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TIFF: 10 standout films from the Toronto International Film Festival so far

Toronto during TIFF (the Toronto International Film Festival) is never really Toronto. It’s more of a tightly choreographed circus of latte-wielding publicists, journalists, “stars”, fest staffers, volunteers, celebrity stalkers, talent wranglers and party crashers. To an outsider new to the city, it’s easy to see how one would think Torontonians are a frantic, insatiable bunch, rushing from film screening to press conference to master class to red carpet to interview and, of course, to parties. It could be argued that TIFF brings out the untamed beast in otherwise totally subdued cinephiles.

But there’s good reason why TIFF is considered the most important annual film gathering in North America. Most in the industry agree it’s THE Oscar launching pad of choice – remember, the fest hosted the debuts of last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, The King’s Speech, as well as the previous year’s champ, Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a major acquisitions market, with a flurry of distribution deals already signed – The Lady (Luc Besson), Shame (Steve McQueen), Les Bien-Aimés (Christophe Honoré), God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait), Goon (Michael Dowse), Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold), Your Sister's Sister (Lynn Shelton), Killer Joe (William Friedkin) and Butter (Jim Field-Smith) among them. So you better bet your Bolex all the important buyers are there, with studios pulling out all the stops to promote their 2011-2012 slate of films.

This year, more than ever, I feel like Toronto media have been bombarding us with star news at the expense of covering the actual films. You can’t open a newspaper without reading about the ‘gifting lounges’, fashion swag or ‘starfugging’ (alt-weekly The Grid gave a playful spin to obsessive celebrity stalking by devoting its cover story last week to those hoping to chase their favourite A-lister down the block). It’s too bad Hollywood has been hogging the spotlight, as most of the films I’ve screened so far have been great.

If you plan on heading to Hogtown before the fest wraps next Sunday, here are 10 reasons (and one art exhibit) why Toronto is calling. With the festival’s shift to Toronto’s entertainment district this year, thus creating a new hub around the TIFF Bell Lightbox, it’s a lot easier for out-of-towners to get around. Now if only city mayor Rob Ford could stop making announcements about cutting municipal funding to Toronto’s top ten arts groups (of which TIFF is a part of), the arts community could perhaps enjoy the event without having to campaign for money. It’s worth remembering that a mayor with no vision – and no handle on widespread corruption – perhaps still outweighs one who is xenophobic, anti-art, anti-bike and anti-social services? At least, it makes for a spirited debate. Now about those 336 films...


****1/2 Shame (Steve McQueen)
****       Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau) (review to come/ FNC)
****       Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
***1/2   Killer Joe (William Friedkin)
***1/2   Goon (Michael Dowse)
***1/2   Marécages (Guy Édoin)
***1/2   50/50 (Jonathan Levine)
***1/2   Roméo Onze (Ivan Grbovic) (review to come/ FNC)
***         Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman)
***         Les Bien-Aimés (Christophe Honoré)
***         Memories of Idaho (James Franco/Gus Van Sant)

Toronto International Film Festival | Until September 18 | tiff.net