The Critic’s Notebook: The 2008 Toronto International Film Festival

by | Sep 12th, 2008 | 9:34AM | Filed under: Hollywood Chatter, News

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Right now, the 33rd annual Toronto International Film Festival is in full swing, with over 250 feature films playing during a 10-day movie madness marathon that started September 4th and turns Canada’s largest city into the place where foreign film, independent cinema and big Hollywood meet. The Toronto Film Festival originally started as the more modestly-named "Festival of Festivals," bringing great films from Cannes, Venice, Berlin (and, later, Sundance) and other film festivals to Toronto; years of success (and its early-September start date) have made Toronto not just a world-class film festival in its own right hosting dozens of world premieres but also the unofficial starting gate for many movie studios with dreams of Oscar success in their heads. …

For just one example this year, I’d be very surprised if Anne Hathaway didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Rachel Getting Married, playing an out of rehab, on the rebound younger sister who steps away from a 12-step program for her older sister’s big day. That basic plot may sound cliché and dreary, but trust me — thanks to screenwriter Jenny Lumet’s work, Rachel Getting Married is anything but predictable, with Hathaway moving past her movie-star image to deliver a real, raw performance. There may also be some Oscar heat behind the screenplay adaptation of Blindness, a film version of the acclaimed novel by Nobel Prize-wining author Jose Sarmago where the residents of an unnamed city are all left blind my a mysterious ‘white sickness’ that plunges the world into chaos; after a rocky reception at Cannes, the films been re-cut and now feels much, much stronger….

(More from Toronto after the jump …)

This year’s Toronto Film Festival also features two ’80s tough guys making comebacks that are getting a surprising amount of critical and audience response. The opening night film for Toronto’s acclaimed Midnight Madness section was the surprisingly well-received JCVD, a comedy-action film that sees Jean-Claude Van Damme playing himself, stuck on the broken bottom rung of show business and then wandering into a hostage situation; can the muscles from Brussels figure out that this isn’t one of his movies? Another festival buzz film I’m looking forward to is The Wrestler, which just won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, and stars Mickey Rourke as a pro wrestler running on fumes after his ’80s heyday, forced to step out of the ring after a heart attack. Excitement about the film, and Rourke’s work in it, has made it one of the hottest tickets up here in Toronto. If, a year ago, you had told me that two of the best-received, most-buzzed movies at this year’s Toronto Film Festival would star Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mickey Rourke, I would have either laughed at your suggestion or told you to hand over your car keys since you clearly weren’t safe to drive home, which is just more proof of how the movie business makes no sense, and how that can often be the best thing about it.

With 250 feature films screening, there’s too much at Toronto for any one person to take in; the good news is, there’s something for everyone. Jeffery Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere loved the "dry, diseased and delectably deadpan" Burn After Reading from the Coen Brothers; Cheryl Eddy of the San Francisco Bay Guardian found "the best freaky-little-kids movie I’ve seen in a while …" in Vinyan; Roger Ebert was one of many bowled over by Slumdog Millionaire, a epic drama about a young man accused of cheating on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? who explains to the police interrogating him the decades-long tale of love, loss and danger that put him in the winner’s seat with everything to lose; Anne Thompson of Variety liked Me and Orson Welles, starring teen heartthrob Zac Efron as a young actor in ’30s New York who winds up under the wing of the talented, troubled Orson Welles — but still wonders who’s going to rush out to a young, light comedy about New York’s 1930′s literary scene.

Many of the movies here at Toronto will be coming soon to a theater near you; some of them never will. And while some journalists are complaining about what they see as Toronto’s heightened emphasis on fundraising and glitz, the truth is that of all the film festivals I’ve ever gone to (Toronto, Sundance, Cannes, Tribeca, South by Southwest and more) Toronto is the one that most perfectly hits the sweet spot of best possible movies and best possible access for the public; $20 will get you a seat in anything from a four-hour-long look at the life of Che Guevara (Che) to a documentary about the making of A Chorus Line (Every Little Step) to a big-studio special effects comedy about a dentist played by British comedy genius Ricky Gervais whose near-death experience has made him an ambassador for the pleading, needy recently deceased (Ghost Town). And if you aren’t in Toronto, well, you can follow the buzz through bloggers and writers like the ones above, or at websites like Movie City News, indieWire, and my own work for Cinematical so you can know what the big movies to watch for the fall and winter will be. Here in Toronto, from now until Saturday the 14th, the future of movies is now.


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