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TORONTO - Forget books. They don't matter. Hopelessly out of date - you know. Everybody knows it.
The 1970s proved it. Film - the art form of the 20th century - is where it's at. "Easy Rider," "Raging Bull." It's where narrative creativity lives, and it's what everyone else copies and wants to be. Pop music may attract thundering hordes to stadiums where football teams live, but that's as much social ritual as anything else.
Film is it, even now, in a digital age where everything is being miniaturized. It's how our imaginations roll in the 21st century.
Except that you better not tell that to anyone at the 37th Toronto Film Festival - not the ones going to all the movies, or even Bruce Willis, Kristen Stewart and Emily Blunt ambling red carpets. Books don't just matter here - they rule. If you want to know where the modern cinematic imagination lives, the first place to go is a book. Or a Kindle. Or an iPad.
It's where the hippest modern film directors are finding continuing ways to be hip onscreen.
Try these:
. "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac. His paradigmatic beatnik journey in search of spirit, pleasure and self has finally become a movie, directed by Walter Salles and starring Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart. Producer Francis Ford Coppola has been trying to get this movie made since 1978 (and in his head, no doubt, much longer than that).
. "Anna Karenina." The much-adapted Tolstoy masterpiece that proved unhappy families are always unhappy in their own way is, somewhat incredibly, a film again. This time it features a script by Tom Stoppard, stars Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and is directed by Joe Wright, who's clearly daft and afraid of nothing. The result is utterly outrageous, a wild and woolly and artificial thing that's part opera, part operetta and completely nuts. Despite the film's emphasizing its own theatricality at every turn, Tolstoy's sprawling tale of adultery, righteousness and society can still evoke tears. Even if Knightley is the least sensual Anna imaginable and Taylor-Johnson the least virile Vronsky, it's a bold movie.
. "Midnight's Children." The one person who was not enamored of Toronto Festival favorite and Oscar winner "Slumdog Millionaire" was Salman Rushdie. Here he wrote and narrated Deepa Mehta's film of the first novel of his to make his international reputation in 1980. It is two and a half hours long, and, like the book, bursts with magic, magical realism and vitality.
. "Cloud Atlas." One of the most eagerly awaited films of the festival, this is an adaptation of David Mitchell's seeming impossible-to-adapt and hugely admired novel; it stars Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant. It comes from Andy and Lana Wachowski, who used to be known as the Wachowski Brothers until Larry changed his sex and name. They teamed up with the great German director Tom Tykwer, who once gave us "Run, Lola, Run."
. "What Maisie Knew." Henry James gets the James Ivory treatment again, but by David Siegel and Scott McGehee, and starring Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan.
. "Kon-Tiki." Thor Heyerdahl's Pacific crossing on a raft was a publishing phenomenon in the late 1940s and in the '50s, a movie, and now it's a movie again.
. "Dangerous Liaisons." Choderlos de Laclos' nasty masterpiece was first made into a movie by the leering Roger Vadim, then into a great one starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich, and now the Chinese have had a go at it, setting it in 1930s Shanghai. You can't keep a great tale down.
. "Great Expectations." One more time for Dickens. This is a Potterish festival of British acting, starring Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane and Helena Bonham Carter; directed by Mike Newell.
. "Student." Are you ready for a new Russian version of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment?"
. "Much Ado About Nothing." If you're ready for Dostoevsky redux, how about Shakespeare done by, get this, Joss Whedon, the great TV auteur who, once upon a time, gave us "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer."
For those who'd like to know that the cinematic imagination in the 21st century doesn't depend entirely on geniuses who existed between covers first, there's a Toronto Festival Film coming to theaters reasonably soon to prove brilliance can both start and finish on film.
Rian Johnson's wild sci-fi fantasy "Looper" stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as two versions of the same assassin, tracking each other out of their eras to knock each other off. Emily Blunt and a little boy are in the middle. It's a wild thing - like Johnson saw James Cameron's "Terminator" and said to himself "You don't need all those special effects. I could do a homicidal time-travel movie much cooler and smarter than that one."

email: jsimon@buffnews.com