In all the years I’ve been attending the just-concluded Toronto Film Festival, I have never received so many emails from publicists alerting me to screenings or inviting me to attend media events or parties associated with specific films. There is a special sense of urgency to many of these emails, which feature phrases like “Film Alert,” “The Best Suspense Thriller at the Festival,” “Must-See Documentary,” Invite Reminder,” “Rising Norwegian Film Talent,” and “Exclusive Website premiere” in their subject lines.
Now of course, these publicists are doing their jobs. They are attempting to earn the highest exposure for the titles they represent. Perhaps, more than ever before, this is a challenging task, but to my mind there also is a feeling of desperation here. That is because the spotlight in Toronto is on the A-list films, those featuring the hottest stars, the big-name celebrities who will be gracing the red carpets at the festival venues throughout the city.
And also, the Academy Award buzz pretty much begins in Toronto. Screening at this festival will be a range of films that in a few months’ time will be jockeying for Oscar and other award nominations. So the rest of the pack, the vast majority of the 300-plus films screening in Toronto-- the under-the-radar foreign-language titles, the documentaries that deal with unsexy subjects, the low-budget/no-star American independents-- will go virtually ignored. Their quality, or lack thereof, will have nothing to do with this lack of exposure. That is because the media, and the movie-going public, will be more interested in the hot films, and the hot stars.
There will be exceptions, of course. For example, in recent years, two extremely different foreign titles-- SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, which originally was set to be released direct-to-DVD in the U.S., and THE ARTIST-- came out of Toronto with tons of goodwill and went on to collect oodles of ten-best-list citations, not to mention Best Picture Academy Awards. Only time will tell if a similar title will emerge from this year’s festival and wind up with the top Oscar. However, two Toronto films that you will be hearing plenty about during the next few months-- and that will need no aggressive publicists hyping them-- are high-profile epics that are ambitious and impressive.
One is THE MASTER, which is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and momentarily will be opening theatrically. The other is CLOUD ATLAS, which features three directors (Tom Tyker and the Wachowski siblings) and will be released at the end of October. Another film on the Oscar buzz list is David O. Russell’s predictable but enjoyable SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, which stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro, giving his best performance in years.
At the same time, when you go to Toronto, you really do not need the publicists to remind you that a wide range of films are being made across the globe. Let me mention two other titles that I saw in Toronto. I cite them because they both are exceptional, and you might say that they bookend the experience of adulthood.
The first is FRANCES HA, and I would describe this film as quintessential Greta Gerwig. Gerwig co-scripted with the director, Noah Baumbach, and she plays a twentysomething who is flitting through life, attempting to figure out her relationships and where she fits in. Ultimately, she is trying to learn how to be a grown-up. The second features characters who are very grown-up. It is titled AMOUR, its director is Michael Haneke, and it stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who are legends of the French cinema. They play elderly retired music teachers who are deeply in love, with the story concerning what happens when one of them falls ill. And suffice to say that, when you are in your eighties and you are struck by illness, your predicament will be anything but fleeting.
To be sure, AMOUR is a difficult film. But it is provocative and poignant, which to varying degrees may be said for just about all of Michael Haneke’s work.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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