

“The Secret Scripture” (Jim Sheridan)
Sheridan’s adaptation of Sebastian Barry’s novel is being released by Relativity Media in the U.S. although there is no set release date. Looks like a true world prem for TIFF, but could also be a Telluride sneak.
[World Premiere]

“Snowden” (Oliver Stone)
Comic-Con audiences already screened this thriller which features Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the controversial former NSA contractor who leaked government secrets before eventually finding a safe haven in Russia. Word is it’s solidly commercial, but there really isn’t an awards play here. Opens in theaters nationwide after the festival.
[World Premiere]

“Strange Weather” (Katherine Dieckmann)
The “poignant drama” looks like a showcase for Holly Hunter. Could we have another “Still Alice” moment that throws the Best Actress race for a loop or is it really a Sundance reject looking for a home? That’s all TBD, but the picture is definitely one to watch on the acquisition circuit.
[World Premiere]

“Their Finest” (Lone Scherfig)
Can Scherfig give Gemma Arterton the breakout role we keep hoping for? This WWII period dramedy is a major acquisition title…if it’s good.
[World Premiere]

“A United Kingdom”(Amma Asante)
The director of “Belle” returns with the festival’s second interracial themed drama. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike’s involvement will peak everyone’s interest, but the fact it’s not playing Venice should give pause.
[World Premiere]


“The Age of Shadows (Miljeong)” (Kim Jee woon)
After taking an English language detour with the dismal “The Last Stand,” Jee soon returns to Korea with this period thriller that may debut at Venice first.
[North American Premiere]

“All I See Is You” (Marc Forster)
Forster’s first film since “World War Z” is a prime acquisition target with Blake Lively playing a blind woman who rediscovers her sight and learns frightening details about her husband and life.
[World Premiere]

“American Honey” (Andrea Arnold)
A24 hopes for more critical kudos from the globe press who didn’t see it at Cannes.  Skipping Telluride is a smart move. Won’t be loved there.
[North American Premiere]

“American Pastoral” (Ewan McGregor)
Looks like “Pastoral” is skipping Telluride (or sneaking there). Good buzz for months.
[World Premiere]

“Asura: The City of Madness” (Kim Sung-soo)
Note: Sung-soo’s latest thriller is 2 hours and 13 min long.
[World Premiere]

“Barakah Meets Barakah (Barakah yoqabil Barakah)” (Mahmoud Sabbagh)
Saudi Arabia’s first “rom com” earned positive reviews out of Berlin. It’s also just an hour and 29 min with credits so fit it in your schedule.
[North American Premiere]

“Barry” (Vikram Gandhi)
Sundance gave us the great “Southside by You” that centered on the first date between Barack and Michelle Obama. This biopic centers on his college days in New York City. Has good pedigree with Cinetic Media backing it, but even as an acquisition title wouldn’t this have been a better NYFF play? Hmmmm.
[World Premiere]

“Birth of the Dragon” (George Nolfi)
This pseudo Bruce Lee biopic set in San Francisco is intriguing to say the least. Is it commercial though or just destined to be a cult movie?
[World Premiere]

“The Birth of a Nation”(Nate Parker)
The Oscar frontrunner and Sundance smash makes its way to the Great White North. The unofficial kick off of Searchlight’s “Birth” campaign.  Also, likely your Audience Award winner.
[Canadian Premiere]

“Bleed for This” (Ben Younger)
Eyebrow raising is the fact this boxing drama (yes, another one) with Miles Teller and Aaaron Eckhart is a Canadian premiere. That means a Telluride birth and potentially Venice as well. Does Open Road know something we don’t?
[Canadian Premiere]

“Blue Jay” (Alex Lehmann)
The official synopsis: “Meeting by chance when they return to their tiny California hometown, two former high-school sweethearts (Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson) reflect on their shared past through the lens of their differently dissatisfied presents, in this tender, wise and affecting chamber drama from first-time feature director Alex Lehmann.” Doesn’t that just scream Sundance reject? Hope we’re wrong!
[World Premiere]

“Brimstone” (Martin Koolhoven)
Dakota Fanning, Kit Harrington and Guy Pearce star in this period western that looks as though it initial debut at Venice. Is that because Venice thinks its great or they just want “Games of Thrones” to walk the red carpet? (You can ask the same of TIFF).
[North American Premiere]

“BrOTHERHOOD” (Noel Clarke)
Clarke’s third installment in his trilogy opens in the UK on Aug. 29 before getting a festival bow in Toronto.
[International Premiere]

“Carrie Pilby”(Susan Johnson)
Bel Powley stars in this look at the world of dating through the eyes of a 19-year-old NYC girl. Curious. Looking for distribution. Also looks like a better Sundance play?
[World Premiere]

“Catfight” (Onur Tukel)
Anne Heche and Sandra Oh literally go at it in this “black comedy.” Eye-brow raising and oh, so curious.
[World Premiere]

“City of Tiny Lights”(Pete Travis)
After “The Night of” and before “Rogue One,” Riz Ahmed stars in this contemporary London thriller. Acquisition player.
[World Premiere]

“The Commune (Kollektivet)” (Thomas Vinterberg)
Vinterberg’s latest played Berlin and has opened or screened in a ton of territories around the world. Assuming it will be Denmark’s submission for the Foreign Language Oscar this year.
[Canadian Premiere]

“Daguerrotype (Le Secret de la chambre noire)” (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
The “Tokyo Sonato” director goes in a different direction with this French-language “fantasy” which stars Tahar Rahim and Mathieu Amalric.
[World Premiere]

“A Death in the Gunj” (Konkona Sensharma)
Sensharma’s directorial debut is not your typical Indian drama (or at least Western critics’ assumptions of what Indian cinema is).
[World Premiere]

“Denial” (Mick Jackson)
The 18 months of Rachel Weisz’s improbable comeback continues with this courtroom drama centered on a libel case filed by Holocaust denier played by Timothy spall. Bleeker Street is releasing a few weeks after the festival. It’s got a strong prestige cast (Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott also star), but, once again, is it really a long term awards player?
[World Premiere]

“Elle” (Paul Verhoeven)
Just how big can the hype over this Cannes surprise grow? We’ll find out when Sony Classics begins their campaign to get Isabelle Huppert and Oscar nomination. North American premiere means it surprisingly won’t be at Telluride (or will it?).
[North American Premiere]

“Foreign Body” (Raja Amari)
A young Tunisian woman enters France illegally hoping to find refuge after the 2011 Jasmine Revolution. Relevant to say the least.
[World Premiere]

“Frantz” (François Ozon)
The latest from the famed French filmmaker is set in the aftermath of WWI. Opens in France on Sept. 7, appears to be screening at Telluride.
[Canadian Premiere]

“The Handmaiden (Agassi)” (Park Chan-wook)
Chan-Wool’s first feature film since the polarizing “Stoker” was a crowd favorite at Cannes and has been crisscrossing the world from festival to festival since.
[North American Premiere]

“Harmonium (Fuchi ni tatsu)” (Kôji Fukada)
Japanese thriller won a Special Jury Prize from the Un Certain Regard jury at Cannes.
[North American Premiere}

“I Am Not Madame Bovary” (Feng Xiaogang)
Impressive TIFF first play from a major Chinese filmmaker.
[World Premiere]

“The Journey” (Nick Hamm)
An imagined story about two leaders on different sides of the Northern Ireland conflict, Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney). Arrives in Venice first.
[North American Premiere]

“King of the Dancehall” (Nick Cannon)
Nick Cannon directs and stars in this Jamaican set musical. Guessing there won’t be a Mariah track included.
[World Premiere]

“La La Land” (Damien Chazelle)
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling should have Golden Globes dancing in their heads. Chapelle’s second feature after “Whiplash” will play Venice and Telluride first. Is Oscar last?
[Canadian Premiere]

“The Limehouse Golem” (Juan Carlos Medina)
“Manchester by the Sea” (Kenneth Lonergan)
The Michelle Williams deservers an Oscar train hits its next stop as this Sundance favorite finally pops back up on the festival circuit.
[Canadian Premiere]

“Maudie” (Aisling Walsh)
Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins bring some star power to this biopic about a legendary Canadian folk artist. So good – it appears – it will play Venice and Telluride first.
[Canadian Premiere]

“Neruda” (Pablo Larraín)
This Chilean thriller starring Gael García Bernal debuted during Directors Fortnight at Cannes and looks like it will have a stop by at Telluride before TIFF.
[Canadian Premiere]

“Nocturnal Animals” (Tom Ford)
Ford’s follow up to “A Single Man” will debut at Venice first before hitting Toronto. It’s the third Focus Features release at TIFF this year. Can anyone say junket?
[North American Premiere]

“The Oath” (Baltasar Kormákur)
Kormákur follows up “Everest” with this psychological thriller he also stars in. Yeah, it’s probably pretty commercial.
[World Premiere]

“Orphan (Orpheline)” (Arnaud des Pallières)
Gemma Arterton, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Sergi López play the same character consecutively in the same film. Intriguing, but also a huge red flag its not at Venice.
[World Premiere]

“Paris Can Wait” (Eleanor Coppola)
Diane Lane takes an “Under the Tuscan Sun” road trip to the French countryside. Considering how older moviegoers are dominating the art house this one is a major acquisitions play. Can anyone say Roadside?
[World Premiere]

“Paterson” (Jim Jarmusch)
Cannes player that will look for even more cinephile love in Toronto. Lower your expectations a bit.
[North American Premiere]

“The Salesman” (Asghar Farhadi)
The Iranian drama had fans on la Croisette and should receive positive notices across the Atlantic. North American premiere probably means no Telluride which would be somewhat surprising.
[North American Premiere]

“Salt and Fire” (Werner Herzog)
Michael Shannon, Gael García Bernal and Herzog himself star in the director’s latest drama. Listed as North American premiere but does that mean its really skipping Werner’s favorite fest, Telluride?
[North American Premiere]

“Sing” (Garth Jennings)
A true surprise, Universal Pictures will screen its animated Garth Jennings musical almost three full months before its Christmas release. Considering how footage received a tepid response at CinemaCon it’s a gutsy if not smart move.
[World Premiere]

“Souvenir” (Bavo Defurne)
Trend alert: the third Isabelle Huppert film of the festival. Looks like a Venice debut before hitting Toronto.
[North American Premiere]

“Things to Come (L’Avenir)” (Mia Hansen-Løve)
Already earned strong reviews at Berlin and opened theatrically in France in April. Looks like it will be at Telluride.
[Canadian Premiere]

“Toni Erdmann” (Maren Ade)
The most popular movie at Cannes arrives after a berth at Telluride. Probably the biggest challenge to “Birth of a Nation” for the audience award. Potentially also your Foreign Language film winner.
[Canadian Premiere]

“Trespass Against Us” (Adam Smith)
Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson star in this British crime drama. A24 is distributing in the U.S., but there is no release date yet.
[World Premiere]

“Una” (Benedict Andrews)
Andrews directorial debut stars Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelssohn and Riz Ahmed (again!). It’s just a Canadian Premiere which means either a World Premiere at Venice or a Venice, Telluride and Toronto play. Considering it does not have domestic distribution that’s an impressive festival recommendation for those on the acquisition circuit. Update: It’s a Telluride and Toronto play only.
[Canadian Premiere]

“Unless” (Alan Gilsenan)
Catherine Keener stars in this Canadian set drama. Also, sometimes you see a the first movie still and you just know. This is one of those “knows.”
[World Premiere]

“The Wasted Times (Luo Man Di Ke Xiao Wang Shi)” (Cheng Er)
They had me at Zhang Ziyi. Beyond that, a period Chinese thriller about a Japanese spy looking for the “former friend” who killed his family.

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With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios, has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times and co-founded HitFix, Inc. serving as its first Editor-in-Chief and President. Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.

Awards Campaign provides commentary and insight on the movie industry. It's also the current online home of Gregory Ellwood, an industry veteran who has covered the movie business and Oscar campaigns for over a decade. For more information including partnerships and advertising opportunities please E-mail info@awardscampaign.com.