And with the suddenly subdued fest set to wrap this weekend, there are a handful of films generating the all-important buzz.
There's already Oscar talk surrounding Training Day, in which Denzel Washington plays a Los Angeles drug cop whose efforts to shut down the smugglers and the gangs that support them, have forced him to sink deeper into the immoral muck he has been trying to stop. This fast-paced, gripping and grimy thriller costars Ethan Hawke as the novice whose training day with Washington forces him to confront his own moral choices.
Meanwhile, standing ovations greeted every screening of Fred Schepisi's Last Orders. Based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Graham Swift, the film centers on four friends who gather at a London pub to carry out the last wishes of their departed friend. Starring Michael Caine as the dead butcher, this touching film about the joys and pains of friendship and death also features Bob Hoskins and Tom Courtney.
Also earning kudos: the Jack the Ripper tale From Hell, which evokes the gritty late-19th century London with such intensity that "you can practically feel the dirt on the arms of the prostitutes," says Steven Garfinkel, a Kodak executive. Starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm and Robbie Coltrane, the story is based not on the schoolbook history of the famous killer, but on the graphic novel of the same name.
Pulse, a Japanese film by director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, combines an unsettling story about the power of the Internet to isolate and destroy lonely human souls, in a teen horror package best described as an Internet ghost story. The film has developed a following and while the reviews haven't been gushing, they've been positive. "[Pulse is] as genuinely frightening as his 1997 thriller, The Cure, [but it] has a haunted tone that is uniquely Kurosawa's," writes John Harkness in his review in Toronto's Now magazine.
The critics were even more divided on David Lynch's latest bizarro vision, Mulholland Drive, in which three intersecting Hollywood stories combine dark satire, intrigue and sexual manipulation. The film, actually a failed TV pilot, won Lynch the directing award at Cannes. But while one Now critic calls it "a trip worth taking," another describes it as a muddled work better suited to the television networks that rejected it.
Though praised at Cannes as a brilliant black comedy, No Man's Land, director Danis Tanovic anti-war war movie based on his experiences as a front-line cameraman in the Bosnian army, wasn't as eagerly embraced in Toronto. In a snearing critique, Now's Harkness writes, "First-time director Tanovic plainly shops for irony at Kmart."
Another anticipated film that shot blanks with many fest-goers was the Anthony Hopkins vehicle Hearts in Atlantis. Based on a collection of stories by Stephen King, Hearts is closer in spirit to Stand by Me than The Shining or Carrie, focusing on the misty memories of a grown man as he recalls his own coming of age, when he came upon a man with psychic abilities. While several audience member reacted favorably to Hopkins' peformance, the Toronto Star was underwhelmed, saying the actor's turn was "not much of a stretch."
The fest ends this weekend, with the presentation of the coveted Audience Award Sunday.