News in 2012

Toronto International Film Festival
Festival Director, Darryl Macdonald, highlights some of the films shown at the 2012 TIFF

Toronto International Film Festival:
Mixing Oscars with Obscurity

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has long showcased a lineup that provides a heady combination of major studio films vying for Oscar season attention and new international cinema fromsome of the most gifted filmmakers on the world stage, along with a healthy sampling of worthy work from more obscure sources. This year’s lineup provided a prime example of that blend, and the following listing provides an abbreviated rundown of some the highlights of the 2012 TIFF offerings:

ARGO - This edge-of-your-seat thriller, based on the attempt to get 6 American diplomats out of Iran during the takeover of the American Embassy after the fall of the Shah marks Ben Affleck as a sure bet for Best Picture and Director nominations in this year’s Oscar race. Terrifically written and directed, it's a thoroughly satisfying film, with unexpected humor to leaven the load. Though there are not a lot of major ‘names’ among the cast, Alan Arkin and John Goodman are particularly good in cameo roles as the key Hollywood players behind the faux film used to get the hostages out of Iran. (Warner Bros., Oct. 12)

ANNA KARENINA - Keira Knightly should get serious Oscar and Golden Globe consideration for her performance in this new film from Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice ). She plays the titular heroine opposite Jude Law (as Alexei Karenin) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Albert Nobbs), who plays Count Vronsky, the dashing officer she has an adulterous affair with. Gorgeously mounted, the film nonetheless loses some emotional power through its transference of the story to a visually ravishing, though artificial, stage-bound setting. The film found both many admirers and not a few detractors; I fall somewhere in between. (Focus, Nov. 16)

THE MASTER - This will be a huge critical hit, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Jaoquin Phoenix are definite front-runners for Oscar and Golden Globe consideration for their performances in this veiled allegory about the roots of Scientology. Amy Adams (The Fighter) is equally effective in a supporting role as the L. Ron Hubbard character’s wife. The film is less likely to be a major hit with audiences, but Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights) should also garner a nomination for Best Director, though the film ends with a kind of whimper, rather than the hoped-for bang. (Weinstein Company, Sept. 21)

THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – A major critical and audience hit at TIFF (it won the Festival’s Audience Award), this bittersweet comedic love story boasts hugely winning performances from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as the troubled pair at the story’s core. Writer/Director David O. Russell (The Fighter) is another prime candidate for Oscar consideration, and Bradley Cooper, with two major movies at TIFF this year (the other being The Place Beyond the Pines, starring Ryan Gosling), seems to be this year’s ‘It’ Boy. Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), who was our Rising Star two years ago, will almost surely get a nomination for Best Actress, and if they gave Oscars for ensemble cast this film would likely be considered, boasting terrific performances by costars Robert De Niro, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker and Dash Mihok. (Weinstein Company, Nov. 21)

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP - Robert Redford produced, directed and stars in this affecting tale about a number of 60's radicals-in-hiding, whose sh*t hits the fan when one of their former members (played by the always able Susan Sarandon) is captured by the feds in upstate NY in modern day. The incredible ensemble cast includes Redford, Sarandon, Julie Christie, Shia LaBoeuf, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Anna Kendrick (PSIFF Rising Star 2011), Richard Jenkins and Brendan Gleeson. (Sony Pictures Classics, release date unset)

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON - A 'prestige' project in the The King's Speech mold, this film will probably garner an Oscar nom for Bill Murray (who plays FDR), and delves into his life and loves in the period shortly prior to WWII, with Laura Linney playing his mistress (and "5th or 6th" cousin) Daisy Suckley. The film centers around a visit to FDR's estate by King George 6th and Queen (Mother) Elisabeth, the first visit by British Royals to the U.S., hoping to gain U.S. support for the coming turmoil in Europe.

Though the film is somewhat uneven (its main problem being that the visit by the King and Queen is much more interesting and entertaining than FDR's personal peccadillos), there will be plenty of sentiment for Murray to get Oscar recognition, and he's good enough in the role that he'll probably get one. Linney is great, as always, but the script doesn't serve her nearly as well.

Certainly the most audacious film I saw at Toronto this year, and the one that left the deepest impression was Cloud Atlas – a three-hour epic based on David Mitchell’s celebrated eponymous novel. This globe-spanning, time-tripping epic interweaves disparate stories encompassing manifold centuries and a multitude of characters - featuring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw and others in multiple roles - as it weaves each strand into an engrossing whole. The three-hour running time flies by like a mere hour-and-a-half, and though the film’s ultimate message carries less resonance than does the sum of its individual parts, it’s still an utterly dazzling cinematic treat to be savored and hugely admired.

Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children is no less ambitious or epic, adapting Salman Rushdie’s dazzling novel melding the tale of one remarkable Indian man with that of the entire history of the Indian nation throughout the course of the twentieth century. Infused with gorgeous visuals, sly wit and a hint of magic, the film is engrossing and edifying in equal measures.

Another film dealing with upheaval on the Indian subcontinent, albeit from a contemporary American perspective, Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist tells the tale of a young, Pakistani emigré who, after graduating from Princeton finds himself on a fast-rising escalator in the go-go world of contemporary Wall Street. Cue Sept. 11, 2001, and suddenly everything in his world has changed. Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri and Kate Hudson are each pitch-perfect in their supporting roles, but it is really relative newcomer Riz Ahmed, as the ambitious young immigrant at the center of the story, who steals the show as the hapless hero caught in a situation seemingly beyond his control.

THE IMPOSSIBLE - Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are terrific in this story about a vacationing couple on a trip with their three children when the tsunami hits an Australian beach community after the earthquake in the Indian Ocean in 2004. It's excruciating and emotionally draining to watch, though ultimately, it's uplifting as the family is reunited after going through hell. A major hit in Toronto, it kept me on the edge of my seat through the entire first hour.

The director, Juan Antonio Bayona, who gained raves as the director of his first film - The Orphanage (2007) - has been compared to a young Spielberg, and in many ways the comparison is apt. Watts and McGregor are always watchable, and particularly good here (Watts could very well garner a nomination for Best Actress) as is the kid who plays their oldest son in the film. It should be a year-end hit (it's currently scheduled to open in December, from Summit Releasing), and will win some nominations without doubt, though they may mainly be in the technical categories, apart from Watts and possibly Bayona, who will be given serious consideration in the Actress and Director categories. A word of warning: the opening hour contains some particularly harrowing scenes, and the most realistic rendering of an actual tsunami you could ever imagine on screen.

There were many other films to write home about at the Toronto Festival this year, but none better than the film selected as this year’s official Danish Oscar Submission for Best Foreign Language Film, Nilolaj Arcel’s A Royal Affair. Set at the tail end of the eighteenth century, as the winds of the Age of Enlightenment are sweeping through Europe, Denmark remains a holdout, run by a spoiled young King who is manipulated by an entrenched circle of cunning courtiers hell-bent on retaining their perks and privileges while the common people struggle in abject poverty. Having taken a gorgeous, headstrong young English girl as his Queen in an arranged marriage, the weak King soon begins to question the current social status quo when he takes a German physician and reformer (played by Mads Mikkelsen) into his court as his closest confidant. When sexual sparks fly between the Queen and the King’s new confidant, the stage is set for a royal showdown between the forces of enlightenment and those of repression. Based on a notorious true story and directed with great style and vigor, A Royal Affair is enlightening indeed.

Steven Wilson / Lauren Peteroy
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David Lee
Palm Springs International Film Festival