The Toronto International Film Festival (affectionately known as “TIFF”) might not be on Beat readers’ radar, but the annual September film festival has become synonymous with the prestigious fall movie season that ostentatiously leads right into “awards season.” Imagine our surprise here at The Beat when this year’s line-up was announced and among the prestigious World Premieres was Todd Phillips Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the Clown Prince of Crime, best known as Batman’s arch-nemesis.

We already knew that this was going to be very different from any of the previous film or television incarnations of the Joker from when the first trailer debuted in April. It’s also been fairly well-known that this was going to be a stand-alone movie that has nothing to do with the DC Expanded Universe, and there may not even be a mention of “Batman”

I went to TIFF for about 13 years, and you’d have a hard time finding any genre films there other than in its “Midnight Madness” section where films like last year’s Halloween and movies like Hostel and Insidious had World Premieres in that section. Sometimes, you’d see a movie like Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity or Ridley Scott’s The Martian premiere at TIFF, but these were both seen by their respective studios (Warner Bros. and Fox) as prestige films that might be up for awards… and they were right! Both those science fiction movies ended up being in the Oscar conversation and even won Matt Damon a Golden Globe for the amazing “musical comedy” that was The Martian.

The fact that Warner Bros. might bring Joker to TIFF means that they have as much confidence in its placement in their Fall line-up as they did with Ben Affleck’s Argo (which won Best Picture at the Oscars that year) and the aforementioned Gravity. You have to remember that movies playing at big festivals like TIFF means that many prominent critics will be reviewing the movie almost a month before its October 4 release date. You don’t want that if a movie like Joker isn’t as good as you think it is, because it’s going to be an important part of Warner Bros’ fall line-up including It: Chapter 2, The Goldfinch (also at TIFF), The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep and more.

Granted, not every movie that Warner Bros. has brought to TIFF – and they have brought a lot of movies there over the years – has succeeded…. Or even been good.  I remember flops like Robert Downey’s The Judge and Sandra Bullock’s Our Brand is Crisis. Does anyone remember the ensemble movie This Is Where I Leave You?

The big difference here is that Joker isn’t just another dark and serious drama – it’s a movie featuring a new take on a comic book villain who has been around for almost 80 years, one that’s so well-known thanks to iconic takes on the character like that of Jack Nicholson… oh, and the late Heath Ledger, who won a post-humous Oscar for his performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.  So maybe Warners’ decision to bring Joker to TIFF might not seem so shocking or questionable after all.

It’s all not surprising for Phillips has been working hard to be taken seriously since his blockbuster “The Hangover Trilogy” and older low-brow comedies. Remember that Phillips got his start with Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn’s Old School and a Starsky and Hutch remake starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson – the latter also for Warner Bros. Phillips’ 2016 movie War Dogs, starring Miles Teller and Jonah Hill, was one such foray into more serious and dramatic work, that movie based on a true story.

The movie also co-stars Robert De Niro (no stranger to film festivals), Zazie Beetz from Deadpool 2 and Frances Conroy.

Could Joker’s premiere at TIFF in early September be the difference-maker between it being just another dark R-rated* comic book movie or being a serious awards-contender? Only that first slew of reviews will tell us so far.

Let us know in the comments what you think about our take on what Joker’s World Premiere at TIFF might mean for its serious awards chances, especially for Phoenix, in the comments below.

*I’m presuming here. No rating has been announced.

Warner Bros. / TIFF
Warner Bros. / TIFF
Warner Bros. / TIFF