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Oscars, pronto beefs up Toronto

H'wood heavyweights populate fest sked

Reflecting concern over the more condensed Oscar schedule as well as the continually rising cost of competing overseas, the Toronto Intl. Film Festival will embrace far more high-profile product than was in evidence in Cannes.

Among the films from the majors to be showcased in the fest, which announced its full lineup last week, are MGM’s thriller “Out of Time,” starring Denzel Washington and directed by Carl Franklin; Paramount comedy “The School of Rock,” from Richard Linklater, with Jack Black and Joan Cusack; Warner’s “Matchstick Men” from director Ridley Scott, starring Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell; and Disney’s “Veronica Guerin,” with Cate Blanchett in the title role for director Joel Schumacher.

Prominent among the Toronto titles from specialty companies is Jane Campion’s erotic thriller “In the Cut,” which notably skipped the Venice Fest, despite Campion’s having premiered many of her pics there. The Screen Gems release, which stars Meg Ryan, will have a berth in Toronto’s gala lineup.

Other specialty titles in the Toronto mix include Lions Gate’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” the Peter Webber film adaptation of the Tracy Chevalier bestseller, starring Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth and Tom Wilkinson; Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Company” a backstage ballet pic from Robert Altman; Miramax’s Philip Roth adaptation “The Human Stain,” directed by Robert Benton and starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman; and United Artists’ Michael Winterbottom-directed sci-fi drama “Code 46,” with Samantha Morton and Tim Robbins.

Toronto fest managing director Michele Maheux and director Piers Handling have also confirmed A-list attendees including Blanchett, Kidman, Altman, Washington and Hopkins.

In drawing together this significant lineup and roster of Hollywood attendees, organizers were apparently able to overcome obstacles including the SARS scare, a rising dollar and last week’s power blackout.

“Barring a rain of frogs or a plague of locusts, I think we’re good to go,” said Maheux.

Fest’s closing-night gala is Australian comedy “Danny Deckchair” from first-time director Jeff Balsmeyer, starring Rhys Ifans and Miranda Otto.

Other key premieres scattered through the fest include Mike Hodges’ “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” John Crowley’s “Intermission,” actor-turned-director David Thewlis’ “Cheeky” and screenwriter Richard Curtis’ helming bow “Love Actually” from Universal, showing as a work in progress.

Robust French contingent includes Sony Classics pickups “Bon Voyage” by Jean-Paul Rappeneau and animated feature “The Triplets of Belleville,” along with Anne Fontaine’s “Nathalie…”.

Among Italian pics are Gabriele Muccino’s “Remember Me” and Ferzan Ozpetek’s “Facing Window,” both of which appear likely to land a U.S. distribution deal.

Traditionally well-represented at Toronto, Asian cinema figures strongly again with Takeshi Kitano’s “Zatoichi,” fellow Japanese helmer Toshiaki Toyoda’s Nine Souls,” Thai director Oxide Pang’s “The Tesseract,” Chinese helmer Sun Zhou with “Zhou Yu’s Train” and Locarno fave “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring” from Korean director Kim Ki-duk.

Joining this year’s Dialogues: Talking With Pictures is Ridley Scott with the director’s cut of “Alien,” Francis Ford Coppola with “One From the Heart,” Jane Campion with Nicholas Roeg’s “Bad Timing,” Hector Babenco with Eduardo Coutinho’s “Twenty Years Later.”

On the industry side, Julie Taymor (“Frida,”) will lead a master class, Elliot Goldenthal and Neil Young will participate in in-conversation, and Ron Mann, John Sayles and Barbara Gowdy will headline the maverick filmmakers program.

For the complete lineup, see Variety.com/filmfestivals