Niagara Gazette

September 3, 2013

CALLERI: The Toronto Film Festival begins its yearly dance in the spotlight

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — For many motion picture studio executives, and probably quite a few directors, screenwriters, actors, and actresses, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is where they hope their movies will begin the march to Oscar glory. Over the years, a good number of films earned early accolades at Toronto, not the least of which was "The Artist" from 2011, which roared into the festival fresh from surprising everyone at Cannes. The movie stunned them in Toronto. At that time, I said on the radio that "The Artist" could be the big winner at the 2012 Academy Awards. It was.

This year, Cannes has delivered another must-see from France, "Blue Is The Warmest Color," a drama about one woman's sexual awakening with another. For the first time in its history, the Cannes Festival jury award three grand prizes. The Palme d'Or for Best Film went to the director Abdellatif Kechiche, but, in a groundbreaking decision, it was also awarded to both actresses in the movie, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux. The picture will have its North American premiere at TIFF.

The Toronto Film Festival is noteworthy for its being a movie marathon. Now in its 38th year, nothing has changed. As it enters its first weekend, the 11-day event, which runs through Sept. 15, will showcase 366 movies, 288 of which are full-length features, with 146 of those being world premieres. 70 countries are represented. Critics and entertainment reporters have it especially difficult because in addition to seeing films, there are also 23 official festival press conferences given by the biggest stars and most important directors, as well as studio interview possibilities with hundreds of players and personalities.

TIFF truly does begin the fall season of high-caliber movies, not to mention films that studio chiefs think are high-caliber. Many fall by the wayside. Those of us who report on the festival can only do our best when it comes down to the main reason for attending, which is seeing movies. Upwards of as many as 10 different films might be showing at either press or public screenings at the exact same time. And that's all day, every day, hour after hour. You make your selections and hope they are good ones. My personal record is seeing six movies in a single day. I began with a film at 9:00 a.m., and finished with a midnight movie. Did I eat? Well, if you consider consuming slice after slice of lemon poppyseed cake from a bakery eating, I did.

The 2013 festival opens, as movie publicists love to shout, with a film straight from today's headlines. “The Fifth Estate” stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, the man with a lot of secrets to tell. It co-stars Laura Linney, Daniel Bruhl, David Thewlis, Anthony Mackie, and Stanley Tucci. Bill Condon, who won a screenwriting Oscar for "Gods And Monsters" is the director. A fascinating element of this highly charged political movie is that it's distributed by Walt Disney Studios, which usually steers clear of controversy.

One of the strongest cast line-ups in years shows up in "August: Osage County," which stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan MacGregor, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, and Cumberbatch, again. It's directed by John Wells and is written by Tracy Letts, based on his own play about a quarrelsome Oklahoma family.

Festival highlights include American writer-director Nicole Holofcener's "Enough Said," James Gandolfini's second last film, a comedy about social conventions also starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener, and Toni Collette. There's "The Last Robin Hood," which has Kevin Kline playing Errol Flynn, Dakota Fanning as his underage girlfriend and Susan Sarandon as her mother. "Parkland" is about the bedlam at the Dallas hospital where President John F. Kennedy was taken after he was shot. Paul Giamatti, Marcia Gay Harden, Zac Efron, Tom Welling, and Ron Livingston are in it.

"Kill Your Darlings" stars Daniel Radcliffe as poet Allen Ginsberg, Jack Huston (grandson of director John) as Jack Kerouac, and Ben Foster as William S. Burroughs in a drama about a scandalous 1944 murder case that changed the lives of the men who would immortalize the Beat Generation. A famed writer is also the subject of “The Invisible Woman," which looks at the secret love affair between author Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes, who also directed) and Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones).

The Toronto Film Festival always delivers a surprise or two, but perhaps nothing will top Woody Allen as a pimp in "Fading Gigolo." Yes, that Woody Allen. Actor John Turturro directs himself in the movie and plays a middle-aged New Yorker who is desperate for a career change. Allen's appearance in the film has sent the Toronto festival hype machine into overdrive.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.