Canada, Not Cannes: Rex Reed Reports From the Toronto International Film Festival

Clooney! Pitt! Close! Two Films Called <i>Michael</i>!

When all else fails in the new films, which it often does, there is always the thrill of discovering great new performances. Oscar rumors spin around Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, stiff as a boned corset in the astonishing role of a Victorian Irishwoman who disguises herself as a man to work as a butler and gets away with the deception for 20 years. Rachel Weisz is marvelous in the old Vivien Leigh role in a new movie version of Terence Rattigan’s brilliant play The Deep Blue Sea, and a slim, sylphlike Jennifer Hudson, of all the Dreamgirls divas, carves a new career in the title role of Winnie, wife of legendary South African leader Nelson Mandela. Finally, trembling with vulnerability, the sensitive and versatile Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under and soon-to-be Fanny Brice in the forthcoming Broadway revival of Funny Girl) is positively devastating in Think of Me, playing a jobless, poverty-stricken single mother struggling to survive in the phony swirl of Las Vegas. As one of the continuing body blows the working disenfranchised suffer daily in an economic downturn, this is a numbing portrait of a woman at the end of her rope, suddenly faced with an offer to sell her only daughter for $20,000 to an affluent adoptive couple who can give the child a better life. The decision is wrenching, and failure is assured either way. The acting by both mother and child is powerful and emotionally intense, but the centrifugal force of Ms. Ambrose left me reeling. She is heartbreaking without a shred of self-pity, and Think Of Me is a sad, wrenching but admirably unsentimental film about the bravery of the human condition that truly deserves a bigger audience.

As I reach the midway point, there is still more to come: a documentary about noisy, ubiquitous Sarah Palin; the latest work by Australia’s distinguished Bruce Beresford called Peace, Love and Misunderstanding, with Jane Fonda as a hippie grandmother from the Woodstock generation; a new Wuthering Heights with a black Heathcliff; and a modern take on Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, directed by Ralph Fiennes, replete with cable news, cell phones and Uzies. Of course it wouldn’t be a film festival without sex, masturbation and full-frontal nudity, and Irish hunk Michael Fassbender delivers all three as a pornography-obsessed New York sex addict in the ferociously graphic Shame. So far, the lines for that one have been so long that I couldn’t get in, but I’m still trying.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all at TIFF, there’s always more.