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“Melancholia,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin” kick start TIFF 2011 coverage – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: The 2011 Toronto International Film Festival is underway, and I’m staring at back-to-back, five-movie days Thursday and Friday.

But where else in the world can a voracious cine-geek move from one Cannes buzzer (Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia”) to another (Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin”) before lunch? And with two George Clooney films on the docket for Thursday, in addition to the much-discussed Sundance hit “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” you begin to understand why, for film fanatics, TIFF is a can’t-miss annual event. You simply have to be here.

Yet sacrifice is a large part of TIFF, which offers far too many options for one person to properly cover. I know, good problem to have, right? But that sometimes means leaving a spellbinding film before it’s finished working its magic.

Such was the case this morning with “Melancholia,” which I had to bail on after an hour in order to make “Kevin.” Von Trier has been trading on his name for too long now, and the first hour of his latest leaned more toward the vile wanderings of “Antichrist” than the swift kicks of “Breaking the Waves” or “Dancer in the Dark.” Plus, word was strong on Ramsay’s agitating drama about a shellshocked mother (Tilda Swinton) atoning for the sins of her teenage son.

Turns out it was a wise decision.

A parent’s worst nightmare, Ramsay’s “Kevin” tells the sometimes-harrowing story of a husband (John C. Reilly) and wife (Swinton) who raise a purely evil child. That’s not their intent. Reilly’s character, in fact, refuses to believe anything is wrong with their son, despite his wife’s warnings. “Kevin” is an art house “Omen,” a continuation of “Rosemary’s Baby” with a pinch of Gus Van Sant’s school-shooting study, “Elephant.” And it’s a quietly disturbing way to spend a few hours.

Swinton actually gives a measured and surprisingly restrained performance as Eva, a hollow shell of a woman left empty inside by her child’s despicable actions. Ezra Miller, playing teenage Kevin, does even more with less. If the concept of a manipulative and bitter child is slight unbelievable during Kevin’s formative years, the character’s menacingly jaded personality turns outright chilling when Miller takes over for the teen years.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” will disturb parents who’ve ever silently questioned whether they’ve done enough (or possibly too much) for their child. It asks if evil is product of “nature,” “nurture” or neither, then lets you come up with the tough answers.

More later. For now, I’m running to a screening of George Clooney’s political drama “The Ides of March,” which is earning solid reviews. I’ll file reaction pieces for “Ides,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and Alexander Payne’s anticipated “The Descendants” late Thursday night.

I also have full reviews of “Moneyball,” “Drive” and “50/50” ready to post. They’ll go up on the site as soon as they clear studio embargo.

HollywoodNews has tons of coverage coming out of TIFF, starting now and running through the end of next week. This is just Day One, and the plate is overflowing with riches. Where else in the world is that possible?

For complete Oscar and Film Festival coverage, visit our Awards Alley for the latest news items, reviews and interviews all season long.

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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