Oscar buzz underway at Toronto Film Festival

11 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

40th Toronto Film Festival kicks off with Michael Moore documentary, Jake Gyllenhaal drama.

With Telluride out of the way and Venice winding down, all eyes are firmly set on Canada with the 40th Toronto film festival set to unveil a wide range of major awards contenders. Hollywood actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts proved that the Toronto International Film Festival can still draw big stars as it kicked off its 40th anniversary celebrations.TORONTO, Canada (AFP) – Jake Gyllenhaal takes a bulldozer to his own life as a man unhinged by grief in “Demolition,” which opened North America’s largest film festival in Toronto on Thursday.The opening night premieres of “Demolition” by Quebecois filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Moore’s “Where to Invade Next” made an unlikely pair to kick off Toronto’s fall-movie launching pad on Thursday. “Demolition” won’t hit theaters until April, and “Where to Invade Next” is being shopped for buyers.When Fox Searchlight announced the company’s fall 2015 release slate in July, it included a bump to April 2016 for Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Demolition.” Many assumed it was a sign of weakness where awards potential was concerned (failing, of course, to note the reigning best picture king’s success with March release “The Grand Budapest Hotel” last year).

Ridley Scott’s big budget return to space will hopefully be a far more interesting excursion than Alien prequel Prometheus, a sequel to which he is currently prepping. The festival, which is often regarded as a crucial stop on the path to the Academy Awards, opened with the gala premiere of Demolition, a film about a successful investment banker who demolishes a house after his wife dies in a car crash. In order to make sense of his life, a white-collar widower decides he has to tear it all down in “Demolition,” dismantling appliances, smashing furniture and even going so far as to bulldoze his own house in search of a catharsis that never comes. A juicy premise (astronaut stranded on Mars) and arguably the year’s most impressive cast (Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels) suggests it might. Pressed by his father-in-law to pull it together, Mitchell instead launches into an obsessive campaign against a vending machine company, penning letters of complaint that take on an increasingly confessional tone.

It all could have gone horribly awry, were it not for the top-of-their-game contributions of leading man Jake Gyllenhaal (continuing in recent-streak crazy mode) and director Jean-Marc Vallee (back in early-career “C.R.A.Z.Y.” mode), whose unexpected creative choices across the line salvage a sledgehammer-obvious screenplay that will stop at nothing to provoke a reaction. After forever being the plentifully nominated bridesmaid, Julianne Moore is hoping for her second best-actress Oscar in a row with another Toronto premiere for an awards-friendly role. Naomi plays the woman he makes an unlikely connection with. “A lot of times I have had to go on long journeys to find a character and this time the director forced me into his space and it was an uncomfortable place to be. “The movie says grief can be anything, really. While it had been expected to be an investigation of the American military industrial complex, Moore does the invading in the film himself, traveling to other countries (mostly in Europe) to find “America’s soul.” Moore’s premise is that decades of patriotic chest-thumping and constant war have prevented the United States from taking care of its own democracy.

It’s unique to grab that slot and then beg off for the next year on release, but the Canadian Vallée really wanted to play to his people north of the border, as he has with “C.R.A.Z.Y.,” “The Young Victoria,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Wild.” After the film premiered Thursday night, you could already tell it had landed a sour note with a number of critics who tossed out a quick Twitter thought before ducking into Michael Moore’s latest. Though dated to open after the Oscar dust has settled with an April 8 release, Fox Searchlight might rethink that strategy if reactions to this alternately tough and ingratiating Toronto opener are strong enough. We have a conventional idea of what grief is supposed to be and particularly movies give us that idea; they teach us how to supposedly love or supposedly hate or fight, and this movie is so beautiful because it doesn’t say grief is supposed to be anything, it is whatever you make of it and as long as you move through it, you’re doing all right.” The actor said: “When I was tearing up that house it was incredibly cathartic, you feel like a kid. In Slovenia, he finds free university; in Finland, he marvels at its top education system; in Italy, he sees eight weeks of annual vacation and strong unions. Featuring the most baldly manipulative first and last five minutes of any movie this year, “Demolition” opens with Wall Street slimeball Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) and his wife, Julia (Heather Lind), bickering in traffic when a car blindsides them mid-thought, jarring both the Mitchells and the audience — an increasingly prevalent and virtually inexcusable tactic whereby any dialogue set in a moving vehicle and shot head-on becomes a chance for directors to catch us off-guard.

Bryan Cranston aims to finally shake off the meth-cooking shadow of Walter White with a lead in Austin Powers director Jay Roach’s McCarthyism-era biopic. It is a lot harder to create than to destroy and I do feel like we live in a world where it is easier to destroy than to create, but it is really, really hard to pull apart a house yourself.” Other films expected to make a splash at the festival include Ridley Scott’s The Martian, starring Matt Damon, a Hank Williams biopic starring Tom Hiddleston and Black Mass, which stars Johnny Depp as crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger. Gyllenhaal himself has also become a fixture in Toronto, appearing in last year’s well-received “Nightcrawler,” as well as “Prisoners,” “Rendition” and previously in Ang Lee’s acclaimed “Brokeback Mountain.” “Jake is fully engaged in this performance,” said Bailey. “And Jean-Marc was able to build a world around this character where you feel you’re with that person.” On the red carpet at the film’s gala premiere, Gyllenhaal said he appreciated the film’s take on grieving, which he said was “very different from the way that movies tend to tell you that you’re supposed to (grieve).” “He’s right on and gives you what the script is asking on the first take,” he told AFP. “And then the second take he’ll go somewhere else, and then the third take he’ll go somewhere else. After the film’s north-of-the-border debut was met with an enthusiastic standing ovation, Moore provided Slovenia college applications and distributed German-made pencils to the audience.

I wasn’t shocked, really. “Demolition” is a delicate film — some might slam it with a pejorative “precious” — and an easy one to be cynical about at that. That very same emotional shock ploy was used twice at Cannes, in “The Sea of Trees” and “Chronic,” and it’s high time we gave this stunt a name, so Variety hereby proposes calling it “a Demolition,” as in, “The couple were driving along, talking about fixing the refrigerator when the director pulled ‘a Demolition,’ and the next thing we know, we’re in the hospital and the wife is dead.” Theoretically speaking, an opening like that should put audiences on edge for the rest of the movie, leaving us constantly jumpy about what might come next, and sure enough, though Bryan Sipe’s screenplay is virtually shameless when it comes to beating its metaphors, one could hardly accuse it of being predictable. That’s instantly clear in the way Davis processes his wife’s accident — or rather, how Vallee approaches the critical, tone-setting scenes that immediately follow.

The director said he was urged back into moviemaking after the Occupy Wall Street movement and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri: “I thought it was important to re-enlist,” he said. In past years, Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” “The King’s Speech,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “American Beauty” and “Chariots of Fire” won the festival’s audience prize for best picture before going on to win Best Picture Oscars. Not to mention: “Youth,” “Brooklyn,” “Far From the Madding Crowd,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” — Searchlight has plenty to work with this year, having also bumped Luca Guadagnino’s “A Bigger Splash” to clear up some space. One of the festival’s biggest British hopes sees Tom Hiddleston take centre-stage in an adaptation of JG Ballard’s dystopian thriller about an isolated tower block that offers luxury at a price. This year’s lineup includes films on transgender people, quirky family dynamics, drone strikes, military coups and rigged elections, organized crime, and the music of Janis Joplin, Keith Richards, Yo-Yo Ma and other luminaries.

He compared the male dominance of American government to the minority-controlled system of apartheid. “Demolition,” the festival’s official opener, premiered earlier in the evening. He clearly needs someone to talk to, but rather than turning to anyone familiar, he composes a long, brutally candid letter to the company responsible for stocking the candy-withholding vending machines in the ER under the pretext of asking a refund. Julianne Moore, “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, Salma Hayek, and comedian Sarah Silverman, meanwhile, will chat with audiences about their film careers. At first, this epistolary therapy seems like little more than a device to get Gyllenhaal’s character talking: The film has a fair amount of exposition to unload, and this is a relatively novel and quirky way to do it. While her role as a bored housewife in the romantic drama Carol has pretty much ensured her an Oscar nomination next year, Cate Blanchett is hoping to double her chances with a supporting turn in this journalism drama.

Jonas Cuaron (“Gravity”) is back with a story about migrants seeking a better life in America being stalked in the desert by a deranged vigilante, in “Desierto.” Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame returns in “Trumbo,” starring alongside Helen Mirren and John Goodman in the movie about the screenwriter and Hollywood blacklist victim Dalton Trumbo. But the movie is comic, and gleefully follows its protagonist’s unhinging as he refuses to mourn. “This is probably the most rock ‘n’ roll film I’ve ever made,” said Vallee, a TIFF regular whose last film, “Wild” with Reese Witherspoon, also premiered at Toronto. “I think we’re going to set the tone for the festival with the noise we’re going to make tonight.” “Demolition,” though, yielded a mixed reaction from critics, albeit with fairly universal praise for Gyllenhaal’s dedicated performance. But these letters play a more substantial role than that, seeing as how Sipe actually follows through on his weird creative choice and invents a woman on the other end of Davis’ letters: Champion Vending Machines customer service rep Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), who is so moved by the correspondence that she decides to call Davis at 2 in the morning to offer a sympathetic ear — which is all he ever really needed. Roland Emmerich might be an unlikely figure to helm a 60s-set drama about the Stonewall riots in New York, but this has been a passion project for the director usually associated with disaster epics.

Karen is drawn in because she’s never met anyone as honest as Davis, and Davis is happy because he finally has someone who will listen, although befriending Karen comes with the added challenge of dealing with her rebellious long-haired son, Chris (Judah Lewis), who really loves classic rock. I feel like you could have written a version of this piece last year (and I probably did), but ever since the disappointing 2010 video game adaptation “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” and particularly since an agency switch in 2012, the 34-year-old star has been on a quest to push himself, explore new territory with bold filmmakers (Duncan Jones, David Ayer, Denis Villeneueve, Dan Gilroy) and just keep growing. Big’s “Free” to Heart’s “Crazy on You” to help throttle Davis out of his funk — quite literally at one point, as Gyllenhaal dances along to his newly upgraded playlist through the streets of Manhattan.

Chris’ character could be a reincarnation of (or at least soul brother to) the gay, music-driven protagonist of the beloved coming-(out)-of-age pic that put Vallee on the map, and “Demolition” benefits from a comparably cheeky, dramedy-defying approach to material that might have played either flat or overly precious in another director’s hands. Just because Davis doesn’t feel anything for his wife’s loss doesn’t mean we won’t either, and it’s hard to watch the red-eyed Cooper without welling up ourselves, especially considering how stoical the actor is in nearly everything else.

And next he’s working with Tom Ford (“Nocturnal Animals”), another compelling artist who will no doubt add a whole other shade to the actor’s palette. Here, his character tells his seemingly unfeeling son-in-law, “If you want to fix something, you have to take it apart and put it back together” — advice that Davis opts to take literally, first with his toolbox and later by quitting his cushy nepotistic job and joining a wrecking crew. I haven’t met a single person in the industry who understands how Gyllenhaal missed a lead actor nomination for “Nightcrawler.” He bobbed and weaved against critical blows aimed at this summer’s “Southpaw,” emerging unscathed. Here, it’s stepping on a rusty nail at a (de)construction site, in lieu of a windswept plastic bag, that serves as our protagonist’s wake-up call to all that life has to offer, but the message is the same.

And yet, Sipe smugly refuses to stop there, throwing a gay bashing, a surprise pregnancy and an eye-rolling and totally out-of-character 11th-hour act of charity into the mix. Hoping for more luck is director Matthew Cullen, best known for Katy Perry’s California Gurls video, who is bringing this noir thriller to life with a cast that includes Amber Heard, Billy Bob Thornton and Johnny Depp.

And yet, Gyllenhaal grounds Davis’ wildly unraveling psyche, finding both the humor and heart in a man who admits to having spent the past 10 to 12 years incapable of feeling. When the role comes, he’s going to seize it and be smart about it and the timing will be right, because he just seems to be doing it for all the right reasons lately. The actor reveals an almost sociopathic deadness to Davis in the early stretch, an almost Patrick Bateman-level lack of empathy when faced with the genuine grief of those around him (which also happens to be where Sipe’s quippy script works best, landing laughs at seemingly inappropriate moments), though the character gradually opens up in Karen and Chris’ company. It takes Karen’s empathy, Phil’s understanding, Chris’ wild taste in music and the ever-surprising Vallee’s mastery of tone to construct such a well-rounded character, and though “Demolition” very nearly blows it with two badly executed last scenes, the result is the best Gyllenhaal performance since “Brokeback Mountain” and a partially heartless character who manages to work his way into ours.

Glen; music supervisor, Susan Jacobs; production designer, ; art director, Javiera Varas; set decorator, Robert Covelman; costume designer, Leah Katznelson; sound (Dolby Digital), Tom Nelson; supervising sound editor, Skip Lievsay; visual effects supervisor, Marc Cote; special effects supervisor, Doug Coleman; associate producer, Emma McGill; assistant director, Urs Hirschbielgel; casting, Suzanne Smith Crowley, Jessica Kelly.

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