Photograph: George Pimentel/WireImage
The King's Speech rules Toronto film festival
Tom Hooper and Colin Firth's beautifully crafted royal tearjerker took the audience's crown, while Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford were left stumbling in its wake.
Each year, you can pretty much count on three things happening at the Toronto international film festival (aka TIFF): 1) a lame-duck Canadian feature with virtually non-existent export potential will kick off proceedings (2010's opener Score: A Hockey Musical inspired the ice-rink theme for the lavish opening night party but won't be playing your local Odeon any time soon); 2) more stars than the heavyweight European festivals combined will descend on the city thanks to the sheer number of films programmed (which hovers around the 300 mark); and 3) the glut might leave some high-profile titles gasping for exposure but awards-season contenders will emerge in dribs, drabs and often droves.
In the latter category you can firmly place The King's Speech, which departed Toronto with the festival's audience award, confirming its resounding popularity as a beautifully-crafted royal tearjerker. Consider that the last two winners were Slumdog Millionaire and Precious, and it's not a bad prize to have in your pocket. Only a step behind Tom Hooper's period piece was Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, which steamed into town with Venice momentum and grabbed the festival in its demented chokehold. The question on everyone's lips was, “Have you seen Black Swan?” and Natalie Portman's performance makes her a sure thing for awards glory.
The Brits were big winners: Made In Dagenham, Brighton Rock, Michael Winterbottom's The Trip and Richard Ayoade's directorial debut Submarine were all received with plaudits. Danny Boyle's 127 Hours might have triggered some audience members to drop like flies at its unflinching portrayal of a trapped climber's self-amputation, but James Franco's lead performance as the desperate limb-hacker was only just surpassed by Portman's and Colin Firth's in The King's Speech as the festival's buzz turn for an actor. Two years ago, Slumdog Millionaire's astonishing run kicked off here and Boyle's follow-up looks to have gained similar momentum.
For everyone who was dreading the American remake of Let The Right One In, it may be sacrilege to hear that Matt Reeves's remake Let Me In matches and is in some ways superior to its Swedish predecessor. The Cloverfield director has been so successful at importing the eerie visuals and melancholy Scandinavian gloom of Tomas Alfredson's original to a 1980s New Mexico setting that some devotees might think it's a shot-by-shot redux. Where it excels is in the performances of Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) as the bullied schoolboy and lonely girl bloodsucker. Both play their scenes with elegant, stirring poise, allowing Reeves to ramp up the heartbreak and dread. As a genre title, it's likely to be precluded from awards consideration but it was my favourite film at this year's TIFF after The King's Speech.
Another film surfacing as an unexpected entry in the conversation was Rabbit Hole, which features a pair of superb performances from Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman (easily her best in years) as an upper-middle class couple struggling with the recent death of their four-year-old son. It's a serious adult drama surprisingly – but engagingly and honestly – directed by John Cameron Mitchell of Hedwig And The Angry Inch fame. Every festival has its underachievers too, and the high-profile titles leaving town with some wind taken out of their sails included Clint Eastwood's supernatural thriller Hereafter, Robert Redford's wheezy history lesson The Conspirator and Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go.
The latter opens the London film festival in a little over three weeks' time and is likely to be embraced with more relish here than it was in Toronto. But with The King's Speech waltzing off with Toronto's crown, it makes you wonder how much debate Sandra Hebron and the LFF's programmers entered into before opting for the adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel. Not being privy to their discussions, we can only speculate that they felt The King's Speech was too predictable a choice for their opening night film, and that Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield would set off more flashbulbs on the red carpet than Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter.