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The whole week boils down to a tale of the tape

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Damn that Christopher Guest. Ever since I saw his new ensemble comedy For Your Consideration on Sunday morning, I have been unable to extricate my life at the Toronto International Film Festival from his all-too-accurate send-up of the Hollywood buzz machine.

The screening ended at 11 a.m. At 11:15, when I sat down to do an interview for a different film, my mouth kept opening and closing like a fish's, because I couldn't think of a single question that didn't sound as ridiculous as the ones in the movie. I'm sure the huge cast -- Guest, co-writer Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard and Bob Balaban, who have all worked together in Guest's films Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind -- must have felt exactly the same at their press conference, where reporters lobbed questions both banal and utterly odd.

The highlight of these was asked by a woman from Italy: "Why are actors so alone, so deluded, so lacking in self-esteem?"

"You'd have to ask a doctor," answered Guest, deadpan.

Now, everything I see and hear feels like a scene from For Your Consideration. Richard Crouse, a host of the cable show Reel to Real, told me that TV crews working the red carpet at Roy Thomson Hall have lackeys tap on the microphones of rival reporters, thus ruining the sound for anyone trying to cop a quote off their camera time. Guest could have used that.

He could have also used the interview Brian Johnson did for Maclean's magazine with the screenwriter Paul Haggis, who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning Crash, to promote his new film, The Last Kiss. When Johnson arrived at his appointed time, a publicist greeted him with this urgent, Guest-esque line: "We have a situation here." Turns out Haggis lost his voice in all the junketing. So he and Johnson conducted their whole interview in a conspiratorial whisper. "I want to do every interview that way now," Johnson told me at Monday's Alliance-Atlantis press dinner. "Everything sounds so important."

Guest also would have appreciated the sweet-but-strange moment at the One X One charity gala on Sunday night when Wyclef Jean, on stage with the African Children's Choir, got the richest stiffs in Toronto to wave their dirty dinner napkins in the air while he sang a vibey song about poverty. And I'm sure Guest would have loved the woman I saw in the bathroom as the gala limped past 11 p.m., reaching into her plunging V-neck to apply fresh double-sided tape to her breasts. "You know it's a long night when your tape wears out," she said, completely earnest.

At the Stranger Than Fiction party at the Hugo Boss showroom, one corner was decorated like the bakery in the film, with tables spilling over with gorgeous, flower-bedecked cupcakes (tiny ones for dieters and big ones for me). But then I noticed a sign calling it The Anarchist Bakery -- the baker, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, refuses to pay her taxes -- and couldn't help but think of The Anarchist's Cookbook, which includes recipes for bombs.

Later, chatting with publicists about why some darker films such as World Trade Center don't have after-parties, we all confessed that we could easily picture the ultra-bad-taste party they could have had, decorated with rubble, scattered paper and those eerily beautiful arches that remained upright, while smoke machines blew. But that scene would be too black, even for Guest.

For Your Consideration is about how a bare hint of buzz infects actors making a melodrama called Home for Purim with wholly inappropriate Oscar fever. How wholly appropriate that it made its debut at TIFF, widely known as the festival where Oscar contenders are born. Unfortunately, this seems to be the year where movies that came in with Oscar hopes are dying like flies.

Every critic I've spoken to shakes his or her head sadly at the mention of All the King's Men, a handsome-looking corpse that feels like its guts were ripped out in the editing room.

No one likes Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's frantically unfunny A Good Year or Anthony Minghella's cumbersome Breaking and Entering, despite its gorgeous cast: Jude Law, Juliette Binoche and Robin Wright Penn. Bonneville, a road comedy starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen, is unbearably twinkly, and people are scratching their heads over The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky's trippy love story (though I quite like it).

There is, however, great buzz on Penelope Cruz in Volver (place your Oscar bets on her for best actress, you heard it here first), and on the films Pan's Labyrinth, a fantastical take on post-civil-war Spain from director Guillermo del Toro, and Catch a Fire, director Phillip Noyce's apartheid drama starring Derek Luke and Tim Robbins (who came to the Away From Her gala to support Sarah Polley, with whom he starred in The Secret Life of Words).

See what I mean? We're already buzzing about February's Oscars on Sept. 13. We can't help ourselves.

"If there were any sanity in the world, the whole festival would have shut down after the For Your Consideration screening," Geoff Pevere, the Toronto Star movie writer, told me. "We would have admitted our ridiculousness and gone home. But no, the whole thing clips along." Bouncing, buzzing, deluded, delicious.

Pevere said more fascinating things, but neither of us can remember what they were. It's a long week, and our mental tape is wearing out.

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