The Toronto International Film Festival starts September 4th - but, not to dash your mental images or anything, the truth is that the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival started a few weeks ago. Toronto has several great films from Cannes this year making their North American debut, to be sure -- like the riveting crime-and-power tales Gomorra and Leonera, or the French films Entre Les Murs and Un Conte de Noel -- but apart from that earlier bow for several films at Toronto this year, press screenings of several big-ticket films have been taking place in Toronto, New York, L.A. and other cities for the past two weeks.

I've already seen several of this year's bigger Toronto films, including: a major American director's bold and big take on issues of war, power and faith; a drama where a major star might not only earn Oscar's notice for the first time in her career but also sincerely deserves it; a whimsical-but-warm, giddy-yet-grounded comedy-action-drama where a director confirms their successful debut film wasn't just a fluke; a sure-to-be-controversial mix of vital, lively discourse and hilarious deadpan comedy ... and a few more. The hotels are filling up; desks are crowded with the clutter and tools of the working modern movie writer; Google calendars are crafted with the same careful concentration that's devoted to plans of battle, and are equally likely to survive unchanged. Soon, the festival starts in earnest, and you'll find our reviews here then, but today, in the buzzing calm before North America's biggest film festival has its formal bow, the excitement's raw, real and incredibly exciting.