Martians, drones, drug dealers, politics and lots more entered the conversation at Friday’s edition of the Toronto International Film Festival which featured numerous World Premieres including 20th Century Fox’s highly awaited The Martian, Eye In The Sky, Our Brand Is Crisis (see separate story) and I Saw The Light. In addition to all that, Cannes Film Festival discovery Sicario got its North American premiere. And that’s all just the tip of the iceberg at this fest of fests that boasts nearly 300 films, about 275 more than I can cram in in my few days here. And if there was a link to today’s big premieres it was Oscar Oscar Oscar. Everywhere you looked there were Oscar winners with new hopeful films being unveiled for the first time. From Oscar winning Sandra Bullock in Oscar winning producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s Our Brand Is Crisis, to Oscar winner Helen Mirren in Oscar winner Gavin Hood’s (Tsotsi) incredibly suspenseful Eye In The Sky, to Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro in Sicario, to Oscar winner Matt Damon in The Martian, the latest sci fi epic from Ridley Scott, director of course of the Oscar winning Gladiator. And it was The Martian that really got sparks flying here and even its own new Oscar talk as it was very well received in its initial screenings before release on Octorber 2nd, particularly for Damon’s sly, funny, dramatic and engaging lead performance, a role he plays almost exclusively by himself on screen the whole time. It’s similar to what Tom Hanks had to do in 2000’s Castaway but Damon doesn’t even have a volleyball to play opposite. Fox threw a large pre-party at the Four Seasons Center For The Performing Arts and it was there I caught up with co-star Jessica Chastain who , just a year after Interstellar is back in an outer space epic, this time floating herself instead of being earthbound. She introduced me to Tracy Dyson, the real life astronaut who served as her consultant on the picture. Dyson was excited to be at the premiere. She has been at the top of her game for 17 years, walked in space three times and even had to repair the shuttle.
Did all this make Chastain want to take that kind of trip? “Are you kidding? Absolutely not. I just play an astronaut,” she laughed. It was clear it was a mutual admiration society between Chastain and Dyson. The Martian is what I call an all-audience kind of movie. There is something there for everyone. Fox Marketing President Marc Weinstock told me this story, of a manned Mars mission in which one of the six astronauts is thought dead and left behind by his crew, could be entirely plausible. In fact that is what meakes it work so well. The screenplay by Drew Goddard skillfully blends numerous facts and lots of technical jargon in with the human element that makes these characters, particularly Damon’s, so likeable. Goddard (introduced to me by Fox co-Chairman Stacey Snider) said the whole idea came from a series of e books author Andy Weir put online for free. The filmmakers, led by remarkable 78 year old director Ridley Scott, took it from there and have crafted an outer space adventure film that likely will be a nice hit for Fox. Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos is looking forward to a big Fall overall . I told him I am excited by Joy , The Revenant and even the new Peanuts movie from Blue Sky. Gianopulos said they have kept it true to the spirit of the beloved comic strip, but added touches that bring it all up to date. Can’t wait.
Everywhere you looked Friday there was another party happening either before the official premiere (as in the cast of Martian) or after. Emily Blunt was among the stars of Sicario packed like sardines into the overcrowded Soho House before the 10pm premiere of her new film. “It’s so late. Do you think anyone is going to stay for the Q&A?” she asked. Why not? Especially when you have co-stars Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro along with director Denis Villeneuve participating. The Cannes competition film was very well received, and it should be . It’s a knockout. Lionsgate’s Rob Friedman was singing the praises of Blunt , saying she should be Oscar nominated for Best Actress. As an FBI agent caught in the crosshairs of the drug cartel wars she is at her best. So is Del Toro who tops his Oscar winning Traffic, as well as Brolin who is very busy on the Fall Fest circuit having just returned from Venice where his Everest (opening September 18, same day as Sicario) was the opening night film. He told me he was blown away by the reception in Venice. I said I thought the 3D effects were the best I have ever seen, though Brolin noted the film looked even better when they did the L.A. premiere at the Chinese theatre. Before I hit that Sicario party I accidentally walked into a Black Mass dinner upstairs at Soho. Actually I was glad I did. It gave me a chance to congratulate director Scott Cooper, sitting with co-star Dakota Johnson (so good in a small role in the film) and producer John Lesher on the reviews out of Venice and Telluride. They have their Toronto send off on Monday.
Another premiere Friday night was the intense and absolutely fascinating new drone drama, Eye In The Sky, a different kind of war film that examines the costs of cyber warfare in this new age of battle. It is the rare war picture that deals with the morality in the acceptance of collateral damage in exchange for the opportunity to take some “most wanted” off your to do-in list.Helen Mirren is superb as a no-nonsense colonel in London running a top secret drone operation that quickly escalates from a ‘capture’mission to one where several could be killed including an innocent little girl selling bread right outside the targeted compound which is housing a couple of suicide bombers. Aaron Paul is the American drone pilot who seriously questions what they are doing. Alan Rickman and a great supporting cast including Captain Phillips Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi are all excellent in a movie that is far superior to last year’s TIFF drone movie, The Good Kill which got too bogged down in Ethan Hawke’s personal problems, botching a great premise. This one from Gavin Hood, an Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film for Tsotsi, proves he has a hell of a directorial talent by really building almost unbearable suspense at this story plays out. What a movie. Entertainment One has the UK territories but the film is for sale in the U.S. through WME. I can’t imagine this won’t be snapped up instanty. It has real commercial possibilities and puts an eye on the ever increasingly controversial world of drone warfare.