Where Prestige Meets Popcorn

To the Wonder
It’s been twenty-four hours since the Toronto International Film Festival dropped its first announcement of titles for Festival 2012. Just over sixty films have been named amongst the preliminary Gala and Special Presentations. Now that I’ve had time to research and explore some of the unknown variables, not to mention watch some trailers and clips for expected favourites, I’d like to weigh in on what the programmers at TIFF have served up in the early courses. It looks like things are shaping up for a great festival. I had planned to see a mere thirty films this year (keeping on par with last year), but I may have to up my ticket package. There is just so much worth seeing at Toronto this year.

Anna Karenina
What I like best about the line-up so far is the diversity among the selections. Whereas festivals like Cannes or Venice (and Montréal) cater primarily to the art house crowd and Telluride offers more of the big name Oscar bait, albeit to a fairly closed circle of attendees, TIFF has always best understood that the film industry is both art and commerce. This first crop of selected films seems to be that perfect balance of prestige and popcorn. There is just the right mix of Indies, auteurs, celebrity, and glamour headed to TIFF 2012. All of this seems to be summed up well in the selection of Looper as the Opening Night Gala for the festival. An action pic that stars Bruce Willis, but has the art house cred of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brick director Rian Johnson, Looper offers the midpoint that TIFF aims to deliver in being the world’s largest public film festival. Likewise, there are many big names headed to the festival, such as Rachel McAdams, Keira Knightley, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Gosling, and Bradley Cooper, but these A-listers are coming in prominent works whose pedigree probably outweighs their paychecks. There looks to be a bona fide crossover hit in the making at TIFF 2012, and one can only speculate at what it could be.
There are some big name blockbusters like Ben Affleck’s Argo and my experience at the red carpet at the 2010 Gala of The Town gives Affleck a welcome precedent to bring his film to the fest. The gala for The Town remains one of my most memorable festival moments, and I didn’t even see the movie at TIFF. It was just wild to see so many stars, fans, and flashbulbs in one place. (Although the 2009 Gala screening of Precious will always define the moment that I fell in love with the festival. Nobody works a room quite like Oprah does.) While some may argue that such high profile films, which are already scheduled to hit the multiplex, have no place at a film festival, I would argue that the hype, buzz, and novelty of these events bring the attention, publicity, and funds that allow the festival to slate world cinema fare whose credits might not be as recognizable to the general public. The wild excitement of these red carpet premieres can turn even the most high-falutin’ film snob into a thirteen year-old girl screaming for Robert Pattinson. (Or me for Tilda Swinton.)
Dangerous Liaisons
The roster that the festival unveiled yesterday shows that it is not looking to squander its rising status and neglect the best that world cinema has to offer. At first, one might be disappointed to see that some high profile titles like Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, or the Viola Davis drama Won't Back Down are not among the early line-up; however, one only has to wait until Christmas at the latest to see those films, anyways. On the other hand, the films unveiled thus far boast titles that seem like they would be much harder to find in a theatre, especially for a film buff who is not based out of Toronto, L.A., or New York. Some biggies will surely work their way in soon (TIFF is only giving us a tease, remember?), but I’m happier to see some smaller films get their due notice before some heavyweights nab the spotlight in the subsequent press releases. 
Conversely, one of these small films could trump them all and wind up being the talk of the town. Few people, if any, were chatting up Where Do We Go Now? before the festival began in the fall of 2011, but it stole the hearts of Toronto audiences and made an unknown film one to watch. It’s worth reminding festivalgoers that three of the past four winners of the People’s Choice Award have been major players at the Oscars (The King’s Speech, Precious, and Slumdog Millionaire) and that other winners have fared very well, too (cough, cough, 1999’s American Beauty). With its baity performances, sunny tone, and period production, the most Oscar-friendly film in the mix so far might be Hyde Park on Hudson (aka The King's Speech 2), so we will see if the Royals strike festival gold twice. Nevertheless, the Oscars are not the be-all-end-all of the movies, or of the festival, but TIFF always marks the starting line in the race to Oscar. At the rate this festival is shaping up, I think we’re in for a very exciting year at the movies.

My baker's dozen of anticipation for TIFF 2012 (so far):
Anna Karenina (Only 200 pages left to go…)
Frances Ha (Greta Gerwig! In black and white!)
Ginger and Rosa
To the Wonder (TIFF + Malick = ticket sold.)

More titles will be announced in the following weeks. The Canadian titles will be named August 8th: there are only two Canuck flicks so far (Midnight’s Children and Inescapable), but we can expect some others like Laurence Anyways, Stories We Tell, Antiviral, and maybe Omerta. As for other biggies, maybe some Cannes films like Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy or Walter Salles’ On the Road will play. And fingers crossed that 2010’s TIFF-winner Tom Hooper will have Les Miserables ready in time for the fest. Oh, and I'll request What Maisie Knew, if possible. (Please.)

What do you think of the line-up so far? What’s getting the top spot in your lottery picks?