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TORONTO — On Saturday evening I caught the Toronto Film Festival’s world premiere of Jean-Marc Vallee‘s highly anticipated new film Dallas Buyers Club at the Princess of Wales Theatre. Vallee, a Canadian, previously came to TIFF with C.R.A.Z.Y. in 2005, The Young Victoria in 2009 and Cafe de Flore in 2011. His new film was met with hearty applause and will be released on Nov. 1 by Focus Features, which has big-time awards hopes for it.
Dallas Buyers Club is based on 25 hours of interviews that screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack conducted with AIDS activist Ron Woodroof in 1992. The film, which is set in the mid-eighties, features remarkable, totally committed performances by Matthew McConaughey as Woodroof, an electrician by day/rodeo rider and ladies man by night, and Jared Leto as Rayon, a male-to-female transgender who eventually becomes his associate. Both were afflicted with the HIV virus during the earliest years of the AIDS epidemic — before most people knew what it was, how it was caused or how to treat it — and were given short-term death sentences.
Refusing to accept that diagnosis and go down without a fight — preferring, in the cowboy tradition, to die “with my boots on” — Woodroof set about researching and locating more effective forms of treatment for the disease than the FDA was willing to approve at the time (something that was also highlighted in the 2012 docs How to Survive a Plague and We Were Here). Rayon helped him to market the treatments to the LGBT community that the bigoted Woodroof (who mocked Rock Hudson as a “cocksucker” when he read about his death from AIDS) at first disdained. In the end, both men, living on borrowed time, ended up making a great difference.
The best actor race is jam-packed this year, but I think that McConaughey, thanks to his charismatic performance and dramatic physical transformation — he lost nearly 50 pounds for the part and at times looks outright skeletal — has a good shot at cracking it. (It would be the first-ever Oscar nom for the actor, who has been a star for about 20 years, after making strong cases in the supporting category last year for Magic Mike and this year for Mud.) With regard to Leto, the best supporting actor race is always a little thinner, and transgender characters, while rare in films, are often nominated when they pop up — Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game (1992), Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and Felicity Huffman in Transamerica (2006). So considering that, along with his own dramatic physical transformation (he dropped 40 pounds for the part), I think Leto has a strong shot, too.
Jennifer Garner also appears in the film as a female doctor who proves more sympathetic to the plight of her HIV and AIDS patients than the rest of the medical establishment. It’s probably too small of a part to attract much attention from awards voters — although the best supporting actress field is relatively thin this year, so I wouldn’t say that a nom is impossible.
Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottFeinberg for additional news and analysis.
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