Stephen Frears may have less flash than directors previously honoured at the Toronto festival, but by going with Frears the fest is actually doing the right thing. A mostly independent filmmaker who occasionally flirts with Hollywood, often with disastrous results, he's the perfect guy to extol.The Grifters (Friday, September 8, 12:30 pm, Uptown 1) is one of the two or three best adaptations ever made of a Jim Thompson novel. Frears keeps the author's misanthropic snarl intact, and works with a stunning cast that includes John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening.
No director has done more for the scripts of Hanif Kureishi. My Beautiful Laundrette (Friday, September 8, 9:30 am, Uptown 1) and Sammy And Rosie Get Laid (Saturday, September 16, 10 pm, Cumberland 2) remain the benchmarks of the Anglo-Pakistani cinema.
Dangerous Liaisons (Friday, September 8, 3 pm, Uptown 2) reveals a director capable of completely altering his style to suit the material, inexorably tightening the frames around the explosive emotions of the cast. This is Glenn Close's best performance, and perhaps John Malkovich's best as well.
The Hit (Friday, September 15, 8:30 pm, Cumberland 4) introduces Tim Roth to cinema audiences, revives the career of Terence Stamp and is the only thriller ever based on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's ideas about the stages of coming to grips with dying.
Frears has had some missteps -- the less said about Mary Reilly and Hero the better -- but what director hasn't? It's a bit of a shame that the festival hasn't found space for some of Frears's great work for British television -- 1983's Saigon: The Year Of The Cat or his Roddy Doyle adaptation, The Snapper, or even A Personal History Of The British Cinema, his counterpart to Martin Scorsese's magisterial rummage through American film history. Frears, by the way, still works in television -- he directed the live Fail-Safe earlier this year.
So, if you're wondering why the festival has chosen to honour Stephen Frears, the answer is that he's one of the best directors around. The evidence is on the screen.
The Bloomberg Tribute to Stephen Frears takes place Saturday, September 9, 5:30 pm, at Roy Thomson Hall.