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Inside TIFF 2013: The Rush of Formula One and Space Travel Soirees

Daniel Brühl, Sandra Bullock, Ron Howard, Chris Hemsworth, and Isabella Rossellini.

All hail Daniel Brühl. The scene at Thompson Hotel is a bustling beehive, like something out of a Formula One pit stop. If TIFF partygoers could have bucked security to douse the actor in Moët & Chandon, hoisting him up on their shoulders champion’s-circle-style, I’m pretty sure they would. An instant hit of the fest, Ron Howard’s Rush dramatizes the rivalry between Austria’s headstrong F1 champion Niki Lauda (Brühl) and his playboy, liquor-fuelled nemesis, Britain’s James Hunt (Thor star Chris Hemsworth). This Grey Goose party is certainly one of the most sought after tickets in town.

In one of the fest’s big, happy surprises, Lauda flew in from Monza to appear at the premiere and splashy after-party at the Thompson Hotel’s signature restaurant, Scarpetta. In a surreal metafiction mashup, it’s quite a sight to see Brühl slide into the booth next to Lauda. Howard soon joins them, but it’s Lauda who steals the spotlight with more well-wishers. With a magnum of Grey Goose on every cast member’s own private table, the producers get to play bartender, mixing drinks for financiers. Plates of creamy polenta with truffled mushroom prove a big hit, levelling out the cast’s collective blood sugar.

Olivia Wilde and fiancé Jason Sudeikis work the room together, charming Hollywood power brokers with aplomb. In the film, Wilde plays Suzy Miller, a model married to Hemsworth’s character.

I catch a minute with Hemsworth himself, who tells me how much it means to have his two brothers, Liam and Luke, and wife Elsa Pataky in town to support the project. “It’s moments like this that bring us all together,” he muses in his deep honeycomb baritone, “Toronto has been such a great launch pad for this film.” Set in the 1970s when F1 was significantly more dangerous, the Aussie reflects on the film: “It’s mental going into the archives of racing, how precarious the sport was. We focused on recreating the mythology, the blind ambition of the age.”

Across town, Audi’s cocktail for Warner Bros.’ new 3-D saga Gravity boasts homegrown legends of space travel and the festival’s most convivial star, the one and only Sandra Bullock. America’s sweetheart clearly enjoys the company of legendary Canadian astronaut Dr. Roberta Bondar; I watch them chat conspiratorially, like schoolgirls on the bleachers at recess. George Clooney stars alongside Bullock, and the film’s now infamous 20-minute-long uninterrupted opening shot is as gripping as cinema gets. Also in the mix at Patria, Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein, who collaborated with Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón on a short film based on her book The Shock Doctrine. A much-buzzed film of the fest, this party is winning the film even more goodwill as Bullock stops to connect with as many guests as she can.

High above the city, at Hugo Boss’s stylish Enemy party on the Chase rooftop terrace, I spot the first major party PDA of the fest. Jake Gyllenhaal and his hot new flame, Sports Illustrated model Alyssa Miller, cuddle and kiss in the cabana, enjoying the shroud of secrecy only candlelight can give. If I hadn’t been seated nearby, next to his co-star Isabella Rossellini and director Denis Villeneuve, I’d have missed it along with the rest of the crowd. At one point, Miller wraps both her lithe limbs around Gyllenhaal; it’s like an Annie Leibovitz portrait come to life. He then nibbles a runaway piece of raw seafood off her bottom lip in a moment I can only dub as orgasmic (even if voyeuristically just for moi). Score one for Hugo Boss’s clever and clandestine lighting design, sparking a most erotically-charged gesture, hotter than anything we’ve seen on the silver screen.

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