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Toronto Film Festival and Fall Movies

Jen Chaney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 14, 2009 12:30 PM

Live from the wilds of Canada, Jen Chaney, washingtonpost.com's movies editrix and DVD columnist, took your questions about the highlights of the Toronto Film Festival and discusses the most-anticipated fall movies.

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Jen Chaney: Good afternoon. I'm here in lovely Toronto -- and really, it is lovely, weather has been gorgeous -- covering this year's Toronto Film Festival.

Today is actually my last day at the fest (sniff, sniff) but I've spent the past few days doing interviews, checking out some films and walking by more Tim Horton's locations than I can count.

In the past few days, I've seen two George Clooney movies (as well as Mr. Clooney himself), the fine new film from the Coen brothers, Michael Moore's latest and some other ones as well. Am happy to talk about any of those movies or whatever else is on your mind. So let's get to it, eh? (See how Canadian I have become?)

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Arlington, Va.: What movie is getting the most buzz?

Jen Chaney: That's a hard question to answer for a couple of reasons.

First: I have spent some of my time going to screenings, but more of it running around doing interviews. As a result, I haven't been completely immersed in the theaters, listening to what people are saying about every single film.

That said, I can tell you that I haven't heard a single soul say anything bad about "Up in the Air" (this is the George Clooney film, directed by Jason Reitman). And personally, I absolutely loved it. It's elegantly done and it could not be more appropriately timed for this particular moment in our culture. (Plot, in part, is about a man who is hired by companies to lay off their employees.)

Unless something wacky happens, I fully expect it to get a Best Picture nomination, and I'll be shocked if Clooney doesn't get a Best Actor nod for it, too.

At the press screening for "A Serious Man," the new Coen brothers movie, reaction seemed fairly positive. And I don't know what the general buzz is, but I think "The Road" is very well done, albeit bleak (but of course, we kinda know that going in, based on the novel). Performances from Viggo Mortensen and his young co-star, Kodi Smit-McPhee, are incredibly strong.

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VA: Why is the film festival celebrating Tel Aviv's centennial?

Jen Chaney: Going right to a controversial topic with this one...

I don't think the festival is celebrating Tel Aviv's centennial per se. The festival launched a new program this year, called City to City, in which they screen multiple films that focus on a particular location. For the inaugural installment of the series, the organizers chose Tel Aviv, a move that has prompted protests from some who think that it demonstrates a pro-Israeli bias.

I am hardly an expert on this subject by any means, but from reading a bit about the issue before I arrived, I have to say I don't quite get what the big deal is. And since I've been here, I have only heard the subject brought up once, during a press conference.

The focus from my perspective has really been on the films themselves, and I think that's as it should be.

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Clifton, Va.: Is Toronto quickly becoming THE film festival?

Jen Chaney: I don't about THE. I am not sure there is one THE.

Obviously there are many festivals, but in my mind the big three are Sundance, Cannes and Toronto. To your point, Toronto has risen in stature a bit because it is scheduled so close to the start of awards season, so people look very closely here for indications about which films will emerge as Oscar contenders. "Slumdog" really started to take off last year after being well-received at Toronto, which further cemented that reputation.

Other festivals, like Telluride and Venice, are also important for Oscar clues as well. But Toronto is on a larger scale than those, and certainly gets a lot more widespread media coverage.

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Washington, D.C.: What film surprised you the most? And what was the worst film you saw?

Jen Chaney: Surprised me the most ... hmmm... maybe "A Serious Man"? I went into that not knowing quite what to expect, and it's very offbeat, even for a Coen brothers film. But I quite liked it and definitely plan to see it again. It's extremely funny, in that totally absurd, Coen brothers way, but it also raises a lot of questions about spirituality and what kind of ethical code we choose to live our lives by.

And as far as worst, I really have not seen a movie I downright loathed. But my least favorite -- and this is one I saw before coming here in preparation for the festival -- might have been "Whip It." It's Drew Barrymore's directorial debut and I really appreciated the spirit in many of the scenes, but wasn't sure it all gelled the way it could or should have.

Also, I didn't see it, but I have heard a few people say they didn't much care for "Creation," the Charles Darwin movie with Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany.

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Arlington, VA: What's the word on Jennifer's Body? No disrespect to Diablo Cody, but it looks absolutely awful from the trailers.

Jen Chaney: Honestly? I loved it. When I interviewed Cody a couple of days ago, she said that she and Karyn Kusama, the director, were very inspired by the Sam Raimi/"Evil Dead" movies and I can really see that based on the mix of horror with humor.

I laughed a lot, and I thought the kind of pop culture-infused dialogue that Cody writes worked really well in this genre, better even than it did in "Juno."

I know there have been some negative reviews of it. And I spoke to one fellow journalist who despised it, and got increasingly angry just talking about it. But I'm sticking to my guns. I thought it was good old-fashioned, midnight movie fun. And Adam Brody's speech about emo bands is worth the price of admission alone.

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Washington DC: Have you seen "Men Who Stare at Goats" yet? I love the cast but the trailers make this thing look a bit too bizarre.

Jen Chaney: I did see "Men Who Stare at Goats." It definitely has some funny moments in it, but the narrative isn't tightly structured enough, and it starts to unravel as the movie progresses. So it definitely has some flaws, but I also giggled more than once, so it's hardly all bad.

Overall reaction to it has been decidedly mixed. One woman who sat next to me at a screening said she would have preferred to stare at goats for two hours rather than watch the movie. (Ouch.) I've heard other people say they really liked it, though. And know who was laughing pretty hard at the screening I attended? Bill Murray. He was sitting two rows in front of me and seemed to particularly enjoy the use of Boston's "More Than a Feeling." Because, come on, who doesn't love some Boston?

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USA: Any buzz about Glorious 39 from Stephen Poliakoff?

Jen Chaney: I'm afraid I haven't heard a peep about this one. But as I said, particularly during the last couple of days, I've been spending most of my time traipsing from hotel suite to hotel suite to do interviews.

That's my one regret about this festival trip: I really would have liked to see more movies. But it's hard to be everywhere at once. And when you're covering a festival, you also have to carve out some time to actually file things and get your work done. Of course, that all interferes with screening time.

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Arlington, VA: I am jealous. I hope to make it up there for the fest one day. Is it difficult for regular people to get passes for the films? I am not so much interested in seeing "stars" as in seeing interesting films. And I love Toronto in general.

Jen Chaney: It's actually quite easy for regular people to get passes for films, which is one of the great things about this festival. Especially if you plan ahead properly, you can get tickets to public screenings of movies both big and small. There's a really nice mix of films here so if you are more interested in seeing unusual movies you can't find at the multiplex, it's a great festival to explore.

The festival also hosts some free, outdoor activities as well. So it's not like you have to be Clive Owen's best friend to get access to fun events and screenings. (Although being Clive Owen's best friend would be lovely, I'm sure.)

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Washington, D.C.: I don't know if you've seen the recent spate of fashion oriented movies, such as "Lagerfeld Confidential," "Valentino: The Last Emperor" or "The September Issue," but I'm amazed at how unentertaining these people are yet let's constantly do films on them. They aren't that interesting in real life but on celluloid, nada. It was interesting how much Anna Wintour looks like a goanna lizard native to Australia.

Jen Chaney: You know, I haven't had a chance to see any of those and they aren't screening in Toronto. ("Valentino" is already on DVD, I believe.)

Tom Ford's film, "A Single Man," is screening here, though. But it's not really about fashion.

To your point about fashion people being unentertaining, I suppose that's really a question of taste. Moviegoers who are super into fashion may find those subjects enormously entertaining. Just may not be your thing, which is totally cool if it's not.

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Allentown, Pa.: Did you see "The Informant!" at the Festival? I'm looking forward to it this weekend as it's one of the funniest trailers I've seen in a long time.

Jen Chaney: I actually saw "The Informant!" before I headed up to Toronto. I didn't like it quite as much as I thought I would, but I did enjoy it. Matt Damon, no surprise, is quite convincing as a bumbling, delusional whistle blower.

I think my issue -- and I'll try to explain this without giving away spoilers -- was that something felt off to me in the early part of the movie. Then something in the storyline is revealed that made me realize the "off" feeling I had makes total sense.

This will all become clear to you once you go see it. Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh were both in Toronto to promote the film over the weekend, but sadly, I did not get a chance to see either one of them.

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The Coen Brothers': "A Serious Man" has one of the most irritating trailers I've ever seen, with a man repeatedly being slammed (by his head) against a wall. Made me determined to avoid the film.

Jen Chaney: Yeah, it is a strange trailer. And the very beginning of the movie is even stranger (though not in an irritating way). For the first few seconds, I was like, "Wait, am I in the wrong screening?"

If you like the Coen brothers at all, you should check it out, though, the trailer aside.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hey Jen,

I'm a fan of your DVD reviews. Ok, having sucked up, did you see The Informant!, or hear anything about it?

Jen Chaney: Hey, there's no sucking up necessary here!

As I said earlier -- probably while you were composing this question -- "The Informant!" is entertaining but it didn't knock the socks right off my feet or anything.

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Jen Chaney: Thanks for all of your questions today. I've got some other work to take care of, and then I'm going to see if I can squeeze in another screening before day's end.

Feel free to continue following me on Twitter:

www.twitter.com/chaneyj

. Talk to you soon -- actually, when I rejoin Liz for our next "Lost" chat on Thursday!

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