NOTES FROM THE TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL:

Some critics are already gunning for The Weinstein Company’s The Current War (11/24)  which just had its World Premiere here last night and which I caught at this morning’s first Press and Industry screening. The film, a passion project for Harvey Weinstein who took a Produced By credit on the movie, is a handsome, visually gorgeous and generally involving old-fashioned style period film of the war for superiority between electricity giants Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). Both stars are very fine. It was well-received at this morning’s screening . The veteran Oscar voter sitting next to me loved it and called it “a commercial art house movie” and said he plans to spread the word. But I hear there is already a Twitter war of words on the movie, many of them not kind.  Of course, for those so inclined, the subject matter gives fodder for some critics who want to use obvious catchphrases so let me give you a little help. How about  “lights out for The Current War“; “Thomas Edison invented movies but after this maybe it wasn’t such a great idea after all”; “Unplugged”; “anything but current”; “hardly electrifying”.  Okay, got it out of your system? None of that would be deserved.  Let’s hope this film directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon gets some fair play when TWC releases it in the plum Thanksgiving slot they gave to past Oscar contenders like The King’s Speech, Lion, and Silver Linings Playbook which, like The Current War, all played TIFF.

The Current War
The Weinstein Company

I recall after its Berlin Film Festival debut, Simon Curtis’ terrific Woman In Gold with Helen Mirren also got bashed by festival critics with their knives out for that Weinstein release.  The movie had the last laugh, landing as one of the top indie films that year, a solid hit.  The same should happen for The Current War.  Weinstein also unveiled its crowd-pleasing comedy, The Upside here on Friday with, as I reported, Harvey Weinstein vowing to open it before the end of year in an Academy qualifying run, and he also has Wind River, another genuine indie success story doing well in theatres now so it looks like TWC’s Oscar slate is set.

DONALD SUTHERLAND  TALKS OSCAR

Another movie getting an Oscar qualifying run is the wonderful The Leisure Seeker helmed by Italian director Paulo Virzi and starring Helen Mirren and newly minted Honorary Oscar winner Donald Sutherland. It is about an older couple on the lam in their RV as they head to Key West to see where Ernest Hemingway once lived. Both stars are wonderful and Sony

REX/Shutterstock

Pictures Classics will campaign each.  An unexpected bonus came from last week’s Academy announcement that Sutherland would be one of the recipients of an Honorary Oscar at the November 11th Governors Awards.  I was lucky enough to sit with Sutherland, Mirren and The Leisure Seeker group at last night’s annual SPC Toronto dinner honoring all of its films. Sutherland, who is now 83, told me how he got the news from new Academy President John Bailey who tracked him down on location in Rome where he is filming the series Trust in which he plays J. Paul Getty for director/producer Danny Boyle.

“I get this call and I don’t know the number so I picked it up to tell them never to call me again, but it turns out to be John Bailey who tells me he is calling on behalf of the Academy  for which he just got elected President. Well, we worked together when he was cinematographer on Ordinary People so I just said,

Sony Pictures Classics

‘Congratulations,  John’ but he said ‘No, I am calling to congratulate you on being selected for an Honorary Oscar’. I was shocked and absolutely thrilled. I have never even been nominated for an Oscar before,”  Sutherland told me before spending much of our dinner recounting great stories from his 55-year-old career in front of the camera.

Sutherland a great raconteur and hopefully he shares some of those stories when he accepts the award in a couple of months. He actually asked me how long he would have to make a speech!  Sutherland is so good in The Leisure Seeker as a man fighting senility that it is conceivable he could find himself also a nominee this year for Supporting Actor. That would be a first in many ways.  Mirren, as usual, is simply superb in this film and represents another contender in a very strong Best Actress lineup.

Also at the SPC dinner thrown by co-Presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard was Sony Chairman Tom Rothman who stopped by to congratulate Sutherland and tell him he heard the vote on the Academy’s Board Of Governors was unanimous. Oscar winner Melissa Leo was in good spirits talking about her new SPC film premiering here today,  Novitiate (10/27) , in which she plays a hell of a nun. She told me she’s never done a nun before but did try once to get in the Broadway and film version of Agnes Of God. Kate Mara was there with new husband, Jamie Bell who is in SPC’s very fine, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool opposite Annette Bening expertly playing Oscar winner Gloria Grahame. Mara’s got two films at TIFF including the sure-to-be controversial  Chappaquiddick premiering Monday morning. She plays Mary Jo, the drowning victim in the 1969 car accident involving Sen. Edward Kennedy.  I told her I was impressed that she got such good billing in the movie (second to Jason Clarke who plays Kennedy) since she is really only in it for a few minutes. She said she was very shocked about that as well considering the size of the role, but her presence is felt throughout for sure. As Deadline reported the movie was already snapped up in a deal worth $20 million including P&A by Byron Allen’s aggressive new film distribution company. She also stars in the drama My Days of Mercy in which she stars opposite Ellen Page.

HFPA CELEBRATES INTO THE NIGHT

HFPA

Many of the Sony Classics guests then went to the annual Toronto Film Festival bash thrown by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and In Style at the Windsor Arms.  As part of it the HFPA and TIFF partnered to present the organization’s first ever short awards earlier in the evening.  The main party was so packed you could barely move but I got a chance to catch up with numerous stars and filmmakers who are almost certain to be on the awards circuit this season including Greta Gerwig, here at TIFF with her splendid directorial debut, Lady Bird that wowed Telluride and now has wowed Toronto. Co-stars Laurie Metcalf (who deserves and will certainly get a supporting actress Oscar nomination) and 86 year old Lois Smith who plays a nun (apparently a popular role to get this year) were chatting it up with Gerwig.

Jake Gyllenhaal, who won high praise after the Friday night debut of his new film, Stronger as Boston Bombing victim Jeff Bauman, told me he might do a tour someday of his acclaimed limited Broadway run in Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday In The Park With George. Jessica Chastain

was very happy with the reaction to her role as the real life poker madam Molly Bloom in Molly’s Game which garnered raves for her performance, one of her best. And speaking of raves, Allison Janney, up for another Emmy next week for Mom, could also grab her first Oscar nomination for her hysterically funny performance as Tonya Harding’s domineering mother in the entertaining I, Tonya with Margot Robbie equally great as the notorious figure skater.   Janney just nails it and told me her longtime friend Steve Rogers actually wrote the part with her in mind.   It is tipped to get a distribution deal any day, and if released before the end of year you can count on seeing Janney – and maybe Robbie too- at the Dolby Theatre in March.