Kirsten Dunst, Minnesota native Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart at the Toronto Film Festival Thursday night for the opening of "On the Road," based on the Jack Kerouac book. 

Toronto, Canada
There is a striking absence of George Clooney at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. Brangelina are nowhere to be found. The scrum of fans and photographers who line the red carpets at the 37th TIFF don't seem to mind. They roared Thursday night when French Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard entered the Elgin Theater for the gala permiere of her new love story "Rust and Bone," and Ryan Gosling, Tom Hanks, Kristen Stewart and Keira Knightley are expected to sign autographs as their latest projects debut at this industry-flavored extravaganza.

There have been as many attempts to parse the theme of TIFF 2012 as there are observers. Films about and from the Mideast are a major component and there's a flowering of work from legendary filmmakers. Paul Thomas Anderson, Bernardo Bertolucci, Michael Haneke, Terrence Malick and David O. Russell are just a handful of the cinephile favorites introducing new movies here. This year's fest feels tilted more to film geeks than People magazine readers, which is not a bad thing.

Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund in "On the Road." (Vanguard Films)

Based on the serendipity of my Day One viewing, I declare this the year of the audacious adaptation. Stewart prepares for her post-"Twilignt" career by joining Viggo Mortensen and Ely, Minn. native Garrett Hedlund in a sprawling, atmospheric rendering of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." Brazilian director Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") turns the  Beat generation bible -- whose bebop prose and interior focus was long considered unfilmable -- into a road movie so raw and authentic you feel like you need to wring the whiskey, cigarette smoke and benzedrine out of your shirt.

Knightley shines as Tolstoy's tragic adulteress in "Anna Karenina," a lively, gorgeous and unexpectedly satirical rendering from screenwriter Tom Stoppard ("Shakespeare in Love") and director Joe Wright (who directed the star in the book-based "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement.") Brazenly, brilliantly stylized as if set in a crumbling 19th century Moscow theater, the film distills the sprawling romance to its essence.

Cotilliard's "Rust and Bone" is a tough-minded French love story about a whale trainer who suffers a terrible accident and a single father who boxes to support his young son. It's surefire Oscar bait -- imagine "Rocky" with a touch of tragedy. It's based on a short story collection by Canadian author Craig Davidson, whose fans cheered lustily when Cotillard thanked him when she introduced the film.

Still to come: Joss Whedon's dark, sexy, contemporary spin on Shakespeare in "Much Ado About Nothing," Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter in Mike Newell's Dickens film "Great Expectations," Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"in a 1930s Shanghai "Dangerous Liaisons," and Hanks, Halle Berry and Jim Broadbent in the three-hour science fiction adaptation "Cloud Atlas." Time to dust off my library card.


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