Monday night brought yet another world premiere and another standing ovation (Canadians love to stand) from the first-night audience for Breathe at the Toronto Film Festival. Actually there was more than one standing-O for this British true story, as well as more this morning for its second screening at the Winter Garden Theatre. If audience reaction here translated directly into Oscar votes, you would have to count Breathe, which next opens the London Film Festival in October, as a major contender.
Some have been comparing it to The Theory of Everything as it stars two young hot British actors, in this case Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, newly married but devastated when the young man Robin Cavendish (Garfield) comes down with polio at age 24 and is kept alive through the use of a breathing machine. Foy’s Diana Cavendish was a true force of nature in keeping the will to live foremost for her husband in the worst moments. Andy Serkis, best known for his remarkable motion-capture performances in the Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes movies, makes a strong directorial debut here, and if the Academy just can’t wrap its head around giving him a much deserved Best Actor nomination as alpha ape Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes — for which, as I reported recently, Fox plans a massive campaign — then maybe he could turn up on the directors list for this instead?
After last night’s triumphant screening at the Roy Thompson Hall, Serkis, Garfield, Foy, producer (and son of Robin) Jonathan Cavendish, and composer Nitin Sawanhy appeared for a Q&A at which Foy was visibly moved by the response. When the moderator asked Jonathan a question about whether Cavendish’s wife Diana had seen and liked the film, he said why don’t we ask her ourselves, and she entered to a huge ovation and simply said, “I think they have done a really good job.” Indeed. Breathe opens October 13 in the U.S. through Bleecker Street, and it looks like one of the more promising prospects coming directly out of Toronto this awards season. Of course the Academy has shown in the past they are suckers for this kind of inspiring British tearjerker.
Speaking of Foy she passed through Toronto on her way to Los Angeles for the upcoming Emmys on September 17 where she is nominated for
Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series for The Crown. Coming at the same time as Emmy week, perhaps that is also why she was a bit overcome at all the Toronto doings. My advice, Claire? Just breathe. Ironically I ran smack into Foy’s presumed archrival for that lead actress Emmy, Elizabeth Moss, who is one of the favorites for The Handmaid’s Tale. The Hulu drama has 13 nominations, the same number as The Crown, and both shows took home some Creative Arts Emmys over the weekend. Moss also has a film making its North American debut at TIFF, The Square, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May. At the Saturday night dinner for the movie at Momofuku, she already was nervous, anticipating how her first-season Hulu show would fare that night at the Creative Emmys. I told her I was predicting she would take the crown. It’s a very tight race, though.
TOMMY WISEAU INVADES CANADA
After seeing movies all day on Monday, I couldn’t resist another one, so I went to the raucous Midnight Madness world premiere of the finished version of The Disaster Artist at the Ryerson. It originally had played at South by Southwest as a work in progress in the spring. Director-star James Franco was on hand in Canada with the eccentric, now-legendary man he plays, Tommy Wiseau. His movie The Room became a cult hit for sheer badness and has spawned this very funny and human account of how it all came about. It’s based on The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, written by Tommy’s friend Greg Sestero (played in the film by Dave Franco, who was onstage along with Sestero) and Tom Bissell.
Although Franco told the packed, turn-away crowd that he hadn’t seen the movie until after he read the book, he certainly was hooked and wanted to play Tommy. But it wasn’t easy. “I was always waiting for Tommy to give the life rights,” he said. “I didn’t have the project yet, so I didn’t want to suggest I wanted to play the part. So finally Tommy goes, ‘Well, who is playing me?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know, Tommy’, and he goes, ‘Well, how about Johnny Depp?’ That’s the true story. So I laughed and laughed.” Franco added that it was Sestero who suggested to Tommy that maybe James should play the part. The rest is history, or about to be when this opens December 1 through A24 (which got the domestic rights to distribute after Warner Bros and New Line Cinema, which made the film, passed it on to a company more in tune with the indie market). Wiseau also had the crowd roaring last night (or was it early this morning?). I have to say this screening was a total blast. An A24 source admitted that The Disaster Artist isn’t typical Oscar fare, but the company thinks there could be a real shot for the Adapted Screenplay by Scott Neustadt and Michael H. Weber, and maybe even Franco, whose performance/imitation of Wiseau is dead-on brilliant.
The night before, the very busy A24 — which, as Deadline reported, just picked up the terrific Emma Thompson drama The Children Act for its deal with DirecTV — had the North American premiere and party for Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, which I saw in Cannes and fell in love with. It’s almost a tone poem about childhood. Co-star Willem Dafoe, who is the only “name” in it, told me he loved doing the movie. But when I suggested that this empathetic man who runs the motel where these kids live with not-so-responsible parents was a different kind of role for him, he said he never thought about that. He just played the man as he saw him: a guy worried about keeping the place in shape. I think others might be seeing a new, more positive kind of Dafoe persona with this role, and I wouldn’t be surprised if winds up with a third Best Supporting Actor nomination.
DUELING DUNKIRK PICS
The two movies revolving around the battle for Dunkirk nearly collided here at TIFF, missing each other’s big event by one day. Even though its movie was released in July and just passed the $500 million worldwide gross mark, Warner Bros had the bright — and smart — idea to bring the war epic to Toronto, thus stealing a bit of thunder from the newer shiny little toys on display at TIFF this week. So in honor of Imax’s 50th anniversary, TIFF presented a special event screening of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk on Sunday at the Cinesphere Imax theater, which was the very first Imax theater ever, and now is being refurbished to open once again. A conversation followed with Nolan and TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey.
At the Bosk restaurant reception following, Nolan told me he thought this particular Imax presentation of his movie was the best he had seen anywhere in the world. He genuinely was impressed. He also is proud that he brought back 70mm film presentations as well with this release. “It has been playing for eight weeks at Leicester Square in London, and from my experience that rarely happens. I have to believe it is because of the 70mm engagement,” he said. He’s clearly proud of the film, noting again what a risk it was storytelling-wise, with the “one hour, one day, one week” structure. Nolan also wanted it to be a big summer movie and proved again he has the Midas touch in predicting what audiences want to see no matter when they are released.
He hasn’t yet seen The Darkest Hour, which also tells the story of the Dunkirk rescue attempt of some 400,000 mostly British soldiers in 1940 as Hitler’s army advanced on the small French town. That movie had its Toronto premiere Monday night (after first hitting Telluride a week earlier) with star Gary Oldman continuing to win heavy Best Actor Oscar talk for playing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as he maps out a plan to deal with Dunkirk. It is the flip side of Nolan’s movie, which simply shows how it was all pulled off. The next big battle of Dunkirk looks like it could be playing out at the Academy Awards.