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Toronto Film Festival: Talent, comedy, crotchety directors

Our critic dives into the pool of 312 movies and finds what's fresh.

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In some ways, if one is talking about Richard Linklater, the disconnect between movie and moviemaker is at first glance equally pronounced. Showing up onstage for the public screening of his new film, "Me and Orson Welles," Linklater looked as if he might be the assistant electrician who sauntered in from the wings to check the sound levels. But his best movies are so emotionally generous and unpretentious that it soon becomes clear there is no dissonance here at all. He is, I think, the most gifted American filmmaker of his 40-something generation – "School of Rock" is a comedy classic and the lyrical duo "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" captures the vagaries of young love like no other films. "Me and Orson Welles" is about a teenager, played by Zac Efron, who is cast in Orson Welles's famous 1937 Mercury Theater production of "Julius Caesar," and it's one of the sweetest (and most clear-eyed) valentines to show business ever made.

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No film festival would be complete without the requisite crop of the overrated and overbuzzed. For me, that would be Darren Aronofsky's hackneyed "The Wrestler," starring Mickey Rourke as a washed-up grappler, and Danny Boyle's slickly sentimental "Slumdog Millionaire," about a Mumbai (Bombay) street kid who wins big on the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Halfway into the Toronto fest it was announced that "The Wrestler" won the top prize at the overlapping Venice film festival. Did the Venice jury ever see, for starters, "Requiem for a Heavyweight" or "Raging Bull" or "Rocky"? After years of being on the skids, it's great to have Rourke, who was all over Toronto, back in action as a lead actor. (One local columnist uncharitably but accurately remarked that Rourke's "mug was beginning to look like his pug.") I am sure, however, that Rourke's real-life story would make a much better scenario than these microwaved leftovers.

Another comeback kid is Debra Winger, who has a small but incendiary role in Jonathan Demme's uneven "Rachel Getting Married" as the mother of the bride. Winger, also, in effect, dropped out of the acting game at the peak of her powers. What Demme's movie demonstrates is that she still has the powers.

The best movie of the festival for me was Jan Troell's "Everlasting Moments," a Swedish epic about the emotional odyssey of a woman, played by Maria Heiskanen, whose only respite from the hardship of her life is the box camera she uses to photograph the world outside her own. Troell has been quietly making masterpieces for decades – among others, "The Emigrants," "The New Land," "The Flight of the Eagle," and most notably, "Hamsun." Happily, this film was picked up here for American distribution, so maybe one of filmdom's best-kept secrets will now be a little less of a secret. Troell understands why we go to the movies and why some of us put ourselves through four-movies-a-day at festivals like Toronto. It's for those everlasting moments.

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