TIFF 2009 Two Days In: What's Good & Bad So Far

Coming up to the third day of the film festival and thus far I have seen The Informant!, which I liked very much despite some problems with decision making by the director, Broken Embraces, which features just a stunning performance from the astonishing Penelope Cruz, Antichrist, a repellant yet unforgettable film, Hugh Hefner, a superb documentary that should earn an Oscar nomination, Bright Star, a disappointing film from Jane Campion, Jennifer's Body, a rather average horror film from the pen of Juno (2007) writer Diablo Cody and the superb Up in the Air, from the great Jason Reitman.

Matt Damon and George Clooney are both so good, so strong in their respective films that choosing one over the other for the Oscar seems impossible, but if I had a vote it would go to Clooney for his stunning work as a man who thinks he is living a life he loves, but discovers he is hiding from life and needs to find himself. His greatest fear when he goes searching for his soul, is that it may not be there anymore. Clooney has never been better and hey, he's been terrific before. Up in the Air is the best work of his career and firmly establishes Jason Reitman as one of the top directors working in cinema. The man is brilliant. The film is not as jarring as Juno (2007), the language not the same, but the characters every bit as real, just as deeply portrayed by the actors. What a gift Reitman has with his actors.

Penelope Cruz was once an actress I loathed. Her work in Blow (2001) was shrill and hysterical (not in a good way) and she was merely grotesque in Vanilla Sky (2001), yet in Volver (2006) she grew as an artist before my eyes, forcing me to concede the woman is gifted. She did it again in Vicky Christina Barcelona, winning an Oscar for her work, and again in Elegy (2008), an under appreciated little film with Ben Kinglsey and Dennis Hopper doing fine work opposite Cruz. She comes through again in Broken Embraces, the latest from Aldomovar, in which she portrays a schemer from a director's past, once again working her dark magic on both he and the audience.

When did the transition from terrible actress to world class happen? Was she always this good and simply not being given the roles, or is it that she is more comfortable with certain directors? Whatever it is, seeing a Cruz film no longer worries me, instead it is reason for celebration. She is a wonder.

Poor Jane Campion. How does one follow The Piano (1993)? Not with The Portrait of a Lady (1996) that much was clear. But Bright Star? Sorry, but no. Despite a flamboyant, and often very good performance from the lovely Abbie Cornish, there is little in the film to admire. Based on a true story, the love affair between the poet Keats and his neighbor, Fanny, the film strives to be something it is not, and ends up being nothing more than a disappointment. Sad because Campion is the real deal.

Today is a busy one...more later.

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