Every year, reports of cinema’s impending death circulate in the media. They might be generated by legendary artists, young directors, tech writers, or industry analysts, who point to symptoms like declining ticket sales, an over-reliance on sequels, or the streaming-video revolution. But each year, an easy way to dispel the notion that movies are a fading art form comes with the Toronto International Film Festival, which begins Thursday. Along with concurrent festivals in Venice and Telluride, TIFF helps kick off cinema’s fall and the beginning of awards season—a time when a wider variety of stories and filmmakers are given a chance to thrive in theaters.
Toronto’s 2018 slate, which features 343 films, is typically overwhelming. But the movies that stand out will likely resonate for the rest of the year. TIFF’s People’s Choice Award is an excellent bellwether for upcoming Oscar favorites: Recent recipients include La La Land, Room, 12 Years a Slave, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The festival has long done a good job balancing heavily hyped major-studio titles with work from emerging filmmakers, highlights of world cinema, and experimental features. Toronto is also guaranteeing that 20 percent of its press credentials will go to “underrepresented journalists” this year, in an effort to broaden access to the critical field (which is dominated by white men).
Still, the marquee names are always the biggest draw, and some of them have built up buzz in advance with premieres at Venice and Telluride. The most mega-wattage comes from Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star Is Born. The latest version of a hoary Hollywood classic, the film stars Lady Gaga as an ingenue who finds fame after she’s discovered by a singer (Cooper) whose celebrity is waning. Reviews in Venice were warm, with many writers noting that the movie’s romanticism and Cooper’s commitment to his role kept the story from feeling like a formulaic rehash.