''Elizabeth,'' ''No Country for Old Men,'' ''Elah'' among prestige films looking to pick up award-season buzz at September's Toronto International Film Festival

By Dave Karger
Updated September 04, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Elizabeth: Cate Blanchett; No Country For Old Men: Richard Foreman; In the Vallery of Elah: Lorey Sebastian; Michael Clayton: Myles Aronowitz

As we learned last year, how a film plays at the Toronto International Film Festival can make (Little Children) or break (All the King’s Men) its Academy Award chances. So when this year’s fest kicks off Sept. 6, awards watchers will be tracking the reaction to these Oscar-baiting entries very closely.

ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 drama about the monarch racked up seven nominations, including Best Picture. Sequels can be a tough sell with Oscar voters, but with Cate Blanchett back in the title role that made her a star, this could buck the trend — unless the Academy, having just honored Helen Mirren, is all queened out.

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH Paul Haggis — who directed Crash and co-wrote Letters From Iwo Jima — is the most potent award magnet working today. Elah, which he wrote and directed, is his take on the current Iraq war, and it boasts three Oscar winners (Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, and Charlize Theron) in leading roles.

INTO THE WILD As Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, and Kevin Costner can attest, the Academy loves actors who direct. Sean Penn’s adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s best-seller about an idealistic college grad’s fatal odyssey through the Alaskan hinterlands looks gorgeous, and features strong performances from critical favorite Emile Hirsch and veteran Hal Holbrook.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN The Coen brothers’ ultraviolent thriller, based on the 2005 Cormac McCarthy novel, won raves at Cannes last May. Now it has to play as well closer to home. It should be helped by a masterful tone, and vivid turns from Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones.

MICHAEL CLAYTON and EASTERN PROMISES Both dramas may be a bit too insular to make a serious run for Best Picture: Clayton is a legal thriller; Promises is from gore-happy director David Cronenberg. But forceful lead performances by George Clooney and Viggo Mortensen, respectively, should emerge as top contenders in the Best Actor race.