Oscars: Toronto Lineup Offers Clues About Venice and Telluride (Analysis)

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Martian’ to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

TORONTO — Quebec director’s Jean-Marc Vallee’s collaboration with Jake Gyllenhaal, an outer space thriller starring Matt Damon and a gangster film topped by Johnny Depp are among the films heading to the Toronto International Film Festival this September. Damon stars in Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” about an astronaut stranded on the red planet while Depp helms Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass,” about mobster Whitey Bulger. After weeks of intense blogosphere speculation about the fall festival season and palate-whetting gala announcements from the New York Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival kicked things into high gear this morning when it announced more than 40 titles that will comprise the festival’s Gala and Special Presentations categories come September. The slate, announced Tuesday, also includes early screenings of high-profile films such as “Black Mass,” starring Johnny Depp as gangster Whitey Bulger; Cannes Palme d’or winner “Dheepan;” and “The Program,” starring Ben Foster as former Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong; “Mountains May Depart,” from Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke; and “The Danish Girl,” starring Eddie Redmayne fresh off his Oscar win for “The Theory of Everything.” The world premiere slate includes “The Martian,” Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s best-selling novel starring Matt Damon; “Freeheld,” a true story over a gay-rights fight in New Jersey starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page; “Legend,” starring Tom Hardy in dual roles as the infamous criminal twin Kray brothers; “Trumbo,” starring Bryan Cranston as the blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo; and “Remember,” from Canadian director Atom Egoyan. In addition to “Remember,” other Canadian titles include Deepa Mehta’s “Beeba Boys,” Paul Gross’s war saga “Hyena Road” and Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room,” — a Canada/Ireland co-production based on Emma Donoghue’s bestselling 2010 novel of the same name.

It’s a typically starry list, full of A-list names in front of and behind the camera, some very obvious Oscar bait, and a few Toronto stalwarts to satisfy the requisite quota of local Canadian talent, including Atom Egoyan, who makes a bid for a comeback (after the career-pummeling one-two of “Devil’s Knot” and “The Captive”) with “Remember,” starring Christopher Plummer as a Holocaust survivor trying to track down the former Nazi guard responsible for murdering his family. Other titles headed to Toronto include Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario,” Charlie Kaufman’s crowdfunded, stop-motion animated “Anomalisa,” Michael Moore’s “Where To Invade Next” and Cary Fukunaga’s Netflix initiative, “Beasts of No Nation.” Egoyan’s film is listed by the Toronto programmers as a North American premiere, which means we can deduce that it will first screen earlier in September at the Venice Film Festival, where another Toronto title, the Johnny Depp gangster drama “Black Mass,” has already been announced for an out-of-competition berth. The NYFF also has Robert Zemeckis’s 3D drama The Walk and Don Cheadle’s directorial debut, Miles Ahead, on its slate – both considered awards season heavy-hitters.

In a Periscope video, seen above, Moore said he was trying to keep mum on the details of the movie. “It’s a film of epic nature,” he said, however. And before Toronto even kicks off, the Venice and Telluride film festivals will take place, debuting films we’re sure to hear more about in the coming months.

TIFF organizers also announced a special screening of Alfred Hitchcock‘s “Vertigo” that will be accompanied by a live orchestral performance of the film’s lush, Bernard Hermann-composed score. We can also safely assume that a quartet of new films listed as “Canadian premieres” will screen first in some combination of Venice and super-secretive Telluride.

Although Toronto’s schedule announcement is just the first of many, its early slate still presents a nice primer for the films which will excite audiences and critics over the months to come. The ensemble will tell the story of Whitey Bulger’s long, violent reign in Boston, which was perpetuated by a bizarre relationship between the FBI and Italian mob. They include co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s stop-motion animated feature “Anomalisa” (described, in typically Kaufman-esque fashion, as a film about “a man crippled by the mundanity of his life”); Cary Fukunaga’s child-soldier drama “Beasts of No Nation”; “Frank” director Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” (adapted from Emma Donoghue’s acclaimed 2011 novel); and Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” which features Michael Keaton’s first post-“Birdman” screen appearance as Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson, who headed the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the 2003 Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. So far Venice has revealed its opening night film, the Jake Gyllenhaal-led survival drama Everest, and an out-of-competition screening for Scott Cooper’s Johnny Depp vehicle Black Mass, while Telluride won’t announce its lineup until shortly before the annual event launches on 4 September.

Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, making its international premiere, also examines the seedier side of Boston’s history, telling the true story of a team of Boston Globe reporters who uncovered years of abuse in the Catholic Church. Last year at this time, there was a lot of hubbub in the press about the battle lines being drawn between Toronto and its rival fall festivals — especially Telluride — over who would get to show which movies first. However, a close look at the initial Tiff slate offers a clear indication of where many of this year’s potential Oscar players are choosing to premiere – and it’s not Toronto. This year, those tensions have eased, with Toronto relaxing its penalties on films that do choose to premiere at the small-but-mighty Labor Day weekend soiree in the mountains of Colorado. Tom Hooper struck it huge by debuting The King’s Speech in Toronto in 2010, going on to win the best director and picture Oscars months after taking home the festival’s audience award.

That’s all for the best, since, at the end of the day, most of these movies need all the help they can get to attract attention amidst the billion-dollar big-studio franchise pictures. For his latest documentary, Moore went rogue, assuming “invading” duties from the Pentagon and going off the grid to report and shoot in various countries around the world.

Indeed, for all the ink that’s been spilled about 2015’s record-breaking box office figures — with “Star Wars: Episode VII” still to come — it’s been anything but a banner year in the indie sector, with buzzy festival titles like “Love & Mercy,” “Dope” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” all performing well below expectations. Emmerich’s Stonewall, meanwhile, offers a fictional account of a young homeless man in 1969 Greenwich Village who becomes a regular at the Stonewall Inn and witnesses the discrimination, and subsequent riots, that kickstart the contemporary gay rights movement. JUSTIN CHANG: I’m glad Toronto decided not to hold a grudge against Telluride this year, not least because all this tussling over titles and bragging rights ultimately amounts to the sort of passive-aggressive pissing contest that winds up distracting from the films themselves.

It’s worth noting, of course, that those movies that screen first at Telluride will still get a mild slap on the wrist in Toronto, where they will not be allowed to screen at any of the festival’s three prime venues — and frankly, there are far worse punishments. The festival will also screen Charlie Kauffman’s latest, Anomalisa, which was co-directed with Duke Johnson and stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan and David Thewlis. Enlisted by a government task force official played by Josh Brolin, and accompanied by an enigmatic guide played by Benicio Del Toro, Kate’s mission forces her to question the war against drugs she’s dedicated herself to fighting. Boyle, after all, is no stranger to Telluride, which is not only where “127 Hours” premiered in 2010, but also where “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) began its celebrated trek to Oscar glory. The director is known for premiering his work at either Venice (The Queen, Philomena, Dirty Pretty Things) or Telluride (Tamara Drewe), so his film’s inclusion comes as a small surprise.

With its exclusive-yet-inclusive atmosphere, its rarefied feel and its unbeatably gorgeous scenery, Telluride is a festival that commands an unusually high degree of filmmaker loyalty. (Those who go usually wind up going back.) But Toronto has its favorites, too, as I’m reminded by the world-premiere announcement of Terence Davies’ “Sunset Song” — which is, by my count, the great British auteur’s sixth feature to play Toronto (after “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” “The Long Day Closes,” “The House of Mirth,” “Of Time and the City” and “The Deep Blue Sea”). And then, of course, there are some filmmakers who move around a bit, like the very busy Jean-Marc Vallee, whose “Dallas Buyers Club” made a terrific splash in Toronto two years ago, and who last year took “Wild” to both Telluride and Toronto. This year, he’s headed straight to Toronto again with his Jake Gyllenhaal starrer, “Demolition,” which will have its world premiere on the festival’s opening night.

Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again. Don’t get too excited about the absence of pictures such as Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea or David Gordon Green’s Our Brand is Crisis.

I know it’s where you’ll be paying most of your attention, Scott, in your new capacity as an acquisitions and development with the feature films division of Amazon Studios — and needless to say, we will all be anticipating your first slate of pickups with bated breath. The drama, about a recent widowed man struggling to cope with his wife’s death, was seemingly primed for a 2015 awards run, before distributor Fox Searchlight recently announced an April 2016 release. With the caveat that all dates are subject to change, here are the music, movies and TV you need to know about all year long. “Most second albums suck,” Dan Harmon says, lounging in a back room of Starburns Industries, a Burbank studio, across the table from Justin Roiland.

Given that it’s now debuting at Toronto, more than seven months before its slated theatrical rollout, an Oscar campaign seems unlikely – unless it plays like gangbusters in Toronto and is given an awards-qualifying release into select cinemas, months before opening. The mismatched pair — Roiland is clean-cut, fair-skinned and upbeat; Harmon’s unkempt, grizzled, and cynical — are in the midst of creating not a second album here, but a second season. But it’s among those couple of hundred other movies in the Toronto lineup that critics and buyers alike hope to find that unheralded diamond in the rough by a promising new director who might go on to become the next Egoyan or Abrahamson or Fukunaga. The show is Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty, an animated sci-fi sitcom that’s very loosely based on Back to the Future and just may be the best-written comedy on television. Amazon and Netflix are two of the companies heretofore associated with small-screen entertainment who are making a high-profile bid to enter the movie business.

Each 22-minute story arc is plotted using the principles of Joseph Campbell’s mythological hero’s journey, but shot through with world-weary humor like a George Carlin comedy special in triple time. Netflix paid a whopping $12 million for Fukunaga’s film earlier this year, and Fukunaga himself is one of a new breed of directors who seem equally at ease working in feature films and long-form television (like “True Detective”).

This year, Toronto itself will acknowledge that ever-winnowing line between those two mediums with a new programming section called Primetime, devoted to episodic series from across the globe. Finally, writer/director Rebecca Miller’s first film since 2009’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Maggie’s Plan, wasn’t expected to make it on to this autumn’s circuit because it finished principal photography just a few months ago. It’s a smart move, given that today’s audiences scarcely seem to care what format something was originally conceived for as long as it’s an example of good storytelling.

Still, there will always be directors whose work demands to be seen on the largest possible screens, and one of them is Ridley Scott, a classical master of the medium who is still, at age 77, making big-canvas entertainments at an astonishingly prolific rate. The show combines the meta-TV writing of Harmon, best-known as the creative force behind the erstwhile NBC sitcom Community, and the puerile imagination of Roiland, best known as the screeching voice of Lemongrab on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. Scott had only just started shooting “The Martian” on locations in Hungary and Morocco, when I interviewed him in London last November (for a Variety cover story about his quite beautiful and underrated “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” a movie I know you, Justin, also admire greatly), and now 10 months later it’s ready to go, with a terrific teaser trailer that burned up the internet when it debuted earlier this summer.

We were so close to something amazing and we never really got there from a structural standpoint.” “It went off the deep end conceptually and got really over-complicated,” Harmon agrees. “We’re pretty convinced that the first episode might be the worst for that reason.” If the first episode of Season Two is the worst, then the pair has nothing to worry about. “A Rickle in Time” begins with Rick freezing time for six months so that he, Morty, and Morty’s sister can clean up the house after a wild party that ended Season One. This is depicted by dividing the viewer’s television screen into as many as 24 tiny frames, each with a slightly different version of the protagonists working to repair the widening rift. He’s one of the few people who can create a great show, then get fired despite the high quality of his work, as he did from The Sarah Silverman Program on Comedy Central and Community on NBC — which later hired him back, then canceled the show. “I forget my pain,” Harmon says. “I just move from one thing to the next.

Its origins lie in a monthly short-film festival called Channel 101 that Harmon co-founded. “I had a history of occasionally going into Channel 101 with something that I made with the intention of just eliciting shock and screams, and this was certainly one of those times,” Roiland recalls of the original short, The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti, in 2006. “I’d just gotten off a job [at Spike TV] that was creatively horrible. So I had this pure ‘I don’t give a fuck’ energy, which is sometimes the best energy because you have nothing at stake.” Roiland continues: “There’s a part in [the short] where Mharti is disappearing and Doc says, ‘You have to jerk me off to stop it,’ and this huge, beautifully drawn erect penis appears. It’s a welcome reminder that Toronto is a place of not just discovery but also rediscovery, and that of all the things one can say or appreciate about a movie, “which festival had it first” is surely the least significant. But other than those, for a good 10 years, Roiland pitched network executives non-stop, selling, by his own count, three shows to Fox and three to Cartoon Network that never got picked up. “Observing Justin having project after project killed was really painful,” Harmon recalls. “He literally said to me, ‘I don’t know how much more of this I can take.'” So when Adult Swim asked Harmon to put together an animated pilot, he decided to work on making Roiland’s humor palatable to a broader audience. “The challenge was: How do you make my mom understand how funny it is to see somebody vomiting diarrhea,” Harmon explain, then adds, glancing at his partner, “Not to pigeonhole Justin’s sensibility.” Harmon’s solution was to contain that energy in the character of Rick, and place him in an otherwise stereotypically dysfunctional television family.

Although this formula has worked far beyond its creator’s expectations, Roiland still has a way to go before reaching his personal benchmarks for success.

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