Harvey Weinstein was back in Oscar season fighting form last night after the rousing World Premiere of The Upside, Neil Burger’s English-language remake of the French smash hit The Intouchables. Bryan Cranston stars as the wealthy, paralyzed man who hires streetwise Kevin Hart, much to the distress of his top executive played by Nicole Kidman.
Originally this was on the release schedule for March 9, the Friday following the Oscars. Now it seems Oscar campaign king Weinstein wants this warm and funny crowd pleasing comedy to be a part of that Oscar show so he is planning a qualifying run before the end of the year and then plans a February release. “Absolutely 100% we will qualify this film for the Academy Awards this year, ” Weinstein told me immediately after the film received a roaring response from the first night crowd at the Roy Thompson theatre.
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I am told it’s tricky because Hart apparently has a clause in his Sony contract for the new Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (12/20) that has a strict window preventing other Hart vehicles from competing during that period. No matter when it opens I have a feeling this movie will be a much needed solid hit for The Weinstein Company , maybe on the scale of Silver Linings Playbook.
Though the original film (released in the U.S. by the Weinstein Company) was a gigantic hit in its native France and much of the world, this version tops it in my opinion thanks to undeniable chemistry between Cranston and Hart, the latter in his best, and most impressive film turn to date. Cranston and Kidman were soaking up the praise, but Hart did not make it to Toronto for the debut even though he had been expected to participate. He is truly hilarious here, but also has some fine dramatic moments in a real change of pace. Weinstein told me he plans to campaign him for Best Supporting Actor and I could see that paying off. Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations seem assured to get the ball rolling. Cranston told me after the movie ended that he loved working with Hart who stuck almost exclusively to the script.
Although the repartee between the pair seemed so fresh and off the cuff I thought much of it had to be improvised, it wasn’t according to Burger who said there were only about three improvised lines and those came from Cranston. Hart proves himself the real deal here, especially playing seemingly so effortlessly opposite pros like Cranston and Kidman. Just like their characters do, Cranston was all for doing the scenes where he goes sky diving off cliffs in his wheelchair, which Hart was reluctant to do.
“My wife didn’t want me to do it, so I didn’t tell her when the shoot was, or that we were going to do it again the next day,” Cranston laughed. Just like Why Him?, Truman, and All The Way featured him in somewhat embarrassing bathroom scenes, so does this film.
“I guess people like to see me naked, covered with water and sitting on the toilet a lot,” he cracked when I pointed out the trend in his films. The shower scene with Hart trying to figure out the digital instructions is worth the price of admission. Kidman told me this film is the only one she has worked on this year with the exception of Aquaman, which she recently finished shooting. This is a change of pace role and she handles it nicely. “This is the first time I have seen the film. It really played great, ” she said of the warm reception from Canada. Kidman also has her intense Cannes film The Killing Of A Sacred Deer in its North American premiere here later in the week.
Burger said he is actually still working on finishing The Upside but admitted that only he could probably tell what still needed to be done. It looked good to me. Producer Todd Black was thrilled with the response, and also talked up the other film he has here at TIFF this year, last minute entry Roman J. Israel, Esq starring Denzel Washington in a performance Black says could bring Washington a third Oscar after coming close last year. He is excited for the TIFF crowd to see it on Sunday. Saturday night Weinstein unveils his other pony at TIFF, The Current War starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon as electricity heavyweights Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse.
Elsewhere at TIFF on Friday night there was a bevy of World Premiere Oscar possibilities including Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger which I favorably reviewed earlier in the day. Gyllenhaal and the Boston bombing victim he portrays, Jeff Bauman, did the red carpet. The currently distributor-less I, Tonya which won good word of mouth for stars Margot Robbie as the notorious figure skater Tonya Harding, and Allison Janney as her mother also debuted and should have a sale soon.
Then there was Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game which drew very strong initial reviews and positive audience response for Sorkin, and stars Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba who were all in attendance. The real life poker madam Molly Bloom was in the audience but didn’t come up on stage. There had been some question whether she could come to Canada at all since the country had essentially banned her due to her activities. Sorkin turns out to be the perfect director for his brilliant dialogue heavy script which also contains almost constant voice over from Chastain throughout the film. You can certainly throw Chastain’s name into the ever-growing list of Best Actress possibilities this year based on her work in this STX release for November.
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