If current frontrunner “The Imitation Game” does indeed end up winning best picture at next year’s Academy Awards, it will be the latest in a growing list of winners that played at the Toronto Film Festival. In fact, every best picture winner since 2008 has played the fest (sometimes after first screening to Telluride tastemakers), with the two closely spaced fests coming to be viewed as the start of awards season.
Playing Toronto — and winning kudos there — gives a film time to build buzz and be perceived as the movie to beat. That psychology seems to come in handy in fending off latecomers. Last year, the two frontrunners were “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity,” both of which screened in Toronto. While others films — from “American Hustle” to “The Wolf of Wall Street” — came along to attempt to challenge their status, in the end, it was a “12 Years”-“Gravity” showdown.
The year prior, “Argo” won best picture after premiering in Toronto. It seemed like a challenger came along every other week, from “Zero Dark Thirty” to “Life of Pi” to “Les Miserables” to “Django Unchained.” While those films ended up winning prizes, none could budge “Argo” from its frontrunner perch for more than a couple of weeks. “Argo” was certainly deserving, but having a months-long jump on the competition didn’t hurt. As one Academy member put it, “People want to be on the winning team.” In other words, sometimes voters like to follow the leader.
The last best picture winner that didn’t play Toronto was 2007 champ “The Departed.” This year, late releases including “Selma,” “American Sniper” and “Unbroken” will look to challenge “The Imitation Game.” The first two have already screened to positive notices, and with 15 weeks to go before the Oscars, there’s plenty of time to catch up — provided they can break Toronto’s grasp on gold.