Romance and cigarettes. You could make a compelling case that those two ingredients are what the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival is all about. Romance, of course, remains the age-old standby. As for cigarettes, it seems like everyone's lighting up on screen these days (everyone, that is, except the characters in "Thank You for Smoking," a satire in which Aaron Eckhart plays an unscrupulous tobacco lobbyist). In keeping with the theme, it seems only fitting that John Turturro's new film, "Romance and Cigarettes," should kick off the latest round of award-worthy performances worth pointing out at the festival.
Unlike anything you've ever seen, this madcap concoction stars James Gandolfini as a blue-collar schlub who loves his wife (Susan Sarandon) and family, but finds it impossible to resist the oversexed advances of an insatiable redhead (Kate Winslet). Winslet's absolutely hysterical in the part, playing a young lady who swears like a sailor and screws like she just invented the notion. Meanwhile, Gandolfini spends most of the movie deciding between the best sex of his life and the woman he married, while Turturro turns the world upside-down around him. And just when you think things couldn't get any stranger, he throws in a musical number for good measure.
On the more serious side of things, Philip Seymour Hoffman plunges a few of the darker shadows in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" author Truman Capote's soul in "Capote". Hoffman absolutely nails the character, going beyond simply the nasal voice and oh-so-proper demeanor to the insecure egomania within. The movie itself focuses on the period during which Capote researched and wrote "In Cold Blood," slowly recreating the way he manipulated the cops, wardens, and the killers themselves to give him the material he needed for his book. In a way, it plays like an inversion of "The Silence of the Lambs," where the half-crazy mastermind is free to come and go as he pleases, while his prey are the ones trapped behind bars.
If you thought Capote looked awkward in his own skin, just wait'll you see how Cillian Murphy tackles an Irish orphan's gender identity issues in the new Neil Jordan film, "Breakfast on Pluto." Despite Murphy's big lips and bright eyes, he's not a particularly convincing transvestite, which is just as well, since Jordan has moved beyond his "Crying Game" antics. This is a movie about finding your place in the world, rather than catching some poor bloke by surprise.
[ Peter Debruge is a freelance film critic who writes for The Miami Herald, Premiere and Life magazines. ]