These days, with all the awards hype that defines the movie industry at this time of the year for a host of high-profile films, other titles that are earning theatrical play are in danger of being overlooked. These are not big-budget movies with big name stars. Far from it. Some are documentaries, and two of them have just earned theatrical play.
Tis the season to celebrate Bill Murray, that enduringly popular and, yes, beloved SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumnus who in recent years has morphed into a top-of-the-line movie star. Murray’s singular presence uplifts and makes special his latest film, ST. VINCENT, in which he plays a smart-mouthed, alcohol-loving scallywag who resides in Brooklyn (which these days has replaced Manhattan as the hip New York City locale). The core of the story involves what happens when Vincent becomes the unlikely mentor to a pre-teen boy whose mother is divorced and who is in desperate need of a role model.
It’s been way too long since Al Pacino has had a movie role that matches his talent. Perhaps his best work in recent years has been for the small screen, playing such controversial real-life figures as Phil Spector, Jack Kevorkian, and Roy Cohn in PHIL SPECTOR, YOU DON’T KNOW JACK, and ANGELS IN AMERICA. But this is about to change. His two latest theatrical films were screened at the Toronto Film Festival and, in each, he delights as he gives carefully observed, refreshingly low-key performances.
There is a mind-massaging opening quotation in GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE, the latest film from Jean-Luc Godard that was a co-Jury Prize winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and also was screened at the Toronto Film Festival. That quote is: “Those lacking imagination take refuge in reality.” It is the first of many observations that permeate this energetic, stimulating cinematic collage which runs all of 70 minutes and was shot in 3-D.
THE JUDGE is the new Robert Downey, Jr.-Robert Duvall domestic drama that recently opened the Toronto Film Festival and now is arriving in movie theaters. As for the film, it is what one might describe as “perfectly okay.” Downey plays a hotshot Chicago lawyer while Duvall is his father, a petulant small-town Indiana judge. At its core, the film explores a corrosive father-son relationship and both actors play off of each other nicely. Along the way, the film also underlines the importance of coming to terms with your past, your roots, your family history-- and these are worthy themes.
Here is a story that mirrors what one might describe as the business of show business.
One afternoon during the Toronto Film Festival, I planned to attend a press-and-industry screening of GIRLHOOD, a French-made coming-of-age drama. I knew nothing about GIRLHOOD, but the film sounded interesting and film festivals are ideal venues for discovering and savoring under-the-radar titles. But when I arrived at the festival screening room, I was told that the GIRLHOOD screening had been postponed until later that evening. The reason was that THE JUDGE, the new, high-profile Robert Downey, Jr./Robert Duvall film, needed to be shown instead. Apparently, THE JUDGE had been scheduled for unveiling to the press earlier in the day in one of the festival’s larger venues but, for whatever reason, that screening was postponed. It was rescheduled into four smaller theaters. One was the venue in which GIRLHOOD was supposed to be shown.
Does Jason Reitman have another JUNO in him? Or will his present and future films mostly be instantly forgettable, despite the A-list casts he attracts? A case in point is LABOR DAY, which was screened a year ago at the Toronto Film Festival. Despite the presence of a top-billed Kate Winslet, LABOR DAY was a lackluster effort: a tale with a highly questionable scenario that not surprisingly was a box office dud.
These days, it seems that all the Academy Award-caliber films and heralded performances are showcased at the early fall film festivals. For example, let’s talk about actors and Oscars. Here are but a few performers who emerged from the Toronto Film Festival bathed in Best Actor and Best Actress buzz-- if, that is, their films are released in 2014: Julianne Moore, for STILL ALICE; Reese Witherspoon, for WILD; Benedict Cumberbatch, for THE IMITATION GAME; Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING; Bill Murray, for ST. VINCENT; Timothy Spall, for MR. TURNER; Al Pacino, for MANGLEHORN; Jake Gyllenhaal, for NIGHTCRAWLER; Jennifer Aniston-- yes, that Jennifer Aniston-- for CAKE; and Steve Carell-- yes, that Steve Carell-- for FOXCATCHER. Even though it did not play Toronto, Michael Keaton, who like Bruce Dern last year is this year’s comeback kid, may be in the running for BIRDMAN.
These days, one of the purposes of high-profile fall film festivals is to hype the latest high-priority releases and place them front-and-center in the upcoming Academy Awards competition. Each September, I attend the Toronto Film Festival and, each year, the talk at the fest inevitably centers on the hot new films being screened and the up-and-coming and name-brand performers in attendance.
Could it be? Has it been 25 years-- or, in other words, a whole quarter-century-- since the now-landmark documentary ROGER & ME placed its director, Michael Moore, at the epicenter of the American independent cinema? It certainly is and, this year, the Toronto Film Festival is presenting a special 25th-anniversary screening of ROGER & ME.