Toronto 2011: Day 8, 9, 10, and 11 Recap

A look back at the highs and lows of the festival's last four days.
Toronto Film Festival

As I write this, I am sitting at the airport in downtown Toronto awaiting my Porter Airlines flight to Newark, and then a train ride from Newark to New Haven, and then a car ride from New Haven back to my home, where I have spent precious little time over the past month. After joining THR at the end of August, I spent six days covering the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado; then was home for a day; and then departed again for 11 days at the Toronto International Film Festival, which are now coming to an end. I provided daily recaps of each of TIFF's first seven days, since so much was going on then, but decided to collectively recap the last four days, since I spent most of them writing, with only sporadic (but nevertheless important) screenings and interviews in-between.

Day 8 -- Thursday -- was highlighted by the "special presentation" screening of Jeff Nichols's harrowing drama Take Shelter, which first screened at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, generated lots of buzz thanks to very strong perfs by Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, and was soon thereafter picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. Shannon was unable to attend the TIFF screening because he was needed on the set of the new Superman film, in which he will play a supporting part; however Chastain, who has been omnipresent this year, appearing in something like seven quality films, was in the house, and sat a row in front of me, looking luminous. (She truly is the breakout star of 2011.) The somewhat disturbing film generated polite applause when its credits began to scroll. It will be interesting to see how SAG and Academy members respond to it.

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Fun side note: Later that night, I met up with a Toronto-based friend for a drink at a local hot spot, and, lo-and-behold, Jose Bautista, the Toronto Blue Jays right fielder and American League most valuable player contender, was hanging out with friends at the booth beside us, essentially unbothered by the locals who were packed into the place. All I could think was that if we were back in New York, and New York's best and/or most popular baseball player -- say, Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter -- was out at a bar like that, it would be a mob-scene!

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Day 9 -- Friday -- was largely spent preparing for my interview with two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda. Fonda, who was supposed to attend TIFF in-person to celebrate the world premiere of Bruce Beresford's Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding, in which she stars, was ordered to stay at home in Los Angeles after experiencing stomach discomfort, but was gracious enough to keep our interview on her schedule and do it over the phone. Fonda, who is one of the few people who can undisputedly lay claim to the appellation "screen legend," is also, it turns out, one of the few people who can get me a little bit nervous before an interview -- but she turned out to be absolutely lovely, even as we dealt with some strange problems with our telephone connection. (I'll be posting our interview in the near future.)

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Friday night, I made my way over to Roy Thomson Hall to see a movie about South Africa -- where my mom was born and spent the first 30 years of her life, and where I have visited frequently, most recently in March -- for the second year in a row. Last year, I was there for the world premiere of The Bang Bang Club, which was produced by Kweku Mandela, a grandson of Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela (who has since become a friend); this year, I was there for the world premiere of Winnie, a biopic of Winnie Mandela that some South Africans aren't very happy about, since its director (South African Darrell Roodt) and stars (Americans Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard) -- unlike those of Invictus (2009) -- apparently made no effort to consult or gain the blessing of the Mandela family. In my view, it is a relatively benign production, primarily championing the former Mrs. Mandela's steadfast support of her husband throughout his time in prison, but there is a brief portion towards the end, which frankly feels tacked on, that attempts to deal with some of the controversy that has surrounded her in her later years. At the end of the day, though, the film may be named after Mrs. Mandela, but it is Howard's performance as Mr. Mandela that made the greatest impression with me -- he looks and carries himself so much like Mandela, both as a young man and as an older man (through the help of great aging makeup), that one might be forgiven for thinking that they are actually watching archival footage.

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Day 10 -- Saturday -- brought a special screening of Bryan Wizeman's Think of Me, an emotionally wrenching film starring Lauren Ambrose as a single mother whose life begins to crumble under financial stress not unlike that faced by many American families during these tough economic times. Like Frozen River (2008), for which Melissa Leo wound up with a best actress Oscar nod, it is about a single mother (Ambrose) and the extent to which she is -- and, in this case, is not -- willing to go to provide for her child (9-year-old Audrey P. Scott). Even in dowdy clothes and makeup, Ambrose looks very beautiful, and her performance has been generating considerable buzz at the festival.


Day 11 -- Sunday -- was supposed to be a fun day. I had a few hours to kill before catching my flight, so I forked up $100 for a ticket to see my beloved New York Yankees play the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rodgers Centre, with the hope that I might catch closer Mariano Rivera secure his 601st career save, which would push him past Trevor Hoffman into sole command of first place on the all-time list. Unfortunately, thanks to shoddy pitching by starter Freddie Garcia, the Yankees fell behind 3-0 early, and never recovered. Thanks a lot, Toronto!