Graham: Wrapping up TIFF, finding beauty in ‘Disaster’

James Franco’s ‘The Disaster Artist’ was one of the highlights of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

After several days in a row of staring at movie screens, things begin to blur. Now that a few days have passed, I’ve collected my thoughts, and here are a few final observations on this year’s Toronto International Film Festival:

■“The Disaster Artist” is a blast, perhaps the best movie about a bad movie since “Ed Wood.” James Franco directs and stars as Tommy Wiseau, the creative force behind “The Room,” the midnight movie sensation that has confused and entertained audiences for years. But “The Disaster Artist” is not just poking fun at Wiseau, it finds the heart and the ambition in the man, who really had no business ever making a movie. But thank heavens he did.

Note: You can enjoy “The Disaster Artist” without ever having seen “The Room,” but a working knowledge of the film will enhance your experience. If you can’t find a midnight screening — the movie regularly comes through the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, though it is not currently on the schedule — pick it up on DVD and watch it with your friends before “The Disaster Artist” hits screens in December. And if you haven’t seen “The Room,” you’re in for a treat. It lives up to everything you’ve heard about it, and then some.

■Willem Dafoe might win an Oscar for “The Florida Project.” It would be Dafoe’s first Academy Award — he’s been nominated twice before, for “Platoon” and “Shadow of the Vampire,” both for Best Supporting Actor — but this could wind up being his year.

Here’s the thought: “The Florida Project,” about a group of people living in a cheap motel in the shadow of Disney World, is absolutely one of the best films of the year (it currently holds my No. 1 position). It may find its way into the Best Picture race, but it’s an extreme long shot to win the big prize. But honoring Dafoe as Best Supporting Actor could be the way to give “The Florida Project” its due, and in the process reward a well-respected veteran actor who has never made his way to the Oscar podium. And he’ll have earned it: Dafoe is extraordinary in the film without ever being showy. It’s a perfect role for him.

■Martin McDonagh is back. The director made a big splash with his debut film, “In Bruges,” in 2008, but stumbled with his scattered follow-up, “Seven Psychopaths.” Now he’s back with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” a wonderful, smart, tough, heartfelt comedy whose subject matter is nothing to laugh about.

It’s about a mother (Frances McDormand in her best performance since “Fargo”) who, after her daughter is raped and killed, takes out three billboards in her town taking the police chief (Woody Harrelson) to task for his lack of progress in the case. Ha ha, right? But McDonagh finds the humor in very dark situations, and handles the tone of the film with magnificent control. Not only that, he gets a career-best performance out of Sam Rockwell, who plays a troubled police officer, and who may find his way to his first Oscar nomination for his role. He rocks, and so did this year’s TIFF.

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