The Tip Sheet From Toronto

From top, Brokeback Mountain; Thank You for Not SmokingPhoto: From top, courtesy of Focus Features; Dale Robinette/Courtesy of Room 9 Entertainment

The recently completed Toronto Film Festival was as civil as such an event can get, and compared with Sundance, less overrun by celebrities. (Though I did spy Jake Gyllenhaal and Kirsten Dunst exchanging Tic-Tacs at a Bee Season screening.) But Toronto is no less important than its rowdier peers, offering a terrific sneak peek of movies that will open in the next few months. Some highlights—and a couple of warnings:

Shopgirl: Steve Martin has adapted his novella into a perfect little meringue of a movie. In the title role, selling evening gloves at an L.A. Saks, Claire Danes is exquisitely attuned as a working woman courted by a rich, charming stranger—played by Martin himself, with a remarkable awareness of his own latter-day persona, as a witty but aloof man yearning for affection.

Breakfast on Pluto: Neil Jordan’s wildly pleasurable picaresque tale of a seventies gay Irish transvestite (Cillian Murphy) mashes gender stereotypes against jokes and tragedy, with a throbbing soundtrack that includes Harry Nilsson and T-Rex.

Brokeback Mountain: Yes, it’s “the gay cowboy movie,” directed by Ang Lee. Two revelations: The love story is neither unconvincing nor tawdry, and while Jake Gyllenhaal is predictably good, the real breakthrough here is Heath Ledger in a surprisingly nuanced turn as Gyllenhaal’s pardner.

Thank You for Smoking: Christopher Buckley’s clever satire of the tobacco industry has been turned into a slashingly hilarious comedy; it may give Aaron Eckhart the stardom that’s been eluding him. (And Rob Lowe and The O.C.’s Adam Brody, in a Hollywood-agent subplot, deserve their own movie.)

Walk the Line: The opening sequence, re-creating Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison concert, is simply the finest rendering of the thrill of live country and rock music ever put on film; Joaquin Phoenix has the Cash quaver down, and the Academy may as well just give Reese Witherspoon the Best Actress Oscar right now: No young actress is more tinglingly alive than she is as June Carter.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: A petty criminal (Robert Downey Jr.) gets accidentally cast in a detective movie; his technical adviser is a swaggering Val Kilmer. Some of you will find Downey’s voice-over and the narrative switchbacks annoying—me, I loved the brazen wackiness of director Shane Black’s script and found Kilmer and Downey a great team: the new Martin and Lewis.

In Her Shoes: Director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) has taken Jennifer Weiner’s chick-lit best seller, added layers of emotion, made Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz believable as sisters (it’s Diaz’s redemption after her slew of slumming movies), and elicited gentle warmth from Shirley MacLaine as their grandma. It’s the most rewarding family comedy since Terms of Endearment.

Mrs. Henderson Presents: A World War II British music-hall comedy, starring Dame Judi Dench as a rich widow who buys a theater for a lark and hires Bob Hoskins to turn it into a success, got more laughs and applause than any other movie I saw at Toronto. I was not among the laughing/clapping—it seemed like a long BBC sitcom to me.

Elizabethtown: A Paramount employee announced to the screening audience that this version of Cameron Crowe’s new Orlando Bloom–Kirsten Dunst romantic comedy was a work-in-progress and should not be reviewed. Well, okay: The movie seemed long but completed to me, so I’ll just wish Crowe Godspeed until he hones his trademark goodwill–toward–young–lovers–and–old–Elton John–records into the shape he desires.

Revolver: The latest in Guy Ritchie–directed guns, English yobbo accents, and fractured storytelling. Witless, pointless, and one scene is cruelly immoral.

The Tip Sheet From Toronto