09/11/2012 06:57 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2012

Live From Toronto Film Festival: Monday, Sept. 10

I used to brag about the day in 1988 or 1989, when I managed to see six films in one day -- a blend of press and public screenings -- at the Toronto International Film Festival.

It was a feat of stamina (at a much younger age), but also one of logistics: running from theater to theater, beating traffic and crowds (though it was mostly centralized at theaters in Toronto's Yorkville neighborhood).

If not for some connectivity issues at my hotel -- which prevented me from posting my report about Sunday's films before I had to leave for my first screening of the day -- I might have matched that on Monday. Instead, I ended the day after five films (still not a bad total), having taken a break mid-afternoon to walk back to my hotel to post my blog. The buzz on the film I meant to see -- something called Arthur Newman -- was not good, but still ...

On the other hand, six films in one day is less of a feat these days, given the press screenings' almost total centralization in the massive Scotiabank multiplex. It becomes less about logistics than stamina, because you walk out of one screening and into line for the next. And people tend to be pretty nice about holding your place so you can hit the refreshment stand or the bathroom while you're waiting to be let in.

As film-festival days go, this was a good one, with five films that I could recommend to anyone. Well, OK, so I would have to think about who my audience was before sending them off to see Martin McDonagh's bloody funny Seven Psychopaths -- and particularly The Iceman, a brutally intense film about late 20th-century gangsters by Ariel Vroman that features an award-worthy performance by the constantly fascinating Michael Shannon.

He plays real-life contract killer Richard Kuklinski, an icy individual who also happens to be a family man with a wife and two kids. Working for New Jersey mobster Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) and then for all of the New York families, he has a workmanlike approach to violence that isn't without a sense of humor. But when he runs afoul of DeMeo and starts to freelance, his life begins to unravel.

The film features an intriguing cast that includes Liotta, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi, Winona Ryder and Chris Evans, as well as a cameo by James Franco. But it's Shannon -- with his laser-like glare, monsterish physicality and lantern jaw -- who carries the film on his broad shoulders, creating a lethal individual while finding his humanity. Vroman ratchets the tension, making this a hard-boiled crime tale that never lets up.

Even more compelling is The Impossible, a gripping true story of a British family (led by Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) on vacation in Thailand at the end of 2004 -- when the massive tsunami hits. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage), the film offers a white-knuckle recreation of the disaster, as seen through the eyes of Watts, as a mother trying to save her oldest son, a pre-teen. The tsunami sequence itself is scarily real, much more so than Clint Eastwood managed in Hereafter.

This commentary continues on my website.