TORONTO, Aug 20 (Reuters) - The 38th Toronto International Film Festival promises a heavy dose of Oscar bait and celebrities, with past Academy Award winners Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and Julia Roberts all expected in town for the 11-day event, which starts on Sept. 5.
Widely considered the kick-off to Oscar season, the 2013 festival will feature 146 world premieres, including talked-about new films from acclaimed Canadian directors Paul Haggis and Denis Villeneuve. The full program was released on Tuesday.
Streep and Roberts are set to walk the red carpet for the world premiere of the John Wells film "August: Osage County," which is adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play and is already the source of much early Oscar buzz.
Firth takes on the lead role in "The Railway Man," the true story of a British soldier who was captured by Japanese troops in World War Two and remained haunted by his captivity. Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, the film also stars Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman.
Audiences will also get a first glimpse at a dramatically thinner Matthew McConaughey, who lost nearly 40 pounds (18 kg) to play real-life AIDS activist Ron Woodroof in "Dallas Buyers Club." Directed by Montreal's Jean-Marc Vallée, McConaughey's performance is already being tipped for an Oscar nod.
Ontario-raised director Haggis, who won two Oscars for his film "Crash," will be back in Toronto with the world premiere of "Third Person," which traces the hidden connections between three men played by Liam Neeson, Adrien Brody and James Franco.
Villeneuve, meanwhile, goes Hollywood with "Prisoners," a vigilante thriller that stars Hugh Jackman as man seeking vengeance after his daughter and her friend disappear, and Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead detective on the case.
Launched in 1976, the Toronto film festival ranks among the world's top movie events and often serves as a launchpad for international films seeking North American distribution. The festival previously unearthed such hits as "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The King's Speech," which both went on to win best film Oscars.
The 2013 festival will screen 366 feature and short films from 70 countries. The schedule is available at http://tiff.net/thefestival/filmprogramming/schedule/day1 (Editing by Eric Walsh)