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And the Oscar Goes to TIFF

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Ever since American Beauty debuted in 1999, the Toronto International Film Festival has acted as a precursor to the Academy Awards. It seems that films from all over the world, star-powered or independent, head off into the award show season after making a pit stop in Toronto.

Last year, all five nominations for best foreign film were presented at the festival and four out of the 10 films nominated for best picture made it to Canada before entering the Kodak Theatre. The King's Speech was one of those four films and along with winning best picture, it won the Cadillac's People's Choice Award, the grand prize at the film festival, like American Beauty did 11 years earlier. TIFF doesn't have a perfect track record, but more often than not, the film that wins the grand award at the festival goes on to win arguably the most important film award in the entire world.

When a film like The King's Speech wins best picture, most think, it's the star power that made the film so popular. That's why it swept the Oscars and that's why it won at TIFF. But let's all think back to 2008, when a little British independent film was about to go straight to DVD before it was saved and skyrocketed out of the festival. Slumdog Millionaire took all of Hollywood by surprise. It was the underdog, the little movie that could and all by winning the People's Choice Award at TIFF. There is just no possible way it is a coincidence that every year, the films that score at TIFF move directly onto the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, the Critic's Choice Awards and finally to the Oscars.

Unlike other successful film festivals like Cannes or Sundance, TIFF is completely accessible to the public, meaning that everyday film goers of Toronto (myself included) go down every year in September, watch films, enjoy films, and vote for the ones we want to win at TIFF and, in the back of our minds, probably at the Oscars as well. It's almost eerie how right Toronto's audience is every year. Even the actors' praise and awards can be traced right back to September at the festival. Both Natalie Portman and Colin Firth received some of their first high acclaim when Black Swan and The King's Speech were screened at the festival before they went on to win gold.

As the years go by, more producers and studios hear about that TIFF charm and send their films to the great white north. Sundance is too contemporary for the Hollywood award shows and Cannes is too early for all the films to be finished. That's why TIFF gets it all. Take this year for example. There are films from world-renowned directors Francis Ford Coppola, Gus Van Sant, Marc Forster and George Clooney. There is an overflow of indie Sundance films like Martha Marcy May Marlene and Like Crazy. There are films starring Brad Pitt, Glenn Close, Tilda Swinton and Antonio Banderas. There is a huge amount of extraordinary foreign films from France, South America, China, the United Kingdom, and more. Suffice to say, the bets are on.

Either Martha Marcy May Marlene or Like Crazy will be the Oscars "indie" pick his year, similar to 2010's Winter's Bone. Each film did so successfully at Sundance, especially the films' leading ladies, that there could even be two independent films nominated for best picture this year. Although Like Crazy's Felicity Jones and MMMM's Elizabeth Olsen are more than likely to be honored at the award shows, it looks like the win will go to Ms. Glenn Close for her portrayal of an Irish woman pretending to be a man in the 19th century in order to survive. It's like a 19th-century version of Monster.

Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton is also getting overwhelming admiration for her mind-boggling performance as a mother of a boy who commits mass murder at his school. The film adaptation of Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin screened September 9 at the festival and should deservedly nab a nod for Swinton in the New Year as well.

This year's star-studded nominated film will most definitely be the fourth film from actor and filmmaker George Clooney, the political drama, The Ides Of March made its North American premiere in Toronto on September 9, as well. The film is not only filled with recognizable faces but some of the most talented ones at that. Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Clooney himself are all more than viable to be nominated in best leading and supporting categories this March, especially two-time nominee Ryan Gosling in the leading role as young campaigner Stephen Myers.

The Ides of March seemed to be the best bet for this year's winner of the Cadillac People's Choice Award and therefore Best Picture, with the impressive cast and Clooney sitting in the director's chair. However, Sundance's winner of their grand jury prize, Like Crazy had the potential to just sneak up on everybody and shock us all. September 18 was the day we found out which movie would be traveling from Toronto to Hollywood.

Taking everyone by huge surprise was Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now?, a small film from Lebanon about a group of women trying to prevent a war between the Muslims and Christians. As this film is officially representing Lebanon at the 84th Academy Awards in hopes of being nominated for best foreign feature, it looks like TIFF's track record with the Cadillac's People's Choice Award and Best Picture will be off this year, but there will still be a delivery package of many films dropped off on Hollywood's doorstep from their neighbors up north.