Leftovers, launches feed Toronto festgoers

Leftovers, launches feed Toronto festgoers

TORONTO The 2000 edition of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival decidedly delivered the goods, at least by critical standards, as the cream of the year’s previous major fests — Sundance, Rotterdam, Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, Venice and even rival Montreal — was in abundance. As a platform for the introduction of the past eight months’ best films to a North American audience, Toronto remains in a class of its own.

But as a launching pad for brand-new fare to the world stage, this year’s fest was somewhat less imposing than numerous past editions. In everything from straight-from-the-labs Hollywood titles to new Asian selections to fresh Midnight Madness outrages, there were precious few entries out of the 70-odd world premieres that quickened the pulses of critics, buyers and festgoers. Overall, it was a better festival for local audiences than it was for visitors searching for new discoveries.

SOLID LAUNCHES: Of the Hollywood pics using Toronto for junket purposes to springboard into imminent release, Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” Christopher Guest’s comedy “Best of Show,” Rod Lurie’s Washington, D.C., meller “The Contender” and Bruce Paltrow’s karaoke seriocomedy “Duets” got the boosts they were seeking. The most agreeable surprise was Joel Schumacher’s Vietnam-era Army drama “Tigerland,” which reps a very heartening change of pace from the director’s big-budget projects and may be the best film of his career.

On the other hand, new U.S. indies were mostly weak, with little from that closely watched arena particularly distinguishing itself artistically or as a potential commercial breakthrough.

British fare was led by musicvid ace Jonathan Glazer’s debut with the crime yarn “Sexy Beast,” which spurred generally approving reactions, as did, in a lighter vein, Kieron J. Walsh’s comic “When Brendan Met Trudy” and David Kane’s agreeable contemplation of love in London, “Born Romantic.” Julien Temple’s look at the competitive relationship between Coleridge and Wordsworth, “Pandaemonium,” got a more mixed response.

As for other English-language entries, there were Australian features in abundance, most of them pretty good. Of the new ones, Samantha Lang’s lesbian-angled murder mystery “The Monkey’s Mask” worked some intriguing new wrinkles into the private-detective genre, while Shirley Barrett’s “Walk the Talk” was hurt by a weak ending but still confirmed the talent shown in her debut “Love Serenade.”

The new Canadian feature regarded as having the best export potential was John Fawcett’s clever modern werewolf tale “Ginger Snaps,” while Atom Egoyan’s Irish-backed adaptation of “Krapp’s Last Tape” stood out for aficionados of Samuel Beckett.

Among new Euro fare, the highlights were French helmer Francois Ozon’s “Under the Sand,” a probing study of personal loss, while Gerardo Herrero’s delicate, Rohmerish “Friends Have Reasons” won numerous allies.

Most of the Asian films had already made the rounds to an extent, but Junji Sakamoto’s “Face,” a Japanese study of a fugitive woman, was regarded as the best fresh title. Yongyooth Thongkonthun’s Thai transvestite volleyball comedy “The Iron Ladies” delighted viewers as a throwback to a sort of unlikely inspirational good time that was common in the West some years back.

CRIX CRUNCH: From a logistical point of view, the fest had problems accommodating the crowds at the highest-profile press and industry screenings. Many prominent critics simply couldn’t get into the showings of such important titles as “Pollock,” “Billy Elliot,” “Before Night Falls,” “The Iron Ladies” and “The Circle.” For heavy-demand films, this could easily be solved by adding an extra screen to seat everyone simultaneously or announcing in advance an alternative date to take the pressure off.

With the exception of Adam Simon’s documentary on horror films, “The American Nightmare,” the Midnight Madness section was reckoned to have slipped considerably since its heyday. In addition, some questions have been raised about the continued segregation of the Planet Africa sidebar, given that former territorial categories devoted to Asia and Latin America have been abolished, with the areas’ films having simply been slipped into the festival proper.

PRELUDE WEIGHT: Many fest screenings started well after their announced showtimes, a problem exacerbated by the inclusion prior to most shows of Preludes marking the Toronto festival’s 25th birthday.

Ten leading Canadian directors, including David Cronenberg, Egoyan and Michael Snow, were hired to make these five-minute reflections on the power and nature of the cinema in general and the festival in particular; some of them were downright unbearable to watch more than once. But there was one brilliant one: Guy Maddin’s “The Heart of the World,” which employed Soviet silent-era cutting and propaganda techniques to thrilling effect.

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