Given that the Toronto International Film Festival has become synonymous not just with marathon movie-viewing but with obsessive star-spotting, it's fitting that this year's juiciest behind-the-scenes story had to do with where you did or didn't look.
Halfway through the festival, which wrapped up Sunday after a 10-day run, reports surfaced about an incident involving Madonna as she headed into a press conference for her new film 'W.E.' Representatives of the pop-superstar-turned-terrible-
Naturally, the story's rapid spread prompted a wave of vigorous denials by Madonna's people and other bystanders. The controversy may have also provided a convenient distraction for other visiting celebrities whose transgressions escaped the media's attention. We're still chasing a totally unsubstantiated report that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie requested that a bistro be cleared of all other diners so they didn't have to see their "fat stupid faces."
Such is the chaos that TIFF creates: just about anyone can do anything and it will still sound believable. Was the gossip over Madonna any more surprising than hearing that 'The Ides of March' actress Evan Rachel Wood showed off a little box that contained one of her teeth which was knocked out at a Paris nightclub the week before? Or that 70s icon Paul Williams was still alive? (Fittingly, he's the subject of a future cult classic called Paul Williams: Still Alive.)
TIFF did finish with a genuine surprise with the announcement of the Cadillac People's Choice Award. The audience prize has been an early indication of awards-season glory for other TIFF films such as 'Slumdog Millionaire,' 'Precious' and 'The King's Speech.' Though many expected this year's award to go to a higher-profile flick like Alexander Payne and George Clooney's The Descendants or Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt's Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, it went to Where Do We Go Now, a little-known drama-comedy by Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki. It remains to be seen if the film will be an Oscar contender, but the win is a welcome one for veteran TIFF-goers prone to worrying about Hollywood's dominance over the festival.
Similarly, critics and audiences seemed to have little love for Gala selections like Butter (a politically themed comedy about a butter-carving competition starring Jennifer Garner) and Trespass (which, despite starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman, had straight-to-video written all over it). And Madonna has more than enough bad press for W.E. alone - her period romance was like a combination of The King's Speech and "Justify My Love" -- without the subtlety.
Other films were divisive because of their risqué subject matter and polarizing performances. Shame, the second feature by British artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen, generated big buzz thanks to Michael Fassbender's raw, clothes-optional performance as a sex addict in New York. The actor was just as strong in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, even though he was out-crazied by Keira Knightley in her role as a mental patient who becomes Carl Jung's lover. In Rampart, Woody Harrelson earned raves as a crooked cop in a downward spiral. Even nastier was Matthew McConaughey's demonic detective in Killer Joe, a seedy Texan noir that put Gina Gershon on the receiving end of the harshest treatment suffered by anyone on screen at TIFF.
Anyone, that is, except for the dozens of stuntmen who get beaten up by Iko Uwais in The Raid, the intense Indonesian martial-arts flick that won the audience award for TIFF's Midnight Madness program. For all of his bone-breaking, head-crunching efforts, Uwais became one of TIFF's breakout stars, a distinction that was also earned by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's younger sister Elizabeth, who gained serious cred for her turn as a cult-escapee in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Perhaps someday these two will be getting their people to protect them from the prying eyes of commoners. Because what good is fame if you can't abuse it?