24 September, 2011

The Return Of Roman Polanski

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Word comes from Europe that the celebrated director Roman Polanski will be returning to Zurich, Switzerland this week to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Zurich Film Festival. This could have been a standard issue awards story except for the fact that Mr. Polanski’s trip to Zurich two years ago to pick up this same honor precipitated a one-year legal battle that led to months of house arrest and his possible extradition to the United States to face a prison term for fleeing the country in 1978 to avoid punishment for the crime of statutory rape with a minor. The fact that Mr. Polanski feels secure enough (or is still enough of a high stakes risk taker) to return to the place where his legal limbo occurred is yet another fascinating chapter in an extraordinary life of one of our most gifted living film auteurs.

The 78-year-old director is enjoying one of his most prolific periods in this latter chapter of his life and career. His film THE GHOST WRITER, which starred Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and Kim Catrall, was the major winner at last year’s European Film Awards, sweeping the top prizes for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay. Polanski is currently receiving a career retrospective at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York. His newest film CARNAGE, a satire of manners based on the Tony Award-winning play GOD OF CARNAGE, will open the New York Film Festival next week (after world premiering at the Venice Film Festival last month). Advance word on CARNAGE is that it will be a major player in the end-of-season awards race, with Polanski possibly be nominated for an Oscar……and continued questioning of why he should be denied access to the country where he spent one of the most fruitful periods of his life.

Polanski’s story is a fascinating one, a reflection of the shifting currents and historical milestones of the past eight decades. Roman Polanski was born Rajmund Roman Thierry Polański in Paris, France in August 1933 to Polish Jewish parents. He moved with his family back to Poland in 1937, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. He suffered all the indignities and horrors when the Nazis invaded the country, but survived the Holocaust hiding with a Catholic family, although his mother and other relatives did not. Following the war, he was educated in the strict regimentation of Communist-era Poland and was accepted into the famed Lodz National Film School, where he made a series of impressive short films. In 1962, his feature thesis film KNIFE IN THE WATER was nominated for an Academy Award, and announced the arrival of a brash new European talent. Polanski eventually got out of Poland and lived in London during the height of its swinging sixties period, making such celebrated films as REPULSION (1965) and CUL DE SAC (1966).

In 1968, he moved to the United States and made a tremendous impression with the adaptation of Ira Levin’s best-selling horror novel ROSEMARY’S BABY, starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon. Just as he had been part of the Eastern European new wave and the British post-war film movements, Polanski became a symbol of the New Hollywood, a time when the movie studios were in decline and a host of brash young directors (including Arthur Penn, Brian De Palma, Mike Nichols, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and others) began their celebrated careers. Following the triumph of ROSEMARY’S BABY came the deepest of personal tragedies. In 1969, Polanski's pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of the Manson Family at their Los Angeles home. The grisly event was later seen as the definitive end to the optimism and free flowing years of the 1960s. Following Tate's death, Polanski returned to Europe and spent much of his time in Paris and Gstaad, but did not direct another film until MACBETH (1971) in England. The following year he went to Italy to make WHAT? (1973) and subsequently spent the next five years living near Rome. However, he traveled to Hollywood to direct CHINATOWN (1974), one of the definitive films of the decade. The neo-noir, which starred Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston, was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and was a critical and box-office success.

Polanski was again an A-list Hollywood director but the drug-fueled licentiousness of the times eventually caught up with him. In 1977, after a private photo shoot in Los Angeles, Polanski was arrested for the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl and pleaded guilty to the charge of unlawful sex with a minor. In a case that was particularly convoluted, he made the fateful decision to flee the country to avoid sentencing, setting up in Paris, where he has been ever since. Since then, he has faced possible extradition to the United States and a lengthy prison sentence that has prevented him from visiting the United States or even traveling to countries that have extradition treaties that could result in his arrest and deportation (this is what happened in September 2009 when he came to Zurich, with the extradition order eventually thrown out by a Swiss court).

The irony of his precarious relationship with the United States was felt most keenly in 2002, when his Holocaust drama THE PIANIST won three Academy Awards, including one for himself as Best Director. His no-show at the awards ceremony, where he received an extended standing ovation, reignited debate about why the United States still was gunning for his arrest, even after his now middle-aged “victim” had publicly forgiven him and pleaded for the overturning of his guilty verdict. In a time when Americans are focused on much bigger issues, it seems that it the overzealousness of a few stubborn officials in the Los Angeles district attorney’s office have prevented the celebrated director from returning to the U.S. and have kept him in a legal limbo, where he must always be looking over his shoulder, afraid of an arrest warrant.

Polanski has received many awards in his career and may be in the running this year for more for his latest film CARNAGE. The film, set in New York City but shot in Paris, is a bracing comedy about the relationship between two couples after their children get in a fight at school and the selfishness of everyone, which eventually leads to chaos. It stars Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in December at the height of awards season. The big question in Hollywood is whether the celebrated director will again be nominated and will he finally be able to come back to the United States to receive the recognition of an industry that he has so influenced. It seems yet another chapter in Polanski’s colorful and eventful life is yet to be written.

23 September, 2011

Trans Atlantic Partners Networking In New York

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

One of the more ambitious initiatives at this week’s Independent Film Week, the international gathering of independent producers, in New York is Trans Atlantic Partners, an intensive training and networking program for established film producers from Europe, Canada and the United States. 26 producers are participating in the program designed to give filmmakers the necessary tools and knowledge to maneuver through the complex arena of international co-productions. The initiative is sponsored by the IFP, the U.S. producers organization that is presenting all the programs in the Independent Film Week, the Erich Pommer Institut (Europe) and Strategic Partners (Canada), a major co-production market held in Halifax during the Atlantic Film Festival.

European producers and their projects participating in the forum include:

Anneli Ahven (Estonia, MY ESTONIA)
Helen Alexander (UK, HECTOR & HIMSELF)
Tom Collins (Ireland, READING IN THE DARK)
Dariusz Jablonski (Poland, DRY RUN)
Titus Kreyenberg (Germany, THERE ARE NO SOULMATES)
Gilbert Mohler (Germany, THE QUEST FOR THE DRAGON'S GOLD)
Magnus Paulsson (Sweden, WANG)
Olivier Rausin (Belgium, MOTEL)
Sebastian Schelenz (Germany, MOTEL)
Femke Wolting (The Netherlands, EINSTEIN IN GUANAJUATO)

For more information, visit:

19 September, 2011

Strong Film Sales Emerging From Toronto

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Although it began rather slowly, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which just concluded on Sunday, saw a good degree of sales and acquisition activity, with many more deals to be announced in the coming weeks. Although it does not have an official market sidebar like Cannes or Berlin, there is a good amount of informal rubbing of shoulders between members of the international film community who were in attendance in force.

According to the TIFF press office, more than 31 films were sold during the Festival's 11-day stanza to territories in North America, Europe, The Middle East, Asia, South America, and Australia, with more sales expected to be announced in the coming days. Among the biggest deals of the event was the sale of the UK drama SHAME by artist-turned-director Steve McQueen to Fox Searchlight Pictures for North America. Other films that were significant players included TRISHNA (UK, Michael Winterbottom), WUTHERING HEIGHTS (UK, Andrea Arnold), KILLER JOE (US, William Friedkin), THE LADY (France/US, Luc Besson), GOON (Canada, Michael Dowse), GOD BLESS AMERICA (US, Bobcat Goldthwait), ELLES (France/Poland/Germany, Malgoska Szumowska), YOUR SISTER'S SISTER (US, Lynn Shelton), THE DEEP BLUE SEA (UK, Terrence Davies) and INTO THE ABYSS (US, Werner Herzog).

Film sales confirmed to date include: BEAUTY (South Africa/France, Oliver Hermanus), BELOVED (France, Christophe Honore), ELLES (France/Poland/Germany, Malgoska Szumowska), FREE MEN (France, Ismael Ferroukhi), GENERATION P (Russia/USA, Victor Ginzburg), GOD BLESS AMERICA (US, Bobcat Goldthwait), GOON (Canada, Michael Dowse, HYSTERIA (US/UK, Tanya Wexler), THE HUNTER (Australia, Daniel Nettheim), INTO THE ABYSS (US, Werner Herzog), KILLER JOE (US, William Friedkin), LAST DAYS IN JERUSALEM (France/Israel/Palestine/Germany, Tawfik Abu Wael), LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE (Hong Kong, Johnnie To), YOUR SISTER'S SISTER (US, Lynn Shelton), SARAH PALIN--YOU BETCHA! (UK, Nick Broomfield + Joan Churchill), SHAME (UK, Steve McQueen), TERRAFERMA (Italy, Emanuele Crialese), THE AWAKENING (UK, Nick Murphy), THE INCIDENT (France, Alexandre Courtes), THE LADY (France/US, Luc Besson), THE RAID (Indonesia, Gareth Huw Evans), THIS IS NOT A FILM (Iran, Jafar Panahi + Mojtaba Mirtahmasb), WUTHERING HEIGHTS (UK, Andrea Arnold), and YOU'RE NEXT (US, Adam Wingard).

Of course, many films in the TIFF program were sold previously at the Cannes Film Festival or were pre-sold last year, and Toronto provided a shimmering showcase for their launch on the North American market. The many film critics who attended create an early indication of which films will be prominent in the end-of-year awards season. In addition, several strong titles are still very much in play, with announcements to be made shortly, including such films as the Festival opener FROM THE SKY DOWN (US, Davis Guggenheim), TAKE THIS WALTZ (Canada, Sarah Polley), A HAPPY EVENT (France, Remi Bezancon), WINNIE (South Africa/Canada, Darrrell Roodt), FAUST (Russia, Alexander Sokurov), ALMAYER'S FOLLY (Belgium/France, Chantal Akerman), OUTSIDE SATAN (France, Bruno Dumont), 360 (UK/Austria/France/Brazil, Fernando Meirelles), AMERICANO (France, Mathieu Demy), FRIENDS WITH KIDS (US, Jennifer Westfeldt), SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (UK, Lasse Hallstrom), BURNING MAN (Australia, Jonathan Teplitzky), HABEMUS PAPAM (Italy/France, Nanni Moretti), THE MOTH DIARIES (Ireland/Canada, Mary Harron), POULET AUX PRUNES (France/Germany/Belgium, Marjane Satrapi + Vincent Paronnaud), and Cadillac Audience Award winner WHERE DO WE GO NOW? (France/Lebanon/Egypt/Italy, Nadine Labaki).

Overall, nearly 4,000 industry delegates attended the Festival this year, a 20% growth over 2010. Attendees worked closely with the Festival’s Sales & Industry Office, which facilitates information sharing and fosters relationships between accredited buyers, sales agents, producers and filmmakers. Many more deals, both large and small, will be announced in the coming weeks, as sellers and buyers continue to circle one another long after TIFF has come and gone.

Toronto 2011 Award Winners

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The 36th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) came to a climactic close on Sunday with the announcement of its award recipients at a reception at the Four Seasons Hotel. With the Festival further solidifying its status as one of the Top Four in the world (with only Cannes, Berlin and Sundance in the running), it remains distinguished by not having a juried competition, with the exception for awards given to native Canadian films. So while there is no TIFF Grand Prize per se, the films that have been singled out are given remarkable momentum for their success in the marketplace in the months to come. If anything, Toronto adheres to its preferred position as the official launch of the awards season, with such high profile titles as A DANGEROUS METHOD, MONEYBALL, THE DESCENDANTS, THE IDES OF MARCH and others figuring prominently in this year’s Oscar races.

In addition, TIFF’s reputation as a “people’s festival” with a discerning audience also makes its Audience Awards a bellwether of which films will make waves at the box office when they open theatrically later this year. This year’s Cadillac People’s Choice Award went to WHERE DO WE GO NOW?, by Lebanese actress/director Nadine Labaski. The film, set against the backdrop of a war-torn country, tells the heartwarming tale of a group of women’s determination to protect their isolated, mine-encircled community from the pervasive and divisive outside forces that threaten to destroy it from within. The film, backed by French company Pathe, with co-production partners in Lebanon, Egypt and Italy, makes parallels to the “Arab spring” uprisings and the uncertain status of women in positions of leadership under the new realities. The award includes a cash prize of $15,000 and a custom award, provided by sponsor Cadillac. Another Middle East-themed film, the Berlin Golden Bear winner A SEPERATION by Iranian director Ashgar Farhadi, was the first runner-up, along with the Quebec dramedy STARBUCK, directed by Ken Scott.

The Cadillac People’s Choice Documentary Award was given to American director Jon Shenk for THE ISLAND PRESIDENT, a portrait of Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the island nation of the Maldives as he fights to save his homeland from rising seas caused by climate change and the greedy habits of the world’s powerbrokers in North America, Europe and Asia. In the popular Midnight Madness section, which showcases genre films, the Cadillac People’s Choice Award went to one of the breakout hits of the Festival….the Indonesian martial arts film THE RAID, directed by Gareth Evans and starring Indonesian martial arts sensation Iko Uwais. The film follows a SWAT team that is trapped in a rundown apartment block in Jakarta filled with heavily armed drug dealers and killers. It has been sold across the globe and promises to become the first big Indonesian film in decades.

TIFF has hosted an international jury of journalist from the international critics association FIPRESCI for twenty years. Members of the FIPRESCI Jury this year included Diego Batlle (Argentina), Carmen Gray (United Kingdom), Freddie Wong Kwok-Shiu (Hong Kong), Sam Adams (United States), Pascal Grenier (Canada) and John Semley (Canada). The FIPRESCI Prize in the Discovery debut features section was awarded to Swedish director Axel Petersén for AVALON, in the words of the jury “an assured, darkly humorous portrait of an affluent class in hedonistic self-denial that marks the arrival of a promising new voice in Swedish filmmaking.” In the Special Presentations section, which includes more veteran directors, the FIPRESCI Prize was won by Italian director Gianni Amelio for THE FIRST MAN, a co-production with France and Algeria. In this adaptation of a classic novel by existential French writer Albert Camus, the director has explored the legacy of colonialism and its repercussions on both the master and the servant. The jury lauded the director’s sensibility that combines “the tenderness of a memoir and the unflinching gaze of a war reporter.”

TIFF takes its vaulted international position seriously as a showcase for new Canadian cinema. Films from new and veteran Canadian auteurs were quite visible in all the sections of the Festival, including the inclusion for the first time of iconic director David Cronenberg (with his Jung-meets-Freud pscho/sexual drama A DANGEROUS METHOD). TIFF affords a dazzling showcase for this “north of Hollywood” talent with a series of juried awards. The SKYY Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film was won by Toronto-based writer/director Nathan Morlando for EDWIN BOYD, an evocative biopic of Canada’s most notorious bank robber, with local star Scott Speedman reaching a new maturity in the lead role. The award, which includes a cash prize of $15,000, will help the film find substantial international distributor interest across the border and beyond. The jury gave a special citation to Quebec director Anne Émond for the provocative NUIT #1, the erotic and candid portrayal of a hot one-night-stand sexual encounter.

The City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian Feature Film was unanimously voted to Montreal-based writer/director Philippe Falardeau for MONSIEUR LAZHAR, the tale of an Algerian immigrant who attempts a new beginning in a new land. The story focuses on the lead character, a teacher and his relationship with two of his pupils: a 10 year old boy traumatized by his encounter with death and a girl whose own interpretation of fate and destiny provoke unforeseen revelations. Sponsored by the City of Toronto, the award carries a cash prize of $30,000.

So, the curtain closes on another TIFF…..with films still reverberating in the consciousness of attendees and many beginning their slow, upward climb to critical and audience recognition. For the most celebrated films, TIFF provided their first significant encounter with both groups. For the many hidden gems in the Festival’s program of over 300 films, they await discovery and championing. Those of us who furiously attended are catching our breaths, waiting for both things to happen.

Terrence Davies Film Coming To U.S.

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

n a deal closed prior to its final public screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, THE DEEP BLUE SEA, a UK production by veteran director Terrence Davies, has been acquired by specialty U.S. distributor Music Box Films. The film, adapted from British playwright Terrence Rattigan's celebrated 1952 play, stars Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz (THE CONSTANT GARDENER), Olivier Award winner Tom Hiddleston (WAR HORSE, THOR) and BAFTA and Olivier Award-winning theatre actor Simon Russell Beale (AN IDEAL HUSBAND). THE DEEP BLUE SEA is Music Box’s first acquisition of an English language film. Music Box Films’ recent slate includes the original DRAGON TATTOO trilogy, which collectively registered nearly $22 million in US theatrical box office receipts. Hot on the heels of the film’s Toronto premiere THE DEEP BLUE SEA screens in competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival, as well as serving as the Closing Night Gala at next month's London Film Festival.

sees Terence Davies’ return to the big screen. His most recent film, the documentary OF TIME AND THE CITY, was an affectionate look at his childhood city Liverpool, but he is best known for the semi-autobiographical DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES, THE LONG DAY CLOSES and THE HOUSE OF MIRTH. The film is a Camberwell/Fly Film Production financed by UK Film Council and Film4 in association with Protagonist Pictures, Lip Sync Productions and Artificial Eye. The film is being sold internationally by Protagonist Pictures.

U.S. Distributor Buys Burma Biopic

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Cohen Media Group (CMG) has picked up U.S. distribution rights to French director Luc Besson’s newest film, THE LADY, from French production company/sales agent Europa Corp. The biopic, a French/UK co-production stars Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, and details her personal struggle for political expression in one of the world’s most oppressive military dictatorships. The film made its world premiere bow on September 12 at the Toronto International Film Festival. CMG is planning to open the film in New York and Los Angeles by the end of the year to qualify for Oscar and other awards consideration for both Yeoh and her co-star David Thewlis, with a full release early next year. CMG, which produced the Oscar nominated FROZEN RIVER in 2008, moved into distribution last year with the release of the French/Algerian Oscar nominee OUTSIDE THE LAW.

European And Canadian Producers Network

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Toronto Producers Lab is the high-powered mixer where 12 European film producers and a dozen of their Canadian colleagues have a chance to network and powwow on possible co-productions and other cooperative ventures. The initiative is organized by the Toronto International Film Festival, the Ontario Media Development Corporation and European Film Promotion, a pan-European organization that represents the film industries of its European members.

The Lab organizers have used their match making skills to pair up European and Canadian producers based on their track record, their current film slates and where they’d like to draw additional film financing based on their shooting priorities. In this day and age, where almost any European city can be a stand-in for any city in the world, and Canadian production represents an entrée into the lucrative North American market, the Lab is fulfilling an important function. While many Europeans have their sights set on possible financing and distribution in the United States, the truth is that the U.S. does not have any co-production treaties with other countries, whereas Canada has them with virtually every European nation. For more information on the participants and their projects, visit:

13 September, 2011

Newest From Quebec Enfant Terrible

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallee first made significant waves in 2005 with his rock-infused coming-of-age film C.R.A.Z.Y., which won major prizes on the international film festival circuit and was sold to almost 50 international territories (a strong statement for a French language Canadian film). Unfortunately, its success was not matched in the United States, where it played at the New Directors/New Films festival and other prestigious events, but never got theatrically released.

In the years since, the director made his English language debut with THE YOUNG VICTORIA, a period costumer about England’s Queen Victoria that starred Emily Blunt. Now Vallee has returned to his Franco roots with CAFÉ DE FLORE, which had its world premiere last week at the Venice Film Festival and makes its North American bow in Toronto this week. The Canadian/French co-production is set in 1969 Paris and also in contemporary Montreal. It stars French pop star and actress Vanessa Paradis (aka Mrs. Johnny Depp) as the mother of a child with down syndrome. As in his previous films, the soundtrack of pop music greatly enhances the atmosphere and overall mood. The film has strong advance buzz and this time Monsieur Vallee should see his American theatrical ambitions met.

12 September, 2011

Toronto Top Ten Buzz Titles

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) enters its middle stretch this week, offering attending buyers, critics and film lovers a dizzying feast of film treats. Planning what to see is a definite must, since even at 5 films per day (my personal max), there are many that are missed. While here, one must adapt a strategy and raison d’etre……do you attend the highly buzzed titles in the largest cinemas (the ones by name directors with oodles of movie stars) or mine the more exploratory sections of the Festival in search of a perfect gem. Personally, I prefer doing a little bit of both and the rewards can be great. Seeing a fantastic new film by an acknowledged master is a definite thrill, as is discovering a fresh voice in a debut film from a country that can most generously be described as obscure. That sense of discovery can pay off big time, in terms of box office, film awards and audience recognition. In the past few years, Toronto has served as the initial launching pad for such contemporary classics as AMERICAN BEAUTY, TSOTSI, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, PRECIOUS and THE KING’S SPEECH. Which films will now enter the winners circle from this year’s batch? I cannot be certain but here are 10 films are generating the most buzz at this year’s Festival.

#1 THE IDES OF MARCH (USA) – George Clooney, who already has an Oscar for his acting work in the film SYRIANA, may bring home a twin award as Best Director for this highly charged political thriller. The film, which also stars Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Philip Seymour Hoffman and a sensational supporting cast, brings audiences into the behind-the-scenes drama as the staff of an idealistic Presidential contender must spin rumors of corruption and sexual impropriety. With the upcoming election cycle now part of the 24 hour news feed, this film is amazingly topical and will be the subject of much debate in months to come.

#2 A DANGEROUS METHOD (Canada) – Marking the first time that a David Cronenberg has been seen at the Festival (which seems remarkable in itself), the veteran director moves from his horror roots to tell a more muted tale in beautiful historical detail. The film, with a script by Christopher Hampton adapted from his stage play, chronicles the real-life rivalry between the autocratic Viennese psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (played with uncanny charm and bluster by Viggo Mortensen) and the ambitious Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (played by rising star Michael Fassbender) and the role that a mentally unstable Russian woman (played by Keira Knightley) plays in their initial collaboration and eventual dissolution. While some have complained that the film has a chilly atmosphere, it is without a doubt one of the most literate dramas to come out this year and should figure strongly in awards season.

#3 360 (UK/Austria/Brazil/France) – Fernando Meirelles, the Brazilian director behind such intriguing recent films as CITY OF GOD, THE CONSTANT GARDNER and BLINDNESS, offers a jigsaw puzzle of a movie which spans the world as it examines sexual relations between people of different social classes. The fact that the attractive cast includes such names as Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Foster and Jamel Debouzze, with the language switching effortlessly from English to French to German to Portugese to Slovakian makes this a truly international film about the universal hunger for intimacy.

#4 THE DEEP BLUE SEA (UK) --- Veteran UK director Terence Davies, whose previous films have mined the past for its hidden secrets, adapts a famous play by 1950s British playwright Terrence Rattigan and offers actors Rachel Weisz, Simon Russell Beale and Tom Hiddleston exceptionally meaty roles that explore the dimensions of human despair and capacity for resurrection. Weisz plays an abandoned woman who attempts suicide to win back her lover and send a message to her former husband. The film brings a classic English acting touch to a highly emotional and erotic story of abandonment and isolation.

#5 FRIENDS WITH KIDS (USA) --- A very mainstream film that comes into the Festival without a US distribution deal is a rare bird indeed. This follow up to her successful 2004 comedy KISSING JESSICA STEIN has writer//director and actress Jennifer Westfeldt taking on the lead role of a woman who decides to have a child with her male friend who is not husband material (played by a winning Adam Scott). In this pet project, the writer/director and her producing partner (and life partner) Jon Hamm have assembled a terrific cast to play their married and harried friends, including such favorites as Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Edward Burns, Megan Fox, Chris O’Dowd (and Hamm himself). The audience laughed throughout and the script has some sharp insights into the psyches of successful 30-something New Yorkers who want their cake and eat it too. This one will off the shelf soon enough……..

#6 ALPS (Greece) – After creating a sensation last year with his debut film DOGTOOTH (and being nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar), Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is back on the Festival circuit with his sophomore effort, another bizarre tale populated by mysterious people. In this film, a group of people, led by a nurse, form a sort of therapy group for people in grief that impersonate the deceased as a way of helping them with their grieving process. The film is decidedly offbeat but also tremendously insightful and beautiful to watch. It literally gets into your head and leaves you altered…..and isn’t that what the best cinema can do for us?

#7 CAFÉ DE FLORE (Canada/France) ---- Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallee first made significant waves in 2005 with his rock-infused coming-of-age film C.R.A.Z.Y., which won major prizes on the international film festival circuit. In the years since, the director made his English language debut with THE YOUNG VICTORIA, a period costumer about England’s Queen Victoria that starred Emily Blunt. Now Vallee has returned to his Franco roots with CAFÉ DE FLORE. The film is set in 1969 Paris and also in contemporary Montreal. It stars French pop star and actress Vanessa Paradis (aka Mrs. Johnny Depp) as the mother of a child with down syndrome. The film also features an evocative score that brings depth and illumination to its dual story structure.

#8 POULET AUX PRUNES (France) --- After the worldwide success of the animated parable PERSEPOLIS, directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud return with another film set in Iran, this time of the 1950s. Different from the previous film, this one is a live action film, but one that depends on classic expressionistic cinema language to tell its tale of a talented musician whose instrument is broken and loses meaning in life. While the soul searching is in a deep humanist vein, the film is not bereft of humor and a kind of surrealist charm.

#9 ALBERT NOBBS (Ireland) --- Latin American director Rodrigo Garcia, who had a major indie arthouse hit in the US with the multi-character drama MOTHER AND CHILD, tries his hand at a historical story in this unusual and provocative film set in 19th century Ireland. Veteran actress Glenn Close is generating Oscar buzz playing the lead role, a woman who disguises herself as a man and works as a butler for twenty years. The film offers a compelling meditation on the role of gender and sexuality in allowing people to live to their full potentials. The excellent supporting cast is made up of hot young actress Mia Wasikowska, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Aaron Johnson. The film is a strong favorite to win the Audience Award here in Toronto.

#10 THE LADY (France/United Kingdom) --- French director Luc Besson focuses his expansive yet intimate lens on a true heroine of our time. This biopic tells the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, an Oxford-educated woman from Burma who returns to her native country in the 1980s as a voice of dissent to one of the most repressive military dictatorships in the world. Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh is receiving tremendous praise for her powerful and charismatic work as the social activist whose Nobel Peace Prize win did not prevent the military junta from keeping her under house arrest for over a decade. At once epic and intimate, the film celebrates the struggle of an individual who represents the struggles of her people, and celebrated the difference that a single strong-willed individual can make in the world.