Toronto Diary: Reese Unveils 'Penelope'

PEOPLE's movie critic gives the scoop on the flicks – and stars – at the film festival

The Toronto International Film Festival is in full swing – with stars like Reese Witherspoon and Sacha Baron Cohen unveiling their latest offerings.

In all, 352 movies from 61 countries will unspool at this year?s festival, which runs until Sept. 16.

Oscar-winning actress, Witherspoon was wearing her producer's hat at Toronto. Well, not literally. On Friday night, her blond locks swung uncovered as she introduced Penelope, a whimsical fable produced by her production company, Type A. The movie, about a wealthy young woman born with a pig's snout for a nose, played by Christina Ricci, had its world premiere there at Roy Thomson Hall. Witherspoon herself has a minor – but amusing – role as a Vespa-riding delivery woman in the flick.

Before bringing Ricci and other cast members onstage, Witherspoon said she was particularly delighted to be debuting Penelope at the festival.

"It was at the Toronto Film Festival last year that I saw Walk the Line for the first time with an audience," she said, recalling the obviously happy memory. (She went on to win a Best Actress Oscar for her role as June Carter Cash in the biopic about country star Johnny Cash.)

Penelope is just one of many films that have come to Toronto this year trailing significant buzz, either because of favorable showings at earlier festivals, such as Cannes or Telluride, or because they feature big name stars or controversial subject matter.

Several movies that rate high on the chatter meters – a few of which I've already seen – include:

Babel: Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play an American couple traveling overseas in this ensemble drama, which spans the globe, touches on issues of terrorism, and shows how everyone is interconnected. The film had its debut at Cannes and is considered a possible Oscar Best Picture candidate. It's a worthy movie, but its parts work better than the whole.

Borat: Cultural Learnigs of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: Yes, that is indeed the full title, though everyone is just calling it Borat, followed by, "You know, the one with that Ali G guy." That would be Sacha Baron Cohen, the audacious English funnyman who starred in HBO's Da Ali G Show and was the effete French racecar driver in this summer's Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (a mouthful in itself). In Borat, a hilarious comedy that sets new highs for rude and crude, Cohen plays a TV reporter from Kazakhstan who travels across America in hopes of meeting Pamela Anderson. How rude and crude? The final credits list one guy's job as "nude fight coordinator." Now, there's an occupation to which one can aspire.

A Good Year: This lightweight comedy marks the first re-teaming of star Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott since Gladiator in 2000. Set in the South of France, Year is about a hard-charging English businessman who inherits a French villa and vineyard. It's based on a novel by Peter Mayles. The film has the fizz of champagne and its impact is just as fleeting.

Infamous: If you liked Capote last year, get ready for deja vu. Infamous tells the identical story about what happened when novelist Truman Capote traveled from New York City to rural Kansas to report on a horrific real life murder case. Toby Jones, a little known British actor, plays tiny terror Capote and Sandra Bullock costars as pal Harper Lee. Infamous is good, just not quite as good as Capote.

Bobby: This ensemble drama, a still unfinished film that is being shown in Toronto as "a work in progress," is about the effect that the assassination of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy had on various people (mostly fictional) present at the Los Angeles hotel on that fateful night in June, 1968. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, Bobby boasts a powerhouse cast, including Demi Moore, Lindsay Lohan, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne and Helen Hunt.

Stranger Than Fiction: This is a clever conceptual comedy that's lots of fun. It stars Will Ferrell as an IRS tax auditor whose life is being narrated, in a voice-over that only he can hear, by a novelist played by Emma Thompson. The impressive list of costars includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah.

With the exception of Penelope, all of the movies mentioned have distribution deals and will be opening in theaters in the next few months.

For more movie news, check out Leah Rozen's Fall Movie Preview.

Related Articles