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Toronto’s Award Hopefuls: Too Much or Not Enough?

The idea of sampling new films at Toronto is sort of like going to the Cheesecake Factory for a little nibble. It seems like a good idea, but then you realize: There is no such thing as a small portion.

The 11-day fest, which passed the halfway mark on Tuesday, offers 300 films. This means that on Sept. 6, press and industry members had a choice of 140 screenings. (Things slow down a bit after the first four-day frenzy. On Sept. 11, for example, there are a mere 120.)

Similarly, awards possibilities are too plentiful, yet one feels hungry for more. Of the new films hoping to enter the Oscar race, speculation so far centers on acting: “The Theory of Everything” (Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones), “St. Vincent” (Bill Murray), “Nightcrawler” (Jake Gyllenhaal), and “The Judge” (Robert Duvall).

There are other newbies with strong performances, but it’s not clear if they will open this year or in 2015: “Time Out of Mind” (Richard Gere), “Cake” (Jennifer Aniston), “Black and White” (Kevin Costner), “Top Five” (Rosario Dawson) and “Still Alice” (Julianne Moore).

There are plenty of awards-buzz films here, with each film accompanied by a slew of artists to participate in Q&As and attend parties. Movies that had bowed at other festivals — “Foxcatcher,” “The Imitation Game,” “Whiplash,” “Wild” and “99 Homes” (starring Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield) — continued to gain momentum. But, unlike last year at this time, there are no best-picture front-runners. Which is probably a good thing.

For awards films, there is always a double-edged sword of bowing at a fall festival. Fests shine a spotlight on thoughtful, offbeat works that need nurturing — but awards talk (including this!) shouldn’t create too much expectation, as the film’s primary goal is to build its audience. It’s a balancing act facing such great little films as “Rosewater,” as well as many other pics here.

For better or worse, the Toronto Fest in the past few years has become synonymous with awards. The fest has screened all of Oscar’s best-picture winners since 2007: “No Country for Old Men,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Artist,” “Argo” and “12 Years a Slave.” So the question of Oscar potential hovers over many new films. The secret hope of every festival programmer and attendee is to discover a gem, something that was below the radar. Here, there’s so much on the radar that there’s no time for discovery.

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