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Mack Chico


2008/09/04 at 12:00am

Toronto Film Festival just not the same

Toronto Film Festival just not the same
Bad news for Oscar prognosticators: The Toronto International Film Festival, starting Thursday, isn’t quite its bellwether self this year.

Factors such as rising travel costs, delays caused by the writers’ strike and weakened art-house divisions have kept the most likely best-picture candidates out of the lineup.

Unlike in the past, when 1999’s American Beauty proved a trip up north could lead to Oscar glory, late fall’s choicest academy bait, such as Frost/Nixon and Australia, won’t be there. Even high-profile titles opening in October — Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies, Oliver Stone’s W — are missing.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be celebrity gridlock at the 33rd edition of North America’s premier film gathering, which features 312 movies from 64 countries through Sept. 13.

Among the hundreds of stars expected: Keira Knightley, Matt Damon, Anne Hathaway, Benicio Del Toro, Charlize Theron, Adrien Brody, Dakota Fanning, Michael Caine, Queen Latifah and Viggo Mortensen. Even the tabloid world’s most famous former couple, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, will be there — on separate days.

If there is a major upside to the 2008 schedule, it is that the doom and gloom cast by last year’s dour war-themed dramas (In the Valley of Elah, Rendition) and vigilante gut-wrenchers (The Brave One, Reservation Road) have been replaced by what the festival’s co-director Piers Handling declares as “the return of the American comedy.”

Call it the Juno effect. “There are a few films about the Iraq war,” such as Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and The Lucky Ones with Rachel McAdams, he says. “But there are at least five really good, solid comedies. Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. Ghost Town, Religulous. The Coen brothers with Burn After Reading.”

Even British filmmaker Mike Leigh, whose last outing was the 2004 abortion weeper Vera Drake, has an effort that lives up to its title: Happy-Go-Lucky.

And a possible crowd-pleaser has emerged, if the reactions at Telluride can be trusted: Slumdog Millionaire, the story of a teen orphan in India who wins the jackpot on a Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting), it was recently picked up by Fox Searchlight in a deal with Warner Bros.

Fair warning, though. There is a Paris Hilton documentary, as if we didn’t know enough about the celebutante, helpfully titled Paris, Not France. But, as Handling notes, “It’s really short.”

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