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5 things we learned at TIFF

By Tom Charity, Special to CNN
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Fri September 16, 2011
Woody Harrelson, right, has never given such a commanding and well-rounded performance as he shows us in
Woody Harrelson, right, has never given such a commanding and well-rounded performance as he shows us in "Rampart."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • There was lots to learn at the Toronto International Film Festival
  • The Brits have always been famed for their literary adaptations
  • Michael Fassbender insisted he spent quality time in bed -- with his script

(CNN) -- As the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) winds to a close, here are five takeaways from the event, which traditionally features lots of premieres, star power and schmoozing.

1. Alexander Skarsgard isn't good in bed -- or so quipped Kirsten Dunst when asked how her character, Justine, could walk out on him on their wedding night in Lars von Trier's "Melancholia." Judging by the ecstatic reaction he received from the TIFF audience, Skarsgard has no reason to worry. If Dunst doesn't want him, there are plenty of eager replacements waiting in the wings.

2. Woody Harrelson could be a serious Oscar contender. Harrelson has shown his mettle before of course, in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt," when he was nominated for Best Actor; in Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers"; as well as in last year's Iraq vet drama "The Messenger" (when he was nominated in the Supporting slot). But he's never given such a commanding and well-rounded performance as he shows us in "Rampart," a second collaboration with "Messenger" director Oren Moverman, a no-holds-barred portrait of a corrupt cop penned by James Ellroy. Harrelson doesn't just dare to show us this dinosaur's very dark side, he also dares us not to care.

3. The classics are going multicultural. The Brits have always been famed for their literary adaptations and costume dramas, but they never used to look like this.

In the past, Emily Bronte's romantic hero (or anti-hero) Heathcliff has been played by Laurence Olivier, Timothy Dalton and Ralph Fiennes. But Andrea Arnold is the first director to cast a black actor in the part -- in fact two black actors, as she also tackles the full scope of the story, from Heathcliff's arrival on the moors as a child to his return as a grown man (played by newcomer James Howson).

While literary purists may see the sense in that casting, they will have to take a deeper breath before sizing up Michael Winterbottom's updated version of Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" (previously filmed by Roman Polanski with Nastassja Kinski). Winterbottom -- who once relocated "The Mayor of Casterbridge" to the Yukon Gold Rush -- has switched the action to modern-day India, and cast the luminous "Slumdog Millionaire" Freida Pinto as Tess, or rather "Trishna." Hardy would probably also be surprised by the lashings of sex Winterbottom has worked into this provocative drama.

4. Michael Fassbender can't get enough of it. Sex, that is. First, the "X-Men: First Class" star played Sigmund Freud's heir apparent, Carl Jung, in David Cronenberg's witty history of the early years of psychoanalytic theory, "A Dangerous Method," in which Jung embarks on a reckless affair with a masochistic patient played by Keira Knightley. Then he showed up as a contemporary sex addict in Steve McQueen's hardcore drama "Shame," a stunning performance that won him the Best Actor award at the recent Venice Film Festival. Asked how he researched this role, Fassbender insisted he spent quality time in bed -- with his script.

5. Ryan Gosling will never live down his past. At least, not in his native Canada, where a generation apparently grew up on the young Gosling's adventures in "Breaker High" and "Young Hercules" and won't let him forget it. "Breaker High" was the first thing he was asked about after the premiere of "Drive." Somehow, the show had passed by his "Drive" co-star, Albert Brooks, who needed filling in on how it fitted in before Gosling's "Mickey Mouse Club" days. Gosling took it on the chin. Asked at the end of the session if there was any message he hoped unified his diverse acting roles, he deadpanned: "Basically, I'm just trying to relive 'Young Hercules' every time. That was the high point for me."

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