I began my annual journey to Toronto with a degree of ambivalence and a week after its conclusion I can't seem to shake that feeling. However, distance has at least provided a glimmer of perspective.

Somewhere hidden in the deluge of movies presented this year and in other recent incarnations is a great festival. For that matter, given enormously bad luck, one could easily conclude the event was second rate or struggling to find its niche.

As odd as what I'm about say is, it's a festival with simply too many movie options. There were somewhere on the order of 250 new features in this year's program and I managed to cram about 40 of them into my schedule.

Strictly speaking about one-quarter of my selections were things I was obliged to see for immediate assignments. At the same time I can count only five films that I wound up catching based upon recommendations or buzz. To be clear, I'm talking about five films that I would otherwise not have bothered to seek out. In two of those instances I was truly unimpressed.

The lingering ambivalence mostly relates to what I'll call my options - more than half of the movie choices that were based upon some inner compulsion. Some were driven by the talent involved; others upon acclaim at other festivals or my familiarity with them as a result of their popularity in their country of origin. There were probably also no more than a couple of films that were seen simply because of the happenstance of being at a particular theater at a propitious time.

The other day I culled through the program catalogue simply to jog my memory about what I'd seen. In the process, one cannot help but be confronted by what was missed and the queasy feeling about whether one will catch up with certain movies at another festival, market, special screening or possible theatrical run.

For a split second the thought went through my mind that I ought to have seen some film instead of something I did in fact select. It's simply human nature to winnow out the bad experiences and replace them with more positive ones. However, my more reasoned side quickly came to the fore with the sage reminder that no matter how much preparation and research one does to map out a festival strategy, one is still likely to see the same mix of good, bad and indifferent pictures.

The exercise was more illuminating in a general sense. Toronto shows far too many high profile movies from Hollywood and other movie capitols of the world. I understand and appreciate that events of this stature and magnitude require an element of glitz to stir the crowd and attract the fleeting focus of the mainstream press.

The thorny question is when does that factor become too much. While there's no definite answer, I'll offer that when the din of that particular component drowns out virtually everything else on view it's time to reassess and rebalance the scales.

Toronto is due for some recalibration, though my suspicion is that it's evolved into a glutton that cannot resist anything set upon its table. And while it recognizes that the culinary offerings submitted can be assembled into a well balanced meal, its voracious side is a sucker for stuffing itself with too many eye-catching confections.

The galas and special presentations that fuel most of the public noise at Toronto are invariably littered with the most mundane and mediocre fare. With so many set for imminent commercial release, I elected to forego new films from and as well as 's portrait of , simply titled While summary judgment will have to wait, none of my colleagues were prodding me to catch up with that particular quartet.

What I did catch was likely not much better. 's skewering of Hollywood in had an underlying mean spirit that dilutes much of its intended mirth, while trod in the footprints of to general disadvantage. simply had no good reason for selection and , while ultimately emotionally moving, was largely an opportunity to see the likes of and do their stuff in material a couple of notches above the usual studio offerings.

One also has to wonder about the inclusion of for other than mercenary reasons. Whatever qualities it possesses are undone by 's unbalanced performance and the curious absence of a scene that indicates the Willie Stark character's transition from good to bad. Without that requisite scene the story simply makes no sense.

tells virtually the same story as King's Men with far greater success. as Ugandan despot is afforded the opportunity to show the leader's charm prior to his descent into megalomania. is also excellent as the Scottish doctor that becomes his personal physician and sees the arc of his demise in this little treasure of a film.

Certainly an understandable mandate of Toronto is to showcase Canadian films and apart from the built in dilemma of limited selectivity and sometime misplaced chauvism, it's resulted in some sterling discoveries over the years. In that regard, the directorial debut of actress, is this year's prime example. Far from a warm bath, the saga of a marriage unwinding with the wife's descent into dementia and Alzheimer's is unsparing and unsentimental. There's already talk of an Oscar qualifying run for though veteran as her husband has the more substantial role.

Opening night served up from the filmmakers responsible for and while hardly ideal fare for a patron audience, it proved a challenging and compelling saga. Decidedly a demanding work, it evolves into a rumination about the arrival of the modern world into Inuit society in the early 20th Century and provides little solace about that evolution.

A likely better opening night selection would have been 's a silent film presented in strict traditional fashion. The story is vintage melodrama involving a man returning to the island home of his youth to fulfill his mother's last request. The flashback that composes the main section of the film is more in keeping with the filmmaker's sense of fun and the truly bizarre. It was unquestionably the best theater of the festival with a live orchestra, foley artists in lab coats providing the sound effects, a narrator and a castrato singer. A similar mounting will occur during the New York Film Festival and hopefully other venues in the next year.

Off campus I caught the Canadian bilingual thriller Heavily influenced by and other dark procedurals it recently became the biggest grossing local film in Quebec and has grossed an unprecedented $11 million across Canada. Otherwise it's rather routine with no obvious evidence for its outrageously popular local appeal.

Coincidently, Korea's biggest grossing movies, and , were also on view at the festival. recently took the commercial crown and like the Canadian thriller there's nothing about this monster movie that suggests it tapped into the national zeitgeist. The film has high production values with a malevolent creature reminiscent of - the result of chemical mutation - ultimately brought to bay by a dysfunctional but determined family.

is a far different tale. Set in a 16th Century court, it's based on a true life ruler's infatuation with a group of street performers. The film has a nice ragged energy with the traveling players providing the humor and acrobatics against the backdrop of rather fierce political intrigue.

On a similar note, chronicles the same era from a Spanish perspective with in the title role. Currently wildly popular in Spain, it's more somberly paced and truly unlikely to find an international audience. Spain was better served by Almodovar's magical and , a disturbing allegory set in the 1940s with Franco's soldiers embodying pure evil against rebels and mystical forces in the woods. A brief description simply cannot do it justice.

Perhaps the biggest personal surprise was , a documentary on abortion rights that filmmaker has been working on sporadically since 1992. In retrospect one can understand that the subject matter with its highly charged emotional nature would pose a challenge for someone trying to affect a balanced, articulate perspective. It is amazing, enthralling material presented in a fashion that will be disturbing for viewers regardless of their preconceived notions and biases.

The other rather startling documentary in the program was the deceptively titled Directed by it explores the implications of the intrinsic voyeuristic nature of the movie going experience. Psychoanylist proves himself an able tour guide with a sang froide attitude and Slavic lilt.

is the latest from who recently celebrated his 83rd birthday. He won the award for direction in Venice and it has an elegant, assured style. However, there's nothing particularly revelatory about this yarn of a half dozen Parisians whose lives intertwine in fitfully humorous and emotional encounters.

On the whole it wasn't a great year for the auterist filmmakers. 's doesn't quite coalesce in its view of the seasons of life though it features one of the most remarkable sex scenes ever put on film. I'd also been warned to expect disappointment from by but found this story of a man whose ill fortune cannot be reversed to be quite compelling and consistent if a tad familiar.

's first Dutch film in decades, , showed him in top technical form in a saga of Dutch resistance against Nazi occupiers. However, plot inconsistencies and a rather ragged conclusion marred my complete enjoyment. Conversely, in which plays a downed U.S. pilot in Laos circa 1965, presented in the unusual light of an action director. Displaying none of the filmmaker's past idiosyncratic style, it's a flag raiser one suspects he made simply to prove the point he could make a completely conventional movie.

The one entry that lived up to its promise was Cannes prize winner by The tale of two brothers caught in the crossfire of the Irish independence movement of the 1920s is one of his most assured works and eschews the polemics of some past efforts. It carries an emotional wallop that's devastating and honest without a hint of histrionics.

The French political thriller is among the more haunting films of Toronto with the echoes of the war in Algeria informing its narrative. Not quite as crisp as the vintage Costa-Gavras (who co-wrote the script), it nonetheless maintains a disturbing resonance. On the other hand only the startling images of linger and cannot overcome a thoroughly banal script and the tale of Australian aboriginals,, was unable to keep my attention, though I suspect it will play better outside the hurly burly of a festival environment.

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