Ten days and hundreds of movies after it began, with a gala presentation of Score: A Hockey Musical (after all, this is Canada), the Toronto International Film Festival wrapped this weekend. With celebs from Clint Eastwood to Bruce Springsteen treading the red carpets, TIFF is never short on stars and story lines (Casey Affleck admitted that I'm Still Here, his Joaquin Phoenix "documentary," was made up). The festival had its share of marquee films: Eastwood's Hereafter, Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, the Oscar-bait British dramas The King's Speech and Never Let Me Go. But critics and buyers also seek out "little" movies to take a chance on. Some, like Let Me In, will open in U.S. theaters soon; others, maybe never. And one, Rabbit Hole, seems sure to be an awards-season contender. Here are snapshots of 10 pictures people were talking about.
1. Rabbit Hole
The sudden death of a beloved child can be a near fatal blow to the parents. Becca (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are neither dead, as they might sometimes wish to be, nor alive, at least as they once were. Eight months after 4-year-old Danny ran into the street and was killed by a teenage driver, they dwell in a limbo defined by their status as survivors of an atrocity. Their lives, jobs and relationship with each other become secondary to their existence as full-time mourners. To move on is a betrayal of Danny's memory; to remain paralyzed by sadness is to count not one but three fatal victims to the tragedy. This sensitive, painful film version of David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prizewinning play (which starred Cynthia Nixon and John Slattery on Broadway in 2006) is remarkable both for avoiding the pitfalls of the mourning-parents genre and for allowing Howie and especially Becca to embody a prickly, often comic grace. John Cameron Mitchell, creator of the vivacious outrages Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus, surprises with the subtlety of his directorial hand. This is no Lifetime Channel weepie; it is an evocation of coping that is deeply, complexly, heartbreakingly human. M.C.
2. Let Me In
A seductive mashup of two incompatible genres tender preadolescent romance and lurid my-girlfriend-is-a-vampire horror film the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In gets a surprise happy ending: a satisfying Hollywood remake. Young Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, who played Viggo Mortensen's winsome child in The Road), bullied at school and feeling abandoned by his estranged parents, finds a kind of soul mate in the ethereal Abby (Kick-Ass's Chloë Grace Moretz), who's "been 12 for a very long time." Marking a giant step up from his stupid monster-movie mockumentary Cloverfield, adaptor-director Matt Reeves makes only minor adjustments to the story recasting one character as a detective, playing half the movie as a flashback in transferring it to Los Alamos, N.M. Reeves knows that if the kids' creepy-sweet relationship works, the shock elements will take care of themselves. He gets lovely performances from his two young leads and is flawless at locating the desperate passion in what for Owen is a first love and for Abby is the last. R.C.
3. The Debt
Another English-language remake, this time of a 2007 Israeli political thriller, The Debt stars Oscar winner Helen Mirren and Avatar's Sam Worthington who never share a scene because they inhabit different halves of the movie, 32 years apart. In Berlin in 1965, Worthington's David joins two other Mossad agents on a mission to capture a genocidal Nazi gynecologist (Jesper Christensen) and return him to Israel for trial. His colleagues are the ruthlessly efficient Stefan (Martin Csokas) and novice spy Rachel (Jessica Chastain, a cross between soft Julia Roberts and flinty Katrina vanden Heuvel), who must get close enough to the Nazi can you guess just how close? to anesthetize and kidnap him. Mirren is Rachel in 1997: divorced from Stefan (Tom Wilkinson) and wracked by the recent suicide of David (Ciaran Hinds), she follows the goad of her conscience to go on one final mission. Though director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) is expert at steering both the knotty plot and his gifted actors, The Debt is never more than moderately engrossing. It's less a great night out at the movies, more a reasonable Netflix rental. R.C.