a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

The WalkBeastsRoomIt’s that time of year again. Cinemas are currently just about exploding with Oscar-seeking pictures, and Oscar hopefuls among the actors’ performances abound.

Of course, there’s the “Throw-Up Movie” (otherwise known as “The Walk”) which we can just about discount. Though it opened the New York Film Festival recently, NEWS programs have been devoting SEGMENTS, ENTIRE SEGMENTS on how this movie is making people run to the Men’s Room(or the ladies’) and vomit, it’s so violently vertiginous. It’s about Phillippe Petit’s tight-rope walk between the World Trade Center Towers pre-9/11. The special effects are so graphically believable and intense that it’s making movie-goers violently ill.

And as Maurice DuBois the host of CBS Evening News in New York said on the air yesterday, “Why bother going?” (to a movie that makes you sick.)

So that automatically “x-es” out “The Walk” Oscar chances. Academy voters aren’t going to risk blowing their cookies.

Meanwhile, two other films that are very powerful and compelling are starting to screen post-TIFF, and are opening VERY soon. Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” and Cary Fukanaga’s “Beasts of No Nation.” Both are very, very good films, but they have in common two things. One, they are both tough sits. And two, they are dominated and propelled by Award-caliber performances by their two leads. Actress Brie Larson in “Room” and the powerhouse Idris Elba in “Beasts.”

I heard a lot about these movies at TIFF, but I didn’t see either there. And the Oscar buzz has been building and building, especially around Brie Larson, and deservedly so.

But just saw these great, gut-wrenching films  last night and the night before, and both can be described as harrowing. Certainly the ordeals that their lead characters  go through are horrifying in the extreme. And also, both boast superb performances by the juvenile actors in them, who also carry their pictures. Newcomers Jacob Tremblay in “Room” and Abraham Atta in “Beasts.” Will the academy nominate all FOUR of these stupendous performances? They might.

Brie Larson really jumps into the mainstream here with an extremely moving performance that the Academy will find hard to deny. It’s a role with a range unlike any other. It is a story ripped from the headlines. A young girl is kidnapped and imprisoned by a violent rapist. She is locked up in a “Room” (actually a garden shed) and repeatedly raped . This horrifying event has happened seven years before the movie starts and it is not for the weak-hearted by any means. The child Jack she has had by her captor who impregnated her, is now five years old and as played by Tremblay, is a beguiling, smart, inquisitive child. He’s the narrator and beating heart of this frightening movie.

The first half of the film is extremely claustrophobic as it takes place entirely in the “Room” and we begin to feel as trapped as the characters, Joy and Jack. How they ever survive this ordeal is truly incredible. And of course it makes you think of all the horrific, unthinkable real-life cases where this has happened. And it is interesting to note that this particular horror story has not been portrayed on-screen before.

And Brie Larson, an Indie actress new to me, did win me over with her intensely  gripping portrayal of a mother ironically named Joy. Her life force just won’t let her quit no matter how dire and unforgiving the situation. She never gives up hope that she will escape her captor and her devotion to her child is so strong and complete and her creativity in keeping her young son happy, occupied and well, despite their grimmer-than-grim circumstances is edifying, enlightening and awe-inspiring.Understated, brunette this time and with no make-up whatsoever, Larson’s is a completely vanity free performance. Kudos to Larson who is currently leading the list of Best Actress hopefuls all over the Internet and Oscarology. If you see this film, you will see why. She may be unstoppable.

Jacob Tremblay as the five-year old Jack, whose point of view the picture is told from, is equally award-worthy.What, at such a young age, he is required to do  is staggering. He is an innocent that has no concept that there is a world outside “Room” no matter how many times his mother imaginatively tells him tales about it. The Academy could nominate him in Supporting, if it really stops to think about the power and difficulty of this challenging role, especially for such a young child, in this disturbing, unforgettable indie movie. It’s bleak, but it’s power can’t be denied. I’m still thinking about it.

A completely different race is going to be run by Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation” as he battles his way to a Best Actor nomination as the terrifying, brutal war lord in “Beasts of No Nation.” The Academy caveat is this. Will they watch it?

“Beasts” is just as powerful as “Room,” as it depicts an un-named African civil war. It is  also told from the bewildered perspective of a child. Agu, the incredible Abraham Atta, is also kidnapped as Joy and by extension Jack are in “Room.” This time the abduction is by an entire band of renegade African “soldiers”. Butchers, really. Who have killed Agu’s father and brother right  in front of him and have destroyed his entire town.

“Beasts” is over-long and one of the most bloody, violent films to ever be in the Oscar conversation. It is elevated to Academy heights, by Elba’s towering performance. As his reign of terror begins to come to an end and his world falls apart around him towards the end of “Beasts”, Elba does have the requisite number of Academy-friendly acting moments as he begins to worry “Was it worth it?”

And after last year’s debacle of them NOT nominating  African-Americans Ava DeVernay and David Oyelowo for directing and starring in “Selma” respectively, they MUST nominated a person of color this year. And it could be the magnificent British black actor Idris Elba who benefits from this terrible, seemingly racist oversight.

An African war-lord in the Best Actor race? Well, didn’t Forrest Whittaker WIN a Best Actor Oscar a number of years back for playing Idi Amin?

Will Brie Larson be in the Best Actress conversation? For sure. Will Idris Elba FINALLY got an Oscar nomination? I hope so.

Bryce 2

Here’s Part 2 of my great interview with one of Broadway’s Best Bryce Pinkham, the Tony & Drama Desk Nominee for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Here Bryce whose known for playing villains on Broadway (GGLAM & “Ghost”) gets to talk about something really close to his heart, the charity he founded to help underprivileged children in Madagascar which he calls “Zara Aina.” I’ve included a great clip of Zara Aina’s activities that is really inspiring and let’s you know that Bryce is indeed a great, giving guy with a social conscience as big as his talent. The video clip also tells you how to get involved with Zara Aina.

Only a Broadway hero would do something beautiful like this. Not a Broadway villain.

Camera ~ Phil Sokoloff

Editing~ Kevin Teller

Here’s my great interview with Broadway’s great leading man Bryce Pinkham, returning to “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” This is part one of a three part interview. Bryce was just great as you can see. He talked about returning to the hit Tony winning show that made him a star. And his recent stint in Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Heidi Chronicles.” Broadway just loves him!

This was filmed at the Marshal restaurant in the theater district during a heat wave late in August. Right before I headed north for nearly three weeks for the Montreal and Toronto Film Festivals.

Camera – Phil Sokoloff

Editing ~ Kevin TellerBryce Pinkham

son of saulOne of the two undisputed masterpieces I saw at this year’s TIFF ’15. The first was “The Danish Girl” as I’ve already written, and the second is the Hungarian “Son of Saul.” “Son of Saul” is certainly one of the greatest, grimmest films ever done on the Holocaust, and may be considered one of the greatest films ever made. And it’s heading straight to the Oscars. If Sony Pictures Classics has anything to do with it. And as unlikely a Best Picture winner ever, it just may contend there, it’s greatness and power is not to be denied.

Best Foreign Film is the category where it most likely would dominate and is certainly eligible there. Hungary is submitting this as its’ official Oscar entry. But “Son of Saul” is so overwhelming a cinematic achievement that it may compete in many, many categories. Including Best Director for first time filmmaker Lazslo Nemes.

When the first public screening unspooled at TIFF, it was shown in the very large(and with a balcony) TIFF Bell Lightbox 1. The buzz was so strong and the lines were so long (It had already won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes) that the lines circled back and back on itself. And everything was running twenty to thirty minutes behind schedule that day at TIFF. And as I stood there scrunched in with the hundreds of festival goers jammed into this seemingly endless line, curling back and back on itself and hardly being contained in two floors, and it extended like a snake outside the building ,too. I thought I’d never get in. The wait was excruciating and I thought this was strangely an odd premonition of what I was going to experience in seeing in “Son of Saul.”

The expectations were quite high and “Son of Saul” lived up to and surpassed all of them.

When you are in the presence of a great film, it just grabs you by the collar, throws you on the floor and doesn’t let go til the final horrific, inevitable denouement.

It’s set in the Auschwitz-Birkeneau concentration camp. And at the beginning of the film, it seemed that the screen was totally out of focus. There seemed to be people running through a wood, and just when you thought you should yell “Focus!”, into a very sharp focus indeed came the face of Saul, and the hand-held camera was to stay tightly focus on actor Gaza Rohrig for the rest of this unrelenting film.

And everything behind him is indeed a blur as shown in the picture above.^

It’s as though everything Saul is seeing and experiencing is so horrible, so unspeakable, he can’t say anything. He can just blankly stare ahead of him, as he gets pushed from one disgusting concentration camp duty the next. And at break-neck speed too. For Saul is one of the Jewish Sodocommandant as they were so grandly labeled. Large, muscular men whose lives were spared, so that they could do the unspeakable acts of cleaning, and piling “the pieces” and digging mass graves and well, the story of what Saul sees out of the corners of his eyes is very well known by now. But “Son of Saul” makes it all new and is in vivid color, bringing home the horror of the bloody bodies and smoke that makes “Schindler’s List” look pallid and cerebral by comparison.

“Son of Saul” is one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen and New Yorkers will have the opportunity to see it soon to. It’s playing at the NYFF. Don’t miss it. You can’t miss it.

So what’s the Oscar Buzz at TIFF? All the world really wants to know is this. Who’s on top at TIFF? TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, as it’s come to be abbreviated world-wide, is without a doubt the single most important launch pad for Oscar hopefuls and wannabes. Much emerged. Top of the list going in was “The Danish Girl” and coming out it was Eddie Redmayne’s trans-gender pioneer Lili Elbe by a mile. It could also be up for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Costumes(for sure), Best Adapted Screenplay(it’s a true story) and the very strong likelihood that Alicia Vikander as Lili’s staunch, strong spouse, Gerde, may land not just in the Supporting Actress race(where she would have a VERY strong chance of winning) and also, Vikander may end up as Lead Actress.

Like her counterpart in “The Theory of Everything” Felicity Jones, who was also playing a similar part. Redmayne’s staunch, strong wife. And some years Jones may have been put in Supporting, but not last year. Swedish actress Vikander who is quickly becoming this year’s IT girl, may very well end up in lead, for her tremendous turn as Gerde, the audience’s surrogate. We see “The Danish Girl” through Gerde’s loving but dismayed eyes, as her husband turns from a man to a woman.

Less sure a front-runner was Johnny Depp in “Black Mass” as the frightening true-life gangster Whitey Bulger. For some reason, Depp was rumored to be cancelling interviews and press events left right and center. I heard that he was hitting the bottle quite strongly. I hope that’s not the case. I never heard before that he was an alcoholic.  But alienating those who might have potentially helped Depp get a nomination for this less- than-par gangster film.

He may doing a “Monique” and blowing off the dog and pony show run-up to the Oscars, something that rival Redmaybe excels at. And Depp may be saying “Screw all this folderol and just vote for me based on my performance.” It may land him a nomination anyway.

On the Best Actress side of things I saw two very good films with two outstanding lead performances by women. Both such strong contenders that they will not be overlooked come nomination time. There was the luscious, dewey-eyed, now all grown-up Irish beauty Saorise Ronan in “Brooklyn”. She is a young Irish lass who moves to America in the 1950s to find a better life for herself. And she does. But then a family tragedy drags her back to Ireland and into a Will She Stay or Will She Go dilemma. Her heart being caught between the love of a super-cute, super-hunky Italian kid (Emory Cohen) and the more traditionally suitable, wealthy. Irish man Domnall Gleeson. It’s a film in a minor key with soap opera bubbles all over it. But it’s well done. Tremendously Army of OscarsEddie Liliold-fashioned and super-sentimental, “Brooklyn” may just be the Academy’s Cup of Irish Tea come awards’ time.

Also there’s the ever-present, redoubtable octogenarian Dame Maggie Smith giving yet another career-best performance as a bag lady(!) who takes up residence in author Alan Bennett’s front drive-way in “Lady in a Van.” Dame Maggie played this role for nine months at the National Theater in London, to great acclaim, and under the same director Nicolas Hytner. Stats like those and a performance for the ages, are things the Academy is likely to take strong note of. And Dame Maggie is swinging from the rafters with his one. As dirty and smelly and ornery  as  her real-life character Mary Shepherd is meant to be, you love her any way. I really can’t wait to see this rather joyous  take on the homeless AGAIN. I liked it that much..

But it’s “The Danish Girl” that really was the masterpiece out of all those discussed.  Oh, and I here Sony Pictures Classics is going to run the OTHER Masterpiece I saw, holocaust drama, “The Son of Saul” for Best Picture, and the Academy might just go for it. A Hungarian film of tremendous power, it’s an amazing piece of filmmaking. But more about “The Son of Saul” later.

Isn’t this enough Oscar news for one morning?

Eddie LiliI’m devastated. I’m in tears writing this. “The Danish Girl” is a masterpiece, so moving, so profoundly important and brilliantly acted and directed, it will win Eddie Redmayne his second Oscar in a row for this heart-wrenching performance as first transgender Lili Elbe.  It has its’ slow patches, but once it gets going “The Danish Girl” is so powerful, so engaging, so beautiful, its’ ending, which I won’t reveal here, will absolutely crush you. And Eddie Redmayne is catapulted once again to the head of the Oscar race for Best Actor. As extraordinary as that sounds, it’s true.

His performance is beyond anything we’ve ever seen onscreen before. Never has this subject, transgender-ism, if there is such a word, been treated in this depth, and with such respect, and love. It’s a great love story. And not only Redmayne will be back at the top of everyone’s lists, director Tom Hooper, already an Oscar winner for “The King’s Speech”, will probably be up for every award in the book, for his sensitive, deft, beautifully handled helming of this tragic love story.

And Alicia Vikander, who has been edging towards stardom, with every role she’s essayed, since she first came to global attention with “Anna Karenina”, as the blonde, sweet ingenue to Keira Knightley’s dark, tormented Anna, Alicia Vikander will for sure be nominated, perhaps as Best Actress even, but certainly as Best Supporting, for her astounding turn as Gerda Wegener, the devoted, confounded artist wife, whose husband, Einar is transitioning right before her confused, but compassionate eyes into Lili Elbe.(“Elbe, like the River” at one point Einar/Lili clarifies)

Einar and Gerde Wegener are a happily married couple at the start of “The Danish Girl” in 1920s Copenhagen. Both are artists, and there seems to be no clouds on their sunny, loving horizons. The begins to gradually change when one day, Gerde asks Einar to try on some ballerina attire of a model who has not shown up for her posing session. He obligingly does so, and the feelings of a woman’s stockings and shoes begin to arouse something deep-seated in him.

So begins Einar’s(Redmayne’s ) journey into what today is known as “transitioning.” We see this today in the person of Caitlyn Jenner, who used to be Bruce. Like it or not, Jenner has made this topic extremely relevant and the timing is just right for “The Danish Girl”s Oscar chances. Perfect, in fact.Eddie & Oscar 2

Redmayne’s Lili is a much more delicate, fragile creature than Caitlyn Jenner, needless to say. Redmayne gives her an ephemeral otherworldy quality. And he sensitively inhabits  her every single stage of her transformation. And makes clear what drives Lili  into emerging and totally obliterating Einar.

I did not know the shattered ending of this important, historic movie and I was totally enraptured, then horrified as “The Danish Girl” headed to its’ inexorable, tragic conclusion.

And Eddie Redmayne steps wholly and completely into screen history with this beyond magnificent portrayal. Another Oscar for Mr. Redmayne, please.

TIFF ~ Weather and Trolleys

TIFF logo 1It seems sometimes like the entire city of Toronto is completely disrupted by having TIFF here. But of course, in a good way. The public is jubilant about it, even if the entire “Festival Village” is now closed to traffic AND trolleys.

This morning there was huge orange balls all over what was formerly a couple of blocks of King St.

And I mean HUGE!

I guess Orange is the official color of TIFF and it’s my favourite color. Always brightens a room, or a wardrobe…

And the weather? It’s been unseasonably hot here in Canada. Especially during the Montreal Film Festival which was last week. This week it’s been cooling down A LITTLE. Today was really quite balmy walking here through all those gigantic balls to the TIFF Bell Light-box. But Global TV’s Morning Show keeps forecasting rain. I don’t ever remember it raining THAT heavily during the Film Festival.

I went to bed at 9:30pm last night! I have to get used to getting up early for the next two days, especially. Tomorrow is the HUGE first press and industry screening for “The Danish Girl” starring Eddie Redmayne, directed by Tom Hooper and aimed and timed EXACTLY as “The King’s Speech” was several years ago, aimed right at OSCAR!

Nobody here believes Donald Trump will be President. In fact, he’s not on TV here at all! Can you believe it?

I now have to head up to the Scotiabank building a couple of blocks north to stand in line to see my darling Saorise Ronan in HER Oscar bid this year “Brooklyn.” It starts unspooling at 11:45 AM. Am I late? Rush, rush, rush.

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