Monday, September 13, 2010

Big directors take early Toronto bows

In my small preview glimpse at the list of movies slated for the 35th annual Toronto International Film Festival, "Hereafter," "Black Swan," and "127 Hours" were among those named pics likely to click. Well, guess what? They all really are good enough for movie-going audiences to devour in the weeks and months ahead.

After a long and crowded four-day weekend, when it's just impossible to see everything -- and extending from Thursday night's festival opener through Monday afternoon -- here, in order of preference, are the five mostly mainstream films that easily kept me wide awake:

The King's Speech: Tom Hooper helmed "The Damned United," possibly the most underrated film at last year's Toronto fest, coming off HBO's astonishing "John Adams," perhaps the most grand miniseries in television history. Now, he's ready to collect a load of Oscar noms for himself and cast members such as Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce, all playing historical figures connected to the stuttering woes of King George VI. (That would be the good dad of Queen Elizabeth for those who likely won't know until taking in this terrific story from the sharp pen of David Seidler, himself up to now mostly a successful TV writer.) Damn fine and clever stuff!

Hereafter: Brit Peter Morgan ("The Queen") turns out another boffo screenplay for Clint Eastwood, who deserves another directing nod for this quiet little thriller that settles in splendidly after the most dazzling first 20 minutes of Eastwood's much-honored career behind the camera. Matt Damon acquits himself nicely as a quiet psychic, but the real scene-stealers are gorgeous French actress Cecile De France and smart schoolboy Frankie McClaren.
127 Hours: James Franco for Best Actor? You bet -- in a Danny Boyle film based on a famous and true tale about one man courageously giving up part of himself to live. No spoilers allowed, but except for a squeamish 7-8 minutes or so, it's easier to watch than it sounds, too.

Let Me In (photo at top): In a film much better, more stylish and moody than his "Cloverfield," director and co-writer Matt Reeves re-imagines the similarly named Swedish vampire film with aplomb, blood (naturally!) and androgynous touches galore. As sumptuous as it is scary.

Black Swan: Natalie Portman for Best Actress? You bet -- again -- as Darren Aronofsky does for ballet at this 35th festival what he did with Mickey Rourke and wrestling at the 33rd. Seriously, as one woman told me while waiting in line for another movie: "It makes no sense at all, but I loved every minute of it." Bravissimo!

Look for more about the high-profile festival here in about week (or a few days after its Saturday awards luncheon). Meanwhile, check out my reviews of two other TIFF films, "Easy A" and "The Town," on or before Sept. 17. You can also read about what some of their stars say at both Sun News and Reel Rave, too

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