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.
Friday September 5, 2014
This year, I’m trying a new approach to film-watching-at-TIFF. I want to see as much as I can, but I don’t want to be overly rigid about my schedule. It’s hard to choose from among the hundreds of films, but stacking everything too neatly into a spreadsheet means missing out on the opportunity to see something that I might not have noticed in the programme book, but comes highly recommended by a friend, or a friendly stranger in a coffee shop lineup.
My new motto is “minimum three, maximum five”. I’ll aim to see a minimum of three films each day, though I know even that will be too ambitious on certain days. I’m planning to see most of the Midnights and many of the Vanguards as well, but for the rest of it, I’m going to keep things relatively loose. I have the luxury of an industry pass that gets me into the parallel shadow-world of press & industry screenings, most of which don’t “sell out” completely, and most of which don’t involve lengthy line-ups (though lineups are a large part of what I enjoy about the public festival experience at TIFF).
P&I access means I can afford to be slightly more cavalier about my schedule, though it’s a strategy I used to employ when I relied exclusively on public tickets as well. I’d get a package (10 tickets, say) and only select six films, leaving myself four unassigned vouchers to trade in for tickets over the course of the festival. That way, I could go to a film that I overheard strangers discussing in line, or walk into a film I knew nothing about, just because it happened not to be sold out. Those were – and still are – some of my best experiences at festivals. Going in with no expectations, open to the possibility of experiencing something beautiful and surprising, is a real joy.
On Friday I managed three films. I had a non-TIFF meeting to attend in the morning (how dare real life still continue to exist outside this bubble!?) so my first screening was in the afternoon. 1001 Grams, a charming Norwegian film about a scientist in charge of taking Norway’s prototype of the kilogram to an international kilo conference run by an international institute of weights and measures. As you can well imagine, hi jinx do ensue, but they’re of a quiet, relationship-y type, and the film is touching and funny and uplifting in all the right ways. More than anything, I was amused at the brief glimpse into a world – that of weights and measures – that undoubtedly does exist (someone’s got to be ensuring that the kilo weighs the same amount here as it does in Japan, surely?!), and feels as alien as can be without actually being exotic (though esoteric scientific worlds are alluring, in their own highly un-exotic way). A perfect backdrop for a sweet relationship story.
Later, the World Premiere of Spring, by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead, the adorable duo who brought the world Resolution a couple of years ago. This one’s a Vanguard pick of Colin’s, so even though I’d seen the screener with him a few months ago, I was very excited to see it on the big screen and share it with friends. It’s a beautiful, smartly written, gorgeously shot film. I brought my parents to it, and after the screening my father called it “meta-horror” and my mother called it “touching and romantic”, so it’s clearly a film for everyone! Post-Spring, in the sudden downpour, I scurried across the way to Paupers for some drinks with the filmmakers and assorted pals, and yelled over the house band (why on earth does Paupers have a house band?) about movies and felt good to be in the middle of the TIFF maelstrom.
When Team Spring left for dinner, I left for the Big Game party, Friday’s Midnight film, where I downed a couple of sliders and some potato chips with slices of steak on them (don’t question the TIFF party hors d’oeuvres, just be thankful they exist).
TIFF dinners. They are not actual “dinners” 70% of the time. They are burritos eaten while standing in line, elaborate canapés inhaled at receptions, mints found at the bottoms of bags and hungrily sucked on during movies.
By the time midnight actually rolled around, I was incredibly sleepy. The kind of droopy-eyed sleepy that feels as if it’s already a barely-lucid dream. I lost some chunks of the first 20 minutes, but Big Game won me over. The action, the comic timing, that adorable Finnish kid, Samuel Jackson as a somewhat bumbling and refreshingly un-badass US President, it all came together into exactly the kind of kid-power film I truly love and wish was made more often these days.
And then another cab ride home, during which Colin scrolls through tweeted responses to the film and I read Matt Brown’s impossibly-quickly-posted blog entry for the day, and think to myself, “I love that Matt Brown, I wish he was in my life more.”