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Coming and goings at the Toronto Film Festival

Is there any other annual event on Planet Earth that could promise to bring both Jeanne Moreau and Justin Timberlake to town before it's over? After the Oscars, I mean.

Moreau, with her voice marinated in wine and cocktails and baked in a half-century of cigarette smoke, is, after all, as grand a figure as world cinema has to offer. (Her new film is Francis Ozon's ("Les Temps qui Reste"). And Justin Timberlake until the premiere of "Edison" at the 30th annual Toronto International Film Festival -- was an NSYNC Boy.

Eva Langoria? She, too, is an honored festival guest. And Dakota Fanning. And high-dome Mandarin film-maker Matthew Barney. And Tommy Chong. And Jackie Chan.

On television, "Entertainment Tonight" was there discussing shoes with Cameron Diaz (her film is called "In Her Shoes"). So that means that in its 25th anniversary year, "Entertainment Tonight" has fully decided to decamp big time at the Toronto Film Festival.

It runs until Sunday. A working stiff in the press can, as always, have almost any kind of festival one wants, from mild to wild (though the public, this year, grumbled a good deal about long ticket lines).

My festival always tends to be rather monastic and cinema-centric, though I must confess I was sorely tempted by a party which promised, however briefly, social proximity of almost any sort to Jeanne Moreau.

Instead, I plugged away in the film-critic screening precincts where one overheard Rex Reed introducing himself and watched a rather frail-looking Roger Ebert maneuvering himself close to the front of long, snaking lines. I wasn't able to see Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in James Mangold's "Walk the Line." Or Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as gay cowboys in Ang Lee's Venice-prize winning "Brokeback Mountain" (it's based on a story by E. Annie Proulx but you must admit that the very idea -- at long last -- of a movie about cowboys in love is one that, at the very least, would have delighted the late Leslie Fiedler.)

But I saw enough to know that gays were big this year. Stay tuned for the red state reaction.

In Shane Black's jauntily entertaining "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," Val Kilmer plays a homosexual L.A. private eye everyone calls "gay Perry" who teams up with a small-time New York hood played by Robert Downey Jr. (which means that they can terrorize the more straight-laced macho Angelenos by telling them they're being leaned on by "a New Yorker and a fag" -- a red state nightmare duo if ever there was one).

And, in the best thing by far that I saw (though not the best movie), that great American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has finally found a great role worthy of him in Bennett Miller's "Capote," a near-certain Oscar candidate for Best Actor that would be a shoo-in Oscar winner for Best Actor if the film itself were a wee bit less dry and documentary-styled (and if Capote himself were a more lovable figure).

We are seeing, it seems, an extraordinary new kind of film performance these days -- the one-dimensional icon impersonation of an all-too-familiar figure that instantly grows in height, width, weight and depth and turns into a bold dramatic character of power and subtlety. And as exceptional as Jamie Foxx was last year in his Oscar-winning role as Ray Charles, Hoffman is that much subtler and more impressive.

As cool as its temperature is, the film refuses to take a cold, hard look at Capote's decadent drug and booze and fame-filled decline, preferring instead the undeniably remarkable story of how he came to write "In Cold Blood" about the murderers of a family in small-town Kansas. Hoffman has been the best thing about so many movies as a character actor that it is immensely satisfying to see him take such brilliant charge of full stardom in a superb movie.

Not quite as strong but terrific, too, in its way is Gwyneth Paltrow's performance as a troubled mathematician in John Madden's version of David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize winning play "Proof" (which opens at the end of this month). The tale itself is a moving tale about fathers, daughters, genius and madness. Anyone who has ever thought, for a minute, that Paltrow is overrated, as well as luckier and better-connected than she is talented, needs to see "Proof" and think again. As he did in his "Shakespeare in Love," Madden proves Paltrow is the real thing.

So, too, is Claire Danes in "Shopgirl" which, for somewhat dismal reasons, is not at the moment scheduled to open locally until a full month after its New York and Los Angeles openings in mid-October. I know people who swore by Danes as a teenager in "My So-Called Life" on TV but I remained an agnostic.

Until now. She is exquisite in "Shopgirl" -- utterly lovely and affecting in a story of a young woman beset by two diametrically different lovers, a sophsticated and wealthy older man (played by Steve Martin who wrote the film as well as the original novella) and a clumsy young yutz (Jason Schwartzman, the clumsy young yutz specialist.)

Orlando Bloom, too, may be the top-billed star of Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown," which opens Oct. 14, but it's Kirsten Dunst one remembers afterwards in a luscious, near-screwball comedy performance. The film is Crowe's much-awaited sweet, funny and overstuffed, meandering love letter to middle America. Toronto's press screening audience was told that the film is still being edited to a final version by Crowe, a prospect which, however much needed, fills me with dread. Woe be the film if he jettisons the wonderfully eccentric travelogue half-hour at the end instead of some of the failed small-town comedy in the middle.

Whatever happens in the final edit, Dunst should prevail.

Not so Terry Gilliam who now has the distinction of having made the worst single film I've ever seen at a Toronto Film Festival (and I've been going since Year Two): "Tideland." Gilliam calls it "Alice in Wonderland Meets Psycho," which, I'm afraid, merely sanitizes and even deodorizes the unwatchable thing that it is.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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