Jennifer Aniston causes Oscar buzz at Toronto Film Fest with ‘Cake’

Jennifer Aniston Oscar contender? 

You better believe it after the tumultuous standing ovation she received at the Elgin Theatre Monday afternoon for her potentially career-changing film ,"Cake," after it finished its end credits. 

Sans any makeup and with scars and other disabilities, Aniston proved way beyond cosmetic changes that she is the real thing. She’s heartbreakingly good, alternately bitingly dramatic and funny in this story of a woman suffering from chronic pain. It is also partially to the credit of writer Patrick Tobin and director Daniel Barnz ("Phoebe In Wonderland," "Won’t Back Down') that Aniston’s character Claire doesn’t strike a false note throughout. 

Given the right distributor ( and, according to Deadline, several are in the hunt) this could be Aniston’s "Monster" or "Monster’s Ball," or even like "Dallas Buyers Club," which transformed Matthew McConaughey’s career last year and brought him the Best Actor Oscar. 

There are really no tricks to this performance. It’s raw and real, poignant and unexpected. In a conversation shortly after the screening a noticeably excited Aniston told Deadline the reaction to the film – and her performance – received was a bit overwhelming. 

“It was such an emotional moment for me. I was nearly brought to tears, ” she said. Supposedly she was in tears later backstage when the positive tweets started coming in. As for the film she said she simply couldn’t turn it down when it came to her less than a year ago. “You have to go with the script. When I read it I knew it was the role of a lifetime. How could I turn that down, ” she said. 

At the post Q&A she elaborated even further. “It was a no-brainer. Just reading Patrick’s script I actually saw myself doing it. I just felt like it was already happening and it was pretty easy to say ‘yes’. It was such a beautiful, complex, layered, tortured character I just tapped into something I was meant to do, ” she said. She did extensive research and even had friends who had similar pain and addiction to prescription drugs to curb it. She said she talked to a lot of people who suffered from this huge problem who could "walk me in that walk."

Many pundits would probably dismiss Aniston as a major studio movie star who does lighter fare like "We’re The Millers" but she has proven in the past with indie fare like "The Good Girl" and "Management" that she is not a one-trick pony, but rather a star with untapped potential. She was great opposite Vince Vaughn in "The Breakup," a wildly underrated studio dramedy. 

Director Barnz says she was a joy to work with, jumping in feet first in the project that came together unusually quickly. He had reluctantly been judging a screenwriting competition in Southern California when it suddenly dawned on him the winner was a script he should make. 

“That was June, 2013, we were in pre-production in February and before the cameras in April , finishing in May, ” he said of the accelerated schedule. He managed to get some more money from the producers for a faster post-production schedule and got it ready just in time for Toronto. Aniston jokingly told Deadline that quick pace caused windburn and whiplash but they got it done in 25 days. Surprisingly one of the key producers was Mark Canton, largely known by his own admission as the guy behind heavy testosterone flicks like "300." He says in addition to those he wants to do a program of about ten smaller films of this kind of quality, even though he’s not quitting his day job. He will be on the set for his latest epic, "The Last Witch Hunter" today. Canton told Deadline at the after-party that there is no question they want to get this film out this year in time to qualify it for Oscars. They should, not only for Aniston’s bravura turn but also past Supporting Actress nominee (for "Babel") Adriana Barraza.

As for Aniston this is the fourth time she’s been to the Toronto International Film Festival . "Let’s hope the fourth time’s a charm,” she laughed.

As for the one and only Monday of this Toronto International Film Festival it was chock-full of a number of other films that could be considered contenders. And now that the hot TIFF real estate of the first four days has passed there’s room for some very big names that chose instead to premiere first at Telluride or Venice. "Foxcatcher," a Cannes and Telluride hit met equal praise after its premiere Monday night with the entire cast in tow. Jon Stewart’s "Rosewater," a Telluride debut now coming to TIFF as a special screening, screened earlier Monday and has the advantage of coming in to TIFF with strong word of mouth . Two more Monday fest debuts,Reese Witherspoon in "Wild," which World Premiered in Telluride won another enthusiastic standing ovation and further cemented Witherspoon’s Oscar potential. And "99 Homes" previously on the circuit at both Venice and Telluride, also came from a position of strength within the competition and looking to finalize a deal here that would put it squarely in the heart of this year’s awards race too. The threat by TIFF to demote any film that played Telluride first didn’t seem to have an effect one way or another. Tuesday night another Telluride refugee, "The Imitation Game," gets its day in the Toronto sun. And so it goes.

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