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Brad Pitt “Moneyball” buzz and a “Goon” sale lead today’s TIFF 2011 news

By Sean O’Connell The Toronto International Film Festival heads into its back-half today, but that doesn’t mean the fest is slowing down. Not by any stretch.

Jennifer Garner’s ensemble comedy “Butter” has its Gala screening tonight (even though the Press & Industry screening was cancelled at the last minute). Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”) and Terrence Howard bring “Winnie” to Roy Thompson Hall Friday night. And studios continue to snatch up titles that they think will play with wider audiences.

Let’s run down a few recent news items coming out of TIFF as the festival chugs along:

– Debates are being formed in various Oscar-tracking circles about the viability of certain films that have screened at the festival and should jockey for position in the annual awards race. Brad Pitt is generating a significant amount of heat for his affable yet precise performance as Billy Beane in Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball,” while one pundit is lobbying hard for the film to compete for several categories including Best Picture. I think it’s possible, especially for Pitt. The movie opens on Sept, 23, and strong box office will only help the film’s eventual campaign. Just ask the team that’s getting ready to push “The Help.”

– Jonathan Levine’s “50/50” also is receiving a slew of positive reviews following last night’s premiere, with much of the talk surrounding Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s soulful performance as a young man diagnosed with cancer. I’ve been beating the drum for a JGL Best Actor nomination since seeing Levine’s fine film, and I’m hoping it pans out.

– Magnolia Pictures picked up the hockey comedy “Goon” for its Magnet division. The film, which was being called Canada’s answer to “Slap Shot,” stars Seann William Scott, Liev Schreiber and Jay Baruchel. “Goon is a pucking blast. It’s a complete crowd pleaser that has all the elements of a future comedy classic” Magnolia/Magnet president Eamonn Bowles said in a statement. I’m anxious to see it.

– I’ve also heard Lionsgate is looking to acquire Jennifer Westfeldt’s “Friends With Kids,” which was described by most as a smarter-than-average rom-com with a great cast of “Bridesmaids” holdovers (such as Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Jon Hamm).

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