For more than forty years, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has been an essential launching pad for films opening later that year. In “Why TIFF Matters,” Vox crunched the number to discover that films screened at Toronto went on as a whole to get more Academy Award® nominations than from all the other major festivals combined.
This year, audiences and critics had the chance to see two upcoming Focus films at TIFF. Joel Edgerton’s riveting real-life drama Boy Erased about a young man (Lucas Hedges) pushed by his parents (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman) to attend a conversion therapy program was greeted with warmth and gratitude. Boy Erased “is moving, serious, and could help save lives,” exclaimed NOW Magazine. In addition, two-time Academy Award®-winner Asghar Farhadi brought his two stars, Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, with him to Toronto to unfurl his psychological thriller Everybody Knows, a film that according to The Globe and Mail “reverberates long after the lights come up.”
This year, Focus also acquired one of the most talked about films of the festival, Neil Jordan’s Greta with Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz. In this psychological thriller, The Playlist extols that “Huppert is a marvel.” With TIFF just ending, we’re looking back at other Focus films whose warm reception at Toronto sent them all the way to the red carpet come award season.
When Gary Oldman took the stage along with his costar Kristin Scott Thomas at the Toronto world premiere of Joe Wright’s historical drama Darkest Hour, audiences saw firsthand the remarkable transformation the actor went through to play Winston Churchill. In his report from Toronto, Vogue’s John Powers describes how Oldman “does a superb job of capturing the great man’s way of going from sharp to blur, his way of peering around his ego to notice the existence of other people, and his way of somersaulting from vain glory to insecurity and back again. This is the kind of good and showy performance that wins Oscars.” After opening on November 22, Darkest Hour did win Oscars at the Academy Awards®. It was nominated for six awards, including Best Picture, and won two—Best Actor for Oldman and a statue for the Makeup and Hairstyling team that helped transform him.
The Theory of Everything
After The Theory of Everything’s world premiere in 2014, director James Marsh and his stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were treated “to the most rapturous standing ovation of the festival so far,” reported Variety. The love story between acclaimed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (Redmayne) and his wife Jane (Jones) “left not a dry eye in the house.” In their review from TIFF, The Guardian exclaimed “Hawking’s story packs a powerful punch.” After opening in November, audiences everywhere experienced its powerful emotional impact. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Jones), Best Original Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay, with Redmayne winning for Best Actor.
Dallas Buyers Club
When Quebecois director Jean-Marc Vallée brought Dallas Buyers Club—along with his stars Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Garner—to his home country for its world premiere on September 7, 2013, audiences stood up and took notice. In their TIFF review, The Hollywood Reporter proclaimed, “this is a full-bodied characterization that will take McConaughey’s already impressive career regeneration several steps further.” This real-life tale of how an ornery Texan (McConaughey) fought back when he was diagnosed with HIV by setting up a marketplace for unapproved AIDS drugs brought praise to everyone involved. After opening two months later, Dallas Buyers Club was nominated for six Academy Awards®—including Best Picture. It won three: Best Actor (McConaughey), Best Supporting Actor (Leto), and Makeup and Hairstyling.
At TIFF 2012, Joe Wright along with his star Keira Knightley raised the curtain on his boldly conceived Anna Karenina. Wright’s startling concept of setting Tolstoy’s novel of 19th century Russia within the space of a rambling, decrepit theater paid off when Deadline announced his “New Version Receives Standing Ovation Opening Night.” Equally praised was Knightley’s take on the title character, an unhappily married woman who falls hard for the dashing Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). “In Knightley, we finally have an Anna Karenina for our times,” Esquire announced in their Toronto review. After opening on November 12, Anna Karenina was nominated for four Academy Awards®, winning for Costume Design.
Canadian auteur David Cronenberg got a hometown welcome when he screened his thriller Eastern Promises in 2007. For Variety, this dark tale of the Russian mafia in London with Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts “instantly takes its place among David Cronenberg’s very best films.” Mortensen’s mesmerizing turn as an undercover agent struggling to keep his humanity garnered him a Best Actor Academy Award® nomination the next year.
Pride & Prejudice
On September 11, 2005, director Joe Wright and his two stars, Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, were at TIFF to introduce their new film Pride & Prejudice for its world premiere. From Toronto, Variety wrote, “A keeper for the ages, pic brings Jane Austen's best-loved novel to vivid, widescreen life, as well as making a star of Keira Knightley.” After it opened two months later, audiences everywhere fell in love with Wright’s swooning version of this timeless romance. It was nominated for four Academy Awards®, including Best Actress for Knightley.