toronto film festival

The Six Big Stories to Come Out of This Year’s Toronto Film Festival

Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt in Friends With Kids.

This year’s Toronto Film Festival was stuffed with around 300 films — most of which, judging from E!’s coverage, seemed to star George Clooney. Even if you, like me, saw around 30 films, every one you saw meant you missed ten — a fact made worse (and better) this year because the buzz indicated that there were few disasters. Very few of the studios’ Oscar hopefuls bombed, and many of the indie premieres scored big, from the fantastic comedies Your Sister’s Sister and Friends With Kids to the horror film You’re Next. I’ve still got a stack of DVDs from the fest to watch before I post my favorite films on Monday (and am sad that I’ll still miss Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Headshot, and the Indonesian fight flick The Raid, among dozens of others), but here are six things that changed this week at Toronto, and six story lines to follow in the months to come.

Coming into the Toronto International Film Festival, everyone was anticipating Michael Fassbender’s face-off with Viggo Mortensen as Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method. The film was met with mixed reviews, as it failed to deliver on its kinky trailer. Not so with Steve McQueen’s Shame: On his way here, Fassbender picked up the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival for his wrenching full-frontal tour de force as a desperately disturbed Manhattan man who uses sex to cope with some deep-seated trauma. All that nude in-and-out will easily garner the film an NC-17, but the close-ups of Fassbender’s tormented face are just as shocking. McQueen’s Hunger pushed Fassbender onto directors’ short lists; Shame will mean he’ll never be hungry again.
Toronto is often the launching pad for films that are considered Academy Award possibilities, but this year’s lineup was particularly stacked, with major new films starring George Clooney (The Descendants, The Ides of March), Ryan Gosling (Drive, Ides), and Brad Pitt (Moneyball). All of these films have earned mostly solid reviews and should end up on Oscar’s ten-film list, but none is an obvious front-runner. That still leaves an opportunity for an underdog like The Artist or upcoming films like Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar.
Gosling has left The Notebook far behind, and his strong, confident turns in Drive and Ides could capitalize on the momentum he built with Blue Valentine. Fassbender astonishes in Shame, Brad Pitt has a Redford-ian flair in Moneyball, and George Clooney is very handsome and silver-haired in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, which should be enough for most voters. Then, of course, there’s Jean Dujardin.
You’ll know soon enough. The spectacularly charming French actor took home the Best Actor prize at Cannes — and for good reason. The Artist, a gorgeous black-and-white silent film starring Dujardin as an icon made obsolete by the arrival of talkies, is no pretentious period piece. It’s an effusive, romantic romp, madly in love with movies and supercharged by an old-fashioned, klieg-lit star performance by Dujardin, who taps his toes and winks his twinkling eyes with seductive, suave abandon. Backed by the Weinsteins, Dujardin should be dancing through award shows all next spring.
Nick Broomfield’s documentary Sarah Palin: You Betcha! guns for the tea party, but it is too insufferable to hit anything. Palin escapes yet again. Meanwhile, Harvey Weinstein announced he would try to sell his film Butter as a political satire by inviting Michele Bachmann to come see it (and take some constitutional-history classes with him) in Iowa. But the film is vague and toothless: The most-pointed tea-party critique is Jennifer Garner’s hairdo. The film was scripted as a satire of Hillary and Obama (with Obama’s analog as a 10-year-old black orphan), but even on that level it’s weak.
In Your Sister’s Sister, Shelton’s follow-up to her hysterical straight-dudes-decide-to-make-a-gay-porn-film comedy Humpday, Jack (Mark Duplass) is in love with his best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), but ends up in bed with her distraught lesbian half-sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has a huge surprise in store. A cascade of little punch lines and asides all click into place, somehow deepening the feeling, even as the jokes spiral out of control. Meanwhile, in Friends With Kids, her directorial debut, Kissing Jessica Stein writer-actress Jennifer Westfeldt plays a happy single Manhattan professional who has everything but a kid. After watching as her best friends (Bridesmaids lovers Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig, plus Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd) settle into unhappy parenthood, she decides that, instead of ruining some new romance with smelly diapers, she’ll have a baby with her similarly minded best friend (Adam Scott) and share custody, sort of like they were amicably divorced. Simple, right? Like Shelton, Westfeldt takes an outrageous premise, milks it for surprising jokes, and somehow manages to ground it in reality thanks to a game cast. Unlike Shelton, whose film is largely improvised, Westfeldt has written her own gaspingly funny script, full of dirty lines. Can “Fuck the shit out of me” be the new “You had me at hello”? Photo: JOJO WHILDEN
The Six Big Stories to Come Out of This Year’s Toronto Film Festival