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TIFF, Day 8: Doom, Death and Questionable Taste

As the fest winds down, films about apocalypse and assassination step up

To quote somebody else (Maxwell Anderson) writing about a different September, the days dwindle down to a precious few. And so do the movies left to debut in Toronto.

At the end of day eight for TIFF 2011, the only films that have yet to screen publicly are the darkly comic British film "Tyrannosaur," the Winne Mandela biopic "Winnie," the closing-night attraction "Page Eight," and a handful of others.

Michael ShannonThursday, meanwhile, brought the first public TIFF screenings of Jeff Nichols' "Take Shelter," a fascinating apocalyptic drama that taps into the mood of impending doom that also animates a number of other notable 2011 releases, including "Another Earth" and "Melancholia."

The upcoming Sony Pictures Classics release screened in Toronto right around the same time that it was winning the Grand Prize at the Deauville Film Festival, and initial reports suggest that the movie (which features a haunting performance by Michael Shannon) has added yet another positive festival reaction to a resume that also includes celebrated bows at Sundance and Cannes.

Tweeted Roger Ebert: "Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, 'Take Shelter' – chilling, eerie, very moving."

Saoirse Ronan and Alexis BledelOther Thursday premieres included "Violet & Daisy," the directorial debut from "Precious" screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher. The early consensus on the film, in which Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel (right) play a pair of teenage hitwomen: it's odd, but good. ("Weird enough to be memorable," wrote Jonathan Leigh.)

On Twitter, L.A. Times reporter Steven Zeitchik called the film "surely one of the strangest movies ever to play TIFF," and later added an equation: "Violet + Daisy: Kick-Ass meets Brick, but funnier & flashier. Some will hate, but they'd be wrong."

(Photo of Ronan and Bledel by Sonia Recchia/Getty Images)

In other TIFF chat around the web, Marshall Fine singles out a Midnight Madness selection, "God Bless America," from comic turned director Bobcat Goldthwait. The film, about a working man who decides to go on a killing spree aimed at the tawdriest aspects of American popular culture, "may turn out to be my favorite viewing experience of the festival," wrote Fine, who added that the film is "outrageous, bitter and wildly, inappropriately funny."

While Goldthwait's previous films did not fare well at the boxoffice, Fine has hopes for this one: "[T]here’s definitely an audience that shares his sense of outrage about just how low our lowest common denominator has fallen."

While their article is not directly concerned with Toronto, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott have collaborated on a New York Times story about a rich new heyday for character actors. And among the performers that they say are providing an antidote to "the plastic people with the corrugated stomachs and corrected cheekbones" found on reality TV, they single out one notable TIFF performance: Judy Greer's small but pivotal role in "The Descendants."

While Greer has only three scenes as a woman whose husband might have been dallying with George Clooney's wife, Dargis and Scott say she performs a crucial function: "Whether clueless, bewildered or tearful, she shifts the film’s center of gravity and alters its emotional chemistry: Ms. Greer reminds Mr. Clooney’s character and the audience mesmerized by his star power that it is not all about him."

FaustAs the festival winds down, meanwhile, the wrap-ups and post-mortems are upon us. Dargis, for instance, takes the measure of Toronto's "ambition and mountains of money," and rejoices in a fest that allows her to "have a blast" at "Moneyball" one day and then "bliss out the next" at the Russian director Alexander Sokurov's "Faust" (right).

Her other faves included Terence Davies' "The Deep Blue Sea," Alexander Payne's "wistfully, at times melancholically funny" "The Descendants," and David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method," where she goes out of her way to praise the eccentric and, she says, "underappreciated" performance by Keira Knightley.

For his part, Jeff Wells identified the following as TIFF winners: "Moneyball," George Clooney and Ryan Gosling in "The Ides of March," "Miss Bala," Janet McTeer in "Albert Nobbs" and "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen." On the debit side, he said, were "360," Twixt," "Killer Joe," "Machine Gun Preacher" and "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding."

And David Poland identified the overall theme of TIFF '11 as "good, but not great," which strikes me as fairly accurate. His most eyebrow-raising proclamation: that "Anonymous" could do better at the boxoffice and in the awards race than Sony's two other contenders, "Moneyball" and "The Ides of March."

Before the festival began, I wrote about the preponderance of rock documentaries in this year's lineup. And Peter Howell, the film critic for the Toronto Star, visits the same territory as he recounts his 2011 TIFF meetings with U2, Neil Young, Pearl Jam and Johnny Rotten. (Like me, Howell began his career writing about music and later segued into film.)

The most interesting revelation in Howell's piece: Johnny Rotten has "a soft spot" for Queen Elizabeth, the same woman about whom he once so memorably snarled, "God save the Queen/She ain't no human being."

Finally, a tweet from the festival's co-director, Cameron Bailey: "Little known fact: most people in the film industry are spectacular karaoke singers. #TIFF11"

No word on which Toronto party provided him with the evidence to support this statement, or which industry figures were so spectacular.