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Toronto 2013: Some Film Festival Highs And Lows

Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and Julia Roberts in <em>August: Osage County</em>.
Toronto International Film Festival
Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and Julia Roberts in August: Osage County.

Tastiest Scenery To Chew: August: Osage County, the John Wells-directed adaptation of the Tracy Letts stage play, stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Benedict Cumberbatch, and a generally very impressive cast. But Streep is cranked up to 11 as the miserable, pill-popping matriarch. I expect her to win an Oscar for this role, simply because it's so over-the-top and because she is compelling in it. But this is not small, subtle acting, and there are moments when I wondered whether a performance at this pitch would indeed work better on stage.

Most Perplexing Question That Won't Make Any Sense Out Of Context But That I Kept Really Wanting To Ask Someone Who Had Seen Both The Jake Gyllenhaal And The Jesse Eisenberg Doppelganger Movies: "Which did you understand better, the chicken or the spider?"

Best Catnip For Fans Of Benedict Cumberbatch: This is a toss-up between the fact that he dances in The Fifth Estate (while playing Julian Assange) and the fact that he sings in August: Osage County (while playing Margo Martindale's son).

Least Surprising Closing Credit: One Chance is the story of Paul Potts, the cell phone salesman who won Britain's Got Talent after shocking everybody with his rendition of "Nessun Dorma." It's a paper-thin story, in which both Potts and his now-wife are transformed into much more conventionally good-looking Hollywood people, and it says nothing about Potts that's at all inconsistent with the narrative of Britain's Got Talent as a wonderful tool to give opportunities to deserving people who need a leg up. But of all the things that aren't surprising about the film, perhaps none comes as less of a shock than that one of the producers is Simon Cowell.

Most Interesting Forays Into Acting By Mostly Non-Actors: This would be a toss-up between Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine, who's surprisingly not-terrible in John Carney's musical romance Can A Song Save Your Life? and young fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson, who's pretty good in Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said. (Also in that film: Tracey Fairaway, last seen in this space playing Kayla, the daughter in Deadly Spa. Seriously.)

Most Unsettling Interview: It's a stroke of luck for the rest of us that documentarian Alex Gibney, who made Taxi To The Dark Side and We Steal Secrets among many other films, was already making a documentary about Lance Armstrong's big 2009 return to the Tour de France — and had had access to Armstrong and a close working relationship with him for years — when Armstrong's doping came to light once and for all in 2012. Or ... once and for all, as far as we know. Gibney, once a self-described cheerleader for Armstrong's comeback, clearly no longer believes anything the guy tells him, but they sat down together anyway for an interview that, according to Gibney, came about because he told Armstrong the cyclist owed it to him after all this time (and years of lying) to talk to him face to face. What follows is weird, slippery, and unnerving, as Armstrong admits to lying but transparently remains convinced that he's a very, very good guy.

Best Performance By An Actor Who Is In Everything: Adam Driver's work as Daniel Radcliffe's best friend in the charming romantic comedy The F Word is so delightful that as fine and charming as the central story between Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan is (and it is), I kept waiting for Driver to come back. If there isn't a GIF floating around on the internet within a week of the film's eventual opening that involves Driver and nachos, it will be proof that our society is crumbling.

Most Nostalgia-Inspiring Decade: While Jason Reitman's Labor Day (adapted from the Joyce Maynard novel) takes place in 1987, people seem to be having more fun with the 1970s. Blood Ties, a crime drama starring Clive Owen and Billy Crudup, embraces the outfits, mustaches, cars, music and hair of the period, combining it all with Guillaume Canet's very European sensibility to create something that really does feel like it was made in France in about 1982. The Elmore Leonard adaptation Life Of Crime, meanwhile, puts Jennifer Aniston in the feathered hair and berets of the Cheryl Tiegs California-girl era.

Movie Most Likely To Make You Hungry: The Lunchbox, starring Irrfan Khan as a man who winds up as the accidental recipient of a loving wife's box lunches intended for her husband. If you like Indian food (though in this movie, as the old joke says, it's obviously just food), the scenes of Nimrat Kaur as Ila stirring and packing all this spicy, scrumptious-looking stuff will make you want to sop your next meal up with bread.

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

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