Hollywood studios use the 10-day Toronto Film Festival (Sept. 9-18) as a giant lab in which to test responses to the movies they hope will score with audiences (and Oscar voters) in coming months. Here's a scouting report:
Invasion of the Biopics The lives of singers Ray Charles and Bobby Darin, as well as sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, are examined in three movies. Best is the astutely nuanced Ray
, featuring Jamie Foxx (above) in a powerhouse performance. Kinsey
, starring Liam Neeson as the title character, manages to be both fascinating and funny. The problem child: Beyond the Sea
, the Darin biopic. Kevin Spacey (who also directed) has the pipes but can't bridge the age gap. (The crooner was 37 when he died; Spacey is 45.)
Being and Nothingness
Who'd have thought there was rich comic potential in pitting existentialism against nihilism, but director-writer David O. Russell (Three Kings
) finds it in the wacky I Love Huckabees
. Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin generate brainy chuckles as a duo of philosophy-minded detectives intent on helping clients Jude Law
and Mark Wahlberg find the meaning of life.
Backstage antics in London are the focus of both Being Julia
, an amiable comedy starring Annette Bening as a theater diva in the 1930s, and Stage Beauty
, a romantic drama with Claire Danes
and Billy Crudup. The esoteric Beauty
, set during the Restoration, is about the last days of an era when only male actors were allowed to play women.
There are laughs to be had, but Shark Tale, an animated fish story from DreamWorks (Shrek), is no Finding Nemo
Paul Giamatti (American Splendor
) gives another splendid, sad-sack performance in Sideways
, a lovely, bittersweet comedy about a wine enthusiast.