Ang Lee steams up Toronto with Lust, Caution. Sundance signals, for better or worse, the state of American independent filmmaking. Cannes keeps faith, for those who still believe, with the cinema d'auteur. And Toronto? The largest and most important film festival in North America seems to do nearly as many things as there are movies to see — 349 in this year's edition, which runs September 6-15. Having studied the lineup and plotted an impossible schedule of must-see movies, I've come to the conclusion that in 2007, the Toronto International Film Festival can only be described as: holy shit!
A short list of filmmakers with new works at Toronto: Apichatpong, Argento, Breillat, Chabrol, the Coens, Cronenberg, De Palma, Haynes, Herzog, Hou, Jacobs, Jia, Kitano, Lumet, Maddin, Miike, Moore, Oliveira, Reygadas, Rivette, Rohmer, Romero, Schrader, Sokurov, Straub, Tarr, Van Sant. Yes, short list. The only reason that Antonioni and Bergman aren't on hand is because they're dead. Oops, nevermind: There is a Bergman film (The Virgin Spring from 1960, but still).
Toronto is about money as well as mise-en-scène. Hollywood increasingly uses the event to launch its fall prestige pictures and even its Oscar campaigns. Universal aims to enthrone Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, though it's that studio's "indie" division, Focus Features, that has the most riding on festival buzz with four high-profile pictures. Ang Lee triumphed here with Brokeback Mountain and will try to generate heat for his latest, the Shanghai period romance Lust, Caution. Joe Wright reunites with his Pride & Prejudice star Keira Knightley for his adaptation of novelist Ian McEwan's Atonement, and Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo head up director Terry George's revenge drama, Reservation Road. Focus's fingers will be crossed for Eastern Promises, the arresting new thriller from Toronto native and world-class genius David Cronenberg.
Elsewhere in the genius department, three from Cannes cross the Atlantic for their North American debuts. Todd Haynes deconstructs Dylan in his hugely anticipated (and by all accounts brilliant) I'm Not There. Hou Hsiao-hsien contemplates Paris (and Juliette Binoche) in his surpassingly tender Flight of the Red Balloon. And Harmony Korine details the friendship between two celebrity impersonators (Diego Luna as Michael Jackson and Samantha Morton as Marilyn Monroe) in Mister Lonely, co-staring Werner Herzog as a film director who parachutes nuns over Central America. OK, so maybe genius is a bit of stretch there, but I'm as curious about the reject from the class of Cannes '07 as I am for such honor-roll students as No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers' acclaimed Cormac McCarthy adaptation, Cristian Mungiu's Palme d'Or winner, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and Gus Vant Sant's Paranoid Park.
Personal agenda wrestles with professional obligation for the festival reporter, so even though I should make a point to see Nothing Is Private, the latest from the overrated Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under), I won't go out of my way if it interferes with Before I Forget, the latest from the underrated actor-director Jacques Nolot. Kick back for the same old same old with a new Woody Allen flick (Cassandra's Dream), or brace for Takashi Miike's possibly excellent, potentially intolerable Sukiyaki Western Django? Michael Moore has a new documentary about the 2004 election (Captain Mike Across America), but Arthur Dong's look at Chinese experience in Hollywood sounds more compelling.
This much is settled: I'll be lining up with the rest — and everyone will be in line — to catch Warner Bros.' troubled The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, an epic western starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck that's either a poetic masterpiece or a complete mess, depending on whom you ask. Toronto may have a reputation as a friendly, easygoing event, but anyone standing between me and George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead can expect to have his face bitten off.