Adam Driver, Sarah Gadon, Jason Reitman
Adam Driver, Sarah Gadon, Jason Reitman

I started out Toronto 2012 with my first Jason Reitman screenplay read-through--his first in Toronto--Alan Ball's Oscar-winning "American Beauty." I'd missed his series of live reads at LACMA, from "The Breakfast Club" to "The Apartment." Reitman lines up the talent, without any rehearsal or direction (although they can prep their multiple roles from the text). Sitting in a line with the actors onstage, Reitman reads the script descriptions as the actors take off, falter at first, then hit a groove.

Bryan Cranston ("Argo") was hilarious in the Kevin Spacey role as the put-upon Dad who gets liberated, smoking pot acquired from his younger next door neighbor ("Girls" star Adam Driver in the Wes Bentley part), who is interested in his daughter ("Perks of Being a Wallflower" star Mae Whitman). The Dad gets in shape, quits his job, talks back to his dominating wife, well-played by "Mad Men" star Christina Hendricks as a money-grubbing status-climbing adulterer who is bewildered by her husband's changes. And Sarah Gadon ("Cosmopolis") as Angela was sultry and sharp in the Mena Suvari teen temptress role.

Reitman (whose father Ivan actually has a street named after him near the TIFF Bell Lightbox) loves coming back to Toronto when he can, to the festival that launched his career with "Thank You for Smoking," followed by awards-contenders "Juno" and "Up in the Air." He's wrapped "Labor Day," starring Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet and Tobey Maguire, based on a Joyce Maynard novel.

In a way "American Beauty" was apt preparation for the festival's crowning glory, David O. Russell's ultimate audience award winner, "Silver Linings Playbook." They are in the same vein--a flinty-edged picture of who we are now, laced with dark comedy and self-recognition, with romance and hope still a possibility. That's why "American Beauty" won best picture.

While there are those who complain that there are too many choices to make at the sprawling fall festival, with countless screenings and back-to-back parties and dinners each night (Sony Pictures Classics and IMDb's were standouts), that's always been the nature of the beast. And after that over-packed first weekend, crammed with acquisition hopefuls and press junkets, the festival settles into a pleasant rhythm.

The business of the fest provides a picture of where we are now:

Clearly the Weinsteins have regained their moxie: not only did "Silver Linings" score with audiences and critics alike, but Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" was the talk of the fest; Dustin Hoffman's opera flick "Quartet," with "Downton Abbey" and "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" star Maggie Smith on hand, wowed Oscar-watchers. And Cannes entry "The Sapphires" and fest closer "Song for Marion" played well to Toronto film fans.

Sony opened up the festival with "Looper," which was an unexpected choice for TIFF of a violent sci-fi thriller. But the entertaining film starred a winning trio: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt. The fest's gamble paid off. 

Sony Pictures Classics came into the fest with nine movies and is continuing to pursue other buys. Cannes award-winner "Amour" solidified its place in the Oscar derby; Israeli "The Gatekeepers" will be one to watch in the doc race; Jacques Audiard's "Rust & Bone" is not the French Oscar entry but Marion Cotillard could still make her mark in the Best Actress race; Susanne Bier's "Love is All You Need" played well in Toronto and is vying to be the Danish Oscar pick with Magnolia's "A Royal Affair," starring Mads Mikkelsen, who has heat from winning Best Actor at Cannes for Magnolia's "The Hunt" (2013).

Warner Bros. made a big splash with Ben Affleck's likely Oscar contender "Argo" and Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings' "Cloud Atlas," a glorious weaving of six tales starring top actors (Hanks, Berry, Grant, Sarandon, Weaving, Broadbent) in multiple roles that divided festivalgoers and media. I can't wait to see both again.

The Scandinavians continue to turn out top-notch commercial movies; they are doing something right, as Norway's Oscar choice, "Kon Tiki," also played well, along with Danish Somali pirate thriller "A Hijacking."

Lionsgate launched Martin McDonagh's Midnight Madness title "Seven Psychopaths" to roars of laughter and should have a hit with the movie, which was stolen by Sam Rockwell; Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions' terrifying reality-based horror flick from Barry Levinson, "The Bay," could also scare up some business. And Lionsgate/Summit launched J.A. Bayona's intense survival thriller "The Impossible," starring Oscar-worthy Naomi Watts with support from Ewan McGregor, to solid results. This well-made movie could either be a commercial winner with awards potential or a tweener that fails to lure audiences to theaters. Marketing will be key to its success.

The Lionsgate investment in specialty distributor Roadside continues to bear fruit as new Lionsgate motion picture heads, ex-Summit chiefs Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger, joined acquisitions exec Jason Constantine and Roadside co-heads Howard Cohen and Eric D'Arbeloff on the ground in Toronto, where they hustled and landed three major buys: "Imogene," starring Kristin Wiig; sex addiction comedy "Thanks for Sharing," starring Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow; and Joss Whedon's well-liked self-financed take on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."

On its own, Roadside entered the fest with the superb Sarah Polley documentary "Stories We Tell," which had pleased the crowds in Telluride.