by Roger Ebert
TORONTO, Ont.--In Denver and Minneapolis, the streets are filled with demonstrators against the political conventions. Here in Toronto, demonstrators were outside the gala opening of the 33rd Toronto Film Festival. What were they demonstrating against? Cuts in government spending for the arts. O, Canada!
The festival is the usual maelstrom designed to convince you that you're missing more good movies than you're seeing--even though you may be seeing good films. At smaller festivals, you hear the buzz and go see the film. Here, the buzz is like a balloon whipped out of your hand in a high wind. Anyway, here are some good films ones I've seen.
Spike Lee's epic, impressive World War II drama, "Miracle at St. Anna," tells the story of four African-American soldiers caught behind enemy lines in Italy, and making bonds with the locals and the anti- fascist partisans.He hasn't made a conventional war movie but a narrative outside the box, realistic when it needs to be, improbable when it wants to be, and eloquent as a reminder that many blacks fought and died for America in the war, but you never saw them in John Wayne films. All four actors playing the four soldiers are powerful in their roles, but I was especially moved by Omar Benson Miller, as a towering man who saves a boy's life and becomes determined to shepherd him through the war. The boy calls him the the "Chocolate Giant." It's a subplot that might have been corny, but not here.
Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married" is a nimble and fraught family drama, starring Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel and Anne Hathaway as her sister Kym, who has just been released from rehab. Some members of the wedding party regard her as if she's about to relapse on the spot. This isn't one of those movies where the screen is filled with lovable family members; some of them are sad, or annoying, or a little manic, or simply eccentric, and a lot of them know each other's secrets. One of the film's wonders is how Demme is masterful at introducing so many characters and keeping them all distinct.
Guy Ritchie's "RocknRolla" continues the style he exercised in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (1998) and "Revolver" (2005). It's a London crime puzzler, with a hardly recognizable Tom Wilkinson as the man who says he "runs this town." The plot involves millions of Euros that appear and disappear, a Russian mafioso who has a lucky painting, a rock star who has faked his own death, a femme fatale accountant, and a lot of humor, most of it macabre. The usual prize of a shiny new dime for anyone who understand the plot first time through, although you don't really need to.
The Coen Brothers' "Burn After Reading" is not the sensation this year that their "No Country for Old Men" was last year, but really, how could it be? It's a labyrinthine spy comedy based on the false assumptions of the characters, and what a confused lot they are. There is no couple in the story that is not...troubled. Every member of the all-star cast gets a moment of high comedy, none from further in left field than J.K. Simmons ("Juno's" dad), who plays a realistic and hands-off CIA director. Brad is a physical trainer accurately described as "moronic" by John Malkovich, who is described as alcoholic by his CIA boss. Frances McDormand plays a physical trainer, looking for a man on the internet, who teams up with the gum-chewing, gee-whiz Pitt. George Clooney and Tilda Swinton play a couple who get involved in the plot in ways they never quite understand. The movie iullustrates my belief that if you want to make a comedy, hire good actors, not "funny" ones.
This year's festival encompasses the spirit of my friend Dusty Cohl, who co-founded TIFF all those years ago, and died in January. The opening night included a heartfelt film tribute to him, directed by documentarian Barry Avrich. I'm quoted as saying, "Dusty's profession was friendship." Yes. Everywhere I go, everything I do, I'm, reminded of him.