“Slumdog” Turns Heads in Toronto

Matt Busekroos

Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” was the surprise hit at the Toronto International Film Festival, which began on Sept. 4 and concluded Sept. 13.

“Millionaire” was rewarded on the last day and became the recipient of the Cadillac People’s Choice Award, given out by the Festival audience. In the past, the People’s Choice Award has been presented to such films as “Hotel Rwanda,” “Eastern Promises,” and “American Beauty;” which later went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

“Slumdog Millionaire” deals with the social injustices following the experience of one impecunious Indian teen on Hindi’s version of the television phenomenon, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Simon Beaufoy adapted the film, which is based on the novel “Q&A” by Vikas Swarup. Beaufoy is a previous Oscar nominee for writing 1997’s “The Full Monty” and is expected to return to the Oscar race with “Millionaire.” With a film that dazzled both audiences and critics alike, expect “Millionaire” to succeed when Fox Searchlight releases it to theaters Thanksgiving weekend.
The Toronto International Film Festival is known to be the foreground for Oscar contenders, where films live and die in the hope of achieving critical approval. Films such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Sideways,” and “Capote” played at Toronto in years past and were eventually nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Most films received decent reviews; however, critics were neither astonished nor displeased with the film’s playing.
One film outside of “Slumdog Millionaire” that brought the critics together was Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler.” Aronofsky, who re-vitalized Ellen Burstyn’s career in 2000 with “Requiem for a Dream,” seems to have done the same with Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.” Rourke plays washed-up, ageing wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, who looks for a comeback (much like Rourke himself, who showed promise in the ’80’s, but has since destroyed his face and career with plastic surgery).
According to Variety, Rourke “creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that easily takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances.” Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei plays Cassidy, a stripper, who is as emotionally closed as “The Ram.” Tomei is “vibrant” and “in top, emotionally forthright form.” Expect “The Wrestler” to make a splash come awards season with notices for Aronofsky, Rourke and Tomei, along with Bruce Springsteen, who wrote an original song for the film. “The Wrestler” has already taken home the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month. “Brokeback Mountain” and “Vera Drake” are two recent films that have won the prize and went on to have a successful awards run.
In addition to “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Wrestler,” Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married,” was another stand out at the fest for its performances. Anne Hathaway stars and sheds her image as a perfectly coiffed, tiara wearing princess into a woman who has just reached the brink, following her umpteenth stint in rehab. Rosemarie DeWitt and Debra Winger are also receiving strong notices and co-star in the film alongside Hathaway. Sophie Okonedo (“The Secret Life of Bees”), Kate Beckinsale, Alan Alda and Vera Farmiga (“Nothing But the Truth”), Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger (“The Burning Plain”), Julianne Moore (“Blindness”), Sally Hawkins (“Happy-Go-Lucky”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Synecdoche, New York”) and Benicio del Toro (“Che”) have garnered positive acknowledgment throughout the fest for their performances in the highlighted films listed.
The success of the 2008 Toronto Film Festival rested on the quality of the more intimate, less extravagant pictures that played. Small films such as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Wrestler” became breakout standouts while Spike Lee’s three hour epic, “Miracle at St. Anna” misfired with critics. Fox Searchlight paid $4 million for “The Wrestler,” which showed Hollywood that Indies are still a viable commodity. With “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Wrestler” on their roster for upcoming releases, Fox Searchlight has established itself as the premier studio for Indie releases.