Toronto 2011 Journal, Part 7: Reevaluating

The ProjectorSeptember 14, 2011
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TORONTO -- Now that most critics have had a chance to catch the major films playing Toronto ("Moneyball," "Wuthering Heights," "Shame," "A Dangerous Method," "The Descendants"), everyone's checking in with colleagues to gauge their impressions. It's funny how the general consensus around a film can change from festival to festival, or even screening to screening. What can be a critics' darling one moment can slide into irrelevance frighteningly fast.

For instance, "A Dangerous Method" was widely loved at Venice, but most people I know here at Toronto (myself included) were less impressed. On the opposite side, "Shame" didn't get as much love in Venice as it is here. I still remember being in Toronto last year and hearing all the great buzz "The King's Speech" was getting at earlier festivals. When it played Toronto, most critics here didn't see what the big deal was.

During this midpoint lull in the festival, I've been taking the opportunity to talk to critic friends to get a sense of what films I may have over- or underrated in relation to the general consensus. Much to my happy surprise, many of my colleagues agree with me about the uneven-but-affecting "Take This Waltz," although it appears I'm on the high side with my estimation of "The Descendants." There don't seem to be any clear-cut consensus masterpieces, although a lot of people (like myself) think "Shame" is pretty outstanding. But now "Shame" will have to move on to the New York Film Festival and elsewhere, where its critical standing may be elevated or taken down a peg depending on future reactions. It's funny how raised expectations can sometimes affect your response to something.

In the meantime, my Wednesday is going to be filled with indies and documentaries. First up is "Your Sister's Sister," the follow-up film from "Humpday" director Lynn Shelton. There are other films I'm curious to see still in Toronto, but this is the one I'm most excited about, especially because the reviews thus far have been good. Again, it's important to be mindful of expectations going into a film.

Then, I think I'll check out "Paradise Lost 3," the final installment of the documentary trilogy about the West Memphis Three, who were recently released from prison. Toronto won't be showing the version with the new happy ending, but I loved the first two chapters and am curious to see how the unresolved-ending version plays.

Finally, I'll be at the night screening of "God Bless America," the new film from Bobcat Goldthwait. His last movie, the superb Robin Williams dark comedy "World's Greatest Dad," was surprisingly moving and thorny, and his new picture (about an unlikely Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque pair of killers) looks to be a love-it-or-hate-it sort of proposition. I love movies like that; at least they get people talking.