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'Call Me By Your Name' Stands Out Among Dozens At Toronto Film Festival


The largest film festival in North America, the Toronto International Film Festival, is in full swing. Nearly 300 movies are being shown at the festival over 10 days, including some serious Oscar bait. NPR's pop culture blogger Linda Holmes and our movie critic Bob Mondello just got back after a week of high-impact moviegoing. And you guys left before it was over.



SHAPIRO: It's still going on, and you're here in the studio with me.

HOLMES: It's still going on.

SHAPIRO: Well, it was an intense week. How many films did do each see?

HOLMES: I saw 22.

MONDELLO: I saw 28, and I saw four beforehand.

SHAPIRO: And Bob is the winner. Thank you both for joining us.

MONDELLO: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: No. OK, so last year even before the festival started, it seems like everybody was talking about two Oscar contenders. Well, they ended up being Oscar contenders...



SHAPIRO: ..."La La Land" and "Moonlight." What was buzzy going into this year's festival?

MONDELLO: Well, most of what was buzzy didn't turn out to be very fabulous.


MONDELLO: I mean you kind of wanted - I'm hesitant to say that. Almost everything I saw was pretty good. But for instance, there's a movie called "Darkest Hour." It is about Winston Churchill. It is set in World War II, and it sounded great.


GARY OLDMAN: (As Winston Churchill) When we the lesson be learned? You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.

SHAPIRO: Who's playing Winston Churchill there?

MONDELLO: Gary Oldman, and it turned out it's just a performance. He's wonderful. The movie around him is not, so it was really kind of frustrating.

SHAPIRO: Linda, did you find it to be a letdown, too - I mean not that specific movie but generally?

HOLMES: Most of the stuff that I went to with high hopes met my high hopes. I had already heard about "Call Me By Your Name," which we'll talk about...

MONDELLO: Oh, gorgeous.

HOLMES: ...which had come out of Sundance. I was really interested in the Aaron Sorkin movie "Molly's Game," which he wrote based on a book by Molly Bloom, who was a woman who ran a very high-stakes poker game attended by a lot of very famous men. This is his directorial debut. I didn't particularly like it, but it has a lot of his kind of typical habits. And I think it did live up to what my expectations are.

SHAPIRO: Does typical habits mean, like, fast talking and walking down hallways (laughter)?

HOLMES: Fast talking - Aaron Sorkin was one of the best working writers of dialogue. He also has very bad habits in writing women. They tend to stand around and wait for men to explain things to them, and that happens in this movie as well.

MONDELLO: That's fair. On the other hand, it's a gorgeously directed picture for somebody who is directing his first movie.

SHAPIRO: So what'd you both love? You both just swooned at "Call Me By Your Name" when Linda mentioned it.



SHAPIRO: "Call Me By Your Name" - it's a gay love story based on a popular novel.

MONDELLO: That's right. And it's well cast. It's beautiful. It's absorbing. It's a wonderful movie. And you know, it just kind of works.

HOLMES: I loved "Battle Of The Sexes," which is about to open later in September. It stars...

SHAPIRO: Is that a rom-com?


SHAPIRO: Sounds like it.

HOLMES: It stars Emma Stone as Billie Jean King...

SHAPIRO: Oh, wow.

HOLMES: ...And Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in the story of the big tennis match that they played.


STEVE CARRELL: (As Bobby Riggs) Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Custer's last stand.


EMMA STONE: (As Billie Jean King) Keep talking, Bobby. The more nonsense you spout, the worst it's going to be when you lose.

HOLMES: Emma Stone is wonderful in it. It has a terrific supporting cast. Sarah Silverman is in it - enjoyed that a great deal - also, "The Florida Project," which is the follow-up from Sean Baker, who directed "Tangerine." If you remember...

SHAPIRO: "Tangerine" was a super-low-budget movie about trans women in Los Angeles.

HOLMES: Yes. And it was filmed on an iPhone. This is essentially the new film that he did. It's about very poor kids living in a motel that's kind of part of the shadow economy around Walt Disney World.


HOLMES: I thought that was wonderful. There's a film called "I, Tonya" which is about Tonya Harding, the highlight of which is the performance of Allison Janney as Tonya Harding's mother.


HOLMES: A wonderful performance. And then I would also - I have to mention; at midnight I saw "The Disaster Artist."

MONDELLO: (Laughter).

HOLMES: Are you familiar with "The Room," my friend, Ari?

SHAPIRO: Is that the one about the kid who is - no, that's "Room."



SHAPIRO: I don't know "The Room."

HOLMES: "The Room" is a notoriously...

MONDELLO: Arguably the worst movie ever made.

SHAPIRO: Really?

HOLMES: ...Is a notoriously terrible film made and starred in by a guy named Tommy Wiseau. If you've ever heard anybody say, you're tearing me apart, Lisa...

SHAPIRO: I have never heard anyone say that (laughter).

HOLMES: ...That's the famous line.


HOLMES: Very fittingly, James Franco made a film about the making of that.

SHAPIRO: And that's what this disaster movie is.

HOLMES: And that's what "Disaster Artist" is.

SHAPIRO: "Disaster Artist."

HOLMES: James Franco plays the star and director, Tommy Wiseau.

SHAPIRO: Is the movie a disaster?

MONDELLO: No, it's wonderful (laughter).

HOLMES: The movie is funny and weird. And like I said, if you can see it at midnight with a bunch of people who are obsessed with "The Room" - which people are in the same way they're obsessed with "Rocky Horror Picture Show"...


HOLMES: ...It's really funny.

SHAPIRO: Bob, what were your favorites?

MONDELLO: Well, every once in a while, you go to something, and you don't expect anything of it. I went to a film - a documentary about Sammy Davis Jr. called "I've Got To Be Me" and came out of it feeling as if I knew Sammy Davis Jr. in ways that I had never understood him. I did his obit years ago.


MONDELLO: I thought I had researched him. And I learned all kinds of things from this documentary. It's just gorgeous. And then there's a picture called "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" that stars Frances McDormand. It feels like a Coen Brothers script. It's actually Martin McDonagh. This is a dark comedy that's really violent. And it's all about the American South. And it's all about race. And it's just terrific and very funny.

SHAPIRO: Thematically, I'm getting a lot of kind of historical fiction.


SHAPIRO: What were the big themes from the festival?

HOLMES: Yeah. We've mentioned the Tonya Harding movie, the Winston Churchill movie. There's also a movie about Mark Felt, who turned out to be Deep Throat, a central figure in the Watergate scandal. And then one of my favorites was "Chappaquiddick," which stars Jason Clarke as Teddy Kennedy. I liked that one a lot.

SHAPIRO: That was one of the darkest moments in Ted Kennedy's history. Does this paint him as a tragic figure or heroic figure or what?

HOLMES: No, it paints him as pretty awful. It's a pretty damning indictment of privilege and power and how relentlessly protective the family was according to this telling.

SHAPIRO: Interesting.

MONDELLO: I have to say that I'm starting to realize how old I'm getting because a lot of these things happened during my lifetime. And I remember them from when I was a kid.

SHAPIRO: Not World War II. To be fair, you weren't around for that one.

MONDELLO: Well, not World Word II, thank God. That's true - or the one about Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb. That one's called "The Current War."

SHAPIRO: That's our movie reviewer Bob Mondello and Linda Holmes, host of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, both back from the Toronto Film Festival - great to have you both back in the USA.

HOLMES: Thank you, Ari.

MONDELLO: It's good to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE KNUX SONG, "CAPPUCCINO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.

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