Toronto International Film Festival 2007
"So how much is that pass worth, anyway?" The homeless guy on the corner wanted to know, pointing to the festival badge hung around my neck. A passport to press showings from 8.45am through to the small hours of the morning, I'd say it was priceless - or at any rate, free to accredited critics.
If I were Colin Farrell, maybe I would have given him the badge and taken the day off. The Irish star invited a street person to come along on a $2000 shopping spree - then gave him enough cash to rent a room for a month or two. The bum's street name is "Stress", though he's reportedly considering a change to "Lucky Beggar".
But I had films to see: six a day for the first three days, an excessive binge that caught up with me on day four, when I only managed two plus two walk outs. In total, I saw 34 features in a week, lost a couple of pounds in the process, and came away with a clear perception that American moviemakers are finally facing up to the implications of the War on Terror. The Hollywood movies coming out over the next few months present a sobering insight into a country deeply uncomfortable with its own propensity for violence.
Unlike its rivals among the world's big three film festivals, Cannes and Venice, Toronto (TIFF) doesn't make a song and dance about competition. If it did, I reckon the Coen brothers' No Country For Old Men would probably walk away with best film.
This Texan thriller is the Coens' best effort for a decade - and in many ways it feels like a sun-baked counterpart to Fargo. An ordinary guy (Josh Brolin) stumbles across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong in the desert and makes off with a million dollars - only to return with water for a dying man, a misjudgment that could cost him everything. Tommy Lee Jones is the local sheriff who realizes he's in over his head. But the showiest role goes to Javier Bardem as a psychopathic professional killer with a pageboy haircut and a cattle gun. This guy you don't mess with. As Woody Harrelson's rival puts it, "he doesn't have a sense of humour".
I reckon Jones would walk away with a hypothetical TIFF Best Actor prize too, but for his towering performance as a veteran marine trying to find his AWOL son in In the Valley of Elah. I wasn't a big fan of Paul Haggis's Crash, but much preferred this engrossing thriller, an anguished home front response to the Iraq quagmire. Jones' search soon turns into a murder investigation: his son turns up in little pieces scattered about the desert. Charlize Theron is the local homicide detective who picks up pointers from the former military policeman. She's a good foil, but it's Jones you watch. His performance is such a potent mixture of fierce intelligence, denial, grief and shame, it must be a strong bet for Oscar recognition.
Best actress? Cate Blanchett tears up the scenery in the bombastic Elizabeth: The Golden Years, an entertainingly over-wrought follow up to her Oscar winning 1998 movie. But I preferred her performance as an electrified Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' flawed but exhilaratingly multi-faceted biopic I'm Not There (in which his Bobness is also impersonated by Christian Bale, Ben Whishaw, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere and a 12-year- old black kid, Marcus Carl Franklin.)
Even so, I would nominate 20-year-old Canadian Ellen Page for the honour. She's outstanding as a teenager who gets pregnant and decides to put the baby up for adoption in Juno, the second film from Jason (Thank You For Smoking) Reitman. Written by newcomer Dakota Cody, who has obviously seen Heathers way too many times, Juno is a smart, caustic satire brimming with barbed one liners - but it also works on an emotional level, in large part thanks to Page's sharp performance. Incidentally, in another act of charitable largesse, Reitman's dad, Ivan (Ghostbusters) donated more than $20 million to the festival last week in a gift towards a new film centre for the city, so it was fitting that Juno should be one of the word-of-mouth hits of the festival.
Best directorů Aside from Joel Coen, the contenders would include Joe Wright for Atonement, almost as highly regarded here as at home; Todd Haynes; and Gus Van Sant for his skater's guilt trip Paranoid Park. But if I had such a prize to give, it would go to Sean Penn for Into the Wild, his fourth and easily his free-est, most fluent and deeply felt film. Emile Hirsh plays Chris McCandless, a college graduate who gave away his savings to take to the road, eventually heading north into Alaska with nothing but a backpack and a dream to be one with nature.
One prize TIFF does pride itself on is the Audience Award, and this year that honour went to hometown hero David Cronenberg for his London underworld thriller Eastern Promises. Scripted by Steve Knight (Dirty Pretty Things), this hits the ground running with a very close shave in a barbershop.
Nurse Naomi Watts is plunged into the world of the Russian mafia when she finds the diary of a teenage prostitute who died during childbirth. Unfortunately her attempts to get the diary translated lead her straight into the lions' den. History Of Violence star Viggo Mortensen gives a terrific hard-boiled performance (and won kudos for his accent) as Nikolai, a driver/bodyguard for Vincent Cassel's highly-strung Kirill.
Set to open the London Film Festival next month, Eastern Promises is a relatively conventional mainstream movie coming from Cronenberg, but it's such a sleekly professional job, it should be required viewing for any wannabe British filmmaker before he makes his mandatory gangster movie. And the nude knife fight scene in Finsbury Public Baths is already the stuff of legendů
Titles related to this article