Toronto International Film Festival: Top 5 Surprises

Jennifer Lawrence is more than just Katniss Everdeen. Plus, Winona Ryder is back!

Photo: The Weinstein Company

Some things you totally see coming – that Bill Murray would be a great FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson, for instance. Or that Ben Affleck‘s Argo, about rescuing American embassy workers in Iran, would somehow nail the Hollywood satire/nail-biting escape genre. (Oh, who are we kidding? It created the Hollywood satire/nail-biting escape genre – and it’s getting Oscar buzz to boot.)

Still, some things out of the Toronto International Film Festival continue to surprise, even now that the show’s over.

Here are a few:

Jennifer Lawrence is better than you think
Sure, she was great as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, but Lawrence is even better in Silver Linings Playbook, opposite Bradley Cooper. Cooper plays Pat, newly released from a mental hospital, while Lawrence is Tiffany, the neighborhood’s resident crazy chick. They’re amazing together, with Lawrence showing incredible range and comic timing in her award-worthy performance. Which reminds me – if you’ve never seen her gritty drama Winter’s Bone, you seriously need to invest a few hours on that one. It should satisfy a Lawrence fan’s fix until Playbook hits theaters Nov. 21.

Cloud Atlas is still drifting in my head
I’ll be honest, I still don’t know what to make of the epic from the Wachowskis and Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer, based on David Mitchell’s novel. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and a host of other actors play multiple parts in the film that spans aeons. (I’m not sure when “106 winters after the fall” is supposed to be, but it sounds like a good stretch of time.) It’s all visually arresting, and certainly fun, but do the stories add up to much? I’m still not sure. Do me a favor: See it when it comes out Oct. 26 and tell me what you think.

There’s a way to make Anna Karenina feel new
Granted, not everyone will be thrilled with director Joe Wright’s take on Tolstoy’s classic, but you have to give the man credit for trying something beautifully inventive. This production, starring Keira Knightley, Aaron Johnson and Jude Law, is like a musical without the singing. The action often takes place on stage, the movements beautifully choreographed as if the entire film were one exquisite dance. Oh, and the costumes are stunning.

Winona’s back!
No, I know Winona Ryder has had a few great roles lately. She was Spock’s mom in Star Trek three years ago, and she gave a great performance in Black Swan, as the washed-up ballerina nudged out of the spotlight by Natalie Portman. But Ryder has her best role in ages in The Iceman, a biopic about contract killer Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon). The movie is uneven, but Ryder is as talented – and as beautiful as ever – as Kuklinski’s sweet, clueless wife, Deborah. Let’s hope this is the (re)start of something big for Wi.

TORONTO HOTSPOTS: Check out where stars and cinephiles will mingle for TIFF

Occasionally, Joss Whedon misses
I’m a Whedon fan. I dug Firefly, sang along to Dr. Horrible and gave The Avengers four stars. But his modern-day take on Much Ado About Nothing is deeply disappointing. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker star as bickering would-be lovers Benedick and Beatrice, and they just don’t bring anything fresh or exciting to the roles. Plus, Whedon’s decision to shoot the film in black and white is puzzling, since none of the lighting or composition seems conducive to it. (The play is about a wedding in an Italian villa – it ought to be a riot of color and light.) Basically, if you’re a fan of the Kenneth Branagh version from 1993, I’d stick with that one.

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