PEOPLE's movie critic finds the best of the fest starring George Clooney, Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey and Drew Barrymore

By Leah Rozen
Updated September 20, 2009 01:00 PM
Credit: Dale Robinette/Paramount; Everett

Too many movies, too little time. That’s the story at the Toronto International Film Festival, where 273 feature-length films were shown during the 10-day festival that wrapped Saturday. I managed to see 26 of them during my week’s stay. Here’s the word on five I really like that will be in theaters soon:

Up In the Air. George Clooney, that smooth-walking combination of star power and smarts, stars in a hugely likable comedy that couldn’t be more timely. He plays a contentedly single guy who specializes in firing people, a job requiring that he constantly fly all over the country. Based on a novel by Walter Kirn, the movie is written and directed by Jason Reitman (Juno) and features a breakout supporting performance by Twilight‘s Anna Kendrick. Opens Nov. 13.

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. Plus-sized Mo’Nique, best known for her sassy star turns on such TV sitcoms as The Parkers and films like Soul Plane, will knock your socks off with her searing turn as an abusive mother in this heartbreaking, though inspiring, drama about a teenage girl trying to survive in 1980s Harlem. Mariah Carey shines in a supporting role as a social worker. The film won the festival’s audience award. Opens Nov. 6.

A Serious Man. Joel and Ethan Coen, the sibling directing duo behind Fargo and No Country For Old Men, reconnect with their childhood in a Minneapolis suburb with this dark comedy about a college teacher (Broadway star Michael Stuhlbarg) for whom everything goes wrong. While this gleefully depressive tale may not be to everyone’s taste, it’s the purest distillation of the Bad Things Happen Philosophy Of Life ever put on screen. Opens Oct. 2.

Whip It. Drew Barrymore takes her first shot at directing and comes up with a fun, female-bonding crowd pleaser. This coming-of-age comedy is about a 17-year old (Juno‘s Ellen Page) who finds meaning to her life when she joins an amateur, all-girl roller derby team in Austin, Tex. Barrymore, Saturday Night Live‘s Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis and Marcia Gay Harden costar. Opens Oct. 2.

The Men Who Star at Goats. Clooney has another winner in this wacky comedy, about a real life, secret Army unit which hoped to apply psychic powers to military uses. It’s all very bizarre and funny and sticks around just long enough, a breezy 93 minutes. Jeff Bridges contributes a hilarious supporting performance as a New Age guru, a sort of cross between Willie Nelson and The Dude, Bridge’s own signature role from the Coen brothers’ 1998’s cult comedy, The Big Lebowski. Opens Nov. 6.