The studios like to use the Toronto Film Festival as a launching pad for Oscar hopefuls. Last year "Crash" was unveiled here, and look where that ended. There's a risk involved, of course: every major U.S. media outlet has critics and journalists scoping out the prospects, and if they turn against you, you can kiss your Oscar prospects goodbye. Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" was the first to fall, a ludicrous farrago about the search for eternal life that hops from the Spanish Inquisition to the present and into the future. No eternal life for this dud. Nor for the convoluted and artificial noir "The Black Dahlia," a grave disappointment for fans of Brian De Palma. But it is hard to even speculate about the Oscar race with a straight face after seeing Christopher Guest's latest comedy, "For Your Consideration," which skewers Hollywood's obsession with the golden statuette with dead-on malice. Catherine O'Hara plays an over-the-hill actress whose supporting role in "Home for Purim" inspires Web-site gossip about a possible nomination, the starting point for a satire that leaves no publicist, actor, director or journalist unscathed.
Guest's comedy makes it hard to play the prediction game without embarrassment, yet we will shamefully persist. Two shoo-ins for a best-actor nomination emerged in Toronto: Forrest Whitaker's alternately charming and terrifying portrait of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the fictional "The Last King of Scotland" and Peter O'Toole's elegant, heartbreaking turn as an aging actor in Roger Michell's funny, touching "Venus." This year's "Crash"--a movie that split the critics between gushing fans and vehement detractors--may prove to be "Babel," the latest star-studded exercise in gloom and doom from talented Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu ("21 Grams"). Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett headline a movie that cross-cuts between stories set in Morocco, Mexico and Japan. To those who went for it, this was Important filmmaking; to those of us who didn't, it was merely self-important.
But none of these films created a media sensation like the British faux documentary "Death of a President," a cautionary tale that uses the speculative assassination of George W. Bush to ponder the loss of civil liberties in the age of terrorism. The media frenzy, in fact, proved more interesting than the film itself, which offered no insights its liberal audience didn't already know, and which was far less incendiary than its critics, who denounced the film sight unseen, could have suspected. For my money, a more slyly political film--and easily the most hilarious movie of the year--was the jaw-dropping "Borat," in which the fearless Sacha Baron Cohen, as the blissfully clueless Kazakh TV journalist Borat Sagdiyev, conducts a ribald tour of America, leaving no prejudice un-exposed and no constituency unoffended. One can safely predict there will be no Oscars in store for this brilliant exercise in bad taste, which is all the more reason to love it.