Toronto Film Festival: Jake Gyllenhaal’s ‘Demolition’ hopes to make a splash

10 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

40th TIFF Opens Tonight.

The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off Thursday night with a highly anticipated movie — “Demolition,” the new film from “Dallas Buyers Club” director Jean-Marc Vallée starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a semi-unhinged Wall Street trader. TORONTO — When “Demolition” has its premiere on the opening night of this city’s annual film festival on Thursday, it will have the look of a serious film making a beautifully timed entrance to the awards season.Hot films in the lineup include “Black Mass” starring Johnny Depp as a gangster, and the journalism drama “Spotlight” starring Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo. Now in its 40th year, the 10-day festival has become a key launching pad for Hollywood’s award season, with films like 12 Years a Slave, The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire all gaining critical momentum at the event before going on to win the Academy Award for best picture.

The movie, from Fox Searchlight Pictures, offers a topical plot (focusing on the tragicomic circumstances surrounding an investment banker struggling to rebuild his life after an economic fall). Two years ago, Brie Larson, an actress best known for 21 Jump Street and the little-watched Showtime dramedy series United States of Tara, wowed critics and audiences at South by Southwest with her performance in the indie drama Short Term 12. As the largest launching pad to the fall movie season, the Toronto Film Festival is a regular home to the biopics and other true-life tales that usually populate awards season. It has an acclaimed cast, including the past Oscar nominees Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts and the Oscar winner Chris Cooper (“Adaptation,” from 2002).

Playing an employee at a group home for troubled teenagers with some deep-seated issues of her own, Larson gave a thoughtful, subtle, fully felt performance that transcended the quirky teen stuff she’d been known for, and seemed to announce the arrival of a major new talent. This year’s fest, which kicks off today, 2015, is no different, and might be especially crowded with dramatizations ranging from the infamous (Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger in “Black Mass”) to the blacklisted (Cranston as screenwriter Trumbo in “Trumbo”).

In an attempt to avoid the grisly derby hinted at by its name, studio Fox Searchlight has decided to open “Demolition” in April, well outside the cutthroat and crowded fall, in a move that highlights just how intense the season has become. Now, Larson seems poised to capitalize on that momentum with Room, a film adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s harrowing novel about a mother and her young son held prisoner in a man’s backyard for years. (The story has shades of Jaycee Lee Dugard and other horrifying real-life cases.) The film’s trailer suggests a lot of heavy lifting on Larson’s part, and the fact that we get teary just watching a two-and-a-half-minute clip reel hints that Room, for all its bleak grimness, could pack a cathartic emotional wallop. The four-month moviegoing period that officially begins Thursday–it will also bring the screening of Michael Moore’s mysterious “Where to Invade Next”–brings a smile to the face of cinephiles. Notable themes in this year’s line-up include the political and legal battles fought for gay rights, the subject of two movies in the festival’s high-profile gala programme. And no matter how preternaturally gifted the kid playing her son may be, in playing the far more mature character, the one who is actually able to comprehend this beyond-dire situation, Brie Larson will have to conjure up most of the film’s pain and pathos.

Documentaries inspired two of the most notable films set to premiere: “Freeheld,” in which Moore and Page play a humble New Jersey lesbian couple fighting for the rights of married couple, and “Our Brand Is Crisis,” David Gordon Green’s dramatization of the intrusion of American campaign politics into a Bolivia election. And this year, there is a gush of such material: At least 70 films from major companies will compete for screens and attention between now and Christmas, an average of nearly five new entries each weekend. “I don’t know the last time it was this crowded,” said Rena Ronson, an agent and specialty-film expert at the United Talent Agency. “There’s maybe one week on the calendar where a distributor can still sneak in a movie.” Established specialty divisions are in full effect — Sony Pictures Classics will bring out the Dan Rather tale “Truth” and the Hank Williams biopic “I Saw the Light”; Fox Searchlight will release the Saoirse Ronan immigrant story “Brooklyn” and the Malala Yousafzai doc “He Called Me Malala”; Focus has transgender film “The Danish Girl”; and the Weinstein Co. is rolling out the lesbian drama “Carol” and Quentin Tarantino’s western “The Hateful Eight.” Upstart distributors are also ramping up — A24 with the Brie Larson character thriller “Room,” Broad Green with the Sarah Silverman drama “I Smile Back,” Open Road with the Michael Keaton newspaper/Catholic Church tale “Spotlight” and Bleecker Street with the Bryan Cranston screenwriter tale “Trumbo.” And after a period in which many of them sat out the award season game — particularly in wake of the financial crisis of 2008 — big Hollywood studios are now throwing themselves headlong into it. That’s because it is not scheduled to be released until April 8 of next year, long after the gowns and tuxedos of this awards cycle have been consigned to the closet.

The festival will also screen the world premiere of About Ray, which stars Elle Fanning as a teenager whose decision to transition from female to male triggers family turmoil. That’s why even with a gala world premiere, a film like “Demolition” can find itself back on the shelf, wary of being lost in the flood of movies released in the months leading up to the Oscars and instead waiting for a safe opening on next spring’s movie calendar. “The release schedule for the fourth quarter is always crowded, but we know that this is a really mammoth year,” said Molly Smith, whose Black Label Media joined with Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Mr.

Amazon’s TV series Transparent won the Golden Globe for best drama, Caitlyn Jenner debuted her new name, and glam look, on the cover of Vanity Fair, and the Sundance hit Tangerine got rave reviews and earned six times its budget at the box office. And that’s to say nothing of less award-minded but still mind-share-gobbling event pictures such as “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2,” the latest James Bond “Spectre” and of course the holiday juggernaut “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” If the glut of films is something even paid pundits can find hard to keep track of, it can be downright overwhelming for moviegoers, who must decide where to allocate their dollars and free time. It’s where directors know they’ll get the most visibility for their work, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect – just after Telluride and on the tail end of the Venice fest, but before movies have to hit theaters for Oscar consideration. Vallée is a Canadian whose work has been warmly received here in the past is a major reason the film is making its debut in Toronto, roughly seven months before its official release.) Studio subsidiaries, traditionally the source of much high-minded Oscar fare, released just 36 films last year, down 56 percent from 81 releases in 2005, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

At the same time, such awards-savvy operations, like Fox Searchlight, which had the last two best picture Oscar winners in “Birdman” and “12 Years a Slave,” have been squeezed by a growing number of prize contenders coming from smaller distributors and big studios. This year brings new pressure from a wave of ambitious big studio films, including Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” from 20th Century Fox, which has its world premiere here; Aaron Sorkin’s “Steve Jobs,” from Universal Pictures, shown at the Telluride Film Festival last week; Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea,” set for a Dec. 11 release by Warner Bros.; and Alejandro G. Still, studios remain seduced by the prospect of a fall release, either because filmmakers and actors clamor back-channel for the chance to be in an awards race (something that’s much harder to pull off with a spring or summer release) or because the studios believe their horses are just a little stronger and faster than the rest of the field. We’ll see how a bigger audience reacts at Toronto, where The Danish Girl star Eddie Redmayne launched his successful Oscar campaign for The Theory of Everything last year.

Those films add to a based-on-a-true-story slate that also features an adaptation of Mary Mapes’ account of the CBS News scandal over its reporting of President George W. They’re buoyed in that thought by the not insignificant number of movies in recent years that have ridden Oscar buzz to big dollars — “American Sniper,” “Gravity” and “Silver Linings Playbook” among them. Bush’s military record (“Truth,” with Cate Blanchett as Mapes and Robert Redford as Rather), a biopic of the country legend Williams, starring Tom Hiddleston (“I Saw the Light”) and Stephen Frears’ Armstrong drama (“The Program”).

Those major-studio contenders are piled atop an array of films from indie and alternative distributors, who often are angling to make a splash on the festival circuit before a brief awards-qualifying run in theaters, and a nearly immediate move to subscription or on-demand video runs. It has a strong cast (joining Fanning are Susan Sarandon and Naomi Watts), but the co-writer of the film made this year’s unpleasant Sundance dud Stockholm, Pennsylvania. But Toronto is a massive, multi-headed machine that features big-time movie premieres, mammoth amounts of media hype and so many promising smaller films that some are sure to slide under the radar. Star power is typically key to this effort — the Ridley Scott-directed “Martian,” for example, is a showcase for Matt Damon, who must employ some MacGuyver-like skills to stay alive after being stranded on Mars.

Regardless of these movies’ quality, though, they are bound to spark some healthy discussion. (One big topic will be whether cisgender actors like Redmayne and Fanning should be playing trans characters, instead of trans actors, an ongoing conversation that continually uncovers some ugly Hollywood financial realities.) If they catch the right balance of praise and buzz, hopefully these films will convince the powers that be that there are many worthwhile stories to be told about the trans community. Here are some other movies at the festival likely to have people talking: * “The Martian,” by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon as an astronaut left for dead on Mars, gives Toronto its strongest dose of sci-fi spectacle. In Toronto this year, the indie crop will include Jay Roach’s “Trumbo,” from Bleecker Street Media; Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation,” from Netflix; and Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall,” from Roadside Attractions. This year’s crop, though, promises some potential departures from the status quo, from the Lance Armstrong story The Program, which seems to be righteously angry with its subject rather than worshipfully admiring, to Legend, which has Tom Hardy in two roles as identical twin gangsters the Kray brothers. But Searchlight believes it can maximize commercial prospects for the film–which offers a kind of black comedy as a tragic event forces Gyllenhaal’s character to make some radical changes–by bringing the movie out in April, even if it means losing a little momentum in the interim.

In Toronto, Fox Searchlight is also showing John Crowley’s “Brooklyn,” a story about an Irish immigrant played by Saoirse Ronan; Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth,” starring Michael Caine as an aging performer pondering his future; and Davis Guggenheim’s “He Named Me Malala,” a documentary about life and terror in Pakistan that made its debut at Telluride. Here’s a short list (we promise) of the celebrities who are likely to hit the red carpet year: Drew Barrymore, Kevin Bacon, Anna Kendrick, John Goodman, Kate Winslet, JK Simmons, Christopher Walken, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Page, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Hardy, Diane Kruger, Steve Martin, Rachel McAdams, David Oyelowo, Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp and Yo Yo Ma. Though it was definitely well received when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival back in May, winning the Jury Prize, the equivalent of third place, Yorgos Lanthimos’s sad, funny, decidedly offbeat sci-fi romance was, when it came to things like Oscar talk, a bit eclipsed by Todd Haynes’s Carol. Others include Ben Wheatley’s “High-Rise,” a dystopian drama about the residents of a luxury tower; and “The Family Fang,” a family drama that marks Jason Bateman’s second directorial effort after “Bad Words.” * “Land of Mine,” a Danish post-World War II drama directed by Martin Zandvliet about German POWs digging up Nazi mines.

Directed by Denis Villenueve, who is also from Montreal, it stars Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt in a story of drug wars on the United States’ Southern border. Smith and the Luckinbill brothers will also be browsing the robust film market here, looking to acquire interests in new movies, and to sell distribution rights to their existing projects. Retitled “Begin Again,” that film was released in June 2014 — another of those seasonal bumps — and ended up nabbing an Oscar nomination for its original song.

Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Brie Larson (Room), Kristen Stewart (Equals), and Emma Watson (Colonia) are all looking more grown up than ever at this year’s TIFF. Vallée and his cast should be swinging into a reception after back-to-back gala premiere screenings, and before tucking away “Demolition,” and their party clothes, to await the spring. Like actors, plenty of directors are in a position to surprise us at Toronto, particularly if their films can surpass some disappointing recent outings. Having survived Twilight and the disastrous Red Riding Hood, can Catherine Hardwicke return to her more relationship-focused roots with Miss You Already?

Tom McCarthy is fresh off the critically drubbed Adam Sandler vehicle The Cobbler, but his new drama Spotlight earned raves at Venice; does this mean we can forget The Cobbler entirely? The Peoples’ Choice Award at Toronto isn’t your average film-festival prize—six of the previous seven winners have gone on to be best-picture Oscar nominees, and three became best-picture winners.

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