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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 09/15/2009

Hitting the Highlights of the Toronto Film Festival

Jen Chaney has spent the past five days at the Toronto International Film Festival. Today she recaps the highlights of her experience.

Covering the Toronto Film Festival has brought on a bit of an existential crisis. I've tried to be everywhere at once in this celeb-filled Canadian city, and perhaps, as a result, I've been nowhere. Or maybe I just think that because I've seen too many movies during the past few days that raise important questions about the human condition. I've met George Clooney, therefore I am: could that be the meaning of life?

Honestly, I don't know. All I know is that I had a wonderful time covering one of the most significant film festivals in the world. While doing so, I tried my best to get a sense of what was happening in terms of the stars, the cinema and the scene. Here's what I managed to soak up.

The Stars
There are so many famous movie faces in Toronto right now that it's pretty tough to sneeze without spewing germs on someone who previously earned an Oscar nomination. I spotted and/or chatted with several actors and filmmakers during my stay, but the highlight for me had to be the Friday after-party following "The Men Who Stare at Goats" premiere.

Held at a gorgeous, contemporary private residence just outside of Toronto -- and complete with live goats all decked out in T-shirts that said "Stop Staring at Me" -- the event attracted "Goats" stars George Clooney and Jeff Bridges, as well as Jason Bateman and Richard Kind, a Clooney pal and one of the stars of the new Coen brothers movie, "A Serious Man."

I actually spent a few minutes that night chatting with the affable Clooney. What did we discuss? I know we talked about his performance in the movie "Up in the Air." I also know that he had a few drinks and gave a big 'ol kiss on the cheek to a waitress when she brought him another glass of champagne. (To her credit, she accepted the kiss without dropping her tray.) (And apparently without becoming his latest girlfriend. -- Liz) Beyond that, all I can tell you is that I opened my mouth and words tumbled out. Exactly what I said remains a mystery.

Other tidbits I picked up at that party: Bateman confirmed that Mitch Hurwitz is about halfway through the script for the "Arrested Development" movie and that the entire cast is on board to do it once said script is complete. (Hooray!) And director Mary Harron ("American Psycho"), also in attendance that night, confirmed that her adaptation of "The Moth Diaries" will be a vampire film more along the lines of "Let the Right One In" than, say, "Twilight."

Meanwhile, I have to give top film festival honesty points to Gabourey Sidibe, the young actress who plays Precious in the Oprah Winfrey-endorsed film of the same name. During a cocktail reception for the movie on Sunday night, I asked Sidibe if she was having fun at the festival. "No," she said, sounding a little panic-stricken. I asked if she felt overwhelmed by all the attention. She said yes. "I did six hours of interviews today," she added. I didn't want to tell her things will only get more intense if she gets an Oscar nomination. So I said things will probably get better. Yeah, I had to tell a little white lie in the face of Sidibe's truthfulness. But what I really wanted to say was: Precious, it's all right to admit that this Hollywood thing can sometimes be a total pain in the rear.

The Scene
There are different levels of famous-person stalking that can be pursued at the Toronto Film Festival. If you want to spot film critic royalty like Roger Ebert or Elvis Mitchell, hang out at the Cumberland or the Cineplex Odeon Varsity, where most of the press and industry screenings take place.

If you want to see a bona fide movie star, park yourself -- as many people did, for hours on end -- outside the key swanky hotels in downtown Toronto. Numerous young girls camped out at the Four Seasons every day, just hoping for a fleeting glimpse of a Jonas brother making a Starbucks run. (The Disney boys are staying here while shooting the next "Camp Rock" movie.) And a mix of paparazzi and autograph-seekers maintained a permanent residence a few steps beyond the front doors of the Intercontinental, where many of the studios' junkets take place. In some cases, the fans don't even know who they've just managed to meet, as evidenced by one nice young man who showed me his newly acquired signature from Juliette Lewis, yet repeatedly referred to her as "Julia."

The Cinema
Yes, all that star-spotting is fun. But in the end, the Toronto Film Festival is about the films. I didn't catch even a fraction of the movies I wanted to see. But here are a few things I can tell you based on some of the films I saw and the buzz I absorbed.

"The Road" is tough to watch at times but very well done.

The adjective most commonly used to describe the Charles Darwin biopic "Creation," starring Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany: eh.

Reactions to "Men Who Stare at Goats" are mixed, ranging from "hilarious" to "I hated it." (Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.)

The "Dorian Gray" remake isn't great.

Clive Owen delivers a solid performance in "The Boys Are Back."

And everyone loves "Up in the Air." It will earn at least one or two Academy Award nominations. Mark those words. You heard them from the Toronto Film Festival first.

By  |  11:00 AM ET, 09/15/2009

Categories:  Awards Season, Awards Season, Awards Season

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