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Venice Film Festival Winners Shine In Toronto

 Ang Lee's LUST, CAUTIONAng Lee's LUST, CAUTION

Sunday, September 9---------If one missed them at the Venice Film Festival, the major winners of that Festival on the Lido (announced last evening) are playing here in Toronto. As part of the roundelay that has become the Fall Festival circuit, buyers, programmers and the press can pick up on films they have missed by simply waiting for another turn of the merry-go-round. If not Venice, then Toronto. If not Toronto, then New York. If not New York, then San Sebastian.. So for those who have still not mastered the fine art of being in two physical locations at the exact same time, the Toronto International Film Festival is now the place to catch the Venice winners in their first rush of glory......films and performances that will certainly be among the most talked about this awards season.

LUST, CAUTION, the lush period film by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee won the Golden Lion, the Festival's top prize. He was similary honored in 2005 with BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (for which he eventually won the Oscar as Best Director). 'The film also won a Best Cinematography prize for lenser Rodrigo Prieto. The film, a return for Lee to a more classically Asian style of filmmaking after BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and THE HULK, the period drama had its gala screening in Toronto last evening. For Lee and his colleagues, this must have been a sublime night......with a standing ovation response in Toronto, coupled by the film's win in Venice. The film's distributor Focus Features needs the acclaim.....the film has received tepid reviews from the film trades Variety, Hollywood Reporter and Screen International. This may be a bellweather for less than stellar reviews from major film critics, whose support is necessary for the film to make waves this awards season. However, Ang Lee's reputation for quality and the film's visual dexterity should allow it to transcend the less than rapturous critical response.

The Venice Silver Lion for Best Director was a surprise choice for many. The veteran Brian De Palma won his first Venice accolade for his gritty direction of the Iraq war docudrama REDACTED. Shooting in DV with mostly handheld cameras, this low budget you-are-there drama about American soliders and Iraqi civilians on the ground in Iraq, is exciting and visceral filmmaking. After the disappointing critical and box office reaction to last year's THE BLACK DAHLIA, this win represents a return of stature for the filmmaker of such classics as CARRIE, DRESSED TO KILL and THE UNTOUCHABLES

One of the stranger entries on the Fall festival schedule was also a prize winner in Venice. Director Todd Haynes' multi-cast hommage to singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, I'M NOT THERE, received a Special Jury Prize, and also won a Best Actress nod for Cate Blanchett. The film screens here in Toronto this weekend and then will be prominently featured at the New York Film Festival next month. The film is an expressionistic pastiche of different stages of Dylan's life and career, each embodied by a different actor (alternately played by Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw). Critics are already calling it the most experimental film of the season, and The Weinstein Company does have a major marketing challenge on its hands to reach beyond the filmmaker's cult following. But expect the film to win major critics prizes and for it to be a frontrunner in the major awards races.

Brad Pitt was honored with his first Venice Film Festival accolade as Best Actor for his impersonation of outlaw Jesse James in THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (imagine that on a theater marquee). Directed by Andrew Dominik, the nouveau Western has been one of the major buzz titles here in Toronto, with Pitt and his wife Angelina Jolie causing a near-riot when they walked the red carpet here on Friday evening. The prize places Pitt as a major contender for critics prizes this year, and will most certainly puts him on the short list for the Academy Award, his first such nomination since his supporting performance in TWELVE MONKEYS, way back in 1995. The nod however may be a bit of a mixed blessing for Pitt himself, since it will certainly necessitate a good amount of public appearances, press sit-downs and appearing on the talk show circuit......not among the actor's most favorite pursuits. In fact, in Venice, he was roundly booed when he refused to take off his sunglasses for paparazzi photographers, earning him negative press and a drubbing as "Brad Pitt Bull".

And finally, the winner of the Best Screenplay prize, IT'S A FREE WORLD....., written by Paul Laverty and directed by Ken Loach, has its North American premiere here later this week. The film has yet to secure North American distribution, so the critical response from the attendant press will be critical for its commercial future. All of the films mentioned above are taking advantage of the enormous press presence here to continue the momentum as the films prepare to crash on to the beachhead of theatrical distribution. For more coverage of the films, filmmakers and celebrities making the scene at the Toronto International Film Festival, visit the Toronto Online Dailies at: www.fest21.com/blog/toronto_film_festival.

Sandy Mandelberger, Awards Watch Editor

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