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Academy Awards hopefuls at Telluride and Toronto

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Every year there’s one film that plays the Telluride Film Festival to a ridiculously rapturous response. Last year it was a scrappy upstart called Slumdog Millionaire. And now it’s Up in the Air, a dramatic comedy starring George Clooney — Oscar winner and four-time nominee — as an airplane-hopping corporate hatchet man who starts a flirtation with an equally ambitious woman (The Departed‘s Vera Farmiga). Immediately after Air‘s Sept. 5 debut, the to-die-for reviews started coming in: ”Clooney has scarcely ever been more magnetic,” gushed Variety‘s Todd McCarthy, adding that he and Farmiga are ”one of the most fun couples…in many a moon.” Other critics, meanwhile, complimented co-writer/director Jason Reitman for crafting a breezy film that deals with current issues like downsizing and work-life balance. ”What makes it timely actually isn’t the fact that the main character fires people for a living — that’s one of six plotlines in the movie,” says Reitman, whose last film, Juno, was Telluride’s 2007 breakout. ”What makes it a movie of 2009 is that it’s about connectivity. We’re using Twitter and Facebook and texting, but we never look people in the eyes.” As Oscar season unofficially kicks off with this weekend’s bustling Toronto Film Festival, Air is clearly the movie to watch.

Several of Clooney’s Best Actor competitors will also make splashes in Toronto: His Ocean’s Eleven pal Matt Damon goes the goofy route in Steven Soderbergh’s whistle-blower comedy The Informant!, while The Road‘s Viggo Mortensen and The Boys Are Back‘s Clive Owen are top dramatic contenders. In the Best Actress race, up-and-comers Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) and Carey Mulligan (An Education) lead the pack. Documentarian Michael Moore turns his sharp gaze to bank bailouts with Capitalism: A Love Story, and the Coen brothers return with the personal drama A Serious Man. And at its first North American festival since sweeping Sundance in January, the moving Oprah Winfrey-backed drama Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire — featuring Best Supporting Actress standout Mo’Nique — will attempt to prove it can be just as successful at lower altitudes.

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