As the Toronto International Film Festival maintains its intense pace, the race for Oscar is clearly heating up. And after last night’s rousing world premiere for David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, you can chalk up yet another major Best Picture contender. The tweets about its inevitable awards potential began almost immediately. The response to this strikingly original and human film was ecstatic, not only during the screening and standing ovation but from everyone I cornered at the Soho House after-party – including several awards pundits who are supposed to be jaded about such things.
Harvey’s Silver Linings almost certainly puts stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro in contention for acting nominations. Lawrence and Cooper play two very broken people trying to put their lives back together by helping each other. It reminded me of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment (1960), deftly navigating the tricky terrain of a film that can change tone from comedy to drama on a dime without ever seeming forced. Both simply inhabit these characters and make a great screen team. And just like Lemmon and MacLaine did after The Apartment when they reteamed on Irma La Douce, Cooper told me they have already completed a second film together, Serena.
Lawrence leaps to the front of the pack with a revelatory performance that seemed to knock most observers out. Cooper also was terrific in a challenging role in The Place Beyond The Pines (acquired today by Focus Features). He had nothing but praise for his co-star who at just 22 years old takes on a part that would challenge much older stars. Writer-director David O. Russell told me at the after-party she was actually a last-minute casting. “We were seeing just about every major actress for the role but thought she was just too young. Then when she ‘Skyped’ in her audition from her home, there was no question. Lawrence was nominated for Best Actress for Winter’s Bone (2009) and should start preparing now to go through it all over again. So should Russell who was in the Oscar race with The Fighter two years ago for the first time and should be right back in there this year.
The film involves a big (and hilarious) dance sequence for Cooper and Lawrence which Cooper says helped the chemistry between them. Any free time they had during the relatively quick shoot was spent trying to learn the complicated steps. The highest praise I can offer is that there isn’t a moment when either of them can be caught acting. The same goes for Robert De Niro as Cooper’s father. The two-time Oscar winner seems more energized in the role than he has in years – and it shows on screen. There was immediate talk of a Best Supporting nomination for De Niro’s best work in a long, long time.
Donna Gigliotti, a former Weinstein executive who also won a Best Picture Oscar for Shakespeare In Love, produced with Jonathan Gordon and Bruce Cohen, another Oscar winner for American Beauty. She brought Cohen into the picture to supervise the Philadelphia shoot. Weinstein marketing head Stephen Bruno told me the company is going to open the film wide on November 21st, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. And they expect word of mouth will be one big factor in getting audiences to see a film that doesn’t translate easily to 30-second ad spots. In a year with a lot of downer movies, this one should be sold as an ‘upper’. Critical response should help, too
Harvey Weinstein seems pumped to try for a threepeat after winning back to back Best Picture Oscars for The King’s Speech (2010) and The Artist (2011). The studios are really gunning for him this year. But with The Master, Quentin Tarantino’s December release Django Unchained, and now Silver Linings Playbook, he has a lineup of contenders. Not to mention foreign-language hopeful The Intouchables and Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut Quartet which premieres here tonight. As we talked, I could see Harvey getting worked up just at the thought of starting another awards season, his favorite time of year. “What a race this is gonna be! What a race! What a race!” he repeated as he walked off to soak up the reaction to another successful night in Toronto.
Obviously Weinstein was in a very good mood when I talked to him. Another of his other big Oscar contenders, The Master, had won three big awards at Venice earlier in the day despite the latest jury scandal there. Weinstein explained the panel wanted to give The Master the top Golden Lion prize but also acting awards. And when the jury found out they couldn’t do both, they awarded Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman thesp prizes and Paul Thomas Anderson the Silver Lion for Best Director. (Plus it won a critics prize). “Do you think, given the choice of having the Golden Lion or seeing his actors rewarded, that Paul Thomas Anderson would want it any other way?,” Weinstein said. “We are totally fine with all of this and thrilled about what we got in Venice.”