Marketing execs ready North American debuts

Pic marketing execs start to road test movies in Toronto, awards season’s unofficial opening event. Fewer titles seem to be trawling for early kudo signs this year, with several year-end releases not ready for viewing. Some of these Toronto titles bowed at other fests and now go before North American auds, while other kudo hopefuls will be seen publicly for the first time.

APPALOOSA

U.S. distrib: Warner Bros.

Helmer: Ed Harris

The story: A pair of hired guns come to clean up a dangerous New Mexico town.

Kudo chatter: With elements of both “Unforgiven” and “3:10 to Yuma,” this highbrow Western features strong perfs from Oscar vets Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger and Jeremy Irons.

First unspooling: Friday, 6 p.m., Elgin

BLINDNESS

U.S. distrib: Miramax

Helmer: Fernando Meirelles

The story: An epidemic of blindness sweeps a nation.

Kudo chatter: Revolves around a performance from Julianne Moore. Recut since Cannes, pic may find a warmer reception at Toronto.

First unspooling: Saturday, 9 p.m., Elgin

BURN AFTER READING

U.S. distrib: Focus Features

Helmers: Ethan & Joel Coen

The story: Things go haywire when an ex-CIA analyst’s memoirs land in the laps of two gym employees.

Kudo chatter: Back in comedy mode, the Coens could garner Globes comedy category love with their latest, featuring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt and John Malkovich.

First unspooling: Friday, 9 p.m., Roy Thomson Hall

CHE

U.S. distrib: TBA at presstime

Helmer: Steven Soderbergh

The story: After drawing pans at Cannes, the controversial two-part, four-hours-and-change biopic gets a second shot with auds and crix.

Kudo chatter: Awards talk begins and ends with lead thesp Benicio Del Toro.

First unspooling: Part 1: Tuesday, 9 p.m., Visa Screening Room; Part 2: Wednesday, 9 p.m., Visa Screening Room

THE DUCHESS

U.S. distrib: Paramount Vantage

Helmer: Saul Dibb

The story: All the cinched corsets you can stand in this 18th-century tale of a socialite scorned.

Kudo chatter: Costumes and score are said to be stunning, but could this period piece prove to be too stuffy for Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes to break out?

First unspooling: Sunday, 6:30 p.m., Roy Thomson Hall

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

U.S. distrib: Miramax

Helmer: Mike Leigh

The story: Character study of a schoolteacher whose unflappable optimism rubs off on her acquaintances.

Kudo chatter: Oscar favors thesps who take on long-suffering characters, but Sally Hawkins’ chipper performance won the actress kudo at the Berlin fest. Voters may also smile on screenplay, developed via Leigh’s rehearsal process.

First unspooling: Monday, 7 p.m., Isabel Bader

I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG

U.S. distrib: Sony Pictures Classics

Helmer: Philippe Claudel

The story: After 15 years in prison, a woman moves in with her sister and tries to readjust to normal life.

Kudo chatter: Hot off “Tell No One,” Kristin Scott Thomas delivers another French-language turn, this time taking centerstage with a demanding, emotional perf.

First unspooling: Wednesday, 8 p.m., Winter Garden

NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST

U.S. distrib: Columbia

Helmer: Peter Sollett

The story: Two indie-rock soul mates spend their first night together sparring.

Kudo chatter: Could gun for this year’s “Juno” slot. Kat Dennings steals hearts the way Ellen Page did, though the likable teen romance is missing “Juno’s” sass.

First unspooling: Saturday, 6 p.m., Reyerson

RELIGULOUS

U.S. distrib: Lionsgate

Helmer: Larry Charles

The story: Bill Maher and the director of “Borat” set out to debunk the believers of the world.

Kudo chatter: Already shaping up to be one of the year’s highest-profile docus, but could the irreverent approach to such a touchy subject backfire when it comes to awards?

First unspooling: Saturday, 9 p.m., Ryerson

THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES

U.S. distrib: Fox Searchlight

Helmer: Gina Prince-Bythewood

The story: After her mother’s death, a 14-year-old girl lands with the beekeeping Boatwright sisters.

Kudo chatter: Toronto reactions will shape Searchlight’s Oscar strategy. Expectations are especially high for Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah.

First unspooling: Friday, 6:30 p.m., Roy Thomson Hall

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

U.S. distrib: Fox Searchlight

Helmer: Danny Boyle

The story: A street kid poised to win India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” hides his true agenda for playing.

Kudo chatter: The Telluride crowds loved it, calling “Slumdog” Boyle’s most accessible pic. And Searchlight has the magic touch when it comes to turning little gems into serious awards contenders (“Little Miss Sunshine,” anyone?).

First unspooling: Sunday, 6 p.m., Ryerson

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK

U.S. distrib: Sony Pictures Classics

Helmer: Charlie Kaufman

The story: A community theater director receives a grant to restage aspects of his own life.

Kudo chatter: Kaufman’s most ambitious screenplay left Cannes auds mostly perplexed, but provides Philip Seymour Hoffman with a demanding, decades-spanning role.

First unspooling: Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., Winter Garden

WALTZ WITH BASHIR

U.S. distrib: Sony Pictures Classics

Helmer: Ari Folman

The story: Israeli helmer attempts to remember the 1982 refugee-camp massacres in Lebanon.

Kudo chatter: Drew raves at Cannes. Could be this year’s “Persepolis” — the arty, hand-drawn toon that cracks the competitive animation category. December release makes it ineligible for docu honors.

First unspooling: Today, 9 p.m., Ryerson

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