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With hundreds of films showing over 11 days, the film fest is a blur of movie-watching possibility. Sometimes that’s good, as the chaos and confusion add to the madcap whirl of festival excitement. But sometimes you just want the A-list recommendations.

Whole New Thing

Co-written by and co-starring Cape Breton’s prodigal son Daniel MacIvor, Whole New Thing is about a sexual awakening of a teenage boy (Aaron Webber, making his screen debut). After he experiences his first wet dream, he writes a 1,000-page book about it (complete with illustrations), so his worried hippie mom (Rebecca Jenkins, one of the finest actors in this country) enrolls him in public school. There he falls in love with his teacher (MacIvor). There’s nothing like a good, homegrown coming-of-age story to kick off your festival.

September 16, 7pm, The Oxford

The Dying Gaul

The directorial debut of playwright Craig Lucas, The Dying Gaul is about a screenwriter (Peter Sarsgaard) who pitches his screenplay about two men in love (one dies of AIDS) to an executive (Campbell Scott) who understands the story but tells him point blank that the story will change to be a man and a woman. When the writer refuses to sell, the executive offers him $1 million and as any writer in anydiscipline could understand, it’s an offer he can’t let go. Then the men have an affair even though Scott is married to Elaine (Patricia Clarkson), who loves the script in its original form and pressures her husband not to change it. It’s often stagy and there are long stretches of online chatting that test one’s patience, but it’s primarily an actors’ piece and you couldn’t ask for three better.

September 16, 7:10pm, Park Lane

My Date with Drew

Struggling Jersey actor Brian Herzlinger toes the line between homage and obsession with his documentary quest to, well, win a date with his favourite actress, Drew Barrymore. (Yes, she is engaged to a Stroke.) Herzlinger filmed it by exploiting a California Circuit City—he bought the camera on his credit card, shot his movie and returned it to the store within a month, getting his money back. Circuit City has since abolished its 30-day policy.

September 16, 9:20pm, Park Lane

Thumbsucker

Written and directed by former graphic design and music video whiz Mike Mills, Thumbsucker is notable for its breakout performance by Lou Pucci. As Justin, a teen who turns to hypnosis (via his orthodontist, Keanu Reeves) and prescription drugs to cure his habit (and his ADD), the 17-year-old Pucci gives a poised, sensitive, heartbreaking performance. The kid is the next Jake Gyllenhaal. The stellar ensemble includes Tilda Swinton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vince Vaughn and Benjamin Bratt, plus a soundtrack by the Polyphonic Spree.

September 16, 9:30pm, The Oxford

Junebug

This Sundance hit—star Amy Adams was awarded a special prize for her performance—has delicious Alessandro Nivola (Laurel Canyon) as George, returning home to North Carolina with his sophisticated wife Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) in tow. Ben McKenzie, thinking ahead to an inevitable post-OC future, is among the ensemble as George’s younger brother; Adams is his chatty, plucky, pregnant wife. “Junebug is a great film because it is a true film,” wrote Roger Ebert last month. “It humbles other films that claim to be about family secrets and eccentricities. It understands that families are complicated and their problems are not solved during a short visit, just in time for the film to end.”

September 17, 9:30pm, The Oxford

Souvenir of Canada

Douglas Coupland freaks and patriots alike will enjoy this documentary that brings to life Coupland’s 2002 book of the same name. The filmgives a brief overview of the book, illuminating Canadian specifics like Ookpik, hockey and “Chimo” (the Canadian “Aloha”), but spends its bulk following Coupland’s mammoth installation Canada House. The author/artist is given a Vancouver house that will soon be demolished for condos, and he fills it with white paint and Canadian artifacts like Nanaimo bars, hockey sticks, a blanket made of $1,000 in loonies and so on. It’s not a biography, but there are some poignant scenes with Coupland’s father and how he feels about his son’s books. Witty, interesting and insightful.

September 18, 2:05pm, Park Lane

Lie With Me

You know how every year during awards season, you watch the Genies (the Canadian Oscar) because you think Don McKellar or Sarah Polley is hot and two films from Quebec win seven awards each and you’ve never heard of either of them? Here’s your chance to get a leg up! The latest from Clement Virgo (Love Come Down), adapted from his wife’s erotic novel, is about a fearless sexual predator played by Lauren Lee Smith. There’s no place like a film festival to watch a lot of explicit sex in the name of legitimate art.

September 19, 7pm, Park Lane

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Mark Bittner has been sleeping on San Francisco roofs and otherwise avoiding rent payments for decades. In this engaging documentary—though it sounds and looks like a film you would’ve seen in biology class—writer-director Judy Irving investigates his unique relationship with the birds of the title. The parrots have lived in Telegraph Hill for years, and Bittner has named each one and knows their personalities. There are cranks, jealous lovers, wusses and jokers, just like in real life. You’ll think you haven’t been sucked in, and then the happy/sad ending will move you to tears.

September 20, 7:10pm, Park Lane

Reel Paradise

John Pierson wrote the formidable indie film book Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes in the mid-’90s. In 2003, he packed up his family and bought a theatre in Tauveuni, the most remote island in Fiji, and spent a year showing free Hollywood films to the locals. His family of four includes take-no-shit wife Janet, 16-year-old Georgia, who needs a swift kick in the ass, and whip-smart 13-year-old son Wyatt, who is remarkably clear-headed about the film business. Scanning the list of his dad’s 10 Films in 10 Days festival, he recommends knocking out Apocalypse Now Redux. “It’s too long and no one will come!” he insists. (The film had the lowest turnout of the whole year.) Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) follows the Piersons’ last month on the island and the result is wholly entertaining, especially when the final film—Jackass: The Movie—unspools to the delight of a packed house. (It was subsequently banned for breaking Fijian obscenity laws.)

September 21, 9:30pm, The Oxford

League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse

Spun out of the cult British series (is there any other kind?) The League of Gentlemen, this is a comic act that began in London clubs, gained notoriety through three seasons on BBC2 and arrives on our shores via celluloid. The League is a trio of modern-day writers behind the fictional 17th-century town of Royston Vesey. Bored with their creation, they decide to stop writing about it. Their characters don’t appreciate their quitting, so they travel through time to kidnap the scribes and bring them back. Then they all end up in an old-timey horror film. Don’t ask. Just go.

September 21, 11:30pm, Park Lane

Loggerheads

North Carolina writer-director Tim Kirkman comes close with this feature about motherhood, regret and animal conservation. Though it’s sometimes heavy-handed (Grace, played by Bonnie Hunt, is asked by her mother why she wants to find the son she gave up as a teenager. “It’s not a want, it’s a need,” Grace replies, and then makes a reference to “swallowing another bottle of pills”), Loggerheads has a quiet intensity that makes it more compelling than it should probably be, anchored by an understated performance by Kip Pardue as the gay, HIV-positive drifter trying to save the area’s loggerhead turtles.

September 22, 9:35pm, Empire Bedford

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Multifaceted artist (actor-writer-director) and recent Coast cover subject (August 25) Miranda July breaks out with this compilation of moments so sweet you aren’t even grossed out by the dirty parts. That July can take traditionally squirmy subjects like scat and self-immolation (the act of setting oneself on fire) and make them sympathetic and even funny is the mark of a true talent. She’s no slouch in front of the camera either; with her classic beauty and art-school aesthetic, you’re rooting for her Christine to get the romance she so clearly deserves. Me and You and Everyone We Know is easily one of this year’s best films.

September 23, 9:30pm, The Oxford

Mysterious Skin

This brutal movie about pedophilia is a Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation) special. When Mysterious Skin was released at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, it was touted as Araki’s most mature film yet, but it’s polarizing and you need to go into it prepared for violence. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbett (thirteen) as Neil and Brian, respectively, who were Little League teammates molested by their coach. Neil, who is now a teenage prostitute, believes the experience was one of the most important in his life. Brian has repressed those five hours and believes that he was abducted by aliens. Gordon-Levitt obliterates all evidence of his stupid Third Rock from the Sun persona—he’s re-inventing himself as an indie upstart.

September 23, 9:35pm, Park Lane

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