Toronto: Big Stars, Big Risks Hit Film Fest

Only at a film festival: I left a movie today in which the basic plotline had to do with a man trying to deal with his wife’s terminal cancer diagnosis and all the horrible things that entails. Afterward, the pic’s publicist comes up and asks how I liked it. “Well, it was kind of depressing,” I said. To which she replied, “What exactly was depressing about it?” Spin, spin, spin. That’s what you get at film fests. At the more serious-minded Toronto Film Festival, though, things swung into high gear today. The big guns came into town, including the casts of Moneyball and The Ides of March which had back-to-back premieres Friday night. At the Soho House pre-party for the Ides premiere, I talked to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who stars in both films, and suggested he was probably the first actor in history who had to walk two red carpets almost simultaneously. Hoffman said he was about to collapse from having done junket interviews all day. Sony Pictures marketing honcho Marc Weinstock is shepherding both films and said it was his idea to do the back-to-back premieres after the festival came to him. When it rains, it pours — and after the heartbreak of seeing its frontrunner The Social Network succumb to the Weinsteins’ The King’s Speech at the last Oscars, Sony is taking any awards talk cautiously this time around. As studio head Amy Pascal told me, “It’s just nice to have some good movies to release. I still feel bad about [Social Network director] David Fincher,” she said in reference to his loss to Tom Hooper in the directing category. But he’s back with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo this holiday season.

Also at the party: Ides of March star Ryan Gosling, who was was happy not only about what he said was a great experience thanks to Ides director George Clooney, but also because his Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn was there supporting him. I asked Refn about Albert Brooks’ startling supporting turn as the heavy, and the helmer stated unequivocally that “he should win the Oscar”. And Brooks just might, as he gets to play a bad guy for the first time in his career and Academy members can’t resist this kind of switch and bait.

Also at the party was Alliance head Victor Loewy, who is the Canadian distributor responsible for Ides, Drive and 22 other films this year. (Loewy told me he’s a big fan of Deadline, saying he “wakes up with it”.) He picked up Clooney’s The Ides of March even before Sony did. He also has Drive, so he is in the Ryan Gosling business big-time.

Clooney spent much of the party talking to Sony’s top honcho Sir Howard Stringer and SPE chairman Michael Lynton. George knows where his bread is buttered in this case since it’s up to Sony to sell Ides, which was not a home-grown product. When I suggested to co-star Paul Giamatti that the political film might hit too close to home now (particularly since the John Edwards scandal) he said he hopes not. But it looks pretty close to me. Clooney’s parrtner Grant Heslov was also there talking up his new Warner Bros film Argo and its director Ben Affleck. Heslov says Ben is the real deal as a helmer.

Harvey Weinstein was there briefly and he has a shared cinematic history with Clooney (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) and Gosling (last year’s Blue Valentine). But  he also held a small sitdown dinner party in honor of Friday night’s North American premiere of his Cannes and Telluride sensation The Artist after its Toronto premiere. It’s about a washed-up silent film star (Jean Dujardin) reeling from the advent of talkies. Harvey has high hopes for this one as a newly reconceived black-and-white silent movie that seems to cross all borders. At dinner, I asked Dujardin (who speaks  English about as  well as I speak French) if he’d had any trepidation working opposite a scene-stealing Jack Russell terrier named Uggy, who plays his constant companion in the film. Dujardin said he had to put meat all over himself and therefore the smell of sausage always surrounded him.  He’s not sure what the Oscar race is all about but should get used to it, since I’m certain he will be a nominee because the actors branch realizes the essence of silent film acting is the essence of film acting together. Dujardin and I also discussed the OSS James Bond spoof films he did. Nevertheless, he’s convinced that his French films got him the Artist gig. Granted, it looks like a bumper crop of actors competing for Best Actor this year, including Clooney, Gosling, Pitt, and Gary Oldman, so it’s difficult to make a call this early. But I absolutely guarantee you Dujardin will be among them. And while we are at it: Can’t we get some sort of prize for Uggy?

Speaking of Weinstein’s Oscar history, I ran into The King’s Speech’s Oscar-winning British producer Gareth Unwin at the late-night Alliance party at South of Temperance. One year to the day of the launch of that campaign, he says the Oscar has made a significant difference in his career and he has a couple of projects in the pipeline. These include King’s Speech‘s Oscar-winning screenwriter David Seidler’s next project, which is also in a historical vein.

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