Sent my mother-in-law with my wife to see The Descendants. George Clooney came up the red carpet, took her hand, and spoke with her (how are you dear?). Major son-in-law brownie points.

Francis Ford Coppola was a treat in converstaion, with insight, quips and tales of filming, and he genuinely wanted to offer help to any young filmmakers in the audience. His new film Twixt, was at best an interesting failure. The only scene where Val Kilmer came out of his acting coma turned out to be improvised, and while hilarious, was out of sync with the remainder of the film.

Rampart continued Woody Harrelson’s streak of interesting independent films. A stellar support cast, and gritty, uncompromising script by James Ellroy (love his books, but know I wouldn’t like the man) made for compelling viewing. The open ending left many audience members miffed. I got it, but it was unsatisfying. Again, the theme was moral ambiguity as a tough cop believes he does right while doing wrong – he honestly thinks he’s the good guy, and smarter than the system.

Johnnie To is my favourite Hong Kong director these days – I fell in love with his work when he debuted 3 films at TIFF a few years back. He mostly does character driven thrillers, with the visual flair of John Woo and the quirkiness of Tarantino. Life Without Principle started slowly, and turned out to be a drama, with a few thriller elements throw in as a backdrop. All-in-all unexpected, and typically engaging. To always shows up at TIFF to discuss with the audiences, and his English is better each trip here.

Countdown is another Asia thriller, this time from Korea. An assured tale is let down by multiple anticlimactic endings. We all got the symbolism, no need to underline it time and again for fifteen minutes after the story has ended. See it and leave when the plot resolves.

Jason Segal, Ed Helms and Susan Sarandon lend some Hollywood star power to the independent comedy Jeff Who Lives at Home. Quirky, but badly paced, and an ending you’ll see coming from the open scene. Good, amusing, but not much more.

My surprise film this year was Violet and Daisy. The writeups made it sound like a Guy Ritchie style action flick. In reality, this tale of two eighteen year old girls who become assassins is a black comedy. The heart of the film is James Gandolfini as the straight man – the girl’s intended victim – who imbues the film with it’s moral heart while never preaching. Highly recommended.

Moneyball has already opened in theatres, and has serious Oscar hopes. Brad Pitt plays Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane, but it’s Jonah Hill who is the revelation – not just his usual pudgy sidekick role – as the economics grad who thinks he know a better method for crafting a baseball team. The script by Aaron Sorkin (Social Network) slyly avoids the usual sport movie cliches. Most notably in the lack of inspiring locker room speeches – Pitt actually give the antithesis to this (You aren’t losers, you just look like losers). Again, an expectation defying ending takes this out of usual sports movie territory. It isn’t a likely best picture winner, but it is very good.

TIFF this year was lacking both the highs and lows for me – could just be my viewing selection, but I wasn’t hearing much buzz about surefire Oscar nominations like most previous years. On the other hand, I didn’t walk out of anything this year, and the worst film I saw came with a scintillating talk from a favorite director. Another fine TIFF from my perspective.

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