So far the Toronto International Film Festival has been more about the performances than the movies themselves. Some of us are still awaiting “The Theory of Everything”, “The Imitation Game”, “Rosewater”, “The Good Lie”, “Time out of Mind” and “Wild” among others to finally screen. As many have pointed out, there hasn’t been that wow factor we keep looking for here at the fest, in other words a game-changer. Jason Reitman’s newest film “Men, Women and Children” screened to a polite reaction. The film garnered decidedly mixed reaction after its early-morning screening on Saturday. It’s an immensely ambitious project about sex in the internet age that had Owen Gleiberman raving to no end and others calling it a disappointment. Tom McCarthy’s “The Cobbler” was definitely the biggest disappointment thus far, given the director’s track record you had the right to expect much more — as one producer told me after the morning screening “what the hell was that?”
There are still 5 days left before the end but there have been quite a few solid contenders in the acting field. David Cronenberg’s “Map to the Stars” got pushed back to 2015, in spite of the probability that Julianne Moore’s performance could have easily nabbed a best actress nod. She plays a down-and-out actress, desperate for her next big shot. In fact, every time she’s on screen the film ignites with excitement. Moore hasn’t been this great since 2002 when she played that lonely Sirkian housewife in Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven”. I really hope people will remember her performance a year from now, as she fully deserved her Best Actress prize at Cannes earlier in May.
In “The Judge,” Robert Duvall steals the show from an otherwise stellar cast. Playing opposite an impressive cast which includes Robert Downey Jr., Vera Farmiga and Vincent D’Onoforio, Duvall plays a judge accused of murdering an ex-con he convicted more than a decade ago. His performance is raw and riveting and the highlight of the film. He shows the aches and pains that come with aging and the inner demons that need to get fought in the process. He hasn’t been this good in god knows how long.
Talking about an aging actor giving a great performance, in Barry Levinson’s “The Humbling” Al Pacino is dynamite and might garner some major Oscar buzz once the films gets released this fall. Playing a has-been actor known for his Shakespearean roles, Pacino’s performance isn’t just unusually subdued it’s also hilariously spiced with humor. He falls in love with his good friends’ daughter — played by Greta Gerwig — a girl that has had a crush on the actor ever since she was eight. They start an unusual, sex-free relationship that you know will implode in any second. This is primo Pacino and deserved of all the buzz its been getting so far at the festival.
Add Marion Cotillard’s name to the shortlist of Best Actress contenders. She is mesmerizing in her role as Sandra, a young Belgian mother that discovers her co-workers were pressured to choose between getting a significant pay bonus only if she got fired from her job . The way Cotillard approaches each and every co-worker, pleading — sometimes even begging — for them to change their votes is heartbreaking. The movie ain’t that bad either, making you cringe and heartbroken with every scene.
In “Nightcrawler,” Jake Gyllenhaal lost close to thirty pounds to give his creepiest performance ever. With shades of Travis Bickle, this astoundingly intense movie has Gyllenhaal chasing down murder scenes and videotaping them for L.A news outlets in exchange for cash. It’s a shady business and Gyllenhaal’s character is a dirtbag trying to make it to the bigtime, even if it means having to blackmail, lie or murder his way through fame and fortune. This is the best acting performance I’ve seen thus far at TIFF and everybody is talking about it. It’s the kind of performance that just can’t get away unnoticed — and maybe the best of his career.