A hot and humid September day in Toronto, the air sticky with a sky that was about to rain all day, but held back in favour of a thick wall of hot, muggy air. A good day, in other words, to stay inside and watch some good films.

The quality of today's selection improved dramatically, with some very fine films that should stand the test of time. The two films set in the west were both shot by the inimitable Roger Deakins, and had performances by sublime Deadwood character actor Garret Dillahunt. More and more people are arriving, so the festival today truly geared up to its full speed.

At the Juno pressline they had a number of people dressed in the same costume that Michael Cera is wearing below, handing out orange Tic-Tacs (makes sense when you see the film, honest.) As my first real beneficial form of fest swag, I was pleased to much on several dozen of the the 1-calorie breath mints throughout the screening.

No Country For Old Men
The best kind of festival film, the one that many hours and many films later you're still thinking about, finding new things to love about it.

This is a film that pulls no punches - it's brutal, violent and at times perverse. It is almost sadistic in how it removes all sense of catharsis from the audience, yet does so with such grace and efficiency that you're constantly shaking your head in amazement.

Roughly, the story is about a guy (Josh Brolin, in top-notch form) who stumbles across a drug deal gone bad, and he gets chased by one serious bad-ass played in career defining perfection by Javier Bardem. Tommy Lee Jones plays a sheriff who gets caught up, and an all star cast of supporting players fill out the rest of the plotting.

There is never a moment when the film isn't smarter than its audience, yet there is nothing pretentious or precious about the presentation. This is an unabashedly literary movie, clearly demanding multiple viewings. The photography is gorgeous, and this fantastic presentation by the genius Coen boys prove once again they are at the tops of their game, the pinnacle of contemporary American filmmaking.

Plus, I hereby declare, nay, demand that Bardem's hair deserves an Oscar!
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Grade: A+
Juno presents many a cliché - a tale of unplanned teen pregnancy and the choices it brings forth, the awkwardness of fitting in and falling in love, the dynamics of young and older relationships - all a bit of a mess in less sure hands. It may not be perfect, but it's a hell of a fun film, and it avoids almost all the pitfalls that would in lesser hands drag a similar film down.

Emily Chase, not looking a day over 15, is fantastic in the lead role, a mix of sarcasm, understated and awkward beauty, and a great mix of naivete and wisdom. She's the core of the film, and much of the success must be placed on her shoulders. She gets great help from the rest of the ensemble, from a pitch perfect performances from the likes of J.K. Simmons, Alison Janney, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner and Michael Cera, once again playing his role as the definitive awkward teenager.

There are heavy issues to deal with, to be sure, but the film is surefooted and deals with each in turn, never shying away from the truth of the emotion, never dragging the plot down with dour or moralistic observations.

It's a thinking person's teen flick, a feel-good film that earns its earnestness. It's got little-film-that could spirit that could see it succeed like Little Miss Sunshine, but for my money it's the better of the two. Rietman and crew have constructed a little gem of a film, and it deserves whatever wide audience it can accrue.
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Grade: A
They Wait
Broadly, this is a tale of ghosts, ghouls and bone collectors, set in Vancouver's Chinatown. The film begins with three men hunting for bear somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, when suddenly the spooky black smoke out of Lost claims its first victim.

Cut to Singapore (or was it Shanghai? No matter, it's clearly just an inside of a set filmed in B.C.), where a young boy reads tales of the "hungry month of the dead", the month long holiday where our world comes closest to the spirit world. Flying to Vancouver to attend the funeral of the man killed while hunting, the boy soon discovers that he has the ability to see dead people.

From here, the film goes downhill even further. The mom starts to see dead people too, long-dead girls with inky arms and sliced open heads make an appearance, and, well, it all get very silly and maudlin. The performances aren't terrible, and the film does get a bit atmospheric at times, but the trite direction, deplorable shock-tactics score and silly effects makes this a forgettable bore, all the worse for having been financed by the usual suspects of Canadian film funding.
Directed by: Ernie Barbarash
Grade: D-
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
First thing you need to know going in, this is not some fast paced shoot-em-up. The euphemism "deliberately paced" may be used, as this film is epic while remaining entirely intimate. Eschewing the usual grand scope, this is a character piece through and through, examining in great detail the many facets of the "real" Jesse James and the main inexorably tied to his ultimate fate.

Once again, Roger Deakins is in top form with his gorgeous cinematography. The palate is golden, and the remoteness of the environment is paradoxically both intimate and sweeping. Your eyes follow the etched paths that the horses ride, and while all sense of this century have been removed, there's a tremendous lived-in filth of the film's settings, creating a striking feeling of authenticity that further contributes to deconstructing the mythos of this rogue trainrobber and his band of men.

Furthermore, there's certainly a thick biblical line with a twist running throughout the story - as the death approaches (near Easter), we see that James' own Judas figure commits the act with at least a tacit acceptance by the one being sacrificed by one well aware of his role in a grander mythology. The denouement makes this stream even clearer, as we see the denigration of this pawn of those in power, exploiting Ford's own desire for fame only to find him in the end ridiculed as a weak, cowardly traitor.

By toying with Western filmic conventions and drawing these deeper mythological threads, the film is elevated from a simple genre or action picture. With an almost aching restraint in the performances and storytelling, Assassination makes for a quite enjoyable film if you give yourself over to its pacing and style.
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Grade: A-