'Argo' among movies getting good buzz at Toronto film fest

Reel and real tales from Toronto


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TORONTO -- Some years, it's love at first sight.

Audiences shuffle into "The Artist" or "Slumdog Millionaire" or "Juno" and bound out with a bounce in their step and an answer to the perennial question about a festival favorite.

The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival ended Sunday and many moviegoers flew, drove, rode or walked away with a list of films they liked or performances they sincerely admired but not an overwhelming favorite as in years past.

Ben Affleck's "Argo" emerged as a crowd-pleaser, and so did "Silver Linings Playbook," a fast-talking comedy starring Bradley Cooper as a cuckolded Philadelphia teacher who ends up back home with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). He and a young widow (Jennifer Lawrence) strike a deal that brings unexpected silver linings.

His dad is a bookie who thinks Mr. Cooper's character brings "good juju" when the Eagles are playing, and Sundays mean braciole, betting and sometimes a bit of dancing. "Silver Linings Playbook" lived up to its name when it won the BlackBerry People's Choice Award at a Sunday reception.

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Mr. Cooper also was here for "The Place Beyond the Pines," co-starring Ryan Gosling, likely successor to People magazine's sexiest man alive title. Mr. Gosling literally stopped traffic as he arrived for a showing of the dramatic thriller tracing the intersecting lives of fathers and sons, cops and robbers, heroes and villains.

Some festival snapshots:

Art imitating tragic life: "The Impossible," starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, is based on the harrowing real-life story of a family of five vacationing at the Orchid Resort in Thailand when the tsunami hit Dec. 26, 2004.

Mr. McGregor said he and others stayed in hotels ravaged by the disaster. "You were surrounded always by it," he said, and once he started filming he couldn't continue to look at accounts of the killer waves.

"I'd lie awake in bed at night knowing that that room had been full of water on that day and not knowing if who'd been in there had survived or not," said the Scottish-born father of four daughters who plays dad to three boys in the film almost guaranteed to make you cry.

Finding FDR and Eleanor's voices: Bill Murray, who disappears into the president in "Hyde Park on Hudson" thanks to pince-nez glasses, a cigarette holder, period suits and leg braces, said, "Most of the Roosevelt recordings I heard were speeches, so they're much more formal -- stentorian, that's the word, I guess.

"Not any of our scenes are like that, ours are all intimate household conversations pretty much. It's a different voice, a more relaxed voice. I myself feel uncomfortable when they've got a death grip on a voice," said Mr. Murray, who met the press on a summery day in shorts and a checked short-sleeve shirt.

Olivia Williams, who plays the first lady, gladly reported, "Our esteemed director freed us from the curse of doing impersonations." She did Internet research and avoided Eleanor Roosevelt addressing the United Nations in favor of her "telling a couple of jokes -- she was actually quite a good raconteur."

Saving a souvenir: Logan Lerman, who plays Charlie in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," kept his character's binder.

As for his memories of Pittsburgh, the young actor dressed in a snappy striped shirt, tie, vest and gray trousers and receiving reporters at the Trump Hotel, said: "It was a beautiful place and I had a really great time, great food and people. ... I went to a Pirates game, that was a lot of fun. And it was just the most beautiful baseball stadium I'd ever been to, the way that it's angled to the Downtown, it's gorgeous."

Only their hairdressers know for sure: Chris Evans is almost unrecognizable as a killer who drives an ice cream truck in "The Iceman" starring Michael Shannon. Mr. Evans is buried under 1970s-style hair and beard, while co-star David Schwimmer looks properly sleazy in 'stache and ponytail.

For "Argo," Mr. Affleck "grew out a kind of Davy Jones-sort of Barry Gibb thing," but everyone went for it, with dated glasses, mustaches and other sign posts to 1979 and 1980 for "Argo."

Staging "Anna Karenina": "Originally when we first started talking about it, it was going to be a completely naturalistic telling of it. And we were going to go to Russia and shoot mainly in St. Petersburg and around there," said Keira Knightley, in the title role.

As director Joe Wright read more about Russian society, he tilted toward a more stylized version "and then it went further and further and further and further and suddenly, we weren't going to Russia." Instead, a majestic theater would serve as the backdrop.

Where OMG meets WTF: That's the slogan for one of a series of festival posters, and it applied to a question about Natalie Wood posed to Christopher Walken, promoting a lovely film called "A Late Quartet" in which he plays a cellist diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

He was asked about how Ms. Wood's death influenced his sense of mortality, and Mr. Walken said, "There's lots of people you've never heard of" who die young, but he didn't address the mysterious 1981 drowning.

Catherine Keener, a violist in the movie's string quartet, jumped in and said, "I remember my first time when I realized about mortality was when I was in school and a friend of mine was playing football and he got hit and he eventually did not make it."

Mr. Walken, however, fielded questions on everything else from his hair (Elvis-influenced, in part) to his cello lessons. "My teacher would come and we would play for five minutes and I would say, 'Can we take a little break?' and I'd put my cello down and then we'd just talk."

Closing the loop: Even directors whose movies are chosen to open the festival (a big deal when there are 289 features) can get the jitters. Sitting on the second floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, "Looper" writer-director Rian Johnson reflected on the premiere the night before at glamorous Roy Thomson Hall, visible outside the wall of windows.

"I was really excited and nervous and scared. I kind of went into a little bit of a fugue state, I think, during the movie, just because of the scale of it," but family, friends and an enthusiastic audience bolstered him.

Best self-defense: Put on the defensive by not one but two questions about where she had been lately, "The Iceman" star Winona Ryder talked about having a life in San Francisco.

"It's not like, when I'm not on screen, I'm up like Norma Desmond, with my monkey and my director as my butler, you know, with a crazy cigarette holder."

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Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. For more on Toronto, www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies. First Published September 17, 2012 4:00 AM


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