Toronto 2011: Six juicy story lines worth following
The Toronto International Film Festival has more movies than almost any festival in the world, and certainly more high-profile, star-packed films than any other earthly cinema confab. That means plenty of paparazzi, more chances for Canadians to push for a glimpse of a celebrity and then utter a polite sorry, and a lot of meaty film-world story lines.
Here are six to watch for as the festival gets under way Thursday night.
The Clooney Conundrum. George Clooney has come out of Toronto building some solid buzz ("Up in the Air" in 2009) and he's emerged from southern Ontario holding a dud ("The Men Who Stare at Goats," same year) This year, he also has two films -- "The Ides of March," a political drama that he directed, which has thus far garnered solid but not spectacular reviews, and "The Descendants," his collaboration with Alexander Payne about a down-on-his-luck family man. By this time next week, we'll have a pretty good sense of whether Clooney is a contender in multiple categories ... or whether he'll be experiencing more of a goat-like turn.
Straw polls. You kind of knew that "The Undefeated," that kind and softball-loving doc about Sarah Palin, wouldn't make a cultural (or box office) dent. But Nick Broomfield, known for the gleeful slaughtering of sacred cows in movies such as "Kurt & Courtney" and "Biggie and Tupac," is a different story. Broomfield can be thrillingly relevant or bizarrely marginal. We'll see which one he winds up with this film, which premieres for the media Friday.
Full Count. "Moneyball" is already one of the most anticipated movies of the year, what with Brad Pitt, a bestselling book, a ridiculously slimmed-down Jonah Hill and some of the filmmaking team behind "The Social Network" all associated with it. Now, Bennett Miller's movie about the ragtag Oakland A's finally premieres, playing to media Thursday afternoon and debuting to the public Friday. Will it become as much a cultural fixture as "The Social Network"? Or more of a niche baseball flick? (Incidentally, check back shortly at the L.A. Times Entertainment page for a look at how the movie almost didn't make it.)
Director derby. Every year, a few directors establish themselves in a way never thought possible -- Darren Aronofsky did it last year with "Black Swan," building off earlier Toronto buzz for "The Wrestler." This year sees a few people who could define or re-define themselves: David Cronenberg, who's made a historical drama about psychoanalysis; Steve McQueen, the acclaimed "Hunger" director who brings the sexually explicit "Shame"; and even Madonna, who comes with her time-jumping romantic drama "W.E."
Musical chairs. Why does it seem like every baby boomer raised on rock now makes a movie about their favorite band? Perhaps because they do. Davis Guggenheim opens the festival with a U2 docmentary, Cameron Crowe commemorates Pearl Jam's 20th anniversary with "Pearl Jam Twenty" and Jonathan Demme unveils his -- gulp -- third Neil Young movie.
After midnight. Sure, Toronto is about the Oscar-caliber prestige fare. But its genre films, usually centered on its Midnight Madness program, has over the years been a place for audiences to discover horror movies such as "Insidious" and "Martyrs." This year's festival has the usual mix of promising genre titles, but keep an eye in particular on "Juan of the Dead," Alejandro Brugués' look at zombies overrunning Cuba half a century after the revolution.
-- Steven Zeitchik, in Toronto
Photo: George Clooney, left, and Ryan Gosling in "The Ides of March." Credit: Warner Bros.