Julianne Moore and Ellen Page star in Freeheld, one of the many Oscar hopefuls at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

Julianne Moore and Ellen Page star in Freeheld, one of the many Oscar hopefuls at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

Phil Caruso/AP

When last we heard from culture critic Chris Vognar he was at large in Italy, soaking up the Venice Film Festival. Now it seems he's escaped again, flying North to Canada for the Toronto International Film Festival, which opens Thursday night with the Jake Gyllenhaal drama Demolition.

Together with the Telluride Film Festival, a cozy affair tucked away in the mountains of Colorado, Venice and Toronto represent the launching pad for the season of prestige films, Oscar hopefuls and all that other stuff us movie people love. In Venice I saw some of those hopefuls, including Spotlight, Beasts of No Nation and Everest. In Toronto I hope to catch up with a few more, including Black Mass, The Danish Girl and Freeheld.

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Some of the best films at these shindigs, however, have much lower profiles. In Venice I was particularly fond of Frenzy, a chilling, Kafkaesque drama about an Istanbul man paroled from prison to fight terrorists by looking through his neighbors' garbage. I also liked The Fits, an American indie that finds visual poetry among the young women of a black drill team in Cincinnati. It was among the three films selected for Venice this year by the Biennale College.  This was my first time in Venice, and I found the experience enchanting: The festival is a glamorous but intimate affair held just off the beach on the Lido; it does the big premieres and the strange little fare with equal panache.

Toronto is more familiar terrain for me; this will be my eighteenth swing through the premiere film festival in North America. The event has a more urban feel than Venice, befitting one of the world's great cities, and a higher concentration of my American press brethren. The famous folk I plan to interview in the Great North include Benicio Del Toro, who plays an enigmatic operator in the Mexican drug cartel thriller Sicario; and Julianne Moore, who will almost certainly be nominated for a second straight Oscar for her role as a New Jersey cop fighting for domestic partnership rights in Freeheld. Ellen Page costars. As of this writing I've already seen two very strong films in Toronto:  Hitchcock/Truffaut, a fantastic ode to cinematic literacy based on Truffaut's 1966 book of the same name; and Jacques Audiard's Dheepan, which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. 

I'll be here until Monday, reporting as I go. Check in for all the latest.

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