If there is one thing you can count on during the first weekend of a major film festival is an abundance of good parties and Sunday night at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival was no different. The news of the day, however, was Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Mariah Carey descending on the fest to promote their new film "Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire."
The big "O' and Perry came on board as executive producers after the film was a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, but were proving their worth by making the picture a media magnet all over town this weekend. Winfrey already unintentionally caused a scene at Saturday night's "Up in the Air" premiere (she's BFF with director Jason Reitman's mom) and the TIFF press office was so overwhelmed with requests to cover the picture's red carpet on Sunday night they went to a lottery system. Ironically, TIFF and Lionsgate didn't inform enough of the media that the official press conference, at 9 AM Sunday morning, would include Perry and Winfrey which lead to many seats still being available (a rare occurrence at TIFF press conferences).
A year ago I spoke with Dev Patel right after "Slumdog Millionaire" had debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Brit's first feature film, like many, Patel still couldn't grasp the amazing road the eventual Best Picture-winning movie was going to take or the part he would play in it. At the time, having seen the journey of recent word-of-mouth contenders such as "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Juno," I told him to savor as much of it as he could and enjoy the wild ride. The same scenario is about to engulf up and coming actress Anna Kendrick.
The breakout star of Jason Reitman's new dramedy "Up in the Air," Kendrick will have moviegoers buzzing over her role as Natalie a smart young woman brought in to modernize a company that fires employees for other companies so they don't have to do it themselves. George Clooney plays a longtime manager for the company who is weary of Natalie's new plan to do all the firings via internet video conference call. Eventually his boss (Jason Bateman), puts the unlikely duo on the road together so Natalie can learn the ropes. It's a fantastic performance that could (and should) lead to a best supporting actress nomination for the former Tony Award nominee (youngest ever at the age of 12).
Kendrick isn't a stranger to the big screen or the spotlight, however. She plays the supporting, human role of Bella's schoolmate Jessica in "The Twilight Saga" and will return with the franchise in both "New Moon" this fall and "Eclipse" next June. She also landed a role in the hype-worthy Edgar Wright flick "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" coming out next year.
Having enjoyed "Air" at the public premiere last night, I sat down for a one on one with Kendrick at a Toronto hotel today to discuss her work in "Air" and her very busy 2009.
One of the most anticipated public premieres at this year's Toronto International Film Festival had
one of the biggest stars in the world in attendance and it wasn't even its leading man. Surprisingly, George Clooney was upstaged at "Up in the Air's" debut by none other Oprah Winfrey. Yes, the media mogul was in attendance with galpal Gayle King and Paramount CEO Brad Grey. What was all the fuss about? Oscar-nominee Jason Reitman screened his third film, a dramedy that received raves after its "secret" screening during last weekend's Telluride Film Festival. Did it live up to the hype? Let's just say Paramount should have a very fun and smooth flight with this one.
When it opens in December, "Up in the Air" will win a lot of passionate converts. I'll let HitFix's Drew McWeeny review the movie in more detail, but it's a very, very good movie with memorable characters, dialogue and a contemporary story line with thematic nods to the difficult economy that will speak to moviegoers across the country. If Searchlight can get "Juno" to $143 million there is no reason Paramount can't do at least half that or more with a similarly inexpensive comedy. What should drive a lot of the attention won't just be good reviews, but awards season buzz. And as this pundit had heard, "Air" will get that love in spades.
First off, nothing is a "lock" really for the Oscars, anything can happen over the next four months. The new system makes many consultants overly nervous, but this prognosticator will be shocked if "Air" doesn't get one of the ten nominations. Now, it's not the frontrunner, it's too early to put that heavy crown on any picture, but it's in -- that simple. More intriguing isn't George Clooney in the best actor race (likely) or Reitman in the adapted screenplay and director categories (probable), but newcomer Anna Kendrick in the best supporting actress race.
Actually, any "Twilight" fan already knows Kendrick as Jessica from Forks High, but the 24-year-old didn't arrive in Hollywood out of nowhere. She turned heads with her work in the indie "Rocket Science" a few years ago and also happens to be the youngest Tony Award nominee on record having been recognized for her work at only 12-years-old. Kendrick also has a prominent role in the upcoming "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" as the title hero's sister Stacy. So, to the creative community, she's not an unknown quantity. In "Air," however, Kendrick shines as Natalie, an eager type-A manager whose miniscule real life experiences haven't prepared her for her company's primary profit center of laying off other people's employees. To be completely honest, Kendrick could have phoned this role in and still gotten positive notices on the strength of the script alone, but like Carey Mulligan in "An Education," she brings something more to her character that will have audiences talking about her as they exit the theater. Along with "Precious'" Mo'Nique, she's one of the two supporting actress candidates to really watch out for this year (although if Penelope Cruz's character in "Nine" goes in this category she's likely in too, but I digress...).
Recently, a lot of friends and colleagues have complained about the dearth of good movies coming out over the next few months. Well, if "Up in the Air" is any example, they just haven't heard of it yet. After "Air's" splash at Toronto, that's really gonna change.
For constant updates on awards season and entertainment news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at Twitter.com/HitFixGregory
A TIFF sponsor has made Jennifer Connelly cry, Oprah is already in town, very few flicks look to be acquired and it's become the George Clooney show (for a number of good reasons). Those are just some of the storylines dominating the first few days of the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, but let's talk about the movie themselves shall we?
As always, Toronto is a mix of awards contenders (or pretenders) and new films looking for distribution. Here's a quick review of a few titles this writer has caught over the past day or so.
Writer/Director Don Roos is a really funny guy. And he's pretty talented too. His breakout flick "The Opposite of Sex" has grown in stature as one of the quintessential indie movies of the late 1990s. Unfortunately, he's never really duplicated the magic of the dark comedy that helped convince Hollywood Christina Ricci had real sex appeal. His latest film, "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits," debuted today at the Toronto International Film Festival for press and industry and to say it's a disappointment is an understatement.
"Broken Embraces" didn't get the usual Pedro Almodovar love from critics out of this year's Cannes Film Festival. Yet another film with his favorite leading lady and best buddy Penelope Cruz, the picture was an afterthought to the more serious contenders at the French festival such as "The White Ribbon" and "A Prophet." With awards season and a whole other continent of critics some thought the picture's buzz could turnaround at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
And then again...
If you only paid attention to the critics and journalists who chronicle their wares on Twitter, you'd think the reaction at the packed press and industry screening of Grant Heslov's "The Men Who Stare at Goats" Thursday afternoon at the Toronto Film Festival was mixed. I'm not sure what screening those online friendly writers were at, but the genuine laughs and applause as the credits rolled told this prognosticator it was very well received.
Based on Jon Ronson's novel of the same title, the new comedy finds Ewan McGregor in one of his best roles in years as Bob Wilton, a Midwest newspaper reporter who has spontaneously journeyed to the safe confines of Kuwait in hopes that his bravery will convince his wife to return to him. Hunting for a story and an excuse to get into Iraq (where the action really is) he meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), an ex-Military operative who is heading into the recently liberated country to land a contract to sell plastic garbage cans. In a bizarre coincidence, Wilton soon realies that Cassady is the same man a crazy psychic cook back in Michigan insisted was the most powerful paranormal weapon the Army ever had. Cassady soon comes clean and Wilton is swept away with his stories about a secret government New Age battalion lead by a former hippie (the always reliable Jeff Bridges) and the officer who sabotaged it (a winking Kevin Spacey). While Cassady's stories are fantastical and hilarious to anyone but himself, Wilton doesn't see much evidence of the man's abilities in their increasingly precarious situation. Or does he?
This prognosticator may have been unable to attend the Telluride Film Festival this year, but the buzz from my sources on Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" was spot on.
Debuting Saturday as the "surprise" screening everyone knew was coming, "Air" stars George Clooney as a corporate consultant who strategically racks up his frequent flyer miles even as his own life passes him by. The poignant comedy drew a rave from In Contention's Kris Tapley who described it as "deeply personal and serendipitously relevant" as well as one of this year's "finest films." Anne Thompson, a pretty strong and steady barometer of taste, described the picture as "a witty, charming and moving exploration of a world we all recognize." She also noted that as award season begins, "this one is in the hunt."
Unlike other festivals, Telluride sets itself apart in that it's not set up as a media showcase. Since it began in 1974, the annual event in the small Colorado ski town has always been a mix of premieres and retrospectives for true movielovers from across the world. Over the last decade though, because Telluride attracts a strong segment of annual Academy members looking for a relaxing Labor Day weekend at the movies without the cold weather of Sundance or the city bustle of Toronto (they are also one group who can afford the steep attendance fee). More importantly to the media, the reaction from the festival attendees has been a bell weather for Oscar contenders or pretenders over the years.
Just last year, "Slumdog Millionaire" began its underdog road to Oscar glory after premiering at Telluride and then continuing that lovefest less than a week later with the world wide media gathered at Toronto. Other notables that proved their awards season mettle in the mountains over the years include "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Into the Wild," "Babel" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." The festival traditionally doesn't announce the program until the day before (part of the fun in attending) but as expected, this year's list doesn't provide that many surprises.
With award season officially kicking off (did I miss the opening ceremony?), it's time to rank the contenders and pretenders in the Best Picture race. The festivities begin with Movie City News launching it's first Gurus of Gold poll today and once again this prognosticator was happy to contribute his own musings on the race. Before considering what some of the other pundits thought, let's take a look at my own selections in a more specific ranking.
It's important to note, the upcoming trifecta of Telluride, Venice and Toronto will move some of these potential nominees in and out of contention, but considering it's five months out from nomination day, it's either reassuring or disheartening (take your pick) that the films on this list won't change that much.
Eastwood plus Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela plus Matt Damon with a South African accent plus moving true story equals easy nod.
Starpower and Tony Award winning musical should overcome any other obstacles the film may face.
"Up in the Air"
Buzz is very, very strong.