Sex, intrigue, insanity -- Toronto International Film Festival Day 2

Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Tova Stewart huddle in a storm.

Answer to yesterday’s question: Is Anonymous this year’s The King Speech?


A convoluted costume drama with a jaw-droppingly mystifying play-within-a-play/flashbacks-within- flashbacks format, Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous doesn’t stand a chance at Oscar glory – unless the Academy adds a best epic misconception category. Rhys Ifans, virtually unrecognizable under frilly collar, fake beard and gobs of makeup, is Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. He’s a closet playwright and confidant of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave), and the story (or the part of it that isn’t set five years earlier, or 40 years earlier, or in the present day on Broadway --yes, really!) is full of royal intrigue, political skullduggery and the malevolent machinations of the Essex Rebellion. Oh, yes, Anonymous suggests that it was, in fact, the Earl of Oxford who penned (or quilled?) the works of William Shakespeare.  Emmerich, a perpetrator of grand scale popcorn movies (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla), can add another disaster movie to his filmography.

Other screenings yesterday: My Worst Nightmare (no, the title doesn’t refer to Anonymous),  a French farce starring Isabelle Huppert as a frigid and fashionable Paris art curator whose world is upended by a boozing, broke and bumbling Benoit Poelvoorde – a Belgian construction worker with a con-artist streak. A movie about class, cultural conflict and sex, directed by the always assured Anne Fontaine, My Worst Nightmare had the Press and Industry crowd laughing heartily – and wondering what the 58-year-old Huppert’s daily caloric intake must be. Mince, tres mince.

Other screenings yesterday: Take Shelter, a powerfully unsettling rumination on mental illness – or on something more nebulous and nasty, like the notion of a global apocalypse. Michael Shannon, Oscar-nominated for his role as a mentally disturbed neighbor in Revolutionary Road, stars as a construction worker with a wife (The Tree of Life’s Jessica Chastain),  a deaf daughter, and a history of schizophrenia in his family. When he starts having haunting and harrowing dreams, his grip on reality begins to slip. But there’s something equally disturbing going on in the film, which taps into the collective angst of America right now: fears of recession, unemployment, foreclosure, and a sense that something profoundly awful could happen at any moment. This one will shake you.

Also interviewed Albert Brooks, who steals every scene he’s in in Drive – a moody L.A.- neo-noir about a mysterious getaway driver, played by Ryan Gosling. Brooks is Bernie Rose, a seemingly genial mobbed-up guy with a vicious streak. Brooks talked about almost killing a castmate on the set (seriously), and talked about how he’s got at least another book in him – the actor and filmmaker published his debut novel, 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America, last spring. He’s also mulling over writing a memoir, but not quite yet. “I have to wait for a few people to die first.”

Scene outside the Ritz Carlton: a ring of camera and iPhone-wielding fans break into a chorus of yelps when a limo pulls up and, um, Philip Seymour Hoffman, alights. Hoffman plays opposite Brad Pitt in Moneyball, and opposite George Clooney in The Ides of March.

Speaking of the latter: I stop to ask a guy standing in a crowd outside the parking entrance to the TIFF Lightbox (the festival’s five-screen HQ) who he and his fellow gawkers had just screamed excitedly over as a tinted-windowed SUV rolled in. “They think it was George Clooney,” he said with a shrug.