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Toronto International Film Festival: the buzz this year

George Clooney film captures attention, along with a new Neil Young documentary.

By Peter Rainer / September 16, 2011

Actor Ryan Gosling arrives outside the gala première of ‘Drive’ to a sea of fans at the 36th Toronto International Film Festival.

Fred Thornhill/Reuters


The Toronto International Film Festival, which wraps up its 10-day run on Sept. 18, screens about 300 feature films. I have seen every single one of them. At least it feels that way sometimes.

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Actually, I've seen 20 thus far – that's about three a day. The films come from 65 countries ranging from Albania to Argentina, but the festival's big liftoff is its long opening weekend when Hollywood showcases its upcoming wares – the movie equivalent of Paris's fall fashion preview. For film journalists, this is a chance to get a leg up on a lot of big-ticket items and, like it or not, be part of the buzz-athon leading up to the Oscars.

Last year, for example, I saw "The King's Speech" in Toronto. We all know where that went. I can safely say that this year Alexander Payne's smoothly enjoyable The Descendants, starring George Clooney as a harried father in Hawaii, will be in the running for an Oscar. I can also safely say that the Madonna-directed W.E., starring Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson, will not be. At least that's what I've been told. Dear reader, Madonna's directorial debut, "Filth and Wisdom," gave me zero incentive to subtract 114 minutes of my life for her latest venture.

That doesn't mean I could avoid all the Madonna hoopla at the festival. Apparently, in what is being billed as Hydrangea-gate, a fan presented her with a hydrangea on the red carpet and was rebuffed because the diva prefers roses. Additionally, Madonna's camp denies the report that, before her press conference, eight volunteers were told to turn and stand facing the wall so she could walk down the hallway without them looking at her.

Clooney, on the other hand, who was also represented at the festival in the entertaining if hardly groundbreaking politics-is-a-dirty-business drama The Ides of March, which he also directed, plays up to his public with smiley, goofy aplomb – unless he is asked about his personal life, which always prompts his standard curt reply: "Next."

The first film I caught in Toronto, Werner Herzog's documentary Into the Abyss, about death row inmates in Texas, was not exactly an upper – except that it's a very good film, and good films are always a lift. With his unmistakably dolorous voice, almost verging on self-parody, Herzog spoke with the audience after the public screening and revealed that making the movie prompted him to take up smoking again after quitting for years. This is also what happened to him in 2005 when he made the bear-mauling documentary "Grizzly Man." He plans more documentaries about capital punishment (which he opposes), so a smoke-free future seems unlikely.


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