September 17, 2002 
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Heath Ledger
Toronto to LA
TIFF has seen the premiere of many films that have either won the Oscars or secured top nominations, says Arthur J Pais

Arthur J Pais

Shekhar Kapur has many reasons to worry. His lavishly made and often grippingly told melodrama, The Four Feathers, is facing strong wind in the Oscar nomination race.

With Paramount Pictures forking out lavish publicity, The Four Feathers galloped to its world premiere on September 8 at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film received wide publicity and its young cast including Heath Ledger and Kate Hudson provided good stories to the glamour hungry media.

But by the end of the festival which ran from September 5-15, it was clear that The Four Feathers had a huge fight on its hands.

There are strong chances of many smaller films such as Antwone Fisher, which marks the directorial debut of Denzel Washington, could challenge The Four Feathers in the fierce battle for the nominations. Unless, of course, Kapur's film turns out to be a major box-office success --- and receives strong reviews from prestigious daily newspapers and magazines. The movie opens nationwide on September 20.

Among the hot contenders is the controversial The Magdalene Sisters, which received the Discovery award at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 15.

The film, denounced by the Vatican for its detailed and vivid portrait of life in Irish convents, where troubled young women sent by their parents and relatives receive cruel treatment.

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It is also one of the most moving films seen at the festival. It focuses on a handful of women including one who had been molested by a relative and reveals how they are forced to endure a life of humiliation and repression by the nuns.

Miramax, which bought the film at TIFF, has stoutly defended it, saying it is not against the Catholic institutions but is meant to address the difficult issue of the treatment of women in the 1960s.

In recent years, TIFF has seen the premiere of many films that have either won the Oscars or secured top nominations. Oscar winner American Beauty premiered at Toronto in 1999 and exploited its festival buzz well to become a front-runner.

A still from The Magdalene Sisters Chariots of Fire, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Crying Game and Life Is Beautiful have all benefited from their exposure at TIFF. In the Bedroom, a story of murder and determination of the murdered young man's parents to seek justice on their own, was also a major hit at TIFF last year. It received several top Oscar nominations, too.

A decade ago, the Oscar buzz would start in early December but in the past few years, it has been starting in September itself. And it doesn't start in New York or Los Angeles where most of the Oscar voters live. It starts at what is fast becoming the most popular film festival worldwide, TIFF, which screens over 250 films.

Unlike festivals such as Cannes and Sundance, which cater more to people in the film business, Toronto draws filmmakers as well as thousands of movie fans who stand in lines, paying $10-$15 to see new movies. Many filmmakers with diverse approach to movie-making have declared TIFF to be their favourite festival. The list includes Brian de Palma whose riveting Femme Fatale was the concluding gala movie at TIFF, and Buddhadeb Dasgupta whose A Tale of a Naughty Girl was one of the best reviewed movies at the event.

Last year, Washington had brought the gritty Training Day to Toronto. The movie, which was also a huge hit with the audiences and critics, brought him his second Oscar.

In Antwone Fisher, which was one of the few films to receive a standing ovation in Toronto, he stars as a Navy psychiatrist caring for a troubled sailor.

The glossy but well acted Frida, another Oscar hopeful, is directed by Julie Taymor, the creator of the Broadway version of the hit movie, The Lion King.

Starring Salma Hayek as the flamboyant, troubled and controversial Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, the movie drew far more attention than many of its competitors. But the much hyped film, which received mixed reviews, has to be quite a hit to overcome the reviews.

The interest in Far From Heaven, a melodrama made to look like the 1950s classic, was so strong that many critics of leading publications such as the New York Times, Variety and Chicago Sun-Times could not get in at the press screening. Following the noise made by Roger Ebbert of Sun-Times several additional press screenings were added.

The film, dealing with racial and sexual issues in the fifties has already won high praise at the Venice Film Festival where Julianne Moore received the best actress award.

A still from Punch-Drunk Love Directed by Todd Haynes, it claims that America of the Eisenhower era was a sham, and that behind the image of a wholesome and affluent America were thousands of stories of disintegrating families.

Another favourite of the critics and the audiences, Punch-Drunk Love, a comic romance starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson, could do to Sandler's career what Truman Show did to that of fellow comic, Jim Carey. The new film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson could be a far bigger success at the box-office and with critics than his previous films such as Magnolia.

While some of the older hits such as Road to Perdition and Minority Report are considered to be hot contenders, many Hollywood filmmakers arrive in Toronto to check out the pulse of many new films. But not all Oscar hopefuls arrive in Toronto. This year several Oscar nomination contenders such Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, have not been screened at the festival.

Some industry observers expect The Guys, starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia to be a dark horse. The film, inspired by the successful play of the same name, tells the tale of a New York City fire captain who seeks the help of an editor to prepare for the eulogies of the men killed in the WTC 9/11 attacks. In the process, we hear many poignant and humorous stories about the brave but utterly human guys.

And there is also very good buzz for 8 Mile, an autobiographical film starring rapper and former Detroit resident Eminem. The film directed by Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential) focuses on a poor and white young man's journey to the top, starting with the hip-hop world of Detroit.


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