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Toronto fest draws movies of all subjects and sizes

Cate Blanchett reprises her title role in 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age.' Cate Blanchett reprises her title role in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." (LAURIE SPARHAM/UNIVERSAL STUDIOS VIA AP)

TORONTO - For movie lovers, there is no better place to be over the next 10 days than the Toronto International Film Festival.

North America's biggest cinema showcase, Toronto opens as usual tonight with a Canadian tale, director Jeremy Podeswa's "Fugitive Pieces," starring Stephen Dillane as a writer haunted by his parents' murders and sister's abduction by the Nazis in Poland during World War II.

The 349 films playing at the festival include a mix of big studio movies with A-list stars, potential Academy Award contenders, low-budgeted tales, and a wide range of foreign flicks and documentaries.

"There's a huge amount of movies there," said Jodie Foster, who stars in "The Brave One" as a woman who turns vigilante after her fiance is killed and she's left for dead by assailants. The film plays Toronto before its Sept. 14 debut in theaters.

"There are smaller movies, but honestly, it's about the big guns," Foster said. "The nice thing is, it's about both. Bigger movies and smaller movies all intersecting in the same place. The bigger movies get more coverage, but the smaller movies benefit from it."

Other big guns at Toronto include "Michael Clayton," with George Clooney as a lawyer doing damage control for a corporate client in a huge class-action lawsuit; "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," with Brad Pitt as the Old West outlaw; "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," with Cate Blanchett reprising her role as Britain's Queen Elizabeth I; director Julie Taymor's "Across the Universe," with Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess as young lovers in a musical set to Beatles tunes; and "Atonement," with Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in the story of a teen who falsely accuses her sister's lover of a crime.

While Clooney and Pitt are used to huge studio marketing pushes behind their major releases such as the "Ocean's" romps, both "Michael Clayton" and "Jesse James" are labors of love seeking critical acclaim to build an audience.

"These festivals are huge," Clooney said. "If you get a good bunch of reviews out there, it's an automatic international wake-up call for your film. It forces the studio or whoever makes them to have to spend more money on marketing or theaters, because if they don't, they're dead."

Jimmy Carter will also be on hand for "Man From Plains," Jonathan Demme's documentary following the former president's book tour for his "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."

The festival also features directing debuts by two former TV sitcom stars. David Schwimmer of "Friends" directs "Run, Fat Boy, Run," with Simon Pegg as a man trying to win back his old fiancee by proving his worth in a marathon. Helen Hunt of "Mad About You" directs and stars in "Then She Found Me," about a teacher whose life turns upside down when her husband leaves, her adoptive mother dies, and her biological mom turns up.

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