TORONTO—The Toronto International Film Festival was scheduled to close Saturday night with a gala screening of “Emotional Arithmetic,” a drama starring Susan Sarandon and Max Von Sydow as Holocaust survivors. But for everyone except the thousands of movie industry players, critics, celebrity-seeking journalists and civilian movie lovers who survived the previous 10 days, the festival is just beginning.
That’s because—except for a handful of Hollywood blockbusters being saved for the holiday season, and a few prestige items held in reserve for New York’s upcoming festival—the films that will dominate the awards season and give serious filmgoers food for argument for the next 12 months were unveiled here.
Toronto is not only the world’s largest film festival in terms of attendance and variety, it is also the most influential by almost any yardstick.
Though the tiny Telluride Festival had the honor of premiering Joel and Ethan Coen’s Western-noir “No Country for Old Men,” Toronto should get the credit for the multiple Oscar nominations and large audiences the film will soon attract.
Toronto will be remembered as the place where the buzz began for Jason Reitman’s “Juno,” a film likely to make a star out of Ellen Page as a smart teenager who makes surprising decisions when she discovers she is pregnant.
And it was in Toronto that artist Julian Schnabel, despite his protestations that he is “not really a film director,” made the sort of quantum leap onto the A-list that Francis Ford Coppola made with “The Godfather” with his beautiful, unforgettable “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”
Schnabel’s visually stunning adaptation of the memoir of a French fashion magazine editor who, rendered able to communicate with only one blinking eye by a massive stroke, learns to fully appreciate the things worth living for. It is a masterful and unforgettable reminder that when motivations are true and the stars are in alignment, movies are true art.
What else happened in 10 days? Well, a lanky 27-year-old unknown named Sam Riley, a former singer in a British rock band, was lucky to be cast by celebrated photographer Anton Corbijn in his feature-film directing debut “Control,” as the singer-songwriter in the late 1970s cult band Joy Division—or maybe it was Corbijn who was lucky.
The film’s subject matter will likely prevent it from wandering any farther than the art houses, but it is likely to put Riley on the road to a Ewan McGregor-Jude Law level career, and to establish Corbijn as a fellow whose talent for making movies—in black-and-white, no less—is equivalent to his talent for making photographs—iconic images of performers like Clint Eastwood and U2.
Speaking of the gifted McGregor, he was lucky enough to land a leading role in Woody Allen’s third English-shot film, “Cassandra’s Dream,” but unlucky enough to see himself upstaged by Colin Ferrell in a drama that’s as dreary as it is derivative.
As for Law, he came to Toronto with the thankless job of playing a role done to something like perfection by a young Michael Caine in director Kenneth Branagh’s remake of the slithery entertainment “Sleuth”—a task he took on with considerably more success in the “Alfie” remake. This time, though, he is upstaged by no less than Caine himself, re-creating the role originally played by Laurence Olivier.
All of these Toronto films are coming to a theater near you, along with:
_A terrific, socially minded drama starring George Clooney, titled “Michael Clayton.”
_The surprisingly contemplative and excellently acted “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” with Brad Pitt as the legend and Casey Affleck as his killer and biggest fan.
_Cate Blanchett’s second portrayal of the virgin queen in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and as a wired Bob Dylan—yep, she’s convincing—in director Todd Haynes’ experimental and mostly brilliant “I’m Not There.”
But aside from an impressive slate of films and a good, if hardly perfected effort to make it possible for journalists to get into the packed screenings they are sent to cover, this year’s Toronto fest gets extra credit for refusing to be turned into a photo-op for Paris Hilton.
She just happened to have arrived on the opening day of the festival to begin filming “Repo: The Genetic Opera.” Despite her publicists’ best attempts, Paris couldn’t even get arrested.
MORE FROM THE FEST
You will probably have to wait a while for the handful of good films that came to the Toronto International Film Festival without a distributor, hoping for suitors.
Snapped up fairly quickly were “Boy A,” a drama about a 24-year-old Brit who is released from prison after being convicted years before as an impressionable teenage killer, and George Romero’s “Diary of the Dead,” his first independently made zombie bash since the original “Night of ...”
It was a bit longer before “Nothing Is Private,” the directing debut of Allan Ball, writer of “American Beauty” and HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” was picked up, and some cynics said the impetus was a column by Fox Internet columnist Roger Friedman, who blasted the film for being exploitive kiddie porn. Who could resist that sort of advertising?