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On the Scene: Toronto Film Festival

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93845__sarah_lWell, here I am, friends: in Canada — America’s backlot, as it’s affectionately known. It’s a great place to eat fries drenched in beef gravy, a great place to shoot trees, rain, and wet pavement, and a great place for film festivals — this one in particular, the Toronto International Film Festival, where I’ll be spending the next 10 days, watching flicks, filing dispatches, and, Eros willing, seducing flame-haired comic stylist Catherine O’Hara with nothing but Southern charm and series of lewd gestures.

Urgent news first: I have just learned that all Mars bars in Canada are now peanut-free. Canadian television has taught me this.

(See what else Scott is learning after the jump…)

But even Canadian television can’t guide me through the celluloidmorass that is the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. It’s atable set for giants — giants with fly-like compound eyes capable ofwatching 16 films at once. I do not have these attributes. I ambut a small, near-sighted man with a dream: to see some, if not all, ofthe following films, plus some other surprising “finds” and maybe, justmaybe, a couple of real stinkers to carve up — all for you, reader, allfor you. Yes, A.O. Scott and I are up here, fending off wild,bloodthirsty Canadian moose, just so you can get a peek at yourprecious ’06 Oscar crop. I know, this is the job, I knew it when Isigned on, but… sheesh, this is practically Deadliest Catch, people. Iactually envy those crab guys. They get to wear those cool orangejumpers. They don’t have to mull the implications of the phrase “latestfrom Tarsem.”

What am I looking forward to? I’ll fight through the martyrdom andsingle out Sascha Baron Cohen’s heapingly pre-lauded Borat, forstarters: Think I’m gonna have to hit that midnight screening tomorrownight. Gonna need a good laugh by the time Thursday’s through: I’mstruggling between public screenings of Deliver Us from Evil (the onlydocumentary about the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal made with thecooperation of an accused pedophile) and The Journals of KnudRasmussen, Zacharias Kunuk’s long-awaited follow-up to Atanarjuat, TheFast Runner. Sex abuse or Inuit-Scandinavian culture clash? Canneschamp The Wind That Shakes the Barley is my runner-up. Whee! I canalready feel my mood disorder shrieking. Or perhaps that’s just the“poutine.” Damn this exotic Canadian cuisine!

The weekend’s already filling up. We have on our hands not one but twoBritish fantasias on the killing of a world leader: The alreadytiresomely controversial though intriguingly abbreviated D.O.A.P.(Death of a President) and The Prisoner, or How I Planned to Kill TonyBlair. (Ex-Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi is screaming at his agent rightnow, “Why doesn’t anyone make a movie about killing me?”) Rescue Dawn,the new Werner Herzog odyssey, is rubbing up against a screening ofBrad Pitt and Cate Blanchett’s Babel, the Iñárritu Cannes sensation.And somewhere in there, I’ve got to see Will Ferrell go allPirandellian in Stranger Than Fiction, the first “Kaufmanesque” movieto be made without the involvement of Charlie Kaufman.

As for the buzz? Well, everyone seems inordinately (or perhaps justordinately) stoked for For Your Consideration, the Christopher Guestgang’s take on the Oscar race. (Anchoring this one is theaforementioned Catherine O’Hara, one of the top comic performers of alltime, as a washed-up actress.) The Korean horror flick The Host iscoming in hot, emanating good buzz of uncertain provenance. I’m prettythrilled for Away from Her, the directorial debut of actress Sarah Polley (pictured), based onthe wonderful Alice Munro short story “The Bear Went Over theMountain.” (Did I mention it stars Julie Christie as an Alzheimer’safflictee?) And somewhere in there I’ve got to cram in John CameronMitchell’s experiment in art porn, Shortbus. (Note to self: Awesomewording!) Not to mention All the King’s Men, which I promise I’ll seebefore noon on Monday. Hey, cut me some slack! I’ve got a RussellCrowe/Ridley Scott flick (A Good Year), Todd “In the Bedroom” Field’sexquisitely trailered Little Children and a contempo Macbeth by themaker of Romper Stomper to fit in there! Do you want my mind toexplode, reader? Is that what you want? (I’ll give it to you, don’ttempt me! Come, sit in the “splash zone.”…)

Tell you one thing, I’m-a need some comedy to cleanse this drama-driedpalate. Here’s hoping Michael Ian Black’s The Pleasure of Your Companyand Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show. And there’s something herecalled Kurt Cobain: About a Son. Sounds like what the kids call a“laugh fest.”

My pick for an outside smash? Jindabyne, from the guy who made 2002’sLantana, the movie that very quietly put Anthony LaPaglia back on themap. It’s based on the Raymond Carver short story “So Much Water, SoClose to Home,” which got a sliver of Robert Altman’s cinematicattention in Short Cuts. No Huey Lewis this time, but what can you do?The addition of Huey Lewis to this festival would probably snap myfragile will. I’m still wrapping my mind around the words “BobcatGoldthwait-directed dramedy”: That would be Sleeping Dogs Lie.

Chew on that. I gotta go fight a moose.