TIFF roundup time. Here’s everything I saw, in alphabetical order, with a sentence or two of commentary. Links below are all to trailers or clips of the films, unless one was not available. I saw around 25 films and didn’t see anything that I really disliked this year, so I’m not going to rank the films in any kind of order.
Although I will say that Crime Wave, The Duke of Burgundy, The Guest, Luna and Ned Rifle were my best experiences, and Alleluia, which I didn’t technically watch at TIFF, rounds out my “top six”.
1001 Grams – The story itself was quite simple, but the fact that it was set in the strange world of international weights and measures really charmed me. Where is Canada’s prototype of the kilogram held, I wonder?
Alleluia – Technically I did not see this at TIFF. I saw it in Cannes, but it remains one of my faves of the year so I’m including it anyway! Based on the same source material as The Honeymoon Killers, this is one of the most gorgeous films of the year.
Big Game – The craving deep in my soul that can only be satisfied with Amblin Entertainment-style kid adventure films was fed a substantial meal by Big Game. Unapologetically silly and kid-friendly action. Anyone who thinks this isn’t one of the best and least phoned-in Samuel Jackson performances in a while is nuts.
Cart – A simple but affecting story (based on real events) about the plight of South Korean temporary and contract workers (who make up 60% of the population and make 50% of their full time counterparts’ wages) and their attempts to unionize or at least force the supermarket that unfairly dismissed them to hire them back.
Crime Wave – I’ve said enough, right?
Cub – A straight-up fun horror movie. Just the meat and potatoes of scary movies, where a pack of cub scouts gets it from a psycho-killer and a feral child. Sometimes, it’s satisfying to go back to basics.
The Duke of Burgundy – One of my faves of the festival. Gorgeous, stylish, original, funny as hell. The strange story of a relationship between two women that you think you understand, until you realize it’s something else entirely. Plus, I learned a lot about mole crickets.
The Editor – If you’ve ever enjoyed a Giallo film, then the loving parody/homage of The Editor is for you. If you enjoyed Father’s Day or Manborg or just like funny jokes, then The Editor is probably also for you.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films – Mark Hartley is the champion of documentaries about the “wild, untold stories” of cinema, and while this one was less of a “to watch” list than Not Quite Hollywood (because I’ve already seen way more Cannon films than Ozploitation films) there were still a few that I will definitely be watching post-TIFF. Like all the Ninja films.
Goodnight Mommy – This film starts out as a drama about a woman recovering from recent facial plastic surgery while trying to keep her rowdy twin sons in check at their country house. And then it becomes something far more dark and disturbing. Great film, intense viewing experience.
The Guest – Ah, the uninvited guest film, the Terminator-esque dangerous android film, the “fun American action” film, that old chestnut! Thanks for making a brand new chestnut, Barrett/Wingard. The Guest is already out in the US and opens in Toronto soon. Go fucking see it!
Luna – One of the most beautiful and moving relationship dramas I’ve seen in a long time, by Dave McKean, the visual genius behind all those Sandman covers, and Arkham Asylum, and lots of other great stuff. Perfect blend of illustration, animation, real feeling, and magic realism.
Maps to the Stars – A bit too hysterical (and I don’t mean that as a synonym for funny) for me, but filled to the brim with a lot of very good performances. What was the point, though? That Hollywood is a horrible place full of depraved monsters? I expect better, less obvious points from Cronenberg.
Ned Rifle – Hal Hartley’s best since Henry Fool, for sure. And a great end to the trilogy that Henry Fool and Fay Grim round out. Featured a cameo by every Hartley actor in the stable, which was nice to see. Truly “one for the fans”.
Over Your Dead Body – Leave it to Takashi Miike to make me squirm and feel vaguely nauseous while looking at something incredibly striking and beautiful. Gorgeous story about a group of actors rehearsing a play (the story of which echoes their real lives). Some of the best production design I’ve seen all year.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence – is it “reflecting on” or “contemplating”? The programme said one but the subtitles on the film said the other. Anyway. Great film. Bonus fact: all the backgrounds are matte paintings, and they are very impressive.
Spring – I’ll try to resist the “X” meets “Y” description that this film has been getting a lot of, but let me just say this: Spring is a very beautifully made and smart romance, lightly tinted with supernatural elements. Don’t go in expecting a “horror movie” but do go in expecting a “very good movie”.
Sunshine Superman – Great doc about the adorable nerd who invented base jumping. First time I’ve ever seen a visually impressive documentary about an inspiring subject that did not make me want to participate in the thing that it was about. There isn’t enough money in the world to convince me to jump off a cliff, ever.
Tokyo Tribe – Japanese hip hop musical about warring gangs battling for control of Tokyo. The rapping isn’t mindblowing, but y’know what? That’s kind of not the point. I saw someone on Twitter complain that the film was about rape gangs, and I feel like I saw an entirely different film, which isn’t about that, at all.
Two Days, One Night – Marion Cotillard, the undisputed queen of looking ugly-beautiful in films that are uplifting downers, is really good in this at-times-hard-to-watch drama about a woman who spends an arduous weekend fighting to get her job back after being laid off. Watching this film made me realize that I’ve hardly seen any of the Dardenne brothers’ films. I will rectify this post-TIFF, when I make my ambitious list of “films and filmmakers to catch up on this fall”.
What We Do in the Shadows – Funniest movie of TIFF or funniest movie of the year? Probably both. This unexpectedly touching and totally hilarious Christopher-Guest-style mock doc about a group of vampire roommates in New Zealand hit pretty much all the right notes.
Wet Bum – A solid story about a gawky teenage girl who has few friends, works part time at a retirement home (where her mom works), and maybe has a crush on her swimming instructor. Although I was a little disappointed with the familiar track the relationship with the swimming instructor took, it was great to see a film about a teenage girl that wasn’t rife with clichés.
X + Y – I liked this movie about an awkward, mildly Autistic math-whiz who finds himself in an unusual situation when he finally gets to compete in the international math olympiad. Suddenly, he’s no longer the only weird one, or (perhaps more disturbingly, to him) the only smart one. Very touching hi jinx ensue.
I’m sorry to have missed many people’s faves, films like Force Majeure, Wild Tales, Phoenix and The Tribe, as well as a few of my own hotly anticipated titles, like Danis “Oscar for No Man’s Land” Tanovic’s latest, Tigers. Hopefully they’ll all be back in theatres soon. Or maybe I’ll have to bring some of them back myself, at The Royal.
I’ve finally gotten around to reflecting on what films I really enjoyed at Cannes. These are in alphabetical order because I hate choosing favourites among my favourites.
Alleluia (dir. Fabrice Du Welz)
I loved this beautiful, disturbing, strange take on the Honeymoon Killers story, though it strays pretty far from the original. When Michel (Laurent Lucas, who also starred in the director’s debut feature, Calvaire) and single mom Gloria (Lola Dueñas) go out on a date, the last thing she expects to find out is that he’s a scam artist who seduces women and steals from them. And yet, the connection Gloria feels is too strong to ignore, and soon the couple are scheming to rob unsuspecting women together – that is, if they can before Gloria’s jealousy gets the better of her. The two leads are terrific, and the other women that surround them are wonderfully real (older, vibrantly sexual, full of a genuine yearning for love). Du Welz has a masterful eye for visual composition and for creating female characters whose emotional needs are cranked to 11 (or eleventy thousand).
Cold in July (dir. Jim Mickle)
Based on the book by Joe R. Lansdale, this tight little movie is hands down one of the best suspense thrillers of the year. Michael C. Hall (Dexter!) is Richard Dane, a small town Texas picture framer who shoots an intruder in his living room one night. When the intruder’s father – a dangerous ex con played by a perfectly ruthless Sam Shepard – arrives at the Dane’s doorstep looking for vengeance, the two men end up on the dark path together, because of course, nothing is ever as it seems in a good Texas noir. Don Johnson stands out as Jim Bob, the flashy pig-farmer-cum-private-eye who helps the two men get to the bottom of an ugly mystery. Good lord, has Don Johnson still got it! I mean, schwing!
It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell)
Maika Monroe (who also stars in Adam Wingard’s The Guest this year) is great in It Follows, as Jay, a teenage girl who gets more than she bargained for while on a date with a seemingly normal, mild-mannered dude. Seems he’s the carrier of an unusual sexually transmitted phantom that stalks and kills it prey. Now Jay’s got to enlist the help of her cadre of teenage pals to help her outrun the danger – or figure out a way to beat it, without getting killed in the process. It Follows delivers a driving synthy soundtrack and a very tense atmosphere throughout. I especially loved Mitchell’s portrayal of realistic teenagers and realistic teenage sexuality that never veers into exploitative territory in spite of the subject matter.
Lost River (dir. Ryan Gosling)
Gosling got a lot of bad reviews for Lost River, but I think that’s mainly because people had their knives out for him. The film takes place in the ruined outskirts of Detroit, where single mom Billy (Christina Hendricks) struggles to keep her dilapidated home and raise two boys. Her teenage son, Bones, (Iain De Caestecker), has problems of his own, mostly dealing with local thug Bully (Matt Smith, whose transformation from the endearingly tweedy Doctor Who to total monster is impressive). The film wears its influences on its sleeve (Refn, Wenders, Lynch, and others) but is a strong debut feature that looks absolutely gorgeous, mostly thanks to Benoît Debie, the DoP behind films like Vinyan, Enter the Void and Spring Breakers. I’ll say this much: it’s better than anything James Franco has ever directed, and Gosling is at least trying to do something artful and different, which we should be encouraging in any emerging filmmaker, instead of snarkily mocking him for it.
When Animals Dream (dir. Jonas Alexander Arnby)
This film was totally mis-marketed as a horror film. It’s not one. It’s a completely stunning and deeply moving drama about how the difficulties of being a young woman and growing up in a repressive small community. When strange things begin to happen to 16 year old Marie’s body, she starts to learn that her family has bigger secrets than she ever realized, and that perhaps her heavily sedated mother is not a helpless invalid but something else entirely – something that she too is now becoming. A great metaphor for how women’s power is often suppressed for “their own good” because men don’t know how to cope with it. A very different transformation / coming of age story than Ginger Snaps, but dealing with some similar issues.
White God (dir. Kornél Mundruczó)
A very, very odd film about a girl and her dog. The first half plays out like an urban Hungarian Incredible Journey. Precocious 12-year old Lili is separated from her beloved dog, Hagen, a lively mutt who goes on a wild adventure trying to find his way back to her. After Hagen falls into the hands of some bad guys, the film takes an unexpected turn. The final act is straight out of the grimmest revenge film, as Hagen goes on a bloody rampage (flanked by about 200 other dogs from the city pound) to punish everyone who’s ever wronged him. I couldn’t tell: was this an art house film with magic realism elements, or was it a genre film that leaves an insane number of loose ends and open questions? Either way, it has to be seen to be believed.
** Note: I’ve been behind on finishing the blog entries because I caught the mother of all Cannes Colds toward the end of the fest, but since I’m finally starting to see the light at the end of that tunnel, I figured I’d wrap up my last few days’ worth of diary entries. The rest will come tomorrow, and next week a mini roundup of my favourite films from Cannes 2014! Enjoy, and stay healthy, friends. **
Thursday May 22
This was one of those days that started out as a semi-failure (pouring rain, a failed attempt to get into the 11:30am screening of Fabrice Du Welz’s Alleluia) and then turned into a totally successful three movie bonanza!
The rain definitely put the kibosh on my desire to race around getting things done (you know, buying gifts for family, etc) so I stayed in the apartment, caught up on some emails, worked on that cursed Telefilm application (cursed only because they make it more complicated than the guidelines would have you believe. There are way more little details once you enter the actual back end of the online submission system, and many were quite time consuming. I was pretty motivated to get it the hell done though, so I was glad to be able to spend some time on it – that is, until the system kicked me out for maintenance, or something. Cursed, I swear.
In the evening, we managed to secure hard tickets to Alleluia, which was one of my most hotly anticipated titles and absolutely did not disappoint. It’s a Belgian take on The Honeymoon Killers and it’s both supremely weird and very fantastic. There are many friends to whom I want to heartily recommend this one.
The perfect double bill was semi-accidentally created when we also managed to land tickets to the remastered 40th anniversary screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Watching a gorgeous restoration film with a crowd (a very fancily dressed crowd, I might add) really drove home the point of how amazing the film actually is. It doesn’t jut “hold up” after 40 years. It actually could easily stand against any horror film of the present day in terms of good villains, incredibly creepy production design and generally effective terror. We haven’t improved a lot on that formula in the last four decades, honestly.
The film was preceded by a really moving introduction by Nicolas Winding Refn, who talked about how this was the film that inspired him to want to make movies. He also talked about how Tobe Hooper deserved to win the Palme d’Or 40 years ago. Refn was full of zingers about his own career and jokes about how soon he’d win a Palme d’Or himself. “Oscars you buy,” he said, “Palmes you earn”. He implored the audience to give him an “emotional Palme d’Or” by standing and applauding for him – which the audience did for such a long time that Hooper was visibly moved by the time he came on stage. It was actually really moving. Tears were shed.
After the Texas Chainsaw Massacre experience, we raced over to the Palais to catch the Korean film screening at midnight, The Target. It was raining while we stood in line, and we didn’t have umbrellas, but what the hell, the weather’s been great all week so who’s complaining? The film itself was fun enough, but if it had been English language, I highly doubt we’d be talking about it right now and there’s no way in hell it’d be screening in Cannes, y’know what I mean?
The triple-bill left us dinner-less so we hoofed it up to our old neighbourhood (circa two years ago) nearer the train station to a small kiosk that sells shockingly good baked goods until very, very late at night. Walked home with some cheesy pastries and Merguez sausage rolls and avoided the Petit Majestic entirely, because sometimes you just have to eat flaky pastries and fall the hell asleep. Besides, it’s not like it was even early. The midnight films actually start at 12:30 in Cannes and are rarely on time, so by the time the 2+ hour film let out it was nigh on three o’clock.
Anyway, this is my tip for you for next year. If you need a late night snack, this place is called Au P’tit Creux d’Azur. It’s got a blue awning and is on Rue de Maréchal Foch just south of Place de la Gare (so, really, right by the train station). It’s about one block east of the big Monoprix and it’s open very, very late. Trust me on this. It is the best tip I’ve given you all month. I just wish I’d remembered earlier.