Kevin here, reporting from the beautiful land of Molson and Labatt. (That's Canada for all you wine drinkers out there). As my grandmother used to say, expectations are a bitch. And the Toronto Film Festival, now the official destination for the continental debuts of many Oscar hopefuls, traditionally sets the hype machines in motion and features countless films that simmer with anticipation.

The most pleasant surprise for me thus far has been Guillermo Del Toro's brilliant fairy tale for adults 'Pan's Labyrinth.' I heard it was strong, but was in no way prepared for such a mesmerizing story that so beautifully contrasts mythical fantasy with the brutal realism of war. Come for the faun, stay for the eye gauging.

'Grizzly Man' director Werner Herzog's foray back into feature filmmaking, the Vietnam survival story 'Rescue Dawn,' is another film that makes good on its on-paper promise (though I did miss the director's awesomely German narration). Christian Bale triumphs as a fighter pilot who lands in a POW camp, but I'd go so far as to say hedge your Oscar bets on his zany co-star Steve Zahn (yes, I did just say the 'Saving Silverman' stoner should get an Oscar nomination).

On the other hand, I found 'Pedro Almodóvar's latest, 'Volver' (which won a boatload of Euro praise when it debuted at Cannes) disappointing. It reminds me of Woody Allen's'Match Point' -- if the film were directed by anyone else, it wouldn't get half the love.

Sometimes its best entering screenings with no expectations at all. Or really no clue what the movie's even about. After lines around the block prevented me from catching the fest's most buzzed-about film, 'Death of a President' (one could surmise everybody was just itching to see Dubya assassinated), I made my way into 'The Abandoned' -- a thoroughly terrifying scarer about a woman alone in the woods haunted by not just ghosts, but gasp! -- Russian ghosts. In the end the film doesn't make a lick of sense, but it made me jump at the most unexpected moments. And that's something you can expect to appreciate.

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Tags:Toronto Film Festival, Pan's Labyrinth, Rescue Dawn, Volver, The Abandoned, Death of a President

categories Features, Cinematical