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Just a few days in, and TIFF has already screened a spat of critic and movie fan favourites. From grand blockbusters like Looper and Cloud Atlas to human dramas like Argo and The Master, big stars and big directors are already pleasing crowds at the festival. And you might as well add Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines, to that list. Met with generally positive response from critics, the film is likely to connect on a gut level with many viewers.
Pines made its world premiere on Friday night, and I entered the press screening early this morning with the unique experience of knowing virtually nothing about the film. And honestly, it’s best to know as little as possible about this film going into it. As such, I’ll be very vague with the plot description. Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle stunt driver. Bradley Cooper plays Avery, a newly minted and overqualified police officer. When Luke gets caught up in some illegal activities, the two inevitably come face to face. Their meeting then sparks a chain reaction of repercussions that affect not only them, but also their family.
At its core, The Place Beyond the Pines is a story about masculinity and the consequences of actions. And Cianfrance evokes the ache of regret beautifully. There is a palpable sense of uncertainty, and like the characters on screen, the audience is held in a constant state of tension. This is not an action-packed movie, yet there is such suspense in every character interaction. A number of figurative threads could be pulled at any time during this film and the lives of the characters would almost instantly unravel.
Cooper perhaps does the best job of conveying this unsettled tone. Much of the latter part of the film deals with Avery’s struggle to come to terms with his past decisions, and Cooper gives an aching, slow-burning performance. His character is wonderfully complex, and Cooper sinks his teeth into every nuance of the role. It’s easily his best performance to date.
Also breaking new ground here is up-and-comer Dane DeHaan. Though DeHaan does not appear until later on in the film, his character quickly becomes a key player, and DeHaan deftly navigates the epic relationship landscape that Cianfrance has constructed by this point. He’s already impressed me this year in Chronicle and Lawless, but now given a meaty dramatic role, DeHaan shines even brighter. He’s given some scenes that easily could have seemed overly laboured or difficult to believe, but DeHaan’s easy naturalness never wavers. He just sinks into the role and inhabits every corner of it.
Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises)gives another fantastic, chameleon-like performance as a man who takes Luke under his wing. His subtle humour is welcome in this heavy film, yet his character also has plenty of demons of his own. Gosling turns in yet another great, emotionally captivating performance, and Eva Mendes is surprisingly good as the woman his character peruses.
One thing that really surprised me about The Place Beyond the Pines was the scope of the film. Cianfrance has experimented with time lapses already in Blue Valentine, but while that film felt suffocating in its intimacy, Pines feels almost grand and epic in its ever-expanding story. And Cianfrance put every minute of the two and a quarter hour runtime to good use. Yes, a couple of story elements feel a bit convenient and/or melodramatic. And yes, I did find the second third of the film to be a little too conventional in its “dirty cop” tropes (though Ray Liotta is great in his very small role). But ultimately, none of that mattered. The Place Beyond the Pines packs an emotional punch the gut. This movie is about the consequences of our actions. And as characters’ past decisions start to affect innocent people, it’s hard not to get engrossed in the injustice and tragedy of it all. Simply put, The Place Beyond the Pines feels poetic without being pretentious. It might not fully satisfy those looking for a bit more violence in their studies in machismo, but the slow-burning drama makes for a far more substantial product.
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
Ryan Gosling is a serious actor who makes serious movies. He’s not just some Hollywood hunk for hire!
Wha – oh. Scratch that.
In Crazy, Stupid, Love Gosling plays a young womanizer who tries to help a hapless middle-aged stuffed shirt (played by Steve Carrell) save his marriage. Along the way, he also happens to take his shirt off multiple times.
Let it be said that I have no problem with the objectification of Ryan Gosling. That may seem hypocritical, seeing as I decry the amount of actors who settle for easy, hollow movie roles. But let’s consider the past roles that Gosling has taken on (as spoiler-free as possible):
- The Believer – neo-Nazi
- The Slaughter Rule – neglected teenager
- Murder By Numbers – murderous teenager
- The United States of Leland – (possibly) murderous teenager
- The Notebook – tortured romantic separated from his true love for years
- Stay – suicidal college student
- Half Nelson – crack-addicted history teacher
- Fracture – tireless investigator on the heels of a murderer
- Lars and the Real Girl – lonely, strange man who befriends a blow up doll
- All Good Things – deeply sinister and corrupt business man
- Blue Valentine – miserable, balding father in a crumbling marriage
I think the dude has earned the right to have a little fun and take his shirt off once in a while. I’m certainly not going to complain.
And on top of that, Crazy, Stupid, Love actually looks pretty good. Yes, it looks like a somewhat standard rom-com, but it at least looks like it’s done well. And I would go see pretty much any movie with Gosling, Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, and Kevin Bacon. That’s a mighty fine cast.
I’m already cheering for Gosling and Stone’s relationship, and Carrell and Moore seem like a very believable married couple. It looks funny and cute, and sometimes that’s enough.
(I also really like the use of Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” and Muse’s “Black Holes and Revelations” in the trailer. Good music has been known to bring out my biases.)
The Hollywood Reporter’s “Roundtable” video series has been going for a few years now, but I must admit that this is the only segment that I’ve ever watched. It probably has something to do with the names involved in this roundtable – Ryan Gosling, James Franco, Colin Firth, Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Duvall (who seems a bit like the odd man out, to be honest) – that got me to watch the entire hour’s discussion. And it was pretty interesting. You can click here to watch the whole thing.
It’s nice to see actors discussing the craft in a somewhat more natural way. Yes, it is still a contrived setting and there are “moderators” controlling the discussion. But the desperate need for talk show anecdotes is largely gone. At times, it veers into navel-gazing contemplation about the art of acting, but I’d say that the video is well worth watching, if not only for a few choice moments. Highlights (though I recommend watching the video for yourself):
- Ryan Gosling’s discussion of Derek Cianfrance’s approach to making Blue Valentine. Coming from a history of documentary film, Cianfrance apparently never did more than one take of a scene (and the actors had no rehearsal time). And an entire night of filming was devoted to capturing whatever Gosling and Michelle Williams improvised while wandering the city. Because of the film’s tight budget, Cianfrance had to give up having lights for the entire film in order to have the resources to film from sunset to sunrise on this one night. As Gosling puts it, “He knew where to spend his money in the hopes of grabbing those moments.”
- Gosling’s explanation of why he pulled out of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Gosling gained sixty pounds for the role, but a lack of communication between actor and filmmaker made for an unpleasant surprise when he showed up on set weighing 210 pounds. But as Gosling says, the weight issue was only a small indicator of the vastly different visions that he and Jackson had for the film and the character. And having seen The Lovely Bones, I think I’d probably prefer Gosling’s version.
- Jesse Eisenberg’s hyper-self-consciousness. Insecurities fly fast and furious here, and that’s why I find Eisenberg such an unrelentingly fascinating character. He talks about doing 50 takes for a scene on The Social Network, and feeling like 48 of those takes were “terrible and mortifying”. He also talks about the filming of Adventureland, and how he would keep track of which takes and specific lines he thought he delivered well, and request that only those takes be used in the movie (the other roundtable actors get a kick out of that one).
- Robert Duvall’s incredulousness over David Fincher’s perfectionism and penchant for endless takes.
- The discussion of doing “bad movies”. Franco talks about his early work, and how doing movies that he hated eventually led to him pursuing other interests and “viewing movies in a different way”. Eisenberg also talks about one instance where he struggled with deciding whether or not to take an early role that he had no interest in.
- Is it just me, or does Mark Ruffalo seem like the friendliest dude ever? He definitely came across the warmest, adding little jokes and encouragement (and possibly patting Colin Firth’s knee at one point near the end?). He also seemed to take himself the least seriously of the group, which I respect.
As for the Oscar chances of this group (since awards season is the impetus for these videos), I think all of them have a decent shot. I still don’t think that Franco, Eisenberg, and Gosling can all squeeze into the Best Actor category. They’re just too young. But with Jesse Eisenberg’s Best Actor win from the National Board of Review earlier this afternoon, it looks like he could be a major contender. And with Franco as a virtual lock, I fear Gosling might be left out in the cold. Firth and Duvall will also both likely be nominated for Best Actor. The only supporting player involved here is Ruffalo, and I hope that he can still find a spot in his category.
This list is clearly skewed young, but here are ten actors (plus a few honourable mentions and rising stars) that I love watching onscreen. Feel free to discuss my choices or share you own lists in the comments!
1. Robert Downey Jr.
Essential Filmography: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Tropic Thunder (2008), Chaplin (1992), Zodiac (2007)
Underappreciated Work: Wonderboys (2000)
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman
Essential Filmography: Capote (2005), Magnolia (1999), Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Underappreciated Work: Almost Famous (2000)
3. Daniel Day-Lewis
Essential Filmography: There Will Be Blood (2007), My Left Foot (1989), Gangs of New York (2002)
Underappreciated Work: The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
4. Ryan Gosling
Essential Filmography: Half Nelson (2006), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), The Believer (2001)
Underappreciated Work: The United States of Leland (2003)
5. Casey Affleck
Essential Filmography: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Underappreciated Work: Lonesome Jim (2006)
6. Leonardo DiCaprio
Essential Filmography: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1992), The Departed (2006), The Aviator (2002), Titanic (1997)
Underappreciated Work: Romeo + Juliet (1996)
7. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Essential Filmography: Mysterious Skin (2004), 500 Days of Summer (2009), Brick (2006)
Underappreciated Work: The Lookout (2007)
8. Ethan Hawke
Essential Filmography: Before Sunrise (1995), Dead Poets Society (1989), Training Day (2001)
Underappreciated Work: Reality Bites (1995)
9. Joaquin Phoenix
Essential Filmography: Walk the Line (2005), Gladiator (2000), Two Lovers (2009)
Underappreciated Work: Signs (2002)
10. Colin Firth
Essential Filmography: A Single Man (2009), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Underappreciated Work: Girl With a Pearl Earring(2003)
Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking)
Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon)
Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass)
Benicio Del Toro (Things We Lost in the Fire)
Edward Norton (The Score)
Guy Pearce (Memento)
Sam Rockwell (Snow Angels)
5 Promising Newcomers
Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Milk)
Ben Whishaw (Bright Star)
Sam Riley (Control)
Michael Angarano (Snow Angels)
Logan Lerman (3:10 to Yuma)
In Matthew Ryan Hoge’s The United States of Leland, Ryan Gosling plays Leland P. Fitzgerald, a detached 16 year-old from a well off home, who is accused of murder. Within the first few minutes of the movie, Leland shows up at a juvenile detention centre, and we are introduced to his parents, and the family of the victim. As the movie progresses, we learn Leland’s back story. We meet his father (played by the always despicable Kevin Spacey), learn about his relationship with his ex-girlfriend (Jena Malone), and delve into the lives of the two families shattered by Leland’s arrest. Yet we’re still uncertain whether or not Leland actually committed the horrific act for quite some time. He strikes up a relationship with Pearl Madison, a teacher at the detention centre (Don Cheadle), who is looking to use Leland’s story to further his writing career. Leland’s troubled life begins to reveal itself, as do those of the very flawed supporting characters. The movie builds to a shocking climax, and that final act, along with the rest of the movie, is likely to give you a lot to think about.
The conversations between Leland and Pearl at the detention center are really the crux of this movie. Leland offers insight into his worldview, and questions Pearl’s own with startling clarity. And in these scenes, Gosling definitely holds his own with Cheadle, which is no small feat. Gosling delivers his words in a disjointed, flat style, and it fits with Leland’s character perfectly; he’s totally believable as this troubled young man. This film was made a few years before The Notebook or Half Nelson, but Gosling’s skill was just as sharp then as it is now.
The rest of the stellar cast does a nice job playing their own integral little parts in the story. Some people would vehemently disagree, but I thought Chris Klein stood out amongst the younger members of the supporting cast. Klein gets a lot of hate online (especially now, with his poorly handled hair loss and apparently laughable work in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li), but I think he deserves more credit. He played his role well in Election, and though his character here, Allen, initially seems like a similar all-American lovable goon, it’s actually a much more complex role. Some critics have said that the film could have delved into Allen’s story a little more, but I think that we got a good sense of who he was based on a few key details. One of my favourite parts of the film (and it’s an admittedly bizarre moment to latch onto) is near the end, when Allen is setting off to do something that will change the entire direction of the story. We don’t know what Allen’s planning to do, but he’s visibly nervous as he gets out of his car. At the last minute before leaving it, he remembers to scoot back and make sure that the car door is locked. When you find out what he’s planning to do next, checking the door handle seems like a ridiculous thing for Allen to be thinking about. But I think that one tiny action says so much about his character, and makes the next scene even more shocking in comparison to the person that we see him as. If I had to choose a weak link in the cast, I’d say it’s Jena Malone. I liked her in Donnie Darko and Saved!, but I’m not buying her in “badass” roles like this one, or 2007′s The Go-Getter. You would think that a teenage junkie character would at least be colourful, but she’s actually pretty dull.
The United States of Leland is not a perfect movie, by any means. Many have complained about the abundance of side-plots and minor characters. I didn’t mind movies with a lot of characters and storylines that all intertwine, but I did find that these multiple storylines did distract from The United States of Leland‘s focus at times. While the overall structure of the film was a bit dicey at times, I thought the movie brought up a lot of interesting questions about morality and life. If you like Holden Caulfield’s stream-of-consciousness observation in The Catcher in the Rye, you’ll probably like Leland’s bleak worldview. I did find myself relating to a lot of his observations, but the lengths that he took his ideas to be rather twisted at times. I liked this, because even if I didn’t agree with some of the really outrageous things he was saying, it still felt authentic as to how this guy would see the world, and there was enough truth in his ideas for most people to relate to on some level.
Despite its flaws, I still thought this was a really good movie. I thought a lot about this movie a lot in the days after I watched it, and I still think about some of the ideas and issues that it brings up months after watching it. Probably the only other movie I’ve watched recently that made me think this much was Requiem for a Dream. Not everyone is going to like this movie. It’s relatively dark (though it’s nothing compared to Requiem), but I think that it’s an interesting film, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. I watched it mainly for Ryan Gosling’s performance, but I ended up getting a lot more out of it.
Though I can’t keep up with the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it music blog trends, I do have an interest in new music. These are a few songs that have caught my attention, and while this is really for personal reference (so I remember to give these bands a more serious listening to), I figured that I’d share a few tunes with anyone who’s interested (and because this avoids another file getting tossed into the “lists” folder on my computer – it’s getting borderline obsessive).
The Gaslight Anthem – “The ’59 Sound”
Off the album of the same name, this song has a bit of a “Born to Run” vibe about it (which makes sense, since they’ve recently been cavorting around with The Boss himself). But if you’re not a fan of extended sax solos, fear not! This song is modern and passionate, and it feels honest to the world we live in. The lead singer’s voice reminds me of someone…but I can’t put my finger on it. Help, anyone?
The Arkells – “The Ballad of Hugo Chavez”
This little band is from Hamilton, Ontario, and I love their sound, from what I’ve heard of them. Their bouncy feel worked well on lead single, “The Boss is Coming,” but it seems like they’ve perfected it in this joyful toe-tapper. The political figure behind the song is interesting and all, but really, when a song is this catchy, who cares about politics?
The Airborne Toxic Event – “Sometime Around Midnight”
These guys are a little bit mopier than the first two entries, but the atmosphere in this song is lovely. I think they’re getting Arcade Fire comparisons, but I’m not quite sure if I hear it in this tune. They’ve got the massive, warm sound, but besides that, I think they’re their own entity.
Dead Man’s Bones – “In the Room Where You Sleep”
Ryan Gosling (yes, that Ryan Gosling) has a crazy, unexpected voice (it’s much deeper than I would have thought!), which we get to hear in this track from his musical side project, Dead Man’s Bones. They call their music “goth-folk”, and that seems pretty fair. Their MySpace promises “album soon”, and it was announced earlier this month that they’d signed to a record label called “Anti-”. Though I’m not sure I’m thrilled that this project will inevitably take some of Ryan’s focus off his acting career, the two songs they’ve posted sound great, and I’ll definitely be checking out this album.
This is the first part of an ongoing feature where I’ll be sharing some of my favourite film performances of the decade. It’s impossible to compare and rank these performances, as they’re all very different and equally good, so I’ll just be posting 5 random performances at a time. It will probably be a five part series. My list is a work in progress, and I’ll be taking the rest of 2009 into account later on. These are just the acting performances that I liked best, so feel free to post your own opinions and suggestions!
Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson (2006)
Ryan Gosling has proven himself to be one of the best young actors around, and he earned a surprise Oscar nomination for his turn as Dan, a crack-addicted school teacher, in Half Nelson. The Oscars seem to be all about big “actor’s moments”, but Gosling gives a great subtle, well-rounded performance here. His character is quite likeable, yet you’re left shaking you head as he continues his downward spiral. Gosling does a great job of balancing Dan’s teaching persona – where he’s charismatic, and seems to genuinely care about his students – with his hellish private life. When Dan is caught smoking crack by one of his students, Drey (played magnificently by Shareeka Epps), he develops a special bond with her as both teacher and student try to help each other. Through his facial expressions and body language, Gosling gives one of the most quietly moving performances that I’ve ever seen.
James McAvoy – Rory O’Shea Was Here (2004)
McAvoy has proven himself to become one of the most popular young actors of the latter part of this decade (and has also managed to become an odd kind of sex symbol), but before he was getting starring roles in big films like Atonement, he played a young man with muscular dystrophy in Rory O’Shea Was Here (also known as Inside I’m Dancing). Playing Rory, McAvoy had the challenge of making the character charismatic and loveable, but also exasperating at times. Rory’s friendship with a young man with cerebral palsy is touching, and you’re heart goes out to the boys as you see their daily struggle to live a “normal” life, and deal with the prejudice that they face from others who do not understand their handicaps. Rory has a biting sense of humour, and McAvoy’s performance is both emotional and funny. For both fans and sceptics of McAvoy, I’d recommend checking out this movie.
Robert Downey Jr. – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
2008 was a great comeback year for Robert Downey Jr. with Iron Man, and his Oscar-nominated work in Tropic Thunder. But my favourite Downey role that I’ve seen from this decade is from a few years back. Though it was not a commercial success, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a hilarious crime caper comedy, where Downey plays Harry, a mediocre crook who finds his way to Hollywood posing as an actor, and gets involved in a real life murder plot. Co-starring with Val Kilmer (who is actually pretty funny!), the two have great chemistry. Downey is hilarious, charming, and sexy here. His delivery is brilliant, and he plays the everyman-out-of-his-depth role like no one else. Downey is his best playing a smartass, and there’s plenty of witty dialogue and clever subtleties to compliment Downey’s charismatic acting style. It’s a really fun movie, and a lot of that has to do with Downey’s great performance.
Jennifer Connelly – A Beautiful Mind (2001)
In my opinion, Jennifer Connelly has got to be right up there with Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep as one of the best actresses around. Even in some of the so-so movies that she’s been in (think He’s Just Not That Into You and Hulk), she manages to still stand out and give a really solid performances. She was fantastic in 2000′s disturbing Requiem for a Dream, but her understated, mature performance in 2001′s A Beautiful Mind is what I see as her finest work to date. Playing the wife of Russell Crowe’s character, she must deal with her husband’s increasingly debilitating struggle with Schizophrenia. Connelly’s performance is at times vulnerable, moving, heartbreaking, and powerful as she portrays a woman who is far from perfect, but is trying desperately to make things work.
Aaron Eckhart – Thank You For Smoking (2006)
In Jason Reitman’s directorial debut, Thank You For Smoking, Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, an incorrigible lobbyist for the tobacco industry. Armed with ridiculous spin tactics and an affinity for smooth-talk, it’s Naylor’s job to convince people (especially children) to take up smoking, and to downplay the health risks of cigarettes. Eckhart is hilarious and smooth in the scenes where he’s working his hyperbolic magic, and you can tell he’s having a lot of fun with it. And although his character is relatively despicable, Eckhart still brings glimmers of warmth and genuine likeability to his performance, which prevents us from truly hating the film’s protagonist. Eckhart shows real affection with his on-screen son, without falling into the sappy clichés that are so readily available in most films revolving around a single father. Here, Eckhart is larger than life in a very, very good way.