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2009 Toronto Film Festival Wrap Up

The story becomes a tango in which the two women circle and dance around Bingham, each party wary and uncertain. Clooney is so good, assured, precise, ever-present — I found myself marveling at his ease and command. The writer, Scott Macaulay, argued that the part is perhaps the most personally telling of Clooney’s roles because it constitutes a kind of auto-critique or commentary on his own lifestyle. Farmiga is also finally unleashed, no longer tormented and conflicted, the way she often is cast in her dramatic parts. She is something to watch.

The individual parts are often dazzling, but the film never quite coheres into something more substantial and profound. Reitman has talent and ideas, but a not a strong personality. The movie has a very clean, almost anonymous studio-era style that privileges the actors but never takes the material into a darker vein. (French director Olivier Assayas’s superb trilogy Demonlover, Clean and Boarding Gate are much more evocative and suggestive with regards to how globalization, internecine corporate culture and fractured social relationships have unmoored us physically, emotionally and sexually.)

Up in the Air never reaches the fever pitch of Sturges or the startling tonal shifts of Lubitsch. Every time it ties to go serious, the movie feels jarringly off. The product placement is so egregious, I thought American Airlines, Hertz and Hilton underwrote the movie’s budget.

Toronto collates (or, the critics might charge, cannibalizes) the best titles from other festivals. The Venice awards were announced the first weekend, providing another chance to latch onto films or actors being talked about. The first feature of the photographer and fashion designer Tom Ford, A Single Man, is an adaptation of the 1964 Christopher Isherwood novel. A meditation on loss and mourning, the film tracks the inconsolable grief experienced by a British-born, Los Angeles-based literary professor (Colin Firth) following the death of his lover Jim (Matthew Goode) of 16 years in a freakish car accident.

Firth won the acting prize at Venice, and the film marked the first sale at Toronto (it was acquired by the Weinstein Bros). He’s a terrific actor and the award is not unwarranted, but the larger architecture encasing his work verges on the preposterous and sometimes crudely amateurish. The movie certainly evokes Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but is marked here by a crucial difference: Schnabel’s somewhat abrasive personality and manic self-regard notwithstanding, he’s a natural filmmaker.

By contrast, Ford is heavy and solemn. A Single Man lacks a single spontaneous moment. Virtually every shot of the movie is punctuated and italicized with meaning and cause, and the bludgeoning never lets up. It’s a reverie on the beauty and devastation of the male body, and the problem is not the subtext, but only the realization. Other directors (like Kenneth Anger, for one) have done it more sinuously and tragically. If a straight director aestheticized the flesh of nubile teenage girls the way Ford does handsome young boys, the outrage would be palpable. A Single Man is permeated by death imagery, but the enveloping vacuity leaves no sting.


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