Picking And Choosing At The Toronto Film Festival

More than 300 films screened this past week at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Audience Choice Award went to 12 Years A Slave, directed by Steve McQueen. Host Jacki Lyden talks with NPR's Linda Holmes and Bob Mondello about what was hot and what was not.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

And the audience has spoken. More than 300 films screened this past week at the Toronto International Film Festival. And a few hours ago, the fest gave out its big prize: the Audience Choice Award. Thousands of film lovers voted, not for the much-anticipated WikiLeaks movie "The Fifth Estate" or the space thriller "Gravity," not even for the star-studded "August Osage County."

No, the top award for film went to - drum roll please - "12 Years a Slave," the early Oscar favorite directed by Steve McQueen. It tells the story of a free black man who's kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1840s.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "12 YEARS A SLAVE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Well, boy, how do you feel now?

CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: (as Solomon Northup) My name is Solomon Northup. I'm a free man, and you have no right whatsoever to detain me.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You're no free man. You're nothing but a Georgia runaway.

LYDEN: We're joined now by Linda Holmes, host of NPR's pop culture blog "Monkey See," and by our movie critic Bob Mondello. They've both just returned bleary-eyed from 16-hour days of movie watching. Rough life you two have.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's true.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Oh, thank you.

MONDELLO: Good to be here.

LYDEN: So how many films did you end up seeing?

MONDELLO: I managed 32, which was a lot.

HOLMES: Yeah. Yeah, I managed...

MONDELLO: Six days.

HOLMES: ...I managed, I think, only 22, which means compared to Bob, I spent the entire festival with my eyes closed, but it still felt like a lot of movies.

(LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: Well, except that's still four movies a day, my goodness' sakes.

HOLMES: Yeah.

MONDELLO: This is craziness.

LYDEN: But you had 300 titles to consider, and it does bring up the question, how do professionals like yourself decide what they're going to see?

HOLMES: Well, I always try to balance the ones that I think people are going to be most interested in hearing about and the ones that take me a little bit out of my ordinary orb. But I saw a Romanian film called "Child's Pose" on the first or second day. And then sometimes it's just about the ones that you personally want to see.

MONDELLO: Yeah. It's hard, though. I mean, I was watching a couple of other critics who had spreadsheets figured out because, you know, these films start at different times each day. It's almost impossible to see everything or everything you want even. So it gets to be a little crazy. I tended to go with directors I liked or actors I liked and just sort of wing it.

LYDEN: The Toronto Film Festival's always a place where documentaries really get their day. And I know that both of you have been excited about that.

HOLMES: I saw a documentary called "The Armstrong Lie," which is from an Oscar-winning director named Alex Gibney. And as it happens, Gibney was already making a documentary about Lance Armstrong's return to the Tour de France in 2009 and had been working on it with a close relationship with Armstrong for quite a while when Armstrong eventually admitted that he had been doping.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE ARMSTRONG LIE")

LANCE ARMSTRONG: Life for me at the time was moving fast. Look at 2005, I was - I had won seven tours in a row. I was engaged to a beautiful rock star. I was - but that all just felt normal to me. I certainly was very confident that I would never be caught.

HOLMES: This documentary then, of course, takes a turn and contains this very complex interview between these two men where Gibney is essentially confronting him about the fact that he was lying to Gibney for quite a long time while Gibney was making the documentary originally. I found that fascinating.

LYDEN: Bob and Linda, did you notice any trends in this year's films that somehow established this festival as different than the ones before?

MONDELLO: You know, you sort of create your own festival when you're going to these things. Like by choosing the movies you do, you automatically sort of start to notice a trend. So last year, for whatever reason, I was seeing nothing but films about revolution and about the Middle East. And this year, I kept seeing biopics. And it's a matter of what I selected.

HOLMES: I kept seeing films from directors who had made small, really respected films before who now were making bigger, more Hollywood films. You know, first, you make the really good movie, the really small movie. Then they want you to make the big movie.

LYDEN: It's interesting how Toronto has taken such pride of place of all the film festivals over the years. This is really the kickoff one.

MONDELLO: It's become a place where you can kind of tell what the front-runners for the Oscars are. One aspect of that is the timing and another is that it has selected, one way or the other, the winning film at the Oscars for several years. And so people are now entering their pictures if they think they have a shot at Oscars because it gives buzz at a crucial moment. "The King's Speech" started there. The buzz on "Silver Linings Playbook" last year started there.

HOLMES: We saw "Argo" there last year.

MONDELLO: That's right.

HOLMES: I think - I do think Toronto sort of owns the second part of the year now. You kind of have, in the first part of the year, you have Sundance and Cannes. And then Toronto really owns that fall season as far as getting buzz going and getting people excited.

LYDEN: That's pop culture blogger Linda Holmes and film critic Bob Mondello. Thank you both so much for joining us.

HOLMES: Oh, thank you.

MONDELLO: Great fun.

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