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Inside TIFF 2013: Tales of $20-Million Deals and Late Night Birthday Cake

Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Adam Levine, and Keira Knightley light up Toronto.

Fresh pasta bar at midnight? Audi sure knows how to spoil a guy who commits to a 400-calorie-a-day-diet in order to play the role of his career. The reinvention on parade at Saturday’s TIFF parties is most poignant with Matthew McConaughey, as he unleashes his most radical role yet on Toronto audiences. To play Ron Woodroof—a homophobic Texas cowboy diagnosed with AIDS in 1986—the actor whittled down to a gaunt 130 pounds. At Audi’s post-screening party at Cibo on King West, the cast goes bananas over a Bacchanalian spread of ravioli, cannelloni, and orecchiette. McConaughey charms supporters with his trademark wisecracking grin while, in a nearby booth, co-stars Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner hobnob with executives from production/distribution company Focus Features, at one point surprising CEO James Schamus with a cake and a gleeful rendition of “Happy Birthday”.

Prior to Cibo, I catch up with Josh Brolin at a hush-hush private dinner for the cast of Jason Reitman’s Labor Day at the Trump International Hotel’s high-rolling haven Stock. Speaking of reinvention, the film recasts Brolin’s staple alpha male character into a laconic, pie-making escaped convict. Apparently, he donned an apron every day of the shoot, churning out peach cobbler pies. “We had a ball on set, and you see that chemistry on the screen,” he drawls in my ear. In praise of co-star Kate Winslet he says, “You can’t aim a camera at Kate and not see sparks.” I spot Leonardo DiCaprio’s very pregnant best friend in the centre of the room, savouring plates of watermelon and heirloom tomato salad with co-star James Van Der Beek. Reitman’s well-wishers include Freida Pinto, Michael Bolton, Paul Haggis, and John Turturro.

Across town at Blowfish, the Moët & Chandon party for The Double is in full swing. Quirky co-stars and newly minted couple Mia Wasikowska and Jesse Eisenberg—perhaps this generation’s answer to Mia Farrow and Woody Allen—make the most of this opportunity to tout the film. Unlike many eyes-glazed-over starlets, the bookish pair engage genuinely with industry types in the midst of the cocktail chatter. In an impressive double header, Moët rolled out the red carpet earlier in the evening for the cast of Words and Pictures, starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche.

The night takes a playful turn as I spy the stars of Can a Song Save Your Life? Adam Levine and Keira Knightley flanking producer Harvey Weinstein at Patria on King West. The trio looks like they’re kicking it old school at a Muskoka cottage, leaning back in a nest of iconic Hudson’s Bay Company striped point pillows. The open air vibe of this cast party, hosted by the Bay and Grey Goose, is certainly cozy; at one point Levine nearly initiates a plucky pillow fight. The HBC campfire candles must’ve done the trick, as Weinstein bought the film for roughly $20-million at 2 a.m., after a dramatic all-night bidding war. I’m wagering that’s the most anyone’s ever spent on a night at Patria.

It turns out that the first party on my itinerary, at the posh Windsor Arms Hotel, is by far the most star-studded. Every year Entertainment Weekly pays tribute to mega-stars and bright young things alike, and they all come out to accept the honour. Sandra Bullock makes a splashy entrance, all smiles and signature slapstick. Her charisma is all too apparent as she gets into a gab session with Maria Bello. Soon, the intimate ballroom swells to a robust civilian-to-celeb ratio—in other words, there’s as many of them as there are of us—Julia Louis-Dreyfus yuks it up with Jason Bateman, Jake Gyllenhaal hugs it out with Terrence Howard. In one corner, NBA star Carmelo Anthony huddles with director Steve McQueen, while in another, I catch Paul Dano exchange glances with Julianne Nicholson. Idris Elba and Chiwetel Ejiofor jock it up for the cameras while Daniel Bruhl brushes up on foreign policy with auteur Atom Egoyan. Everyone, including Hugh Jackman and Matthew McConaughey, makes a point to personally thank Jess Cagle, managing editor of Entertainment Weekly.

Daytime Highlights:

Cultural notables spotted at the 30th annual George Christy Lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto: Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman, Ivan Fecan and Sandra Faire, Isadore and Rosalie Sharp, Michael Budman, Don Green, Ivan Reitman, Paul Haggis, Atom Egoyan, Barry Avrich, Robert Lantos, Gordon Pinsent, Galen and Hilary Weston, Piers Handling, Michele Maheux, Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel, Sara Waxman, Edward Greenspan, Ben Mulroney and his mother Mila Mulroney.

Watch this space for more from Si Si Penaloza at the Toronto International Film Festival.