With the Toronto International Film Festival in mid-swing, and such stars in town as Brad Pitt (spotted, hair running wild, on Day 2), Scarlett Johansson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kate Winslet (majorly preggo), Daniel Radcliffe (even shorter than one would imagine), Nicole Kidman, and Colin Firth, among endless others, downtown Toronto tends to become a locus of starfuckers and egocentric media critics.
Nevertheless, one must not forget that what makes Toronto a go-to arena for premieres and screenings is that it’s got a hell of a lot of clout beyond being just a town masquerading as any American city (I’m looking at you, NYC). TIFF has been an Oscar predictor for years.
This year’s film slate is thick with high expectations, with offerings from a wide range of directors—some, obviously, far better than others.
The premieres of the first three days have already been impressive. The under-the-radar flicks to see include Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, a quietly beautiful and odd present-day vampire drama, featuring several-hundred-year-old musicians/bloodsuckers/lovers, played by the ever-pale Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston (essentially playing a much more sensitive Loki). Xavier Dolan’s latest, Tom at the Farm, follows Dolan as a young man grieving over the loss of his partner, and then having to meet the parents who had no idea of their son’s sexual orientation. It makes for an easy-on-the-eyes fourth feature for the director/actor/writer, along with plenty of great French dialogue.
A little more high-profile is the much-anticipated opening-night Wikileaks flick, The Fifth Estate, starring the much-reputed Benedict “Horse-Faced” Cumberbatch of Sherlock fame as the also much-reputed Julian Assange.
It comes off as a riff on David Fincher’s The Social Network, right down to the trouble-in-paradise bromance at the center of the story between Assange and his right hand man, Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl). The movie is definitely an enjoyable watch, but not without its prejudices on Assange and his whistleblower mission, and not entirely streamlined either. (Guardian reporters in the audience were particularly left aghast.) The flick’s gold standard is Cumberbatch, nailing the oddly acidic Assange down to his accent and facial tics.
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s first English-language film Prisoners stars a rough-and-perturbed Hugh Jackman (less Captain Smith a la Pocahontas than usual) and a gloomy Jake Gyllenhaal as two men attempting to solve a kidnapping involving the former’s daughter. It’s the clear standout of the festival so far, with a beguiling story reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River (with a twist), and an even better cast, replete with dark circles around the eyes and ugly crying.
Along with Prisoners, Dallas Buyers Club made an impressive first outing. It stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff, who, upon being diagnosed HIV-positive in the 1980s, engages in a years-long battle with his doctors, the FDA, and pharmaceutical companies in order to find the best medicine for himself and his fellow survivors. McConaughey is a disturbing shell of himself, much like Christian Bale’s dark and hollow turn in The Machinist; but with the shed weight, he gains an unnerving sadness. Together with his usual charm, this (hopefully) makes for an award-winning role.
Bonus: Jared Leto’s endearing turn as a transgender victim of AIDS while making for a beautiful woman; I guarantee you, dude’s got a portrait in his attic somewhere.
What may not necessarily warrant your time is Ron Howard’s overtly sentimental racing epic Rush, starring a rowdy Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl (with an impressive German overbite), as real-life racing champions and rivals. Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon makes for a fun watch, featuring the director/actor as the eponymous porn addict. It also happens to sport one of the more unique love-sex-manipulation scenes recently committed to film (which isn’t hard when Scarlett Johansson is the seducer), but it also may be better suited to skipping the theater for a home watch. Which, I imagine, Don Jon would totally recommend.