‘Drive,’ They Said: Older Films Get a TIFF Boost

Veteran festivalgoers have already seen the likes of “Drive” and “The Artist,” but they've still built a strong buzz in Toronto

Just because a film has been unveiled at a previous festival doesn’t mean it can't use the Toronto International Film Festival to raise its profile and get an awards boost.

Ryan Gosling and Carey MulliganAnd that's happened to several films over the last week, including "Drive" (left), "The Artist" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene" (which now holds the rare distinction of being celebrated at Sundance and  Cannes and  Toronto).

Admittedly, it's sometimes easy for the TIFFgoers who've paid attention to earlier fests to forget about some of these films in our haste to see all the new offerings on display.

So while I heard raves for the Weinstein Company's Friday-night screening of "The Artist," I figured the movie was already a known quantity and didn’t pay much attention to a screening that might have been key to launching the black-and-white silent film as a bona-fide Best-Picture contender.

I was also looking the other way when FilmDistrict's "Drive" had its TIFF debut on Saturday; I'd seen Nicholas Winding Refn's taut, minimalist action-noir gem at the Los Angeles Film Festival, where it wowed a full house with its tough, fresh take on fast cars and bad men on a particularly mean set of L.A. streets.

But afterwards, I've kept hearing from people who hadn't seen the film before Toronto, and who immediately became big fans of Ryan Gosling's quiet, tightly-wound performance as a getaway driver who barely talks; and who were impressed by Refn's stylish kineticism; and by violence that on a couple of occasions turns so extreme that there's nothing to do but laugh. (They're uneasy laughs, to be sure.)

"'Drive' … delivers a white-knuckle ride through L.A.'s grime and crime," wrote an approving Betsy Sharkey in the L.A. Times, adding that TIFF audiences have "lined up in droves" to see the film.

By most reports, Refn and his cast also left the crowd in stitches at post-screening Q&As.

In a way, the comments I've continued to hear about "Drive" are similar to the ones I keep hearing about "Moneyball," which can be summed up as "I really liked it, but I don’t know if it's the Academy's kind of movie."

At one TIFF party this week, the conundrum occupied a group of "Drive" enthusiasts that included a producer of one fest film and a major talent agent; the spent some time trying to figure out a scenario in which "Drive" could muscle its way into the Best-Picture race.

My take: it might be unlikely, but at this point I see far more question marks than sure things, leaving the field open for strong but unconventional contenders.

Focusing on the math of Oscar's new variable Best-Picture system, a campaign consultant in the same conversation kept repeating one line like a mantra: "300 number-one votes, that's all it'll take."