Photo Image Press; Globe
Alynda Wheat
September 18, 2010 06:00 AM

Natalie Portman s extraordinary performance in Black Swan may have been a foregone conclusion, but there were some delightful moments in the Toronto International Film Festival that took me by surprise. Here are a few:

The Metaphysical Clint Eastwood:
The guy can do anything, sure. But who knew he wanted to explore such a big, ethereal question as what happens after you die? In Hereafter, he intertwines three stories of people who have brushes with death, including Matt Damon as a reluctant psychic, slowly unspooling their lives, then bringing them together in unexpected and not altogether tidy ways. It s certainly not Eastwood s best film, but it s a welcome departure for a man who tends to dwell in a world that s entirely more visceral and elemental.

The Return of the Relatable Nicole Kidman:
You know the knock – though fantastic, Nicole Kidman isn t exactly the warmest of actresses. But in Rabbit Hole, a complicated, mature drama about parents coping with the death of their young son, she finds a way to use that reserve to her advantage. Playing opposite Aaron Eckhart, Kidman is utterly sympathetic not because she s a bundle of tears throughout the film (she isn t), but because being defensive and withdrawn seems like an entirely understandable coping mechanism for a grieving mom. Since Lionsgate bought the film at the festival, it seems they also think Kidman is at the top of her game.

The supporting cast of Black Swan:
Portman gets (well-deserved) praise as a ballerina obsessed with perfection, but her costars should not be overlooked. Mila Kunis is engagingly impish as a ballerina new to the dance company headed by Vincent Cassell s mercurial, seductive director. And though she s only in a handful of scenes as a dancer railing against the cruelties of age, Winona Ryder again proves why she deserves a place on the big screen.

The Humor in 127 HRS:
You just don t expect a movie about a guy who sawed his arm off to be funny. But director Danny Boyle and his star, James Franco, do more than just tell the story of the hiker who saved his own life by sacrificing a limb, they give Aron Ralston shape and depth – they make him human. Apparently, Ralston s a really funny, energetic guy, and with a terrific performance from Franco, cool visuals from Boyle and a rocking soundtrack, 127 HRS is nothing less than a tribute to him.

The Fun, Feisty Feminism of Made in Dagenham:
If I said “Made in Dagenham is a union movie about a strike led by female upholstery employees at a Ford plant in 1968, you d probably fall asleep before the end of this sentence. But Dagenham is so much richer than that. It stars the never-boring Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) as an accidental Norma Rae who leads her stitching sisters in a fight for equal pay. The women are supportive, saucy and loads of fun, even when the money runs out and hope wears thin. Plus, it s 1968 – the clothes and the music are pretty fierce.

Fun Bromances:
Male bonding was big in Toronto, and nowhere was it in better form than in The King s Speech, starring Colin Firth as the stuttering King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as his droll speech therapist. The film works on every level and largely because of the incredible chemistry between the two amazing actors (who should both see some Oscar attention).

A more modern English pair, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, also found some dude affection in the absolutely hilarious The Trip, about their foodie jaunt in Northern England. Rounding up the bro posse is Will Ferrell and Christopher Jordan Wallace in Everything Must Go. Who s Christopher Jordan Wallace, you ask? He s an amiable young actor who plays a pudgy neighborhood kid who befriends Ferrell s down-and-out alcoholic. The fun of watching these two is trying to figure out who s teaching whom about life.

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