<p>Albert Brooks</p>

Albert Brooks

Watch: Albert Brooks on his dark and Oscar-worthy turn in 'Drive'

Legendary filmmaker and comedian one of the reasons why it's one of 2011's best

With only five to six major films left to catch for this calendar year, I can unequivocally say there isn't a scenario where "Drive" will not make my top ten list.  Believe the hype, it's that good.

In fact, Nicholas Winding Refn's latest is pretty damn close to a modern classic.  It's a stylish thriller that depicts contemporary Los Angeles in a light that hasn't been seen since "To Live or Die in LA" or, possibly, "Heat." The film features a stellar cast including leading, but quiet man Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston (possibly battling Sam Jackson for the title of "hardest working man in show business"), a scene stealing Ron Perlman and an absolutely fantastic Albert Brooks.

The "Defending Your Life" director and star plays Bernie Rose, an LA businessman whose under the  radar ventures tend to run in the illegal variety. It's an unconventional role for Brooks -- one of the reasons he fought for it -- but only at first glance.  After watching "Drive" it's hard to see anyone else playing the role. Actors known for their comedic chips playing bad is nothing new, but Brooks gives Rose a somewhat humble and relaxed demeanor at first glance.  When things don't go his way?  Well, it's a striking change.  So, it was with great excitement that I sat down with Brooks in Toronto to discuss his potentially Oscar-winning turn.*

*And let's be clear. If he isn't nominated its one criminal act Rose wouldn't put up with.

Brooks, who is currently filming Judd Apatow's "This is Forty," made a lot of revelations about his work on "Drive."  1.  Just like his co-star Mulligan, he fought for the role having to convince Refn he was the right guy.  2. Unlike Gosling and Mulligan who convinced Refn to remove much of the dialogue between their characters, Brooks' Bernie was the opposite.  Brooks worked with Refn to actually add more lines to break through the "quiet" of the rest of the movie.  3. Brooks doesn't see Rose as inherently evil, just a guy trying to keep his small little pocket of the universe going.  And when the driver (Gosling) disrupts it?  Well, Rose is forced to take action he'd prefer not to.

You can watch the entire interview with Brooks embedded in this post.  Look for a chat with Cranston in the next day or two.  And, moreover, don't miss "Drive" when it opens nationwide tomorrow.

For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.

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<p>Chris New and Tom Cullen in Weekend</p>

Chris New and Tom Cullen in Weekend

Exclusive: A revealing clip from indie romance 'Weekend'

Is it the gay 'Like Crazy'?

One of the biggest surprises from this year's SXSW Film Festival was audience award winner "Weekend."  It's not that the Austin festival wouldn't be expected to embrace a British indie romance, but a British, indie, gay romance with very explicit talk of sexual acts?  Well, that might be a surprise audience favorite just about anywhere.

The directorial debut of Andrew Haigh, "Weekend" follows a remarkable three days between Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) after a one night stand after meeting each other at a U.K. club (the city appears to be Manchester). The next morning it's apparent there is the potential for more and the rest of the weekend involves a romantic dance of discovery between the late twentysomethings.  Unfortunately, it's all transpiring with a looming deadline on the way.  Glen is headed to Portland on Sunday for art school.  Will he go? Or, as his friends tell Russell, will he stay because he's chicken or because Russell is a good late excuse?

Granted, the picture's storyline isn't groundbreaking, but the dialogue between the two is haunting realistic and you want these two lonely souls to find a way to work it out pretty early on.  The film also shares an intimate and gorgeous cinematic style similar to Drake Doremus' "Like Crazy" or Andrea Arnold's "Fish Tank" that seems elevate the stakes for both characters.  It also doesn't hurt that Cullen and New are fine talents with great chemistry on screen.

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<p>Adam Scott</p>

Adam Scott

Credit: AP Photo/Pete Kramer

Adam Scott is a baby daddy in 'Friends with Kids'

'Parks and Recreation' star ready for the big screen spotlight

TORONTO - Alright moviegoers, you know who Adam Scott is.  Sure, you might not know the name, but you'll recognize the face.  The 38-year-old actor has a long track record of great supporting roles in films such as "Step Brothers," "Monster-in-Law," last month's "Our Idiot Brother" as well as an Independent Spirit Award nominated turn in the indie drama "The Vicious Kind."  Scott is much more familiar on the small screen, however, headlining the cast of the beloved cult comedy "Party Down" and as the "will they or won't they" love interest of Amy Phoeler on NBC's "Parks and Recreation." Last Friday, Scott found himself with his most prominent film role yet in Jennifer Westfeldt's new dramedy "Friends with Kids" which premiere at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival.

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In Contention is joining the HitFix family

In Contention is joining the HitFix family

Kris Tapley and Guy Lodge's voices very welcome additions

Hollywood is going into uncharted territory this awards season.  How you might ask?  It's the first time the 5% rule will be implemented to determine how many best picture nominees will battle for Oscar's biggest prize.  Brett Ratner  is officially co-producing the Academy Awards (it's a bad dream right?) with Eddie "don't call it another comeback" Murphy tapped to host for the first time.  And on a lighter note, the HFPA or Dick Clark Productions will attempt to put their legal case aside and survive a one-year agreement to co-produce the Golden Globes once again on NBC.  And that's not even taking into account the drama in the crowded best actress race, yet another Scott Rudin vs. Harvey Weinstein best picture battle, Glenn Close's last stand and Michael Fassbender's out of the blue best actor candidacy.  That's a lot for any awards pundit to cover or analyze and it's just September.  So,  it's with great pride that I announce our film and awards season coverage just received a major boost with the addition of In Contention to the HitFix family.

Many of you hardcore Oscar fans are well aware of Kris Tapley's blog and the fantastic amount of year-round commentary, reviews and film news it provides.  Kris has spend the last six years fashioning In Contention into one of the most respected film blogs on the web.  Along with regular contributors Guy Lodge and Gerard Kennedy, In Contention has provided awards season and film coverage from across the globe standing by HitFix's own efforts at Cannes, Comic-Con, Telluride and more.  

A fellow and longstanding member of MCN's "Gurus of Gold," Tapley is one of the smartest and level-headed awards season pundits on the scene.  He has a keen strategic eye for recognizing what the Academy will go for or not go for.  He also happens to have a great overall taste in movies (and not to mention a wry sense of humor fairly evident in his writing).   London-based Lodge is an impressive film critic and writer who brings a unique perspective from the other side of the pond.  Tapley and Lodge are the sort of engaging and conversation starting voices we've worked hard to recruit at HitFix.

The great thing about this new partnership is that Awards Campaign isn't going away. The combined talents of both blogs will allow a unique and indepth perspective of awards season we believe you just can't get anywhere else. If something is happening during awards season you're going to hear about it on HitFix.  It's that simple.

So, whether you've been a fan of myself or Drew McWeeny on the film side; Dan Fienberg, Alan Sepinwall or Liane Bonin Starr on the TV front or Melinda Newman or Katie Hasty on the music beat, we all hope you'll give Tapley and his team a warm welcome when In Contention officially moves into its HitFix digs next week.

Kris has a tongue-in-cheek saying on In Contention. "No one needs awards season coverage this deep…"  Well ladies and gentlemen, it just got much deeper.

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<p>George Clooney at the press conference for &quot;The Descendants&quot; at the 2011 Toronto Film&nbsp;Festival.</p>

George Clooney at the press conference for "The Descendants" at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival.

Credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young

Exclusive: George Clooney talks 'The Descendants' and a sneak peek

Check out two great scenes from Alexander Payne's latest

The buzz first started in Telluride, but now it's traveled across the border to Toronto: there is a leading candidate for best actor this year and his name is George Clooney.

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<p>Keira Knightley at a press conference for &quot;A Dangerous Method&quot; Sunday in Toronto.</p>

Keira Knightley at a press conference for "A Dangerous Method" Sunday in Toronto.

Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agostini

Even Johnny Depp couldn't convince Keira Knightley to do another 'Pirates of the Caribbean'

And on reuniting with her 'Atonement' helmer for 'Anna Karenina'

TORONTO - "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" may have grossed over $1 billion across the globe, but most critics despised it and it didn't have the same spark with American audiences.  One of the big reasons why may have been the absence of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom who appeared in the first three films.  Knightley in particular developed quite a rapport with series star Johnny Depp in the last two pictures. Speaking to Knightley at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival on Sunday, this journalist couldn't even propose a return for the expected fifth and sixth installment without an immediate "No" from Knightley's smiling lips.

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<p>Gary Oldman at the 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' premiere in&nbsp;Venice, Italy</p>

Gary Oldman at the 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' premiere in Venice, Italy

Credit: AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Watch: First U.S. trailer for Gary Oldman-starrer 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'

Spy thriller to be released December 9th

Garnering strong reviews and more than a bit of awards-season buzz following its recent debut at the Venice Film Festival (where it was also nominated for the Golden Lion), Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" had its first U.S. trailer released today.

The film stars Gary Oldman as a secret agent coming out of "semi-retirement" to sniff out a Soviet mole who has been working at the highest levels of British intelligence for a period of several years. Oldman, who has received an immense amount of praise for his performance, is joined in the period drama by Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Kathy Burke and Toby Jones. The film was adapted from a 1974 novel by best-selling novelist John Le Carre.

I have to say, the trailer for the labyrinthine thriller is pretty gripping, and after "Let the Right One In" I'm anxious to check out Alfredson's follow-up. And Oldman, well...it's about time he was nominated for an Oscar.

Focus Features will release the film on December 9th. Check out the trailer below and let us know what you think:


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<p>Andrea Riseborough and James D'Arcy in Madonna's second directorial effort, &quot;W.E.&quot;</p>

Andrea Riseborough and James D'Arcy in Madonna's second directorial effort, "W.E."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Review: Surprise - Madonna's 'W.E' isn't god awful

Drama features a fantastic performance by Andrea Riseborough

TORONTO - Something peculiar happened at the press screening for Madonna's "W.E" this morning at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.  Unlike, the packed first showing at the Venice Film Festival less than two weeks ago, there were no unexpected irruptions of laughter.  And you didn't have press passionately ripping the drama as they walked out of the theater.  In fact, the reaction was much more subdued.  Granted, the Venice reaction scared away many of the industry and press who might have seen it (about 40% of the theater was full), but there was no flurry of "The sky is falling! Madonna directed a movie!" tweets afterward.  Having now seen "W.E" with a roomful of non-Venice critics, it only convinces this pundit that the reviewers that day were either consciously or subconsciously looking for anything in the film to rip its director and rip they did.  And while their scathing reviews were harsh (um, did anyone see "Anonymous"?), let's be clear; "W.E" is not a good movie. Yes, it has serious problems, but it also has a lot of impressive things about it as well.

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<p>Jon Hamm walking the red carpet at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival for Ben Affleck's &quot;The Town.&quot;</p>

Jon Hamm walking the red carpet at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival for Ben Affleck's "The Town."

Credit: AP Photo

Is 'Mad Men's' Jon Hamm ready to direct his first movie?

A revealing Q&A with the co-star and producer of 'Friends with Kids'

TORONTO - When Jon Hamm sits down into the hotel room chair to begin our interview he's obviously very tired.  The "Mad Men" icon has had a roller coaster of a 24 hours after the premiere of his new film "Friends with Kids" at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival.  Directed by his longtime companion Jennifer Westfeldt (co-star and co-screenwriter of "Kissing Jessica Stein"), the ensemble comedy stars Adam Scott (an old friend), Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Ed Burns, Megan Fox as well as Hamm and Westfeldt.  It's a funny and dramatic look at how two friends (Scott and Westfeldt) deal with the fact their circle of friends are having kids and, well, they aren't.  Hamm was a full producer on the project, a first for him, and based on the results on screen he helped Westfeldt put together a pretty solid product.  So, in something of a surprise for Hamm, this is one interview he wasn't going to be inundated with questions about the long awaited new season of "Mad Men."  Not that the subject didn't come up...

Ellwood: So, I have to tell you I have first hand experience that you worked very hard as an actual producer on this film.

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<p>Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I&nbsp;in Roland Emmerich's &quot;Anonymous.&quot;</p>

Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I in Roland Emmerich's "Anonymous."

Credit: Sony Pictures

Review: Roland Emmerich's 'Anonymous' is just plain silly

Vanessa Redgrave's performance survives the soap opera

Film festivals are always filled with "passion projects."  Films that directors, producers or screenwriters have spent years or even decades trying to get made.  This year's festival season has more then recent memory including Glenn Close scripted "Albert Nobbs" and David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" which playwright Christopher Hampton has been trying to get made for over 15 years.  A more peculiar entry to that club debuted this afternoon at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival in the Roland Emmerich revisionist thriller "Anonymous."

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