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Live from Toronto Film Festival: Tuesday 9.13.11

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My hunch about skipping the opening weekend of this year's Toronto International Film Festival has paid off, in more ways than one.

Mostly, however, it's made for a more pleasant psychological experience. While press screenings are crowded, there's not the fevered mania that seems to infect the first few days - that rabid rush to be first, to see a movie before anyone else and hurry into print (or, more likely, the online universe) to announce your opinion.

By this part of the festival, that anxious, curdled, me-first feeling has passed. Sure, there was a crowd to see a press screening of The Descendants this morning or Moneyball this afternoon - but those films had press-screened and premiered already. The early adapters, as it were, had already been there, done that, tweeted this and Facebooked that about both films - if they hadn't done it previously when the films played at the Telluride Festival over Labor Day weekend.

At this stage of the festival, there's less of the crazed competitive feeling and more the sense of discovery and the ability to simply immerse oneself in movies, wallow in them from morning to night. Which is what I did Tuesday with another five-movie day.

Two of those films are movies that qualify as among the year's best. I'll go into more depth about Moneyball" when it opens next week, but it's a fully satisfying film experience: a movie that adapts a fascinating but intricate book, telling a true story that doesn't easily suggest cinematic treatment. But director Bennett Miller (Capote) and writers Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin have done that - not to mention the outstanding cast led by Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman and, in particular, a delightfully deadpan Jonah Hill (who should be hearing Oscar buzz shortly). They all combine for one of the season's most entertaining outings, one that will please baseball fans and non-baseball fans alike.

I was even more dazzled by Alexander Payne's The Descendants, a film that had me alternately laughing and crying. Again, I'll go into more depth when the film opens at the end of the year. But Payne's film, about a lawyer in Hawaii coping with a comatose wife and two obstreperous but loving daughters, is as rich and complex as Payne's previous work. Indeed, there ought to be a law that Payne has to make movies more often. His films - Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways" - are each filled with feeling and unexpected comedy. That's particularly true of The Descendants, which offers what may be the best performance of George Clooney's career.

The day's biggest disappointment was Ten Year, an ensemble comedy about a high-school reunion that features a strong cast of talented young actors:

This commentary continues on my website.