As the Toronto International Film Festival comes to the end of its first – and busiest – weekend, a consensus is emerging that all in all, this is a good year at TIFF.
Over the festival's first four days, most of the big movies that came in with good reputations from previous festivals, including "The Master," "Argo," "Frances Ha," "Anna Karenina" and "The Sessions," only burnished those pre-TIFF reps.
Films that premiered in Toronto, from the opening night smart-person's action flick "Looper" to Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines" to David O. Russell's triumphant "The Silver Linings Playbook," for the most part delivered on their promise.
The buzz has been strong on lots of smaller films, including "A Hijacking," Imogene," "Seven Psychopaths," "The Central Park Five," "Leviathan," "9.79*" and more – and while the fest hasn't seen any truly big money deals, the buyers have been active.
(Above: scene from "The Impossible")
"It feels like the start of something new," said one producer over the weekend. "A lot of the old ways of making movies don't work anymore, so filmmakers are trying different things and we're seeing a lot of fresh energy here."
Festival goers are also seeing enough big stars to keep the fans and the photographers happy (well, sort of happy – you can't hang out in the press room for long without hearing a litany of complaints from photogs about how they're restricted more by TIFF each year).
Ben Affleck, of course, trotted out the charm for "Argo," while virtually the entire cast of "Cloud Atlas" made an appearance, and Johnny Depp showed up to support the documentary "West of Memphis" and whip up some un-doc-like fan frenzy.
More typically for the documentary world, activist and former Black Panther leader Angela Davis appeared on Sunday afternoon for the premiere of the charged political doc "Free Angela & All Political Prisoners," and even overshadowed the film's executive producers, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. The film is a rare doc to debut in the huge Roy Thomson Hall — the last one to do so, last year's "From the Sky Down," was about a rock 'n' roll band, U2, rather than a controversial political activist.
And speaking of politics, Hollywood mogul David Geffen delved into those waters on Sunday after a screening of Susan Lacy's doc "American Masters: Inventing David Geffen." "I cut Obama a lot of slack," he told moderator Thom Powers. "Politics in America are ugly."
Even some of Sunday's galas and special premieres were tough stuff. In subject matter at least, Robert Redford's "The Company You Keep" hearkens back to the conspiracy thrillers of the '60s and '70s, with Redford as an aging radical accused of murder.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, meanwhile, delved into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church with "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God."
And Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Impossible," which premiered at the Princess of Wales on Sunday night, is so disturbing that it appears to have caused one patron to faint. A grueling drama that tells the story of a family that was caught in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the film's showcase is a lengthy depiction of the tsunami hitting the Thai shoreline – with unflinching and graphic shots of wounds suffered by Naomi Watts' character when tree branches tear through her skin.
The tsunami sequence and its aftermath are so harrowing that the rest of the movie pales by comparison, though it drew a lengthy standing ovation for Bayona and stars Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland.
Toronto typically gets a lot less hectic and crowded when the first weekend ends and the industry starts heading home, but the festival still has some heavy hitters to unveil. The Monday lineup, for instance, includes Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder," with Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko; "Hyde Park on Hudson," with Bill Murray as FDR and Laura Linney as his (distant) cousin and mistress; "The Iceman," which reportedly features wonderful performances by Michael Shannon and Winona Ryder as a hitman and his unknowning wife; and "Arthur Newman," a dark little character drama starring Colin Firth and Emily Blunt.