Sunday, September 16, 2012

Toronto 2012: The film festival is over, let the buzz and Oscar talk begin - Los Angeles Times

TORONTO â€" Bradley Cooper has attended just about every test screening of his boisterous new comedy, "Silver Linings Playbook," watching and listening to the precise moments where the audience reacted to the film. The movie always worked well, but he had never seen it play as it did at the Toronto International Film Festival last week.

"The audience went quiet in all the right places and laughed at all the big moments," Cooper says, grinning from ear to ear at a "Silver Linings" party at Toronto's upscale Soho House. "And the ovations? You heard them, right? That movie just stopped on a dime. It was amazing."

Cooper's post-screening high wasn't unique at the festival, which concluded Sunday with the news that "Silver Linings" had won the BlackBerry People's Choice Award. Toronto's audiences are savvy, literate and above all, appreciative. And sometimes, they're a bellwether of success.

PHOTOS: Toronto International Film Festival 2012

Toronto has, in the last decade, established a reputation as an awards-season launching pad and buzz builder. The last five Oscar winners for best picture played at the festival, including "The Artist" and "The King's Speech." Kathryn Bigelow's wartime drama, "The Hurt Locker," found a distributor at Toronto the year before it began its impressive trophy run.

And although not every acclamation from Toronto will travel back to the U.S., several other movies received clear boosts from the festival in addition to "Silver Linings." Among those earning the highest praise were Ben Affleck's CIA drama "Argo"; Paul Thomas Anderson's character study "The Master"; "Amour," an examination of love and old age; and "The Sessions," the real-life story of a disabled man's sexual awakening.

Elsewhere, the trippy "Cloud Atlas" reportedly received a 10-minute standing ovation. The tsunami drama "The Impossible" produced both cheers and tears. And audiences shouted their approval of Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, the lovely, life-affirming "Quartet," before the movie even started. And afterward?

FULL COVERAGE: Toronto International Film Festival 2012

"Hoo-boy," Hoffman says, remembering the closing-credits ovation with the same twinkling smile that Cooper sported.

As with many of the other films, "Silver Linings Playbook" had not screened anywhere else, making it something of a stealth entry from the Weinstein Co. Its post-screening gala gave it a coming-out party that generated the most buzz of any movie playing the 11-day event.

"It's the first title I acquired [the rights to] after forming the company," Harvey Weinstein says of the film, which opens in theaters Nov. 21. "We knew it was going to be great. It was just a matter of timing."

"Silver Linings" marks director David O. Russell's follow-up to the Oscar-nominated "The Fighter" and bears the filmmaker's signature stamp of finding a universal humanity in a host of troubled characters. The sharply observed comedy, which Russell adapted from Mike Quick's novel and which also stars Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro in his most satisfying turn in years, finds fizzy humor in unlikely subjects â€" mental illness and family dysfunction.

"You've seen Jennifer Lawrence in these intense dramas like 'Hunger Games' and 'Winter's Bone,' so to watch her be a Claudette Colbert or Diane Keaton was just remarkable," says Roger Durling, executive director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. "Her comedic chops and timing and physical comedy were all so terrific."

PHOTOS: Toronto International Film Festival 2012

The other crowd-pleaser to come out of Toronto with a full head of steam was "Argo." Directed by and starring Affleck, the film tells the story of the real rescue of six State Department employees who escaped the U.S. Embassy siege in Tehran in 1979. With its distinctively Canadian plot elements â€" the escapees took refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador â€" "Argo" was a perfect fit for Toronto, but its craftmanship and feel-good story transcend borders.

"He's definitely in play for a director Oscar," says Rory Cochrane, who plays one of the hostages and whose friendship with Affleck goes back to their casting in 1993's "Dazed and Confused." "Ben's someone I think Hollywood really likes to see succeed. It's a great story."

Indeed, Affleck's progression as a director â€" "Argo" is his third film, after Boston-based efforts "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town" â€" could well be a narrative that will resonate with the acting branch of the Motion Picture Academy, its largest block of Oscar voters. The movie also boasts an appealing, real-life connection to Hollywood, as the CIA rescue plan involves the refugees posing as a movie crew scouting desert locations in Iran. The Warner Bros. movie opens Oct. 12.

FULL COVERAGE: Toronto International Film Festival 2012

Other Toronto titles found champions but without quite the same across-the-board approval. Joe Wright's stylized adaptation of "Anna Karenina" won praise for its bold, theatrical approach to the Tolstoy novel, though a few critics found the staging distancing. The serio-comic slice of history "Hyde Park on Hudson" seems likely to go as far as Bill Murray's devilish turn as Franklin Delano Roosevelt will take it.

Terrence Malick's whispery take on love and life, "To the Wonder," meanwhile, received tepid applause and left town without a buyer, even after a festival programmer introduced it as the "cinematic event of the year." That heady distinction has already been bestowed countless times upon Anderson's confounding "The Master," which, as with "Silver Linings," is a Weinstein Co. film.

Though there are several other high-profile movies to be seen â€" "Lincoln," "Life of Pi," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Les Miserables" among them â€" the talk leaving Toronto already centered on whether Weinstein, following his back-to-back Oscar wins with "The King's Speech" and "The Artist," could be headed toward a best picture trifecta.

"It's way too early for that kind of talk," Weinstein says, "though we're always happy to be mentioned in such conversations."

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