Toronto 2011: Five of the festival's biggest surprises
With all the red-carpet galas and other celebrity orchestrations at a film festival such as Toronto's, it's hard to imagine too many surprises going down. But they do, and they did, at North America's largest cinema showcase.
With the 11-day gathering now wrapped, here's a look back at some of the unexpected films and trends.
All in the family. If anyone had told you before the festival that movies such as "Your Sister's Sister," "50/50" and "Friends With Kids" would become some of the biggest hits north of the border, take them to a Vegas sportsbook and don't leave their side. These seriocomic takes on modern family proved to be winners for possible zeitgeist reasons (cue "Modern Family" reference). Or it may just be that, as "Sister's" director Lynn Shelton noted to 24 Frames, after seeing plenty of dark dramas at the festival, filmgoers found that laughing about the foibles of family and their own lives could actually be... "a relief."
Slumdog pauper? You can debate the definition of a "huge breakout" and what one entails. But even if the criteria aren't clear, you can, as Potter Stewart might say, know it when you see it. And this year we didn't. As we noted in a story in today's Times, it's a sharp departure from the last few years, which had a "Slumdog Millionaire" or a "King's Speech." Sure, "Moneyball" looks to have the commercial goods, "Shame" has no small amount of buzz, and the two Clooney pics ("The Descendants" and "The Ides of March") could do damage on several fronts. But none of these movies rose to the level of past Toronto blockbusters.
Actor redux. Toronto is a place of diverse talents, right? Well, yes. But festivalgoers might be scheduling a trip to the optometrist after they found themselves seeing double. A number of actors popped up in two films, including George Clooney ("Ides" and "Descendants"), Ryan Gosling ("Ides" and "Drive"), Emily Blunt ("Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" and "Your Sister's Sister") and Michael Fassbender ("A Dangerous Method" and "Shame"). All these actors are popular, of course, but their recurrence also says something about how movies, both independent and studio, are greenlighted these days -- namely, on the backs of a very small group of actors who have the clout to get them made.
Manly men. There are plenty of female filmmakers getting their moment -- Shelton and Jennifer Westfeldt ("Friends With Kids"), to name two. So it was striking how many movies were dominated by male actors and themes of manhood -- "Moneyball," "Machine Gun Preacher," "The Ides of March," "50/50" football doc "The Undefeated" and concert films about U2 and Pearl Jam. "Moneyball," a major studio release that is seeking female audiences as much as male ones, featured women in all but three scenes. Considering how many women actually go to the movies, it was a surprising turn.
For "Shame." Sure, it had some critics buzzing at Telluride and Venice over the daring performance of Fassbender, who goes full-frontal in pretty much the first scene. But what looked, coming out of the Venice and Telluride film festivals, to be a niche curiosity was elevated to something much larger several days into Toronto when specialty-film powerhouse Fox Searchlight announced it had bought the movie, ensuring bigger ambitions and a likely far broader release this fall. Fox Searchlight's co-president, Steve Gilula, did tell 24 Frames that the film would roll out slowly and rely on publicity. But he wasn't worried about the likely NC-17 rating. "Times are a lot different than when 'Last Tango in Paris' came out almost 40 years ago," he said. "I don't think the rating offers any ceiling on how popular this movie can become."
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in "Shame." Credit: Toronto Internatonal Film Festival