The Toronto Film Festival kicked off tonight with the world premiere of Borg/McEnroe, the Neon 2018 release that centers on the Wimbledon final of all Wimbledon finals in 1980 between Bjorn Borg going for his fifth men’s singles title there versus outspoken upstart John McEnroe. But at this packed festival it isn’t enough to have just one opening-night movie, there have to be at least two or three.
So it was, with a number of films including the excellent On Chesil Beach, the Papillon remake, the rap-battle satire Bodied, the docu Grace Jones: Bloodlight And Bam, the Russian hit out of Cannes called Loveless, and especially the Sundance sensation Call Me By Your Name which received a raucous, passionate standing ovation after its TIFF debut tonight at the Ryerson.
The filmmakers were understandably on a high with one of the producers asking me as I entered the packed after-party at STK in Yorkville to predict just how many Oscar nominations it would be getting. Too early, I said, for that kind of prognostication.
The story of the coming-of-age summertime romance in Italy between a young man (Timothee Chalamet) and older visiting friend (Armie Hammer) of the family was an instant hit at Sundance, but I am told the reception at tonight’s screening (the first official one since Sundance and Berlin, as it bypassed both Cannes and Telluride) was even greater, boding well for its November 24 release through Sony Pictures Classics, which has high hopes Oscar-wise and otherwise.
Executive producer Tom Dolby told me the trajectory of the film’s travels in getting made passed through many iterations that threatened to end its journey. Another producer, Howard Rosenman, has stuck with the project from the beginning and never gave up hope it would finally be made. After several years it finally came together under director Luca Guadagnino, who has made a lush and beautifully photographed love story that could have universal appeal.
It was especially great running into Chalamet, a young actor on the precipice of major stardom. He is in three films alone here at Toronto, with supporting roles in the Western Hostiles and Greta Gerwig’s much-acclaimed Lady Bird in which he plays, in perfect deadpan style, one of Saoirse Ronan’s high school boyfriends. I feel like I discovered him last year in a little-seen indie called Miss Stevens in which a trio of high school drama students take a field trip with their teacher. He delivers an incredible monologue from Death Of A Salesman that makes you stand up and take notice. I immediately booked it for my screening series at the time, something Chalamet recalled at last night’s premiere party. SPC’s co-president Michael Barker is hoping for a Best Actor Oscar nomination for him, and will probably get it. Dolby said both Chalamet and Hammer likely don’t realize the positive impact this movie will have on young gay men afraid to face their own feelings.
In addition to this film, SPC is also releasing Loveless, the contemporary Russian film from Leviathan director Andrey Zvyaginysev which played its Toronto debut at the Winter Garden just as Call Me By Your Name was ending at the Ryerson. Unfortunately, a technical snafu preventing the English subtitles from appearing for the first part of the film sent its director to SPC’s Bernard to stop the movie. Bernard told me he frantically tried to find the projectionist who was AWOL, and when he finally did they stopped the film after a few minutes and started it all over again. Welcome to the digital age.
Meanwhile, Borg/McEnroe from Danish director Janus Metz was well-received at its two premiere screenings — especially for the brilliant re-creation of that immortal Wimbledon match for the ages. Shia LaBeouf was obviously the right choice to play the hot-headed McEnroe, while Sevrir Gudnason was so convincing as the stone-cold persona of Borg, I thought they had used special effects to simply de-age the tennis superstar himself. Uncanny. Amazingly neither actor had played tennis before, which accounts for the four doubles credited at the end.
It is a big time for tennis on the fall festival circuit as the huge, crowd-pleasing Battle Of The Sexes chronicling the infamous 1973 match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs played to raves in its Telluride debut over the weekend. It will debut here Sunday night.