Kevin Costner came into the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday for the world premiere of his powerful new drama, Black And White, a stirring story dealing with our racial divide, but mostly a riveting human tale from writer/director Mike Binder. It’s unflinchingly honest and contains a crackerjack courtroom scene that’s priceless. In that scene, Costner delivers perhaps the best performance of his career, or at least since the period of his career circa Field Of Dreams. It played to a packed house yesterday at Roy Thomson Hall and won a strong ovation from the crowd.
Costner told me that even the though the hard-hitting film is not a comedy, the audience responded with laughs in just the right places and really seemed to be moved by what they saw on screen.
That said, the film is still looking for a domestic distributor and the star, who put some of his own money into the production to get it going, told me at the after-party that they hope to make a deal shortly because he is determined to see that this one will be released before the end of the year.
An Oscar qualifying run is likely and that could put Costner right in the thick of the impossibly crowded Best Actor contest. Of course, he already has two Oscars for his 1991 epic, Dances With Wolves but he has never won for acting and surprisingly has only been previously nominated once in that category (also for Wolves). If Black And White finds a distributor in time that could change.
In fact, when I first saw the film at a private screening several weeks ago, there were three other people there, all Academy members. They emerged from that screening visibly moved. It’s evident that, with the right kind of campaign, this film could earn some awards mojo.
Costner told me he consider’s Binder’s a truly great American screenplay, and Binder himself told me that he wanted to make the kind of film a Sidney Lumet might have made. In this ever-changing era, it is difficult to get challenging but rewarding films like this made. This one had to be shot in just 26 days on a very tight budget. But the results – and the reaction here in Toronto – were certainly everything the filmmakers could have hoped for.
Co-star and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer gives another award-caliber performance as the grandmother whose son is locked in a fierce custody battle with Costner’s character.
She told me she has been “obsessed” with Costner since long before she dreamed she would ever co-star with him. The industry being what it is these days, it’s incredibly difficult for small, meaningful movies like this to get made and find an audience. That’s why a festival like Toronto, with multiple world premiere galas every night and a huge media and industry presence, can shine a light that brings all the right kinds of attention.
Another Oscar winner, Dustin Hoffman, has been in town with his new film also hoping to find a home. Boychoir stars Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Eddie Izzard and Debra Winger. Newcomer Garrett Wearing is terrific as the star singer, but troubled student, at a school where life revolves around the exceptional boys choir. Like Black And White, it is also not Hollywood-oriented fare, but really is a heartwarming and fine little film from Canadian director Francois Girard.
Hoffman plays the hard-nosed director of the choir while Bates runs the school. Both old pros are at the top of their game and there’s an end title song written (with composer Brian Byrne) and performed by Josh Groban that could be a Best Song Oscar contender whenever the film gets released.
Among the Boychoir producers is Judy Cairo, who also produced Crazy Heart . That indie surprise broke into the Oscar race from out of nowhere in late 2009, and went on to win Best Actor for Jeff Bridges and Best Song. Cairo has been on hand at all the film’s screenings and told me they are looking for a buyer who can nurture this rewarding kind of movie.
Another movie looking for distribution and sure to find it quickly, given on buyer reactions, is Chris Rock‘s Top Five. Produced by Scott Rudin, Jay Z and Barry Diller‘s IAC, among others, this is easily Rock’s best, and most uproarious, screen outing ever and a very R-rated movie. It’s a cinch for commmercial success. Rudin and IAC also are backing Noah Baumbach‘s While We’re Young starring Ben Stiller. That film, which also is looking for a distributor, had a successful launch Saturday night.
I caught up with a couple of other films gettting their North American premieres here yesterday that don’t have to worry about finding a distributor. They already have one.
CBS Films picked up the feel-good British comedy Pride, about a gay-pride parade that comes to a small English town. It was a discovery in the Cannes Directors Fortnight and CBS topper Terry Press fell hard for it.
They are rushing the recent acquisition with an intensive word-of-mouth screening program and will open it Sept. 26. It could draw the same kind of reception another little British film got a few years ago when The Full Monty became an out-of the-box (and out-of-the-pants) hit. Some of the real people who inspired the film were at Toronto, along with the actors, director Matthew Warchus and first-time screenwriter Stephen Beresford. They got a standing ovation that lasted several minutes at the venerable Elgin Theatre.
Nightcrawler, the wildly entertaining and compelling new thriller from Open Road Films, has been drawing big crowds, with good reason. You can’t take your eyes off the screen for this one. It features a truly creepy but dead-on, go-for-broke performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as an enterprising oddball who weasels his way into the local TV news business by getting a police scanner and rushing to grisly crime scenes to get “exclusive” video. He then sells the video to an unscrupulous news director (played very nicely by Rene Russo doing her best impression of Faye Dunaway in Network) at a low-rated Los Angeles TV station. It’s a pure adrenaline rush, but Nightcrawler (an unfortunate title that suggests this might be a horror film) also makes some potent comments on the moral and ethical decline of local TV news. Director Dan Gilroy wrote a terrific script sand has been getting nice word on the street here, deservedly so.
In between all the movies are tons of parties, including the Warner Bros shindig last night that drew Robert Duvall, Al Pacino and Juliette Binoche, directors such as Shawn Levy (This is Where I Leave You) and Phillipe Falardeau (The Good Lie) and The Judge’s David Dobkin, whose strong drama opened the fest on Thursday.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association and In Style also teamed up for their annual party, drawing tons of stars to an event so crowded you could barely navigate. Among those I spoke with were The Theory Of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne, The Imitation Game‘s Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch, and Hector And The Search For Happiness’ Simon Pegg all eagerly anticipating their TIFF debuts as the fest chugs along. It’s a good one so far.