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Docus, politics dominate Toronto fest

Oscar voters sure to go gaga for Cooper’s ‘Star’

TORONTO, Canada, Sept 5, (Agencies): Hot documentaries, reboots of classic horror franchises, plenty of politics, and of course Oscar-bait galas will be served up at this week’s Toronto International Film Festival.

More than 300 feature and short films from 74 countries – 31,300 minutes of film in total – will be screened at the 43rd TIFF, the biggest film festival in North America, which opens Thursday and runs through Sept 16.

The event is crucial for Oscar-conscious studios and distributors, attracting hundreds of filmmakers and actors to Canada’s largest city.

Big names set to make an appearance on the festival’s 1,108 feet (338 meters) of red carpet include Alec Baldwin, Steve Carell, Penelope Cruz, Drake, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Redford, Chris Pine and Hilary Swank.

Several directors will also make their English-language debuts, including Xavier Dolan with his much-anticipated “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan”.

Meanwhile Chilean director Sebastian Lelio, who earned an Oscar for the 2017 film “A Fantastic Woman”, will premiere the English-language remake of his 2013 Spanish-language breakout feature “Gloria Bell”, with Julianne Moore.

“Adapting a film you’ve already made for a different audience and still keeping the heart of it is especially hard,” said festival boss Cameron Bailey in a nod to Lelio’s talent.

Elsewhere, Hollywood studios are hoping to breathe new life into classic horror franchises “Predator” and “Halloween” at the festival’s late night screenings.

“What you’re going to see this year is filmmakers diving in and grappling with the changes that we’re seeing in society, and doing it in a number of different ways,” Bailey told AFP.

He cited examples such as Steve McQueen’s thriller “Widows”, starring Viola Davis, and Claire Denis’s “High Life” with Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche.

The former, he said, is a heist movie but McQueen, whose “12 Years A Slave” went on from winning the TIFF’s audience prize for best picture to taking the top honor at the Oscars in 2014, also “weaves in an exploration of how Chicago is a kind of roiling, changing place where local politics, and racial and class divisions, affect how people live their lives.”

Denis’ film, meanwhile, uses outer space as a backdrop for “an exploration of gender issues,” Bailey said.

There is also a huge documentary lineup with profiles of legendary music producer Quincy Jones, influential director Ingmar Bergman and soprano Maria Callas, as well as “The Elephant Queen”, which follows the journey of an elephant herd, and “The Truth About Killer Robots”.

“There’s an increased interest in documentaries,” Bailey said. “Audiences are searching for truth and are turning to filmmakers they trust.”

Several of the documentaries are still looking for distributors, so “they’re some of the hottest films in terms of acquisitions,” he said.

For politicos, Michael Moore is back chronicling the rise of Donald Trump in “Fahrenheit 11/9”, an unofficial sequel to his 2004 hit documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11”, alongside exposes of strategist Steven Bannon in “American Dharma” and Russian leaders in “Putin’s Witnesses” and Werner Herzog’s “Meeting Gorbachev”.


Jason Reitman directs Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga and J.K. Simmons in the biopic “The Front Runner” about US Senator Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential run that was derailed by a scandalous affair.

In past years, films such as “Spotlight”, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The King’s Speech” went on from winning the Toronto festival’s audience prize for best picture to take the top honor at the Oscars.

Many of the films positioned for accolades this year – including a remake of “A Star is Born” with Lady Gaga, Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” starring Ryan Gosling as astronaut Neil Armstrong, and the western “The Sisters Brothers” starring Joaquin Phoenix – will have already premiered at the Venice or New York film festivals before they are screened in Toronto.

In 2017, Toronto helped launch Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” toward the Oscars, after it premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado.

But he’s chosen this year to unveil his latest “If Beale Street Could Talk”, set in 1970s Harlem, about a woman trying to free her falsely accused fiance from prison, in Toronto.


LOS ANGELES: It might seem like an impossible feat, but with his version of “A Star Is Born”, Bradley Cooper both puts a fresh spin on a decades-old movie staple and transcends its very place in cinema history by fixing the story, turning a classic role, finally, into a tragic figure you actually care about.

For that and many more reasons (like a field that isn’t as competitive as usual), the lead actor Oscar race might be over and done with. Cooper is that good as the kind-hearted but haunted Jackson Maine, and the screenplay – from Cooper, Will Fetters, and Oscar winner Eric Roth – finely tunes his story, serving the character far better than any previous version of the tale has for Fredric March and James Mason’s Norman Maine, or Kris Kristofferson’s John Norman Howard.

That you can get two paragraphs into spelling out the virtues of this film before even mentioning Lady Gaga is a testament to its density. She is, of course, sensational in her first starring role – an absolute natural. And when her version of the discovered talent, here called Ally, first steps onto a stage early in the film to perform one of her own songs for the first time – already a highlight from its positioning in the trailer alone – I’ve rarely seen so arresting a moment in cinema.

Cooper’s crew, across the board, nailed this project. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s work, particularly in capturing the intimacy of performance numbers, is such a remove from the kind of high-gloss work you might expect from a studio production such as this. Jay Cassidy’s editing moves the story more swiftly even than William A. Wellman’s 111-minute original while giving it a singular identity in how certain sections are constructed. High marks, too, go to the sound mix and editing of the aural elements, courtesy of Oscar-winning talents like Michael Minkler and Alan Robert Murray (Cooper tapping pal Clint Eastwood’s regular).

Including best picture and director, where are we now? Nine nominations? Let’s push a little more…

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