TORONTO — Today I noticed, while waiting in line at the Scotiabank multiplex (where the majority of the Toronto International Film Festival’s press screenings are offered, and where today they were mysteriously serving pina colada-flavored popcorn), a crowd of orange-T-shirted TIFF volunteers, moving forward in a sort of wedge formation with their hands clasped. Inside the wedge: Susan Sarandon, holding a little dog. This is, indeed, a full-service festival, though no one’s offered me a wedge escort. Sarandon’s here with “The Last of Robin Hood,” about the last days of Errol Flynn; I don’t know what the dog’s gig was. Maybe he was in the movie too.
At this point in the festival (I’m up to double digits now in my movie total), you start noticing themes: For example, I’ve seen two movies with deeply upsetting scenes of torture (“Prisoners,” “The Railway Man”), two in which somebody bashes a wall with a hammer (“Prisoners” again, “Dallas Buyers Club”), two middle-age rom-coms (“The Love Punch,” “Enough Said”). That last film, the latest from Nicole Holofcener, features the next-to-final screen performance from James Gandolfini, who died earlier this year — and it’s a charmer. Cast opposite a very, very funny Julia Louis-Dreyfus (interesting to see two icons of television paired up like this), Gandolfini gives a sweet, wry performance as a divorced man brave enough to fall in love again. It’ll be in Seattle theaters later this month. At its end, the screen reads simply “For Jim.”
Long before “Dallas Buyers Club” turned up on a screen anywhere, Oscar buzz was spreading over Matthew McConaughey’s performance — and now that I’ve seen the film, I’ll spread it too. Physical transformation? Check: McConaughey, frighteningly gaunt as an HIV-positive patient in 1980s Texas, reportedly lost 38 pounds for the role. Emotional transformation? Check: His character, a straight and thoroughly homophobic rodeo cowboy, learns to be more accepting. Period movie? Check; the ’80s are wonderfully re-created here, particularly in McConaughey’s hair. All buzz aside, he disappears beautifully into the role, and the movie’s both informative (based on a true story, about a Texas man who started up a club to distribute HIV medication not approved by the FDA) and very moving. Look for it in theaters in November.
And today I had one of those sweet TIFF surprises: a little film that I knew nothing about before this festival. “Finding Vivian Maier” is a documentary about a mystery: a Chicago woman who died in 2009, leaving behind a remarkable treasure trove of street photography. John Maloof, who bought a collection of her photos years ago at auction knowing nothing about her, co-directs and narrates the film, which pieces together the puzzle of who this very reclusive woman was, and why she died with thousands of rolls of film still undeveloped. By the end, Maier’s still a mystery — but her art, whose subjects seem to be caught in moments of defining exactly who they are, is happily shared.
Lots of red carpet action going on: Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth were here for “The Railway Man” (an emotional fact-based drama about a man coming to terms with having been tortured in World War II); Brad Pitt showed up for “12 Years a Slave” (haven’t seen this one yet, but the buzz is through the roof); George Clooney and Sandra Bullock will check in later this weekend for Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” for which I notice tickets are being scalped online for $300 each. For that, I’d want Clooney to usher me to my seat, at least. More later!