The Toronto International Film Festival has four days left to go, but to say things are slowing down would be an understatement. The industry types typically begin to leave town as TIFF's first weekend ends – and by midweek, Press & Industry screenings that would have been packed a few days earlier suddenly have lots of open seats.
(Full disclosure: Sharon Waxman and I were both in Toronto for the first six days of the fest, and we're both back in L.A. now. So you can include us on the list of those who've left those seats empty.)
When it comes to programming, things slow down as well – not in the sheer number of films, but in their marquee value. Still to come are Billy Bob Thornton's "Jayne Mansfield's Car" on Thursday, Peter Webber's "Emperor" (with Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur) on Friday and Paul Williams' closing-night attraction "Song for Marion" on Saturday, among others.
Those movies might be good or even great, but none of them have stirred up the fervor of "The Master" or "Argo" or "Silver Linings Playbook" or "Cloud Atlas" or many of the other films that debuted during the first week of the festival.
Jeff Wells summed it up at Hollywood Elsewhere: "Every year the Toronto Film Festival runs hot and heavy for the first five days with too many high-interest titles playing against each other, forcing guys like myself to choose and miss out. And then the energy starts to drop on Tuesday and by Wednesday things are all but dead … [T]here's almost nothing going on."
"Almost nothing," in this case, included Wednesday debuts for Liz Garbus' Marilyn Monroe documentary "Love, Marilyn," for Barry Levinson's found-footage horror movie "The Bay," for the Mary Elizabeth Winstead vehicle "Smashed" (right), for Cannes entries "Reality" and "Post Tenebras Lux" and for this year's potential Danish Oscar entry, "A Royal Affair."
That last film is one of two TIFF films starring Mads Mikkelsen (photo at top); as Chris Willman wrote in his Telluride report for TheWrap, the 18th Century story of the illicit romance between physician Johann Struensee and the queen is strong, eye-opening and appealing enough to win over some viewers who aren't normally big on costume dramas.
"Love, Marilyn," which uses a bevy of name actors to read from Monroe's recently-published private diaries, won a Twitter rave from the Toronto Star's Peter Howell, who wrote, "From the jumble of contradictions and desires that was MM, comes a doc of truth and warmth."
As for "The Bay," the consensus after the film's midnight screening was that the director of "Rain Man" and "Diner" scared a lot of people with his ecological horror flick about bad stuff in the water. The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney and Variety's Dave McNary both praised the film, while Canadian podcaster Matthew Price (@mattmovies) sounded a note of caution on Twitter: "Well, no sleep for me tonight. Not even gonna be able to brush my teeth."
Meanwhile, one earlier Toronto film was back in the news. Ben Affleck's "Argo," which was showered with praise by the Canadian audience on Friday, but the Toronto Star's website sang a different refrain on Wednesday.
At Friday's TIFF premiere, much was made of how the film showed a proud moment in Canadian history in which then-Canadian ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor helped shelter six Americans and get them out of Tehran during the hostage crisis in 1980.
But on Wednesday, the Star ran a Martin Knelman column in which Affleck was slammed for downplaying Taylor's contribution to the escape – a contribution, the film suggests, that was exaggerated by the CIA so that the Iranians would blame Canada and not retaliate against the Americans still held hostage in the U.S. embassy.
“In many ways this is a good movie and I guess the people who made it have a right to fictionalize the events,” Taylor's friend Ralph Lean, a Toronto attorney and former TIFF board member, told Knelman. “It’s just too bad they felt the need to insult Ken."
One of those insults: In the film, Taylor is played by Canadian actor Victor Garber (above) — who, at the age of 63, is nearly 20 years older than Taylor was during the events depicted in the film.
Taylor himself did not attend the premiere.