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In my travels to the best film festivals in…
On Friday, September 5, 2014 I attended the exciting North American Premiere of The Humbling at the Toronto International Film Festival. The sold-out screening was held in the 1250-seat Ryerson Theatre. The film was a selection in the Special Presentations section.
My first screening of TIFF 2014 was Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria, in which an aging actress (Juliette Binoche) has to face her own mortality in a play-within-a-film scenario. That picture made my Top 10. My next movie was Barry Levinson's The Humbling, in which an aging actor (Al Pacino) has to face his own mortality in a play-within-a-film scenario. Coincidence? I think yes. In neither case did I seek out the film for its life imitating art scenario, but the not uncommon idea (Darren Aronofsky's ballet-within-a-movie Black Swan is a terrific recent example) is, admittedly, one of my favorite plot devices. Just to wrap one's head around the notion of an actor playing a character who's an actor playing a character presents a challenge that's simply delectable to the cinephile who prefers thought to mindless entertainment. Add the Hitchcockian element of a man who's slowly losing his grip on reality and you have the makings of a TIFF Top 10 title, which is exactly where I placed this film.
Simon Axler (Pacino) has some life left, he believes, and needs a young muse to rekindle his desires. He finds her in Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), a vulnerable waif who's the perfect foil to the brash Axler. Dianne Wiest portrays Pegeen's mother. Charles Grodin and Kyra Sedgwick round out the talented cast. This is one of those pictures about which I'm reluctant to say much more for fear of spoiling it. For a more in-depth synopsis see the festival's official page. The Humbling was filmed earlier this year, in Levinson's Connecticut home, with only 20 shooting days spread over several months. It went into post-production in May. It was less than a four-month turnaround for the movie to make its debut at the Venice Film Festival the week prior to its arrival in Toronto.
This gem's magical formula starts with a multi award-winning creative team, tracing back to the 2009 bestseller by the great American novelist Philip Roth. Star Al Pacino bought the movie rights later that year, with screenwriting duties turned over to two-time Oscar nominee Buck Henry (for 1967's The Graduate and 1978's Heaven Can Wait) and Michal Zebede. Finally, the reins were handed to iconic director Barry Levinson, whose six Oscar nominations include a Best Director win for Rain Man (1988). The other nods included Best Original Screenplay for ...And Justice for All (1979), Diner (1982), and Avalon (1990), along with Best Director and Best Picture nominations for 1991's Bugsy.
In total, Levinson has close to 500 movies and television episodes on his resume. He was a writer on The Carol Burnett Show from 1973-1976 (72 shows) and Executive Producer of Homicide: Life on the Street from 1993-1999 (122 episodes), Oz from 1997-2003 (56 episodes), and Borgia from 2011-2014 (38 episodes). Notable big screen achievements include (as writer, director, producer, executive producer, and/or actor) High Anxiety, Tootsie, The Natural, Young Sherlock Holmes, Tin Men, Good Morning, Vietnam, Toys, Disclosure, Sleepers, Donnie Brasco, Wag the Dog, Sphere, Liberty Heights, The Perfect Storm, Bandits, Possession, Analyze That, Deliver Us from Eva, Envy, Man of the Year, and Bee Movie. He wrote, directed, and produced The Bay, one of my favorites from the Midnight Madness lineup at TIFF in 2012.
The star of The Humbling needs no introduction. Still, he got one here, and the crowd rose to its feet. Al Pacino has been nominated for an Oscar eight times, winning Best Actor for 1992's Scent of a Woman. He received nods for The Godfather (1972), Serpico (1973), The Godfather: Part II (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), ...And Justice For All (1979), Dick Tracy (1990), and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). He's one of Hollywood's most honored actors, with over 100 awards and nominations to his credit for close to 50 feature films, as well as one of the world's most bankable stars, with over 20 pictures earning more than $20 million in domestic box office alone.
Cinematographer Adam Jandrup is a relative newcomer to the DP seat. This is only his third feature as cinematographer -- his first was Levinson's PoliWood in 2009, while he was a gaffer on The Bay. The production team includes editor Aaron Yanes, who also cut PoliWood and The Bay, legendary composer Marcelo Zarvos, whose 50 films include The Bay and numerous festival favorites over the years, and Production Designer Sam Lisenco.
Executive Producers were Avi Lerner and Trevor Short for Millennium Films, Kristina Dubin for ARD Degeto Film, and Ged Dickersin for Mad Dog Pictures. The Humbling was produced by Jason Sosnoff and Barry Levinson for Baltimore Pictures.
After the screening, Greta Gerwig was brought onstage followed by, much to everyone's surprise, the one and only Al Pacino. Director Barry Levinson joined them, as well, but it was Pacino's moment to shine and he was the focus of the electric and entertaining Q&A.
Here are some pictures I shot during the Q&A:
NOTE: I selected The Humbling as one of my Top 10 from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Sales and distribution rights to multiple territories were snapped up at Venice. Millennium has U.S. distribution.
The official trailer is below.
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In my travels to the best film festivals in…