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Gold Standard: Toronto Film Festival: Can the academy have a Bill Murray Day too?

Yes, it was raining just a bit when Bill Murray arrived for the Toronto premiere of his new movie, "St. Vincent."
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Bill Murray Day at the Toronto International Film Festival ended with a torrential downpour reminiscent of the bishop’s epic, final golf game in “Caddyshack”: a disaster, perhaps not of biblical proportions but for those waiting in line to see the gala premiere of Murray’s new movie, “St. Vincent,” certainly the equivalent of “human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria.”

Not that anyone -- Murray included -- minded. The 63-year-old legend left the umbrella behind, posing for pictures, greeting fans and doing what he does best -- living in the present moment and enjoying it to the fullest. And after everyone dried off and festival organizers bumped up the thermostat inside the Princess of Wales Theatre, Murray took the stage wearing a crown and sash and blessed what festival artistic director Cameron Bailey called the “crowning ritual” of Bill Murray Day.

When Murray returned nearly two hours later, he was greeted with a roaring, standing ovation. No surprise. Ted Melfi’s “St. Vincent” is a big-hearted movie, impossible not to love (or at least like a lot), following a grouchy geezer who mentors a 12-year-old neighbor (impressive newcomer Jaeden Lieberher). The kid sees something in this irredeemable grump and, because of that faith, maybe the old guy can believe in himself again, too.

Yes, you will cry. Buckets. The thunderstorm had nothing on the audience in the Princess of Wales on Friday night. (The movie opens Oct. 17.)

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That emotional wallop is one reason Murray might be a serious contender for the lead actor Oscar this year. Another: His character, though often mean-spirited and unsympathetic, is also irrepressible and irreverent, the kind of role people love seeing Murray play. Taking the kid to the race track; somehow making an ensemble of camouflage shorts, white socks and sandals look cool; and convincing us that, yes, maybe saints surround us ... it adds up to a quintessential Bill Murray performance.

And the good will directed toward Murray at Toronto is felt everywhere, even among academy members, many of whom adore him as much as the festival-goers who braved the rain at the “St. Vincent” premiere. Murray has never won an Oscar and has been nominated only once, 10 years ago for “Lost in Translation.” Don’t think for a moment that Harvey Weinstein, whose company is behind “St. Vincent,” won’t remind voters of this oversight again and again and again. His team specializes in badgering reminding voters when a worthy nominee has been overlooked.

And, by God, Murray is overdue. He should have won the supporting actor Oscar for “Rushmore.” And his performance in the profound, existential comedy “Groundhog Day” is a treasure, a landmark turn ignored because voters didn’t consider it serious, even though the stakes in his character’s journey, endlessly repeating the same day, couldn’t have been higher.

So, while we know the lead actor field always has too many contenders, it’s time to circle Jan. 15, 2015, as a second Bill Murray Day, the day academy members right past wrongs and nominate him for his funny, sweet and wholly believable work in “St. Vincent.” It’d be a worthy choice. And you know his presence would make the night roughly 1,000% more fun.

Twitter: @glennwhipp


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