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Toronto Film Festival: What's the Buzz?

The first weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival is out of the way, and already some winners and losers have emerged. Over the next few days, I'll have reviews of films, interviews with actors and filmmakers, and news from the fest, but for now I'm just going to touch on what people are talking about. Having talked to a lot of critics, distributors, and just plain lovers of film over the last weekend, here's how things seem to be shaping up so far...

What everyone seems to agree on: "The Descendants" is a big winner. Alexander Payne charmed Toronto seven years ago with "Sideways" and he's back with his follow-up to that Oscar winner, a dramedy starring George Clooney as a land baron in Hawaii struggling to raise his daughters after his wife suffers an accident that leaves her comatose. Critics and audiences have gone nuts for the film, which features one of Clooney's best performances to date. It also signals the arrival of Shailene Woodley, who plays his 17-year-old daughter and is a major discovery--we'll post an interview with her later this week. While I didn't love the film as much as "Sideways" or Payne's other masterpiece, "Election," I'm definitely in the minority as everyone seems to be going nuts for "The Descendants." A shoo-in for a Best Picture nomination, if not the winner.

Also unanimously adored: Hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about the stylish "Drive," starring Ryan Gosling as a stoic driver. The film already won its director, Nicholas Winding Refn, the Best Director honor at Cannes and played to enthusiastic houses in Toronto. Also out of Cannes is the black-and-white silent movie "The Artist," which also received a warm welcome in Toronto. Many critics felt Lynn Shelton has come a long way as a filmmaker since "Humpday" with her crowd-pleasing follow-up, "My Sister's Sister," starring Emily Blunt. Another fun ride is Brad Pitt's "Moneyball," which opens in theaters next week. And "50/50," the cancer comedy with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen earned a standing ovation at its premiere. I've overheard more than one person saying they were relieved the film wasn't nearly as maudlin or jokey as expected, but actually a sweet, insightful, clever piece of work.

The more divisive films: People love Glenn Close posing as a man in "Albert Nobbs," but not everyone is totally in love with the movie. Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in a modern day adaptation of "Corolianus," which had some swooning and others scratching their heads--although everyone agrees Vanessa Redgrave is fantastic and a lock for a supporting actress nod. Clooney's other film, "The Ides of March," which he wrote, directed, and stars in alongside Gosling, has several hardcore fans, but also a lot of people sort of shrugging their shoulders. Many people, myself included, were pleasantly surprised by "Anonymous," which explores the theory that William Shakespeare was not the author of his plays. But just as many people found it over-the-top and downright silly. "Shame," which was acquired by Fox Searchlight, is a bold, daring piece reuninting "Hunger" director Steve McQueen with that film's star, Michael Fassbender. "Admired but didn't enjoy," was the phrase that best describes people's reactions to Fassbender's portrayal of a sex addict. Fassbender also focuses on sex as Carl Jung opposite Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud in David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method," a film that some people found dull, while other were enthralled. Also dividing audiences: Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz," which finds Michelle Williams caught in a love triangle. I was utterly charmed by Polley's follow-up to "Away From Her," while others thought she was in a sophomore slump.

On the downside: The one thing everyone seems to be in agreement on? Francis Ford Coppola's "Twixt" is an unholy mess, often gorgeous to look at, but totally absurd.

A couple films I'm eager to talk about and will in the next couple days are Jennifer Westfeldt's "Friends With Kids" and "Killer Joe," an adaptation of the Tracey Letts play. I liked both quite a bit but haven't had a chance to talk much with others about them. I'll also delve into "Lovely, Molly," directed by one of "The Blair Witch Project" directors, Eduardo Sanchez, and starring an actress cast out of Back Stage!

--Jenelle Riley

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