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Oscar Buzz Builds At Toronto Film Fest


The biggest film festival in North America is in full swing. The Toronto International Film Festival shows more than 300 films in just 10 days to hundreds of thousands of movie viewers and to lots of critics. Among those critics are NPR's pop-culture blogger Linda Holmes and our movie critic Bob Mondello. They join us from CBC studios in Toronto. Hello, Linda. Hi, Bob.



SIEGEL: I take it that you are seeing movie after movie there - hard work if you can get it. What is an average day like at the Toronto Film Festival?

HOLMES: So far my high is six movies in one day. And that makes for a long day. It's not working in the mines, but it's a long day.

MONDELLO: (Laughter) Although, I saw a movie about miners. So it is sort of like working the mines. My first day was five pictures. It's that kind of experience. It's really great fun.

SIEGEL: OK - sounds rough.


SIEGEL: Let's talk about a few movies that you've seen and that you've seen and liked. And we'll begin with one that I know you both enjoyed - a film called "Whiplash."


J.K. SIMMONS: (As Terence Fletcher) Were you rushing or were you dragging?

MILES TELLER: (As Andrew Neyman) I don't know.

SIMMONS: (As Terence Fletcher) If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will gut you like a pig. Oh, my dear God. Are you one of those single-tear people?

SIEGEL: We're hearing, there, a drummer and his teacher. Obviously this is not your normal teacher-student relationship.

HOLMES: No, it's not. That's J.K. Simmons, who's a wonderful actor, as the teacher and Miles Teller as the student. And it's sort of one of these movies about the punishing, mean teacher who is trying to be the maker of men. And it maintains a lot of ambivalence throughout the movie about whether it's some kind of tough love or whether he's just a horrible, horrible person. And it plays with that balance quite effectively. We liked that movie a lot.

MONDELLO: Yeah, it's pretty great. And both of the actors - Miles Teller is the student, who actually - his fingers bled while he was playing the drum 'cause he was playing so hard, and apparently that happened in real life as he was practicing. So it's a remarkable picture.

SIEGEL: Now, the Toronto Film Festival is one place where Oscar buzz begins for actors. Let's talk about a few performances. First, Steve Carell in the movie "Foxcatcher."


STEVE CARELL: (As John du Pont) Athletes need role models. Like anyone, they need people to look up to.

I want, more than anything, to win a gold medal. And we have someone who could do that.

SIEGEL: Linda, he doesn't sound funny.

HOLMES: No. You know, that was a funny thing about that screening. There were some people, I think, in the theater who when they see Steve Carell - particularly, he's got a fake nose on, and he's - his physical appearance is quite different. And I think for some people, they were looking for a comedy. It's not a comedy. It's a very, very sad story. A young wrestler who gets connected to this millionaire, who is played by Carell - the young wrestler is played by Channing Tatum. His brother is played by Mark Ruffalo. And those are all, we thought, really outstanding performances.

MONDELLO: Amazing performances - really terrific. And Carell is going to - I think for sure going to be nominated for an Oscar for this one.

HOLMES: It's really wonderful.

MONDELLO: Don't you feel like we've seen all the best actor nominees, maybe, already?

HOLMES: Yeah, we've certainly seen some really good performances I think.

MONDELLO: Yeah. Jake Gyllenhaal is giving a phenomenal performance in a picture called "Nightcrawler." He's another sort of psychopathic character, but he's very unnerving and very scary.

And then I saw a picture that I just flipped over called "Mr. Turner," which is about a landscape painter. And Tim Spall - he spends the entire picture snorting and growling and, you know, just - and it's the strangest performance. But the audience was just so with it. It's gorgeous. In addition to which, the light in that picture is so beautiful - the kind of thing that you don't usually comment in films. But if you're going to do Turner landscapes, you kind of have to get the light right.

SIEGEL: I understand that some of the most high-profile movies are being shown later in the festival. What's yet to come?

HOLMES: Tomorrow we have the Jon Stewart film, "Rosewater," which is the one for which he took a long absence from "The Daily Show" last year. And that will be playing here this week as well. And what else, Bob? We've also got "Wild."

MONDELLO: "Wild," which is the Reese Witherspoon picture that is getting a lot of notice. And there's also a picture called "The Imitation Game," and Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in that. It is supposed to be terrific - another probably great performer.

SIEGEL: Is there anything that you might call a small film that you would like to give a boost to, here - a dark horse, perhaps, that you think could break out this year at Toronto?

HOLMES: Well, I don't know that it's a small film, but it's not necessarily a conventional festival film. I saw a romantic drama that I really loved called "Beyond The Lights," which is by a director named Gina Prince-Bythewood who also directed a fantastic and sweet film called "Love And Basketball" in 2000. It's about a young woman who is a pop star who meets a cop, and it's extremely satisfying. And I was really happy to see how good it was.

MONDELLO: And I saw this remarkable picture that you'd - I can't believe it actually got a distributor. It's a film from Ukraine. It is entirely in sign language. At the beginning of the picture they put up a legend on the screen that says this film is entirely in sign language. There are no subtitles, no voiceovers, no translations. And one of the critics in front of me went, what? And the whole audience laughed. But nobody got up. Everybody stayed through this picture. It was phenomenal. And it was showing late at night - a real discovery - "The Tribe."

SIEGEL: That NPR's Bob Mondello and Linda Holmes speaking with us about the Toronto Film Festival from Toronto. Thanks to both of you.

HOLMES: Thank you.

MONDELLO: It's great to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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