Most know Jackie Kennedy as an icon. Natalie Portman wanted to approach her first as a person.
Natalie Portman's initial knowledge of Jackie Kennedy was, as she says, a "superficial understanding of her as a fashion plate." Through playing her in "Jackie," Portman seemingly gained a deeper understanding of the former first lady.
Five years ago, "The Help" became both a box-office phenomenon and an Oscar best picture nominee by toeing the line between lighthearted camaraderie and social seriousness among Southern women of color.
The upcoming "Hidden Figures" — a fact-based 1960s-set film about barely known NASA women whose calculations helped put Americans on the moon — diverges in plenty of ways from that Tate Taylor smash. But it's hard to avoid the similarities — tonally, thematically and Octavia Spencer-ishly. (She brings her arid wit to each.) Tears and laughter are meant to commingle in each film; they're stories of unity in times of segregation.
On Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival, 20th Century Fox took the wraps off several key scenes from the Theodore Melfi movie, which counts Pharrell as its producer and musical contributor. It also brought out three of its leading ladies — Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe — to talk up the movie's importance.
Saturday afternoon saw the world premiere of “Tramps” at the Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is the latest from writer-director Adam Leon, whose 2012 debut “Gimme The Loot” won the grand jury prize at the South by Southwest film festival and earned Leon an Independent Spirit award and a Gotham Award.
The new film feels like both an extension and a maturation from “Gimme The Loot,” as it has the same rambunctious, roustabout energy and sharp eye for atmosphere and character, but also feels slightly more ruminative and sensitive.
“Tramps” scampers in and around New York City as Danny (Callum Turner) steps in as bagman on some shady exchange of a briefcase when his hustler older brother lands in jail. This puts him in contact with the driver, Ellie (Grace Van Patten), but when the hand-off goes awry, the two of them have to get the case back. The movie also features a supporting role by comedian and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia as the sad-sack heavy who sets the deal in motion.
Chiron, the lonely young black man we see growing up before our eyes in “Moonlight,” doesn’t say much. Yet everything about him — his sad, downcast eyes, his drooping posture, his visible discomfort in the presence of others — seems to summon forth and express an entire world of feeling. This extraordinarily intimate movie, beautifully directed by Barry Jenkins (making his first feature since 2008’s “Medicine for Melancholy”), works in much the same way. It observes Chiron’s silence, respects it and to some degree absorbs it. In Jenkins’ hands, the cold, mechanical apparatus of the camera becomes nothing less than a conduit for human empathy.
Loosely adapted from Tarell McCraney’s play “Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” Jenkins’ film is a character study in three acts that immerses us in Chiron’s tough upbringing on the sunny, crooked streets of Miami. Over the course of more than a decade, this quiet kid will be neglected, abused, chased, bullied and at one point incarcerated, but also blessed by gestures of kindness and generosity from unexpected sources. He will experience a powerful, forbidden moment of sexual awakening that will be suddenly, cruelly turned on its head — and then revisited, years later, with infinite patience and tenderness.
Chiron is played by a different actor in each of the film’s three acts (they are Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes), which makes the continuity of feeling all the more remarkable. The actors don’t bear an especially close physical resemblance to one another — partly due to a decisive physical transformation that the character experiences at one key juncture — but they’re all of a soulful, taciturn piece nonetheless. That’s very much to Jenkins’ point. He’s made a film that urges the viewer to look past Chiron’s outward appearance and his superficial signifiers of identity, climbing inside familiar stereotypes in order to quietly dismantle them from within.
Two days into the official Oscar tour for “The Birth of a Nation,” the elephant in the room was finally acknowledged, though it remained for the most part undisturbed.
After a pair of Toronto International Film Festival screenings Friday that saw no mention of Nate Parker’s past sexual assault trial, and a news conference Sunday morning largely devoted to the themes of the film, Parker was finally asked about the subject.
The first question involved his response to those filmgoers who said they wouldn’t see Parker's Nat Turner slave-revolt film because of the resurfaced allegations stemming from the 1999 incident at Penn State University. He replied by turning attention to his fellow actors, nearly 10 of whom sat on the podium with him.
Devon Terrell had spent the previous 24 hours in epic transit — from Australia to Abu Dhabi to New York and, finally, to Toronto — but fatigue is never an impediment to a good Barack Obama impersonation.
“My grandmother, Toot,” he said, launching into perfect Obamacadence of a bit from the not-yet-politcian’s 1995 book-tour stop.
“I’ll do them all the time,” Terrell said, back in his native Australian accent as he finally relaxed, sans drink, at a Toronto hotel bar late Friday. “No matter who asks. Literally anyone on the street. No amount of times is too much.”
David Oyelowo had been, as he puts it, “sick with nerves,” all day.
The movie he had spent six years shepherding to completion, “A United Kingdom,” was about to have its first public screening at the Toronto Film Festival. He’d only seen it on a laptop — never with an audience. And now nearly 2,000 people were filing into the cavernous Roy Thompson Hall to watch this true-life love story about Prince Seretse Khama, the heir to the throne of Botswana, who in 1947 married a London office worker, causing a diplomatic earthquake that shook South Africa, Britain and his home country.
Shortly after the movie, over dinner, Oyelowo exhales and smiles. The reviews had broken, and they were great (British outlets were particularly appreciative) and the film had received an enthusiastic ovation that brought tears to the eyes of Oyelowo and the film’s director, Amma Asante.
A remarkably cohesive double bill was screened for journalists at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday morning. Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival,” landing here after its screenings in Venice, Italy, and Telluride, Colo., is a science-fiction thriller that plays like an intimate psychological drama. Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals,” which debuted at Venice, is an intimate psychological drama whose odder moments feel like science-fiction (specifically, one set in that garish, moneyed alternate universe known as Los Angeles).
Both pictures are immaculate in their craftsmanship, precisely directed to a fault and rigged with intricate surprises. Both, too, have the good fortune to star Amy Adams, in each case playing an emotionally guarded, fiercely intelligent woman whose sad, solitary life is interrupted by something — a revelatory manuscript in “Nocturnal Animals,” an extraterrestrial invasion in “Arrival” — that seriously throws off her sleep cycle and leads her toward a powerful reckoning with past wounds.
For “The Birth of a Nation” director Nate Parker, the past month has been one of the most turbulent an Oscar contender has ever faced. New details involving Parker’s 15-year-old sexual-assault trial have spurred a flood of op-ed pieces — including our own, by “Birth” actress Gabrielle Union — along with questions about the Oscar race, not to mention his character.
But if such tribulations were on Parker's — or audiences’ — minds Friday night, you wouldn't know it from what unfolded. In two high-profile screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival, the filmmaker and his ensemble faced audiences with all of the spirit they possessed before the scandal, and none of the questions since.
“Nina Simone has this quote where she says the artist’s job is to reflect the times, and I think as artists we all got together and understood the possibility that could come from a film like this, and then we all worked hard to make it happen," Parker said, one of several triumphant comments amid a very enthusiastic reception.