This is the dream I had on the night of October 10th, 2013.
There’s a young woman who is studying to be a lawyer. She lives with her family and they are looking for a bigger place to live in. The law firm where she may end up working, or perhaps the law firm where her father (also a lawyer) works, has a huge office space that’s not being used at the moment. It’s a beautiful, large, multi-room corner office. They can move in there, even though just outside their doors is a sea of cubicles and busy secretaries. The girl is very happy. The girl also has a best friend, who is kind of quiet and withdrawn. And really, this dream is about the best friend.
There is a statue in town, a big monument to a mythical creature who once upon a time saved the town. The creature is a hunter, but also a bear. It’s a big bear with a bow and arrow. In the statue, the bear has a bow slung across his body, holds an arrow in his paw, and wears an eye patch. The law student’s best friend really, really hates the statue, and refuses to go to that part of town. On this particular day, the law student tricks her, telling her that they’re really going somewhere else, where there’s a surprise waiting for her, in order to get her, blindfolded, into the square where the statue is. It’s a port city, and the statue is at the end of a long boardwalk along the sea, which is very turbulent and dramatic.
The statue is huge, at least 30 feet high. The two girls stand in front of it and the law student takes off her best friend’s blindfold. The best friend looks up at the towering bear and bursts into tears. “Why do you hate the bear?” asks the law student, and the best friend crumples to the ground and says “I will tell you my story”.
It turns out that the best friend is not just a quiet, mousy, plain girl at all. She is actually a princess. Her family used to rule this entire land until the day they were torn apart by a terrible secret. You see, the royal family were also hunters, just like the bear. They were hunters who hunted with bows and arrows, and during the terrible battle in which the bear saved the town, one of them mistakenly shot him – right in the eye. That’s why the statue of the bear wears an eye patch. It was all her family’s fault. The bear saved them all, and they killed him. It was an accident, but still. It tore the family apart. And ever since then she’s been living as a plain, mousy girl in town and hiding the fact that she really used to be a princess.
The law student is shocked! She can hardly believe that her friend is a princess. But the princess isn’t done telling her story yet. Her family has another secret. It’s even more shocking than the fact that they killed the bear who saved the town.
The royal family are also shape shifters. And the princess is the most skilled, the very best shape shifter of them all. She is so talented, it’s astonishing. She can become absolutely anything. Suddenly, the law student sees her plain, mousy friend in a new light. She’s not plain at all. She’s beautiful. She’s more beautiful than the law student is, which is a little bit difficult for the law student to accept, but she swallows her pride, because after all, the princess is her best friend.
The princess smiles. She’s so happy to have told her story to someone. She feels unburdened. Her face lights up and she really does look beautiful. The two girls leave the square arm in arm.
But the question remains: was the bear who saved the town really a bear who happened to be a skilled archer, or was he a member of the shape shifting royal family, and if so, why did his own flesh and blood kill him?
Does anybody give a good god damn about TIFF anymore, now that we’re on the precipice of Thanksgiving and Halloween is around the corner? Probably not. I should be doing a list of my top 31 horror films, but instead I’m going to tell you what I liked best at TIFF. Better late than never, that’s my blogging motto!
I saw around 25-30ish films, and most were pretty great. One or two weren’t my cup of tea, but I honestly didn’t sit through any clunkers. It’s either been a good year or I’ve gotten a lot better at choosing.
Here’s my top 10 in alphabetical order:
Almost Human (dir. Joe Begos, USA) – Full disclosure, I got to meet and hang out with the Almost Human crew (director, stars, moms, dads, everyone – and every last one of them was SO adorable) for pretty much the entire festival. They were the sweetest, most sincere dudes ever – passionate about movies, eager to make awesome films of their own, totally down to earth, 0% Hollywood-bullshit-y. Simply the best. So, it goes without saying that I would never give their film an unfavourable review, even if I didn’t like it. But, it just so happens that I saw and loved their film before meeting any of them, and I still loved it. It’s a great weird alien abduction slasher film and a truly amazing example of how you ABSOLUTELY CAN pull off a great film on a tiny budget. And it’s not found footage. Bless all their hearts.
Enemy (dir. Denis Villeneuve, Canada/Spain) – I preferred Villeneuve’s take on the doppelgänger film over Richard Ayoade’s highly stylized The Double. Jake Gyllenhaal does a pretty great job of playing two men – a history professor and a struggling d-list actor – whose lives intersect with strange and potentially disastrous results. There are hints in the film as to what’s really going on but Villeneuve really makes you work to find and interpret them. There are also hints of some kind of maximally perverse subplot that is never explored but might be fleshed out more in the Jose Saramago novel the film is based on, which I now can’t wait to read (just to add to the confusion, the novel is called The Double).
The F Word (dir. Michael Dowse, Canada/Ireland) – Dowse (Fubar, Goon, etc) has maybe just directed Canada’s best ever romantic comedy. It’s mainstream enough (Daniel Radcliffe is in it – I hear that guy is famous, but I haven’t seen the Harry Potter films) yet quirky/weird/actually-funny enough to work for both regular rom-com audiences and Michael Dowse fans. Magic! Best part: Adam Driver (I can’t get enough of him) and Canadian future-very-famous-actress Mackenzie Davis (who also starred in We Gotta Get Out of This Place) are great as the best friends / B-plot couple.
Night Moves (dir. Kelly Reichardt, USA) – I actually walked out of this feeling that it was Reichardt’s weakest film. It’s beautifully executed, subtle and intimate, like all her work, but as a fan of the “not a lot happens” element of her oeuvre, I thought this one was trying too hard to be a thriller, and the result was a good film that was marred by some clunky plot elements and an ill-fitting, almost laughably over the top ending.
Oculus (dir. Mike Flanagan, USA) – I love spooky supernatural thrillers and haunted house films. This one (about a haunted mirror) is really clever and really fun. Apparently the two actresses in it are famous-ish because one was on Battlestar Galactica and the other was on Dr. Who, but I am a loser who doesn’t follow the sci-fi television, so I had no idea. But whatever, Oculus doesn’t need famous people, because it’s got a really smart plot and lots of good spooky scares. Highly recommended for fans of films like Insidious.
R100 (dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto, Japan) – What can you really say about this film that isn’t a spoiler, or an incomprehensible attempt to describe something that’s better left unexplained? It’s sort of about one Japanese man vs. an army of dominatrixes. And much like the director’s previous film, Symbol, it’s better “experienced” than “read about”.
The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (dirs. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Belgium/France/Luxemburg) – this Giallo-esque mindfuck of a film is so beautiful it makes you want to bang your head against the screen until you somehow mind-meld into this psychedelic ’70s art nouveau universe that the directors have created and just live there, in a space between the walls, in some kind of sexually ecstatic terror-dreamstate. Forever.
Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer, UK) – The only thing anyone seemed to be saying about Jonathan “Sexy Beast” Glazer’s latest before TIFF was “Scarlett Johansson naked”. And there definitely is a fair amount of that. However, it’s also one of the most bizarre, beautiful and elegant films I’ve seen in a long time. Gorgeous to look at (and I don’t mean ScarJo) and the soundtrack is haunting to the Nth degree. Also based on a book (by Michael Faber), which is now on my to-read list.
We Are the Best! (dir. Lukas Moodysson, Sweden) – This is an adorable coming of age (ish?) story about Bobo, Klara and Hedvig, three pre-teen girls in 1980s Sweden who sport intensely un-girly short haircuts, are into punk rock, start a band even though they can’t play any instruments (girls after my own heart, they are), do silly pre-teen girl things and get into trouble. It nails “being a girl” better than any film I’ve seen in recent memory. Definitely “being a girl of around 12 years of age” but really, “being a girl of any age” as well. Apparently the film is based on a loosely autobiographical graphic novel written by Coco Moodysson, the director’s wife. So, she clearly rules.
We Gotta Get Out of This Place (Simon & Zeke Hawkins, USA) – This thriller about three teens who get embroiled in a local gangster’s money laundering operation in a dead end small Texas town is really smartly written. The story is suspenseful, the performances are real (MVP award goes to Mark Pellegrino, who just murders his role, but other heavyweights like John Gries and newcomers like Mackenzie Davis totally hold their own), and the dialogue is snappy and the twists and turns are tight!
Award for “the film I am most conflicted about” goes to:
Bastards (dir. Claire Denis, France) – Did I love the new Claire Denis, or did I hate it? Ok, I didn’t hate it, but I felt like the second half did not quite deliver on the intricately-woven-thriller-mystery that the first half promised. It looks incredible, great score, performances by a stable of Denis regulars (and some newbies) are all fantastic (I especially love Vincent Lindon – in this, and always), it’s got all the intimacy that I love about her signature style. And yet, instead of finding the ending emotionally devastating (as I think I was supposed to?) I found it jarringly over the top and it took me completely out of the film. On the other hand, I haven’t really stopped thinking about it, so I guess that’s something?
Honourable mentions go to three films that I saw in Cannes but which would have ABSOLUTELY been in my Top Ten of TIFF otherwise:
Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier, USA) – if you liked Murder Party … well, then you have good taste in indie horror, but Saulnier’s second feature is nothing like it. It is, however, one of the best eye-for-an-eye revenge thrillers I’ve seen in a long time, and gorgeous to look at (the director has been working as a DOP for the past few years, and it shows). Bonus points for casting Macon Blair (Murder Party, Hellbenders) in the lead role. He knocks it so far out of the park it’s cray-zee.
Jodorowsky’s Dune (dir. Frank Pavich, USA) – What a perfect “what could have been” documentary about the history of cinema. Not only is the story of Jodorowsky’s (kind of insane but also inspired and bold and incredible) plans to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune in the ’70s (long before David Lynch got his hands on it) incredibly fascinating, it’s also really inspiring, in spite of the fact that it’s sort of, kind of a story about failure (because his Dune never got made). The original artwork, designs, concepts and storyboards that various artists (Moebius, Chris Foss, H.R. Giger) did is remarkable, and Jodo is so chock-full of charisma that I could listen to him for hours. It is a crime that TIFF did not also show the whimsically, tragically, beautifully weird La Danza de la Realidad, Jodo’s own new film.
Like Father Like Son (dir. Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Japan)- This charming, funny, sad and touching story about two families who discover their six year old sons were switched at birth is a perfect little sketch of what it means to be a man in modern day Japan. It might not be my favourite Kore-Eda, but it’s pretty darn wonderful.