Toronto: Jason Reitman, stepping Up

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Only two days in, and the festival overwhelms me with its abundance. Going to a weeklong fest doesn't necessarily mean that you see the best movies; in fact, the exact opposite is guaranteed. But Toronto assures you a quick rebound when you see a stinker. There are too many options here not enjoy at least some of them.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival

Catching up with some of the underwhelming Cannes slate, I nodded in mere admiration at Pedro Almodvar's Broken Embraces, a sumptuous, sexy film but clearly not one of the Spanish director's best. The story of a blind ex-director and his onetime lover (Penlope Cruz) is too beholden to its meta nods to Peeping Tom and Audrey Hepburn to breathe; plus, it's got one too many revelations. It's a weak closing-night selection for our upcoming New York Film Festival. Also disappointing (way more) is Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, very much the forced, shlocky fantasia I was fearing. Those who miss Heath Ledger should be free to say at this point that the actor left us with both good and awful work. Imaginarium, featuring the actor's final, incomplete performance ("finished" by guesting actors like Johnny Depp and Jude Law, taking tours of Parnassus's behind-the-curtain wonderland), is unmemorable at best. You almost feel like Gilliam wasted Ledger's time with his tiresomely strident foolishness, which hasn't evolved emotionally since 1988's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

But what's this? Juno's Jason Reitman is blooming into an identifiable sensibility, undercutting the sentimentality of Walter Kirn's novel Up in the Air (about a detached, jobcentric bachelor, here played by George Clooney) with Hawksian speed and frankness. Even if you cringed at Juno (I wasn't a hater), Reitman isn't the guy to blame, and now his strengths are coming into view. He has sympathy for those who toil in the bland corporate world, but not a blind eye to their harshness; the flyers of Up in the Air are professional dismissers, folks who go to wobbly companies and do the laying off for cowardly bosses. Reitman also loves actors. I don't think I've ever seen Clooney this exposed, seeming both older and more emotionally available. At one point in the movie, his character performs a truly heroic act for his grown-up sister, and Clooney's face comes close to crumpling with the release. Reitman still has a serious problem with choosing cutesy music for his films, but the performances are dynamite, especially a lusty, smart one one by Vera Farmiga as Clooney's travel hookup. ("Basically, I'm you, but with a vagina," she quips.) Expect the film to play significantly in this year's Oscar race.

Coming up next: The Road. (It's not exactly a happy movie.)

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