Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wrestling with TIFF’s (lack of) greatness

After a slew of interviews (the contents of which eventually will appear either here, on the pages of Sun News, or, hopefully, when a newly revamped MovieZen blog is launched), we’re back in full movie-viewing mode at the 33rd annual Toronto International Film Festival.

Through tonight, the number stands at 22 movies screened by yours truly in a unusually down year for a festival that always has produced at least a handful of great films. Nothing seen so far, however, has absolutely knocked me out. With three full days in Toronto remaining – figure about 10 more films (that is, if you count “Che,” parts I and II as two films) – here are limited highlights since my last JMuvies post:

The Wrestler”: Mickey Rourke makes a monumental comeback as the washed-up title character trying to hang on to his tights. He’s a lock for an Oscar nomination in “a small, gentle film,” as director Darren Aronofsky calls it. “I learned a lesson,” Aronofsky said before the second of three sold-out Toronto screenings. “All you need to make a movie is a lens and an honest performance.”

More Than a Game”: This documentary about the Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School basketball teams that included LeBron James remains the festival’s biggest surprise for me. Not only is it well made from Kristopher Belman, but often moving and inspiring, too. Since no distributor has picked it up, at least at this writing, maybe executive producer James should take a shot himself.

Nothing But the Truth”: Director Rod Lurie gets back in “The Contender” mode with a fast-moving First Amendment treat. If anyone sees it – and the Yari Film Group gets behind it and her – heretofore unheralded Kate Beckinsale could feel some Oscar heat. She’s that superb as a fearless reporter who outs a CIA analyst (a very good Vera Farmiga) but won’t reveal her sources. Obviously, it’s a film perfect for our times.

Synecdoche, New York”: Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman gets behind the camera for the first time with an impressive if weird little work about life and its emotional and physical complexities. Anyone seeing it will leave the theater scratching their heads -- and know they’ve seen something they won’t see again very soon.

Rachel Getting Married”: Critics here have lavished way too much praise on director Jonathan Demme’s film, which is no “Monsoon Wedding” in my old eyes. Regardless, it certainly deserves a look. Anne Hathaway continues her impressive ways with the performance of her career as a recovering addict and sister of the title bride (Rosemarie DeWitt).

More from here when the festival ends in a few days.

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