TORONTO - The Toronto International Film Festival ended on the weekend after unspooling more than 300 films during an 11-day cinematic marathon. The Canadian Press writers who covered the fest pick some memorable moments.
"Another Year" — After examining the lives of singletons in the rollicking "Happy Go-Lucky," British movie master Mike Leigh ruminates on aging in this graceful and absorbing portrait of a contented London couple and their very unhappy friends. (December release)
"Easy A" — Rising star Emma Stone sure does make it look easy in this endlessly appealing teen comedy. The 21-year-old oozes wit and charm as a smart but anonymous high-schooler who temporarily enjoys the infamy that comes with a false rumour about her promiscuity. With meta references to "The Scarlet Letter" and a variety of beloved John Hughes teen comedies, the film is so fast and clever viewers might miss subtler questions about religion and the oft-hypocritical sexual politics that weigh heavily on today's teens. (Opened in theatres Friday, Sept. 10)
"The King's Speech" — Colin Firth is exquisite as a stammering George (Bertie) VI while Geoffrey Rush shines as his confident speech therapist. Director Tom Hooper deftly handles the rich history of the royals, offering a heartwarming and relatable story of a king who battled a crippling speech impediment to lead the nation into war. (November release)
"Blue Valentine" — Writer-director Derek Cianfrance spent about a decade working on the film and the result is a raw, organic portrait of a disintegrating marriage that'll have you hugging your loved ones at the end. Canadian actor Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams get remarkably intimate to portray the couple in good times and in bad. (December release)
"Black Swan" - Director Darren Aronofsky says he tries to "make films that are just going to be very, very different experiences" and he certainly succeeds with "Black Swan," a ballet-themed psychological drama starring Natalie Portman. On the heels "The Wrestler," a comparatively straightforward film that got Oscar noms for Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei, Aronofsky returns to his more experimental filmmaking roots with this trippy look backstage. (December release)
"Daydream Nation" — It's a marvel that this fully realized tale of angst in a rain-swept Lynchian small town is a debut feature for Canadian writer-director Mike Goldbach. Kat Dennings is note-perfect as a headstrong teen while the film's unique atmosphere will linger in viewers' minds for days, calling to mind cult favourite "Donnie Darko." And for music enthusiasts drawn in by the title: the soundtrack is every bit as excellent as you might think.
"Incendies" — Is there anything Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve can't do? After garnering near universal praise for his accomplished cinematic rendering of the Montreal massacre in "Polytechnique," Villeneuve dazzles once again with "Incendies." Based on Wajdi Mouawad's play, and shot in Jordan and Montreal, the director seamlessly shifts from past to present, spinning a mesmerizing tale with a shocking conclusion. (Already open in Quebec, wider release date TBA)
"The High Cost of Living" — With her feature-length debut, Toronto-raised director Deborah Chow offers up a terrifically original story that lingers long after the credits roll. "Scrubs" actor Zach Braff and Isabelle Blais star as two strangers whose lives tragically collide. They spend much of the film walking the wintry streets of Montreal's Mile End and Plateau neighbourhoods, stopping in at some of Chow's real-life haunts along the way. (Release date TBA)
"Rabbit Hole" — This heavy drama has Oscar whispers all over it, thanks in large part to powerhouse leads Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as an anguished couple reeling from the death of their four-year-old son. Textured performances from Dianne Wiest and Canada's Sandra Oh add sorrow-tinged comic relief to this moving adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire. (Release date TBA)
Javier Bardem — As the woe-begotten tragic hero in "Biutiful," Bardem is dark, deep and dazzling. And that's no easy accomplishment when you're wearing an adult diaper. Bardem plays a cancer-stricken petty criminal who spends his final days trying to right his many wrongs and put to rest the ghosts that haunt him.
Colin Firth — Firth astounds as George (Bertie) VI in "The King's Speech," nailing his heartbreaking stammer and giving him an endearing and edgy persona that allows viewers to sympathize with his struggles. He's utterly captivating during his scenes with Geoffrey Rush, who plays his speech therapist, and viewers will be in stitches during one particularly masterful swearing scene.
James Franco — Franco goes for broke in "127 Hours," the heart-poundingly intense story of real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston, who cut off his own arm after it became trapped under a boulder in a Utah canyon. It can't be easy to act when you can barely move, but Franco is completely captivating as his character grunts, groans, and grits his teeth in agony to escape his gruesome predicament.
Paul Giamatti — It takes a lot of chutzpah to take on a literary icon as revered as Barney Panofsky in the big-screen version of Mordecai Richler's "Barney's Version," but this mensch has it in spades. The "Sideways" star infuses the irascible cigar-chomping, whisky-drinking Canadian hero with a romantic charm that knits together a sprawling, four-decade tale.
Ryan Gosling — Gosling is arresting in "Blue Valentine" as Dean, a sweet but unambitious husband desperate for the affections of his wife (Michelle Williams) as he senses her slipping away.
Liana Liberato — This newcomer is a standout as a 14-year-old volleyball player who falls victim to an Internet predator in David Schwimmer's dark drama "Trust." Liberato more than holds her own alongside acting heavyweights Clive Owen and Catherine Keener, perfectly capturing the overwhelming enormity of teenage infatuation.
Carey Mulligan — This Brit beauty graduates from breakout ingenue to full-fledged movie star with her soulful performance in "Never Let Me Go." No matter that her character actually has relatively few lines aside from narration — Mulligan's graceful poise and expressive gaze speak volumes in this long-awaited adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's acclaimed novel about love, betrayal, sacrifice and mortality.
Natalie Portman — As a ballerina pushed to insanity by the physical and mental pressures that come with competing in an elite world, Portman conveys a remarkable mix of steel and fragility that should make her a lock for an Oscar nomination.
Jeremy Renner — In a less capable actor's hands, Renner's role in "The Town" — an uncaged pitbull whose volatile temper is constantly threatening to overwhelm him — could have been little more than a one-dimensional stereotype. But Renner plays his thuggish Boston townie with such twitchy ferocity that he's a live wire in an otherwise fairly rote thriller.
TEEN DREAM: While the annual movie marathon always features its share of weighty dramas, TIFF was also rocking a lighter, younger vibe this year. There was the Hughesian romp "It's Kind of A Funny Story," the moody teacher-student tale "Daydream Nation," the whipsmart popcorn pleaser "Easy A" and the ethereal teen friendship drama "Modra."
THE GREAT DIVIDE: Several films at this year's festival seemed to split audiences right down the middle. On the streets of Toronto, critics could be heard clashing over "Trust," "Good Neighbours," "Black Swan" and "The Debt."
MOST PERSONABLE STARS: A wise-cracking Zach Galifianakis made it tough for one chuckling videographer to get a steady shot of the "Hangover" star as he discussed his teen comedy, "It's Kind of a Funny Story." "Good Neighbours" star Jay Baruchel was happy to ruminate on his fast-food infatuation. Brit acting legend Jim Broadbent willingly stooped over to help a photographer set up his backrop. And a charming Keanu Reeves insisted an interview go over the allotted time.
BRIT BRIGADE: This year's fest seemed to feature a barrage of engaging English stars. Anthony Hopkins entertained with a spirited (if not exactly accurate) Woody Allen impression, while Mike Leigh, Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins, Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike were charming, chatty and uber-accommodating.
CLINT'S CONCERT: Reporters waiting to interview Clint Eastwood were treated to an impromptu performance when the "Hereafter" director sat down at a hotel piano to tickle the ivories. A short time later, when asked what tune he'd been playing, the legendary director replied with an enigmatic: "I haven't the foggiest, that was so long ago."
TOUGH QUESTION, SPIDEY: Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield displayed nothing but cool confidence as he handled weighty questions about his moody existential drama, "Never Let Me Go," and so it came as a complete surprise when journalists actually managed to stump him with one simple query: "How old are you?" "What am I supposed to say to that?" he said, turning to a publicist for help and fretting that discussion had gotten too "personal." He offered up two possible ages — 19 or 27 — but ultimately refused to answer.
By Canadian Press film festival reporters Victoria Ahearn, Andrea Baillie, Michael Oliveira, Nick Patch and Cassandra Szklarski.