Rampart - Grade: A
Woody Harrelson stars in this drama about a cop on a downward spiral. We've seen similar characters to this before in 'The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans', 'Training Day', and TV's 'The Shield' but I think this one belongs on that short list of really powerful, memorable performances. Harrelson has been one of my favorite actors of late, and this role confirms that feeling. But I may be alone on this one because I haven't heard much buzz about it since and it still has no release date scheduled.
Moneyball - Grade: A
This film starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is old news already, having opened wide last Friday. But most critics and audience agree, it's one of the best of the year.
The Descendants - Grade: A
Alexander Payne ('Sideways') directs and George Clooney stars as a man who must deal with the final days of his coma stricken wife and all of her descendants. It's a really great film, and based on all the festivals it played at and all the buzz, I'd expect to be hearing a lot more about this one over the next five months. Oh yeah, and I got to shake George Clooney's hand. Who's jealous? In reality, Clooney spent more time shaking hands with fans than I've ever seen, and then followed the film with a great Q&A. Movie stars take note, this is how you do it.
The Ides of March - Grade: A
This film is directed by George Clooney and stars Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Do I even need to mention the plot to get you to want to see it?
The Artist - Grade: A
A black and white silent film about silent films. Doesn't sound like your cup of tea? Give it a try. I always whine that we never get anything different. Well, this one is very different.
Hysteria - Grade: A
A period comedy about the invention of the vibrator. Yup, that's correct. It stars Hugh Dancy, Rupert Everett, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. And it's a total feel good film. (Pun intended.)
Take Shelter - Grade: A-
Michael Shannon (Academy Award Nominee from 'Revolutionary Road') plays a disturbed man who's been having bad dreams about a terrible storm coming. And as the dreams progress he becomes more and more obsessed with creating a shelter for his wife (played by the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain) and child. This one's got a lot of atmosphere.
The Oranges - Grade: A-
A comedy starring Hugh Laurie, Oliver Platt,, Catherine Keener, Allison Janney, Leighton Meester, Adam Brody, and Alia Shawkat about two close families who live across the street from each other in Suburban New Jersey. Just the cast alone makes this one worth seeing.
Melancholia - Grade: B+
This film from controversial and legendary Danish director Lars Von Trier, starring Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, has received so much buzz it's been on many a film buffs' highly anticipated films list. Of course, a lot of that buzz came from Trier's tactless comments at Cannes, but the film itself is also worthy of buzz. It's atmospheric, dark, and weird. In other words, it's a film by Lars Von Trier.
Friends with Kids - Grade: B+
Twice this year we've seen what happens when friends decide to hook up with no strings attached. Well, why not take it one step further and see what happens when friends (played by Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt) decide to have a kid with no other strings attached. What's next? 'Friends with Kids who have Sex with No Strings Attached'? But I digress. The supporting cast includes Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Megan Fox, and Edward Burns.
The Hunter - Grade: B+
Willem Dafoe plays a hunter hired to find the last Tasmanian tiger. Sam Neill costars. If Dafoe and Neill aren't enough, the location and cinematography are reason to see this film.
My Worst Nightmare - Grade: B+
Prolific French actress Isabelle Huppert stars in this French comedy about an overprivileged uptight married mother whose life intersect with a boorish jerk father. French comedies are often better than American comedies and this one is a great example.
Intruders - Grade: B+
Clive Owen stars in this action/horror/thriller about a faceless creature that invades his family's home. It's pretty dark and fairly exciting.
Page Eight - Grade: B+
The inimitable Bill Nighy stars (in a very Nighy-esque role) as British Intelligence who gets involved in a lot of cross-country political intrigue. I'd describe it more but I don't think I followed it enough. But yet I liked it and look forward to seeing it again, if only for the unbelievable cast including Rachel Weisz, Michael Gambon, and Ralph Fiennes. Wow! And Nighy also participated in one of the best and most fun Q&A's of the festival. This guy knows how to be a movie star as well as an actor.
Jeff, Who Loves at Home - Grade: B+
An indie comedy by the Duplass Brothers ('The Puffy Chair', 'Baghead') starring Jason Segal, Ed Helms, and Judy Greer. A film festival programmer's dream.
Butter - Grade: B
An offbeat comedy starring Jennifer Garner as a woman obsessed with winning her small town butter craving competition. (To be fair, who wouldn't want to win that?!?) Ty Burrell, Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry, Olivia Wilde, and Hugh Jackman co-star.
Dark Horse - Grade: B
There's two types of movie audiences: Those who get director Todd Solondz ('Welcome to the Dollhouse', 'Happiness', 'Storytelling', 'Life During Wartime'). And those who don't. I'm definitely in the former category. I just like his work. This one, starring Selma Blair, Jordan Gelbar, Justin Bartha, Christopher Walken, and Mia Farrow is no 'Happiness'. But it ain't bad.
Take this Waltz - Grade: B-
Sarah Polley came to fame as a director when she deservingly received accolades for 'Away from Her' in 2006. It amazed everyone how such a young girl could make such a muture movie about such a mature topic. Well I'm sad to say this one makes me think that one was a fluke. Not that this one, starring Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams, and Sarah Silverman is bad. It's not. It's ok. But just not as good as the talent involved. And sadly that falls on Polley.
Twixt - Grade: B-
This quirky, stylish, supernatural horror/comedy is directed by Francis Ford Coppola and stars Val Kilmer and Bruce Dern. And based on that sentence it was one of my most anticipated films of the festival. Unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations. It's not bad but it's not really good either. But Val Kilmer's Q&A was amongst the best of the festival. Really good guy.
Hick - Grade: B-
Chloe Moretz ('Kick Ass', 'Let Me In'), who has talent way beyond her years, stars as a hick girl on the road. Blake Lively, Juliette Lewis, Rory Culkin, and Alec Baldwin all have supporting roles. This is director Derick Martini's second feature, with his first being the much superior 'Lymelife'. I really wish this one were as good. But yet I want to see it again, so maybe it's better than I recall.
Extraterrestrial - Grade: C+
This Spanish comedy is kind of the definition of bait and switch. The premise is basically, what would you do if you noticed a sky full of U.F.O.s? But it really has very little to do with the extraterrestrials. Perhaps my below average grade is based on expectations. I should see it again.
From the Sky Down - Grade: C+
A documentary about U2! And it's focused on the album 'Achtung Baby'! This'll be fantastic! Or so I thought. It's actually kind of dull, similar to the Springsteen doc, 'The Promise' I caught at Toronto last year. It doesn't really reveal much except the band is holding strong. But the music's great.
Peace, Love & Misunderstanding - Grade: C+
Buttoned-up business woman Catherine Keener is getting a divorce from husband Kyle Machlachlan. So she takes her kids to her estranged hippie mom, played by Jane Fonda, and they mend their long strained relationship as Fonda shows Keener how the other half lives. It's an ok movie. Nothing more.
Drive - Grade: C
Based on the cast, Ryan Gosling, Carey Mullugan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, and Ron Perlman, this was one of the films I most looked forward to. But if you read my review, you know that, unlike popular opinion, I was grossly disappointed by the film. Brooks, Cranston, and Perlman are great. But their roles are small and the rest of the film is terrible.
Killer Joe - Grade: C-
I really looked forward to this film because it was directed by William Friedkin, most famous for 'The French Connection' and 'The Exorcist' and for his uncensored commentary about these classic films. I knew he'd make for a great Q&A, and by and large he did. But the film, starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, and Thomas Haden Church didn't work for me. It was too gratuitously violent and didn't have enough substance. But that McConaughey's pretty good. I think he's gonna be a star one day.
Trespass - Grade: C-
A Joel Schumacher action flick starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman as rich folks who get taken hostage in their home. Wait a second, that's not the kind of movie that plays at a film festival?!?! Shouldn't that be released wide in theaters in the summer? Yes, if it were any good. Unfortunately this one's a bore and that explains why it's scheduled to be released on DVD on 11/1, just 17 days after it makes a brief appearance in theaters. Don't waste your cash. This one's a rental, at best.
The Day - Grade: C-
This was my one and only midnight film. I wanted to see it because fantasy-geek god Dominic Monaghan ('Lord of the Rings', 'Lost', and 'Flashforward') is in it. But I just can't stay awake at film festivals for midnight movies. I fell asleep early on. So this grade isn't really fair, but I got a flavor and it just smells like a C-. Dominic Monaghan still rules though!
Moth Diaries - Grade: D
A teen vampire flick. I'm long over teen vampire flicks, but I took a chance. And lost.
W.E. - Grade: D
Madonna, Madonna, Madonna. I'm so angry with you. I didn't even want to see your film juxtaposing two romances, one period and one contemporary. But I knew it was already purchased for distribution and will be released in December, so it couldn't be too bad, right?. And I knew if you showed up for the Q&A you'd be anything but boring. Well, you didn't show up, and your film was terribly boring. Clearly Guy Ritchie got the directing talent when you split up.
Damsels in Distress - Grade: D-
Whit Stillman, Whit Stillman, Whit Stillman. I'm so angry with myself. I thought I liked you. I remember in the 90's being intrigued by your unique style and voice in films like 'Metropolitan', 'Barcelona', and 'The Last Days of Disco'. Well I think I was just intrigued by something I hadn't seen before. But I just remembered, they're really not very good. And this is the worst of the four. Shame on me for wearing rose colored glasses.
And now for the pics:
The Descendants - Director Alexander Payne, Actors George Clooney and Amara Miller
Drive - Actors Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks
Drive - Director Nicolas Winding Refn, Actors Ryan Gosling and Bryan Cranston
Dark Horse - Actors Selma Blair and Jordan Gelber, Director Todd Solondz
Take This Waltz - Actors Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogen
Take This Waltz - Director Sarah Polley, Actors Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman
Page Eight - actor Bill Nighy
The Hunter - Actors Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe
Twixt - TIFF moderator, cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr, Actor Val Kilmer
The Artist - Director Michel Hazanavicius, Actor Jean Dujardin
Take Shelter - Actor Jessica Chastain
Peace, Love and Misunderstanding - Director Bruce Beresford, actors Marissa O'Donnell, Kyle Maclachlan, Nat Wolff
My Worst Nightmare - Actor Isabelle Huppert
Killer Joe - Director William Friedkin
TIFF Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes
Damsels in Distress - Actors Carrie MacLemore, Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton
Damsels in Distress - Director Whit Stillman, actors Carrie MacLemore, Greta Gerwig