You can't go wrong at the Toronto International Film Festival if you just see movies by established auteurs, because even if the movies suck, at least you made a reasonable, calculated decision. Like a poker player going all-in with the best hand, or a baseball manager bunting the runner over in the late innings of a tie game, you know no one's going to second-guess you at the press conference. What's tougher is lining up for movies by unknown quantities, or directors with hit-and-miss reps. Since you could be seeing any one of about eight other movies at the same time, there's always the risk that you're going to waste a precious two hours that you could've spent seeing an undiscovered masterpiece across town.

I wouldn't call Little Fish a total waste—and unless Sud Express or Backstage is an undiscovered masterpiece, I don't think I missed much by seeing it—but it's the kind of movie that full-on TIFFgoers dread catching when they make out their schedules. It's a star-sucker: one of those little indies with a recognizable cast that draws crowds on a Tuesday afternoon. The cast here includes Oscar-winner Cate Blanchette and fellow Aussie heavyweights Sam Neill and Hugo Weaving, all trapped in slow-paced, pervasively melancholy crime drama about recovering heroin addicts and their no-good friends. The director's not a nobody either. Rowan Woods made the intense, dissection-of-domestic-violence drama Boys. But where that movie was gritty and harrowing, Little Fish is mostly dreary, saved only by strong performances from the complete ensemble, and some nice use of Sydney's increasingly Asia-skewed culture. That Asian strain seems to have extended to Woods' new languorous tone as well, though the filmmaker doesn't have the eye or the confidence for elliptical narrative that his influences do.

So it's a tricky business, pre-selecting films. Based on the premises and some preliminary reading, I took some chances that only partially paid off, as follows:

Festival! Short take: Like a budget-sized Richard Curtis production, this debut feature from writer-director Annie Griffin pings between a dozen randy, vivacious characters, all attending the Edinburgh Arts Festival as actors, comics, critics or judges. But the characters have a darker streak than Curtis', and because of the relatively small cast, Griffin spends too much time rehashing the same situations. The movie's frequently funny though, and sexy, and Griffin's depictions of thespian pretension are generally spot-on. The proverbial mixed bag.

John & Jane! Short take: This documentary about the people who work Indian call centers for American companies resembles the work of the Maysles brothers, in that it's about language and self-delusion, and doesn't beat the audience over the head with a political message. But the style isn't so Maysles-y. It has more in common with the "take a good long look at the everyday" mode of a lot of Asian cinema; and those good long looks can be quite striking. The movie loses some points for being flat and repetitive (even at just under 90 minutes), but it's full of memorable moments, like the employees being trained to speak with American accents by repeating lines like, "It's a big business," and, "It's a necessary statistic."

The Gronholm Method! Short take: The spectacular, split-screen opening sequence shows executive job applicants racing to an interview while an anti-IMF protest takes place in the city, but the visual fireworks of those first two minutes quickly fizzle, leaving behind a long, stagy adaptation of a play that can be best described as 12 Angry Men meets Survivor. The premise is undeniably cool, as the applicants weed themselves out via a daylong set of psychological games. But there's nothing really cinematic about it, and even the cool premise deteriorates as the cast decreases.

Now, by contrast, an illustration of why it helps to follow the buzz. I'd only seen one previous film by Patrice Chereau—the artfully erotic and pungent Intimacy—but I took a chance on Gabrielle because Scott assured me it was can't-miss. Way to go, Scott. I'm not as deliriously overjoyed about it as he is, mainly because the Joseph Conrad story (about a sham marriage in crisis) features emotionally repressed upper-crusters who don't talk or behave in any relatable way. But Chereau takes what any other filmmaker might make dry and staid, and turns it into his personal cinema playground, mixing up color schemes and shot selections, and even turning the thing into a silent movie with intertitles at a couple of crucial points. Gabrielle is full of images and moments that'll be hard to forget—most notably the buzzing cloud of servants who press in around the unhappy couple, fiddling with their clothes or serving their food.

Otherwise, the rest of the past 24+ hours has been spent seeing movies so hyped that no one can blame me for making room for them. Like:

Capote! Short take: Philip Seymour Hoffman is great in the title role and the decision to focus on Truman Capote's In Cold Blood experiment allows for plenty of keen commentary on the ruthless exploitation instincts of major artists; but the movie is too prestige-y (complete with the tinkling-piano-and-strings soundtrack that comes standard with Oscar-bait), and director Bennett Miller shamefully buries the gay content, barely considering why a man whose whole life has been spent skulking around might be attracted to the story of two traveling criminals.

Walk The Line! Short take: If Reese Witherspoon were in the movie as much as she should be, they could go ahead and cancel the ceremony and mail her an Academy Award. (She may win anyway, for capturing June Carter Cash in all her bright-eyed earth mother glory, without losing the Witherspoon within.) Joaquin Phoenix is almost as impressive as Johnny Cash—or at least impressive enough that it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role—and the musical sequences are energizing. But the movie as whole doesn't live up to the songs. Director James Mangold stays in rambling, episodic biopic mode, and never gets underneath the contradictions that allowed Cash to be out-of-control yet creatively prosperous throughout the '60s. Walk The Line ends up being another one of those life-of-an-entertainer films that reduces a true artist to his most embarrassing moments. Cash deserves better.

Where The Truth Lies! Short take: Atom Egoyan doesn't completely lose what makes Rupert Holmes showbiz scandal novel special; and on a simple mystery-and-titillation level, this movie works just fine. But Alison Lohman's performance—as a '70s personality journalist writing a book about the breakup of a Martin-&-Lewis-esque comedy team—is so weak that it almost wrecks everything. In the book, the character is a tough, smart, sexy free spirit looking to make her name by uncovering the truth behind a 20-year-old murder. In the movie, she's mousy and unassertive, and completely in thrall her subjects, played by Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon. It's not a fair match. Still, the picture's entertaining, even if it misses some of the insane period detail that made the book such giddy fun.

Coming up: Big finish! Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story! Romance & Cigarettes! Look Both Ways! The Squid & The Whale! The Child! Sympathy For Lady Vengeance! The Great Yokai War! Iron Island! The Matador! Blogging in the airport on the way home! Posting late Friday!