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The Breakout Flicks from Fall's Film Festivals

The Toronto, Telluride, and Venice Film Festivals are a chance for movies to break out as Oscar contenders and must-sees. What's the 2009 crop revealing? (Besides the fact that George Clooney has impeccable taste in film.)

Up in the Air

In what could probably be attributed to these trying times, while the fall film festival is in full swing—Telluride, the in-progress Toronto, and Venice—there appears to be a distinct lack of buzz. After all, even if there's a splashy premiere, if your film lacks a distributor, it's still iffy as to whether it will be bought (take Robert Duvall in Get Low—great reviews for an undistributed film). And the big premieres are mostly receiving middling reviews, with the exception of crowdpleaser Up in the Air.

We've gone through the many reports from Toronto and the other festivals (and kudos to the guys at Movieline, whose site features the sharpest writing and most trustworthy perspective on films), and here are some of the films currently on our radar: Up in the Air, A Serious Man, Precious, Viggo Mortensen in The Road, A Single Man, Chloe, Cracks, and, of course, Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage.

Films with buzz:

up in the air

Up in the Air: After a strong debut at the Telluride Film Festival, Up in the Air is now riding Toronto Film Festival waves to become a front-runner for this year's Oscar race (which, due to the changing rules—10 nominees and the most votes during the nominee stage gets it—is anyone's game). In Jason Reitman's adaptation of Walter Kirn's novel, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who fires people for a living, whose life—made up of plane trips and airports—is threatened by a young gun (Anna Kendrick) who's figuring out how to fire people virtually. This book has been a pet project of Reitman for the past six years, and the timing is excellent; as the economy goes south and people lose their jobs, the themes and palette of this film resonate. Roger Ebert (who went to the mat for Juno in 2007) adored it, and the astute Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere flipped for it. (Note: there is one voice of dissent against Up in the Air's pleasures: the reliably on-target Karina Longworth of Spout blog.)

A Serious Man: The Coen Brothers' semi-biographical look at 1960s Jews in the Midwest is filled with theater actors (mostly) and unknowns, with Richard Kind being the most familiar name. Reports say that it is as darkly funny and existentially serious as the (amazing) preview suggested, and the reviews are bearing that out. It has its U.S. premiere at the Friars Club Comedy Festival here in New York next week, which is awesome.


Precious: This searing film debuted at Sundance in January, winning the Grand Jury Award, but its Toronto debut is where it's arriving as a potential Oscar nominee, with the blessing of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry as producers. Even more remarkable, the two African-American powerhouses signed on to the finished film, pledging their support as a way to get the film the press it (appears) to deserve. There hasn't been a negative review of Precious yet. Rather, people love it. We can't wait to see it at the New York Film Festival.

Films that have Best Actor contenders:

The Road: We've seen The Road, and we can tell you up front: this thing is going to get middling reviews, with some calling it a masterpiece and some deriding its dreary mien and fidelity to Cormac McCarthy's classic. And it is notable that the most successful version of a McCarthy book-on-film so far belongs to those black comedians of existential despair, the Coen Brothers (probably a compliment to McCarthy's Biblical-yet-wicked tone). That said, Viggo Mortensen commits fully and beautifully to his role as The Man, and deserves any kudos coming his way.

A Single Man: Finally! A film that has been bought! Tom Ford, the fashion designer best known for nuzzling Keira Knightley's ear on the cover of Vanity Fair, makes his directorial debut in this day-in-the-life film based on the book by Colin Isherwood. Colin Firth won best actor at Venice for his portrayal, and the film received a Queer Golden Lion (for the best gay-themed film) award as well; it just screened in Toronto. Julianne Moore stars, too, always a good sign. The preview is stunningly gorgeous (and it's nice to know that there's a film to go with it):


Films that may or may not be released that still sound intriguing:

Chloe: Here's the thing, you can trust Julianne Moore to do films that are interesting. And Atom Egoyan's remake of the 2003 French film Nathalie is just that: a story of a woman, afraid that her husband is cheating, who, well, gets him a prostitute. Things go off from there (lesbian trysts, perhaps?) and noted perv (and screenwriter of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) Roger Ebert, who is liable to rave over Jennifer Lopez films and the Canadian indie Lost and Delirious, loved it. Other outlets called it a "guilty pleasure." It is probably fun.

Cracks: Ridley Scott's daughter Jordan Scott makes her feature debut with this girls-at-a-boarding-school drama. Based on the book by South African writer Sheila Kohler, Bond girl Eva Green stars as a glamorous, free-spirited teacher in a film that Screen Daily compares to Picnic at Hanging Rock. The Hollywood Reporter also likes it.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: Yes, this Nicolas Cage-starrer is exactly as silly as the preview makes it look. And Cage knows it, too. But it sounds pretty entertaining! You make the call.


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