Sunday, September 20, 2009

Toronto closes with "Precious" Oscar forecast

The 10 days of the 34th annual Toronto International Film Festival started in summer and ended in autumn (well, almost) by blessing "Precious, Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" with very strong Oscar buzz.
That is, the folks who pay to watch some 350 movies at the always terrific celebration, graced the film with its coveted People's Choice Award, won a year ago by "Slumdog Millionaire," which then, of course, swept the Academy Awards.
The latest recognition probably means that director Lee Daniels, newcomer and lead actress Gabourey Sidibi (above left, with Paula Patton) and supporting players Mo'nique and Mariah Carey have emerged as leading nominee contenders. But, they aren't alone.
In fact, as bleakly great and close to the top as it was, "Precious" was not not my favorite festival movie. In fact, if you want austere, "Blessed," a totally unbuzzed little Australian film about street kids and their moms, was right up there for me, too.
So were "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" (with Nic Cage and Eva Mendes, right) and the immensely entertaining "A Serious Man." from writing/directing brothers Joel and Ethan Coen (with Michael Stuhlbarg, below).
The latter, an odd piece of movie shtick with a lot of kick, also seems capable of garnering some well-earned awards, though it's not exactly what anyone could call mainstream.
That said, as always, there were many good small festival films, too, such as the L.A. girl-gang drama, "Down for Life,” based on a very true story, and always-controversial Todd Solondz's "Life During Wartime," both a bright and sad experience.
Naturally, there were some disappointments. The biggest on the movie side came from usually splendid Ricky Gervais, who starred at TIFF last year in the very funny "Ghost Town."
This year, however, the first-time feature co-director (with co-writer Matthew Robinson) brought in only a so-so comedy, "The Invention of Lying."
Certainly we expected many more, longer laughs from the man who gave us "The Office" (TV's British original) and HBO's splendid "Extras."
Otherwise, the still-dormant economy took some energy out of the festival, which experienced more empty seats, smaller parties, only one really big film buy (Weinstein’s purchase of "A Single Man") and less general reverie, even during Toronto's record streak without rain.
Here's hoping it's all ancient history before next year's 35th get-together when TIFF moves into its splendid new digs, already known as the Bell Lightbox.
(Look for more on this year's festival Thursday at Sun News, where you also can find my review of Jane Campion's "Bright Star," another film coming out of Toronto.)

No comments: