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At Toronto's Film Festival, Characters And Actors

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2004; Page C01

TORONTO -- The Oscar handicapping moved into well-oiled gear this past weekend at the Toronto Film Festival, where Hollywood stars have come out for interviews, photo ops and seen-around-town-last-night antics. This surge of star wattage is designed to draw attention to the movies and performances that the studios hope will draw Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.

This year, the festival hasn't teemed with one-namers -- there is no Nicole. No Tom. No Julia. But Warren was there, accompanying his wife, Annette, whose sprightly, nuanced performance for the fest opener, "Being Julia," has drawn high praise. (Warren and Annette also learned that in Toronto, festival-goers were just as thrilled to spot hockey legend Wayne Gretzky in the opening night crowd.) Also on hand was Dustin, who has a comical turn as a self-described existential detective in David O. Russell's "I [Heart] Huckabees." And if Mr. Costner was not around, there were two other Kevins to fill the void: Kevin Spacey, who directs himself as Bobby Darin, toupee and all, in "Beyond the Sea"; and Kevin Bacon, who has an assured turn as a child molester trying to live a better life in "The Woodsman."


Nick Nolte, whose antics made him a prime target for media attention, had at least one fan at the festival. (Aaron Harris - AP)

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Among the Oscar hopefuls were Jamie Foxx, whose strong performance as Ray Charles in "Ray" has drawn better praise than the movie; Liam Neeson, who plays sexual studies pioneer Alfred C. Kinsey in "Kinsey," a movie drawing giddy enthusiasm here; Joan Allen, a woman looking for romantic empowerment in Sally Potter's "Yes"; and Laura Linney, who shows her quietly compelling work in "Kinsey" and in Dylan Kidd's touching romantic seriocomedy, "P.S."

There are some younger stars also looking to launch into the bigger Phase 2 of their careers, including Mexican heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays Che Guevara in Walter Salles's "The Motorcycle Diaries" and a transvestite in Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education"; Neve Campbell, who has a memorable role as a Manhattan power player in James Toback's "When Will I Be Loved"; and Lynn Collins, who makes a smart, dandy Portia in "The Merchant of Venice." There are more: Topher Grace, who's a charming foil for Linney in "P.S."; Kate Bosworth, who holds her own as Sandra Dee in "Beyond the Sea"; and eager-beavery Jason Schwartzman, the sweet star of "I ♥ Huckabees," a comedy that is dividing critics like a knife through butter.

Not that festival organizers Piers Handling and Noah Cowan planned it this way but it's difficult not to notice that a certain male body part has, uh, emerged as an unofficial theme. There it is on full display in "Kinsey," the film that deals with society's attitudes about sex. And, whoa, there we go again in films such as Swedish director Lukas Moodysson's unsettling "A Hole in My Heart," about a trio of pornographers who work themselves into graphic delirium making ever more pornographic films, and Catherine Breillat's bracing "Anatomy of Hell," in which a woman pays a man who loathes women to confront his physical disgust with the female body. And in Alexander Payne's hilarious "Sideways," a tubby, middle-aged and very angry husband chases after a hapless womanizer (Thomas Haden Church) in all his middle-aged, naked glory. As if that wasn't enough, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Wahlberg and Lily Tomlin -- at a news conference for "I ♥ Huckabees" -- riffed on the subject of the infamous prosthetic prop that Wahlberg used in his performance as a sexual stud in "Boogie Nights." It seems the object was stolen from Wahlberg's Toronto hotel room on a previous festival visit. Hoffman "confessed" to stealing it -- and claimed to be wearing it at the conference. Only in Toronto . . .

Though it may not come as a big surprise, Nick Nolte, who appears in two films here -- as an American military man in "Hotel Rwanda" and as a benevolent grandfather in Olivier Assayas's "Clean" -- has rapidly become a gossip institution because of his eccentric behavior and dress code. Last year he paraded in silks, shades and a walking cane, a look that suggested an elegant vampire. This year he has made the papers for, well, smashed glasses, enthusiastic tippling and falling asleep in the middle of an interview. Of course, today's take-home question would be: Too much partying and not enough sleep or are the questions of entertainment journalists so inane as to induce narcolepsy?

The fans who crowd such swanky, star-filled hotels as the Drake, the Four Seasons and the InterContinental were for the most part respectful. But, as Jeremy Irons discovered Saturday night, there is always the fan whose entitlement expectations runneth over. Standing just outside the entrance to an uptown restaurant for a quick cigarette (in a city that just months ago banned smoking in bars and restaurants), the British actor -- who was here to promote "The Merchant of Venice" and "Being Julia" -- chatted amiably about his films, while a Nameless Fan stood on Bay Street with a telephoto lens, clicking endlessly. As Irons returned to the restaurant, the Nameless Fan pulled out a digital camera and asked Irons to pose. Irons declined at first, saying he wasn't working, nor did he care to be photographed enjoying a Cosmopolitan in one hand and a smoke in the other. But after Irons relented, the Fan was still not satisfied. Would Irons stay for more? "I believe I have met you more than halfway," Irons insisted. "Yes, but this is for my scrapbook," insisted the Fan. "I can't put these pictures into my scrapbook. Oh please. Oh please." The grim possibility of an incomplete scrapbook hung in the air like a curse for life. Irons smiled and puckered up for a few more pictures. It was certainly a case for giving up smoking.


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