Toronto film festival lacking Oscar sheen

Wed Sep 10, 2008 3:53am EDT
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By Steven Zeitchik and Borys Kit

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - This year, Oscar didn't come to Toronto. Since the Academy Awards calendar was shortened in 2003, this fall film festival has typically served to separate contenders from pretenders.

In the past several years, it vaulted the Oscar hopes of "Last King of Scotland" star Forrest Whitaker and best picture candidates like "Atonement" and eventual best picture winner "No Country for Old Men" -- while sinking the ambitions of hopefuls like "All the King's Men."

But this year the festival has brought little into focus. "I haven't seen such an Oscar-less Toronto in a long time," one exec said. "The festival is more than half over, and you still have no idea who the Oscar front-runners are."

Instead of giving films an awards bounce, Toronto has served mainly to boost the commercial prospects of such entertainments as "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," "Burn After Reading" and "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."

The cutback in the number of specialty films overall is partly to blame for why so few films have jumped to the front of the awards line.

Another factor: Many studios held back films from the festival either for strategic reasons or because they simply weren't ready. Such potential award winners as "Milk," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Changeling" and "Australia" did not make the pilgrimage here.

Just as striking is the fact that films that are here are failing to gain traction. Some hopefuls, such as "The Duchess" and "The Burning Plain," earned moderately favorable response but little talk of a breakout.

And titles that stalled at Cannes in May -- such as "Che," "Blindness" and "Synecdoche, N.Y." -- did little to revive their fortunes.   Continued...

<p>Actor Keira Knightley arrives for "The Dutchess" news conference at the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival September 7, 2008. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese</p>