The Toronto Film Festival has been memorable this year. Still, who would have thought that the biggest festival hit would be a comedy, Top Five, the third directing effort by Chris Rock where the American funnyman presents a day in the life of a comedian movie star, naturally played by himself. Paramount Pictures paid a monumental US$12.15 million for worldwide distribution of the film, which was made for a little over $10 million.
Second in line in the financial stakes was Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, which sold for $4million to US distributor A24. The story follows childless married couple Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as they opt for hanging out with the younger crowd—the married Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried in particular—while their own peers are bogged down with kids. Watts was determined to show her silly side, dancing wildly to rap music and being generally juvenile.
Watts' biggest surprise, though, was her scene-stealing portrayal as an outspoken pregnant Russian prostitute in St. Vincent, a Bill Murray vehicle that shows the actor at his louche best. He plays a drunken, gambling curmudgeon who is brought out of his bad mood when his next door neighbour (Melissa McCarthy) forces him to babysit her adorable son. In Toronto, the film screened on Bill Murray Day and the comedian didn’t disappoint as he had a lengthy Q&A after the world premiere. “We wanted to avoid being schmaltzy,” he said. “We almost did. We almost did. We didn’t want to overcook everything.”
Murray has emerged as one of many TIFF contenders for best actor honours at the Oscars, along with Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game, the fascination story of Alan Turing, who broke the Enigma Code which helped in the German defeat in World War II, and Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything (read our review, watch the trailer), about physicist Stephen Hawking. Interestingly, this could be the first year when the race includes two biopics about British geniuses. Then, of course, there’s Steve Carell in Foxcatcher (read our review), which comes to TIFF after being the standout film in Cannes. And Jake Gyllenhaal is finally getting the kudos he has long deserved, for Nightcrawler, for which he lost an enormous amount of weight to portray a criminal who finds success as a freelance crime scene videographer until his thirst for fame makes him go way too far.
As for the women, Reese Witherspoon may be an Oscar contender for Wild. Though, Jean Marc Vallée's follow-up to Dallas Buyers Club has proved a little tedious for some viewers as they watch Witherspoon's character, based on Cheryl Strayed (and her bestselling memoir), hiking along the ruggedly beautiful Pacific Crest Trail to search for herself. Maybe Cannes best actress winner Julianne Moore can take away the golden statuette for David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars (read our review), which also screened in TIFF, though her performance as a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice is the most engrossing of the festival. Unlike in other Alzheimer’s stories, the film, based on Lisa Genova’s novel, allows us to experience the disease from the victim’s point of view. Both films are poised to release in time for the Oscars.