Picks from the Toronto International Film Festival
1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Christian Mungiu, Romania, 2007). This Romanian debut feature possesses a nonjudgmental flow reminiscent of a Dardenne brothers film as it follows two women who negotiate for an illegal abortion during the final days of Nicolae Ceausescu's Communist regime. You'll be holding your breath as the characters dash from one nightmare to the next. There's a reason this movie won the Palme d'Or at the 60th Cannes Film Festival.
2. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, France, 2007). As a rambling red balloon affectionately takes to Simon, a seven-year-old boy in Paris, his single mother played to perfection by Juliette Binoche does her best to care for her child, deal with flaky tenants, and continue her professional career as a puppeteer. Don't be intimidated by Hou Hsaio-Hsien's reputation; his latest movie is accessible, as is the 1956 French film that it is based on. This tiny, chaotic journey can help you deal with the frantic contemporary world.
3. Cassandra's Dream (Woody Allen, UK, 2007). Warning: the new Woody Allen movie is not a comedy. Set in the UK, this minimasterpiece pairs Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell as middle-class brothers, both of whom want a better financial lifestyle. As the pair close in on their dreams, their moral codes begin to loosen. The acting is extraordinary (Farrell finds finesse), and Vilmos Zsigmond's camerawork encloses the characters in a strikingly gloomy world immensely heightened by Philip Glass's original score. Many critics are dismissing this dark drama as a comedic misfire. But like Allen's 2005 UK production Match Point, Cassandra's Dream isn't courting laughs; these films dig into some disturbing human dilemmas at a time when there's not much of a reason to laugh.
4. Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach, US, 2007). For the follow-up to 2005's The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach creates another bittersweet coming-of-age exposé of a dysfunctional family. Both Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh contribute some of their best work as sisters who compete with more than support each other. Also, Jack Black is wonderful as a schlub whom Leigh is set to marry, and newcomer Zane Pais is as awkward as a young teenager should be in the role of Leigh's son. But it's the sincere and audacious writing that gives Margot at the Wedding its powerful kick.
5. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, Canada, 2007). Behold a personal journey through Guy Maddin's childhood and hometown done by way of archival footage, personal home movies, narration (by Maddin himself!), and reenactments starring his cinematic mother, Ann Savage (the unforgettable leading dame of the 1945 film noir Detour). It's hilariously self-depreciating and utterly universal can this man do no wrong?
6. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands, 2007). Carlos Reygadas updates Carl Theodor Dreyer. If that gets your beard in a bunch, then you're gonna be in heaven for two and a half hours.