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The Toronto International Film Festival announced its first wave of festival programming via a live press conference this morning. After weeks of speculation and rumour, it turns out that many of the films that fans were hoping to see on the list will in fact play at the festival this year.
TIFF, which usually favours smaller, independent fare, will play host to a couple of big-budget blockbusters-to-be in September. Rian Johnson’s Looper will open the festival with a special gala on September 6. The sci-fi action film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt, and is set to hit theatres for a major release on September 28. This marks a significant step up for TIFF’s opening film in terms of budget and profile. Last year’s opening film was the U2 documentary From the Sky Down, and the year before that, the Charles Darwin biopic, Creation.
The folks at TIFF also announced that the Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas will also premiere at the festival. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant and boasting an estimated budget of $140 million, this is definitely one of the biggest films TIFF has ever welcomed.
On a slightly smaller scale but no less exciting is the announcement that Terrence Malick’s latest project, To the Wonder, will screen at TIFF. Given the long post-production life of The Tree of Life and Mallick’s typical long gaps between films, some fans thought it was unlikely Mallick’s next project would be ready in time. However, the film, which stars Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem will in fact make its world premiere at TIFF this year.
Other big name directors whose films will show at TIFF include Ben Affleck with Argo (starring Affleck and Bryan Cranston), David O. Russell with Silver Linings Playbook (starring Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, and Jennifer Lawrence), Noah Baumbach with Frances Ha (starring Greta Gerwig), Joe Wright with Anna Karenina (starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law), and Robert Redford with his star-packed The Company You Keep (Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Terrence Howard, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliott, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte, Brit Marling, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, and Chris Cooper).
Speaking of stars, TIFF will once again celebrate Ryan Gosling, as they host the world premiere of The Place Beyond the Pines. Directed by Blue Valentine helmer Derek Cianfrance, the film stars Gosling and Bradley Cooper as a stunt rider and a cop who square off. Other big names you might see walking around Toronto this September include Zac Efron (At Any Price), Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone), Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson), Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch), Kevin Bacon (Jayne Mansfield’s Car), and Kristen Wiig’s (Imogene).
And while it’s easy to get caught up in the glitzy star spectacle that TIFF can become, it is also a festival that honours a lot of Canadian and foreign films, too. TIFF will round out its line-up in the coming weeks with more of these titles. For now, though, we know that Ruba Naddi’s Inescapable (starring Marisa Tomei and Fringe‘s Joshua Jackson) and Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children will be two Canadian films having their world premieres at TIFF. The latter also tie’s into the festival’s “City to City” theme, which this year will highlight films from and about Mumbai, India.
The Toronto International Film Festival will run September 6-16. See the full list of films announced this morning at tiff.net/thefestival/filmprogramming
The 2012 Emmy nominations will be announced tomorrow, so I thought I’d post some last-minute predictions for the major categories. My predictions are ranked in order of who I think is most likely to receive a nomination. (In other words, just because I have something ranked as #1, it doesn’t necessarily mean I think it will end up winning the category.)
Best Comedy Series
- Modern Family
- Parks and Recreation
- 30 Rock
- The Big Bang Theory
- Curb Your Enthusiasm
- New Girl
- Two and a Half Men
Thoughts: I feel pretty confident in the first three. The Big Bang Theory and Curb Your Enthusiasm seem like reliable bets, given their history at the Emmys. (But are people getting tired of either/both?)The sixth spot is more difficult to predict. Will voters go for the trendy cable buzz of Girls, or the broad network comedy of New Girl? I’m betting the former, especially since there are already a lot of network shows in the mix.
Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
- Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
- Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
- Louis C.K., Louie
- Don Cheadle, House of Lies
- Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
- John Cryer, Two and a Half Men
- Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory
- Aston Kutcher, Two and a Half Men
- Will Arnett, Up All Night
Thoughts: The first three are basically locked in. Cheadle’s show is very small, but I think he’s respected enough to get in. David and his show have had a strong run with the Emmy’s. But then we have the matter of Two and a Half Men. Will the Emmy’s recognize the reliable veteran of the show (Cryer, who was nominated in the supporting category last year), or its splashy new star (Kutcher)? Or neither? Galecki was nominated last year, so I definitely wouldn’t count him out, either.
Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
- Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
- Tina Fey, 30 Rock
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
- Zooey Deschanel, New Girl
- Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
- Melissa McCarthy, Mike and Molly
- Laura Dern, Enlightened
- Laura Linney, The Big C
- Lena Dunham, Girls
Thoughts: This is a packed category. The first three ladies are in. Deschanel probably has the right combo of star power and a hit show. The next two spots are honestly a toss-up, and I could see any of the above names getting in.
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
- Ty Burrell, Modern Family
- Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
- Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
- Ed O’Neill, Modern Family
- Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation
- Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
- Chris Colfer, Glee
- Max Greenfield, New Girl
Thoughts: All the Modern Family dudes are in. (Can it be Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s turn to win this year? Please?) I think Offerman will finally get his well-deserved nomination. Sixth spot could go to either Harris or Colfer. I think the fading interest in Glee from both the Emmys and the general population could cost Colfer his nom this year.
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
- Julie Bowen, Modern Family
- Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
- Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
- Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
- Betty White, Hot in Cleveland
- Cloris Leachman, Raising Hope
- Jane Lynch, Glee
- Maya Rudolph, Up All Night
- Cheryl Hines, Suburgatory
Thoughts: A bit of a blah category, if you ask me (though I’d love to see Wiig win). The first four are very likely to get in. Betty White always gets nominated for things. I can’t really come up with a compelling sixth name, so I’ll go with veteran actress Leachman. I don’t think Lynch had enough to do this season to get in.
Best Drama Series
- Mad Men
- Breaking Bad
- Game of Thrones
- Boardwalk Empire
- Downton Abbey
- The Good Wife
Thoughts: I feel fairly confident in those six choices. They seem like the hot, critically acclaimed shows right now. However, if the Emmy’s want to include at least one network show, they could go with their beloved Good Wife, or they could send House off with one last nomination.
Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series
- Jon Hamm, Mad Men
- Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
- Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
- Damian Lewis, Homeland
- Hugh Laurie, House
- Kelsey Grammar, Boss
- Michael C. Hall, Dexter
- Timothy Olyphant, Justified
- Dustin Hoffman, Luck
Thoughts: Hamm and Cranston are obviously in. Buscemi and Lewis are also very likely, I think. Laurie, who has been nominated (and lost) for the last six years in a row will probably be recognized for his final season. (Could he even be a dark horse to win?) Will Michael C. Hall’s own nomination streak end in favour of Grammar’s new show? It’s hard to say, but I’m guessing yes.
Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series
- Claire Danes, Homeland
- Juliana Margulies, The Good Wife
- Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
- Mariska Hargitay, Law and Order: SVU
- Glenn Close, Damages
- Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
- Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law
- Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
- Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey
Thoughts: The first three are in, and I say the Emmy is Danes’ to lose. Harigtay has been nominated for the past eight years, so why would she stop being nominated now? (She won back in 2006.) Glenn Close also seems likely. Tough call for the sixth spot. Even though Sedgwick missed out on the nomination last year and Bates got in, I’m going with Sedgwick.
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
- Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
- Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
- John Slatery, Mad Men
- Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad
- Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
- Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
- Walton Goggins, Justified
- Nick Nolte, Luck
- John Goodman, Damages
Thoughts: First three seem like solid bets. I’d say Esposito is likely. Then it gets tough. This is what we call guessing.
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
- Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
- Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
- Kelly MacDonald, Boardwalk Empire
- Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
- Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
- Rose Byrne, Damages
- Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
- Michelle Forbes, The Killing
- Angelica Huston, Smash
Thoughts: Well, it seems like there are six spots and seven ladies with a chance at filling them. I could see anyone but Smith or Hendricks missing out, but I’m guessing Gunn right now. I haven’t seen the fourth season of Breaking Bad yet, but based on the first three, she doesn’t really seem Emmy-worthy.
- Mark Duplass, Safety Not Guaranteed – For bringing humour and humanity to a character who could have seemed way over the top, and for damn near breaking my heart in the process
- Jake Johnson, Safety Not Guaranteed – For not only being hilarious, but also taking a stock character (the douche-y, cocky reporter) and making him someone we care about
- Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games – For offering a strong, internalized performance to a teen blockbuster
- Channing Tatum, Magic Mike – For making me a Channing Tatum fan
- Edward Norton, Moonrise Kingdom – For taking a small role and stealing the whole damn movie
- Jack Black, Bernie – For bringing ambiguity and heaps of charm to a character who should be black-and-white
- Brie Larson, 21 Jump Street – For playing a hugely charming love interest and being genuinely funny in her own right
- Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman – For once again playing the macho leading man while still balancing the physical requirements with humour and warmth
- Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed – For proving she has the charisma and acting chops to be an offbeat leading lady
- Charlize Theron, Snow White and the Huntsman – For bringing the wrath and just generally being fierce
Honorable Mentions: Woody Harrelson in The Hunger Games (for being his usual sassy self, and also hinting at the dark undertones of Haymitch), Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street (for working together brilliantly), Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (for making a fetching pair and elevating otherwise light material), Dane DeHaan in Chronicle (for making a highly charismatic leading debut), Gina Carano in Haywire (for kicking ass and offering up menacing on-screen presence), Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike (for saying “alright, alright, alright” a couple dozen times).
Let’s get this out of the way first: I am a young woman. So, yes, ostensibly I am in the “correct” demographic for Magic Mike. But I should also say that I would have almost zero interest in this film if it weren’t for its director, and the fairly positive reviews it’s received. Watching a bunch of beefcakes strip on screen doesn’t really gel with what I usually go to the movies to see. So yes – you could say that I went into Magic Mike a little skeptical.
As you’ve probably heard by now, Channing Tatum used to be a stripper, and in Magic Mike he plays the title character – a stripper. Also along for the ride is Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the aging owner of the strip club, as well as British prettyboy Alex Pettyfer as Adam, one of the club’s new recruits. But while director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Oceans Eleven) certainly does make the best of his extremely toned cast in all the ways you’d expecting (in other words: there’s a lot of stripping), he also manages to tell a compelling human interest story amidst all the thongs and dollar bills.
In fact, Steven Soderbergh structured Magic Mike in a really smart way. There are lots of quiet scenes, and on the whole, the movie is actually a fairly small character study. But by having the high-energy strip club performance scenes interspersed throughout, the movie moves along at a steady clip and feels more accessible than some of Soderbergh’s other “passion projects”. (Whether you see this as a good thing or simply a money grab will probably depend on what kind of Soderbergh fan you are.) And despite all these shifts in tone, Magic Mike feels very evenly paced. Everything that happens in the movie feels authentic to the character that Mike is set up to be, and sometimes a big part of the fun is watching how his day life differs so wildly from his secondary “stripper” lifestyle.
And, I have to say, a lot of this believability stems from Tatum’s performance. Until this year, I had no use for Channing Tatum, and I did not see the appeal. But between 21 Jump Street and now this, I have to give the guy some credit. Of course, he has the moves and charisma to pull off the stripper aspect, but his performance goes well beyond that. There’s one scene in particular, where Mike goes to apply for a loan to get his business endeavours off the ground. He dresses himself up and turns on the charm, but things don’t go as planned. This is such a little, intimate scene, and it relies pretty much solely on Tatum to convey Mike’s vulnerability, and how much he’s out of his league. Tatum nails this scene, and he brings that same surprising depth to much of the rest of the film.
Matthew McConaughey is also pretty fantastic here. Again, I’m really not much of a McConaughey fan at all, but he too has been making smart role choices recently. He offers up enough slimy charm in Magic Mike to steal every one of his scenes, and he somehow manages to make the whole club environment seem fun and absolutely horrible at the same time.
The other star of this movie is its style and cinematography. Any scene that takes place outside of the strip club feels so Soderbergh-y. And, for me, this worked really well. There are so many beautifully composed shots here, and I loved the sepia-tinged look of daylight world. I’m not sure how well these more “artful” elements will sit with general audiences, but if you’re a Soderbergh fan worried that this will be too sanitized, fear not. If you dug the style of his last film, Haywire, you’ll probably like this.
That’s not to say that Magic Mike is some arty, experimental indie flick. Its budget is modest ($7 million), but it’s also got plenty of your standard Hollywood tropes. Especially in the third act, there’s plenty of drama and romance designed to keep your typical moviegoer attentive. And the script, while pretty good for this kind of movie, offers up a few lines of dialogue that feel rather cliché and false.
Part of me wishes that Soderbergh would have gone even weirder and less neat with it all, but at the same time, he did a pretty impressive job of balancing genuine style with an entertaining, commercially viable movie. And, thankfully, he doesn’t tie everything up in a neat little bow. I’m not saying this is Shame or anything (some of the melodrama – especially in the third act – feels pretty shallow and “Hollywood”), but Soderbergh does cultivate a nice dark-ish undercurrent to it all.
On the whole, Magic Mike may not be anything new, but I think it’ll please a surprisingly wide swath of filmgoers; It’s got plenty of abs for those who are there for the eye candy, it offers enough character development to placate those looking for a little more substance to go with it, and it even has some beautiful camerawork to satisfy film geeks like myself. Most importantly, though, if I go to a big summer movie, I want it to be fun. Magic Mike certainly manages to be that, and also a little more substantial.
Over the past year or so, it seems like we’ve seen a lot of small movies about big, visually challenging concepts that are usually reserved for studio flicks. You know – the end of the world, space travel, the creation of the cosmos. That kind of stuff. And now, Sundance darling Safety Not Guaranteed tackles a similarly sci-fi-inspired theme. But while it might be about time machines and time travel on the surface, like all indie movies of this kind, it’s not really about any of that.
Let me explain. In Safety Not Guaranteed, Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) plays Darius, an anti-social magazine intern who gets assigned to help investigate a man who claims to be seeking a partner for time travel. “WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before” is all the personal ad reads. So, Darius goes with fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) and reporter Jeff (New Girl‘s Jake Johnson) to investigate this man, Kenneth (Mark Duplass), who they plan to write a magazine article about. Just like Darius, we’re not sure if Kenneth is crazy, or if there is any truth to his claim. But strangely, it almost doesn’t matter. Safety Not Guaranteed is much more about friendship, love, and regret than it is about a time travel. And as a result, it’s actually a pretty beautiful little movie.
The real strength of this movie is the relationships. First-time screenwriter Derek Connolly does a brilliant job of interweaving the different dynamics of his characters and making their friendships and romances seem natural. Whether it’s Jeff trying to find Arnau some action or Darius’ tentative friendship with the unstable Kenneth, these characters feel like real people because of the way they bounce off each other. The dialogue for the most part feels natural, and this helps prevent the strange premise from bogging the movie down in pure quirk.
Of course, it also helps to have performers who can bring believability to the roles, and director Colin Trevorrow certainly lucked out in that department. Mark Duplass is heartbreaking, funny, and genuinely sweet as Kenneth, who is as innocent as he is caustic. Duplass easily could have gone for an over-the-top performance here, but, as anyone who’s seen any of the films that he and his brother Jay have directed together will know, Duplass looks for the truth in his characters, no matter how strange they may be. One of his real strengths as an actor is in delivering natural-sounding monologues, and he has a couple unlikely, beautiful ones here.
Jake Johnson also delivers an unexpectedly moving performance as Darius’ snarky boss, Jeff. Initially, his character seems to be a pretty standard-issue movie prick, but as we learn more about Jeff, Johnson has the ability to show off some real acting range. As broad and funny as Johnson is in the early scenes of the movie, he becomes emotionally vulnerable in just as big of a way as the movie goes on. He’s not only bitingly funny, but he can communicate so much with a simple facial expression. The result is a scene-stealing performance that suggests big things to come from Johnson.
Despite its grand premise, there’s not a lot to Safety Not Guaranteed. However, there is a real sweetness that I found irresistible. From the gentle humour to the indie rock soundtrack to the montages to the heartfelt performances, everything just fell into place perfectly. And while love and loss may not be novel concepts in Hollywood, this movie has such a pure heart and genuine optimism that it completely won me over. It never really feels cloying, though. The relationships feel genuine and grow organically, and because of that, Safety Not Guaranteed completely enraptured me.