Halfway through the festival, the highs outweigh the lows
Toronto, Ont. -- I'm on stakeout at the Toronto International Film Festival. My mission: to find movies that will make a big splash once they arrive stateside, and to uncover cinematic gems that deserve to find an audience.
It is always important to start out with a positive note. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang jump-started my Toronto experience nicely. Written and directed by Shane Black, the Hollywood veteran who wrote Lethal Weapon, this sharply observed piece of detective pulp fiction set in Hollywood, features excellent performances by Robert Downey, Jr., and Val Kilmer. The black comedy features a particularly entertaining Kilmer as gay Perry, a private detective who flaunts his sexual orientation because he is tough enough to back it up.
Imagine Me and You is, at first glance, a conventional British romantic comedy with that Four Weddings and a Funeral vibe. However, the twist is that at her wedding, Rachel (Piper Perabo), glances across the aisle and locks eyes with Luce (Lena Headly), the woman doing the flowers for her nuptials. Rachel is stuck with a feeling that won't go away, a feeling that will put her family in a tizzy.
Brooklyn Lobster is a sweet slice of life comedy starring Danny Aiello as the owner of the titled business who is fighting to save said business now that the bank that owned the note has gone under. Jane Curtain co-stars as his long-suffering wife who is tired of taking a back seat to crustaceans.
Capote is a movie looking to find some Oscar magic for Philip Seymour Hoffman, excellent in the title role of the writer who created a new genre of literature when he wrote In Cold Blood. The performance is first rate, although the movie, written by Dan Futterman (Judging Amy) and directed by Bennett Miller isn't as likely to find Academy Award consideration as Hoffman.
Cameron Crowe has reconnected with his autobiographical Almost Famous roots with Elizabethtown, a movie that should give Orlando Bloom his first hit not set in Middle Earth or among pirates. He is terrific as a genius in the sneaker design business who has been hit with the double whammy of an epic failure at work and the death of his father. With the help of a delightfully adorable flight attendant (Kristen Dunst), he learns to enjoy life, perhaps for the first time.
Leaving the Varsity Theater Friday night, I saw a muscular man who looked awfully familiar. Just goes to show that hockey has been away too long. It was former Philadelphia Flyer Eric Lindros, catching a festival flick and finally playing for his hometown team, the Maple Leafs. Speaking of sports, what have the Phillies been doing while I've been away? At least they righted themselves a bit, taking two of three from the Marlins. And, as I type this on Monday, Sept. 12, I'm wearing my Donovan McNabb jersey, planning a break from moviegoing to enjoy Monday Night Football.
Back to the movies. Another Orc hunter is in town in a contemporary flick. Viggo Mortensen is memorable in David Cronenberg's A History Of Violence as a small-town businessman who is hiding a nasty little secret about his past that will erupt in the quiet Indiana town he now calls home.
And Frodo is also in Toronto, making it a Lord of the Rings troika. Elijah Wood stars in Everything Is Illuminated, a gentle, oddball comedy-drama about a young man who travels to the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis.
Duking it out with Elizabethtown as my favorite film at the festival to date is Wah-Wah, a film that also has autobiographical roots. Actor Richard E. Grant makes his directorial debut with the film he wrote about his teen years growing up in Swaziland. The bored Brits in a colonial setting theme has been done to death, but Grant's characters are so fresh and vivid, he reinvents the genre. A fabulous cast headed by Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson and talented newcomer Nicholas Hoult adds to the fun.
Well, after 18 movies in five days, I'm still ready for more -- after my football break of course.
So, which movie will emerge from the Toronto International Film Festival this year as an Oscar frontrunner? Last year it was The King’s Speech, and previous seasons have launched Slumdog Millionaire, Precious, and American Beauty to Oscar glory.
This is exactly why I spend my working vacation every year at the Toronto International Film Festival. The 35th TIFF takes place this year from Sept. 9-19. This will be my 23rd trip to cover the global cinematic feast. The festival has grown from an understated, unpretentious celebration of emerging filmmakers, to a film festival that officially launches the Oscar buzz season