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.
Sunday September 7, 2014
I almost didn’t write about Sunday, because it was somewhat of a “day off” from movies (and when I say “somewhat” I mean “entirely” – I saw nothing on Sunday).
Still, no-movie days are a more-frequent-than-I’d-like reality of my festival life these days, and it was nonetheless a chock-full day of adventures and activities, so I won’t skip over it just because I am too ashamed to admit that I’ve already miserably failed to achieve my “minimum three, maximum five” goal and it’s not even the end of the opening weekend.
I started the day with a fantastic appointment – interviewing Peter Strickland, whose film, The Duke of Burgundy, is shaping up to be one of my absolute faves of the festival. It’s always a pleasure to speak to a smart, articulate, eloquent person about interesting things like relationship dynamics, sado-masochism, and gender politics. But it’s especially pleasant when that person has just made a film that wraps all of those subjects up in a pair of silk stockings and hands it all to you like a sumptuous gift. What a film! And what a charming and intelligent director. I’ll be writing it up for Toronto Film Scene and posting soon.
Meanwhile, the Hal Hartley interview I conducted last week has been posted, and I spent a goodly amount of time on Sunday trying to finish writing it up. The transcription was the easy part. Mr. Hartley speaks clearly and slowly enough that I typed up the 30 minute interview pretty much in real time. But choosing what to keep and how to wrap it up in my own prose was the tough part, since I hadn’t yet, at that point, seen his film. Spoiler alert: I saw it on Monday and loved it beyond measure, but that’s for a blog-post-to-come.
After the interview with Mr. Strickland, at which he gave me a vinyl recording of some cricket sounds (swoon)(except, the gift was actually for Colin!)(he gets all the coolest gifts during this festival), I went to CBC’s Canada House at the corner of Peter and King to watch the REEL CANADA team talk about the importance of Canadian film, and of getting it out there into the world, for the Canadian public to enjoy. It’s always a pleasure to watch people talk about how great we are, but hearing the genuine appreciation from Charles Officer (who took his doc, Mighty Jerome, to five cities across the country with REEL CANADA’s help last Feb as part of a Black History Month) was really touching.
I had lunch at Paese (my favourite of the “across from Lightbox” lunch options, in case you’re asking) with the RC team and then jetted off to meet with a sales agent who’s interested in Rite of the Witch Goddess. After the quickie meeting, I managed to zip back to the hotel for a change of clothes before the Midnight Madness cocktail, where I caught up with an infinite number of people and drank many gin & tonics. People occasionally disbelieve this fact about me, but I’m not naturally great at parties. It can sometimes take me a while to build up to full-schmooze mode, and I find it incredibly draining. I am certainly not one of those lucky extroverts who actually feels energized by interacting with lots of people.
Post-party I had intended to have dinner with the lovely Norbert (director of Replace) and his equally lovely wife Nadine, but after a quick meeting I went to the hotel, crashed, and woke up hours later completely confused and with a phone full of missed calls and texts. C’est la festival vie, eh?
I ordered spicy Thai soup to the hotel room and stayed the hell in for the rest of the night. I’d seen It Follows in Cannes, and while it would have been fantastic to see it on a much bigger screen with a much wilder crowd … going to bed early(ish, my body clock is all screwed up so I didn’t really get to sleep before 2am) was better.
Saturday September 6, 2014
As I sit in my TIFF hotel room writing this, it is Monday morning, and I’m already having trouble remembering what I did on Saturday. Colin gets a hotel room, as part of his job, which is why I am in one. His “workday” ends at 3am every night, and the ability to stroll to and from the Lightbox over the course of a day to change clothes, take a quick nap, and so on, really makes a big difference.
So, Saturday? I started the day with The Duke of Burgundy, which may well end up being one of my TIFF faves. I’m interviewing the director, Peter Strickland (who you may remember from last year’s Berberian Sound Studio) for Toronto Film Scene, and had to make sure I saw the film beforehand. I’m doing two interviews this year, because my editor at TFS is a lovely woman, with two filmmakers I’m so excited about – Strickland, and all-time-lifelong-fave Hal Hartley. That interview’s already in the can. I did it over the phone a few days ago, and was all nerves, but he was charming and eloquent and smart and all the things I wanted and needed him to be. Writing up the interview (and whittling it down to a manageable thousand words or so) will be its own challenge, but I’m ready for it.
I had to tell Hal Hartley, in the interest of honesty, full disclosure, and a smooth interview, that I hadn’t actually seen his film yet – not because the publicist didn’t send me a link, but because I was so looking forward to it that I had to leave myself at least half a film’s worth of surprises for the big screen experience. He seemed okay with this. I’ve written before about how Hartley influenced me, so you might understand just how excited I am about Ned Rifle, a film that stars every member of the ’90s Hartley stable and concludes a trilogy that practically marked the beginning of my own love affair with TIFF in 1997. It’s a big deal, is what I’m saying.
But back to Saturday. The Duke of Burgundy is the kind of movie that I don’t like to spend much time explaining, because it’s better experienced than heard about, the visual and aural beauty of it impossible to describe anyway, and the subtle story difficult to explain without giving too much away.
After the film, I joined Colin for a meeting with a company that might like to hire us to do some consulting. I can’t talk about it yet, but all my fingers are crossed that something works out, because the past year of “producing” has been a lean one for me, and the cost of business development, international travel and so on has all taken its toll. I’m tired. And kind of broke. And looking forward to an autumn spent in Toronto, and not anywhere else.
In the evening I went to see Dave McKean’s Luna, which I was so happy to have made time for on the big screen, because it’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in a long time. I went with my parents, and with Carl, a friend I don’t see enough of and miss all the time and was happy to catch up with for five minutes, though post-TIFF catching up with all my Toronto friends is a big goal.
I joined Colin at the reception for Tusk, the new Kevin Smith film that was playing Midnight on Saturday, where I drank several actually very good cocktails and ate a supremely odd “jalapeño popsicle” before jetting off to the Canadian party while everyone else went off to watch Tusk. I vote #walrusyes, for the record.
The Canadian party was at the Arcadian Court, on the eighth floor of the building at Queen and Yonge that houses The Bay, and it happens to be where my high school held its prom, at least on the year that I graduated. I’m not sure if I’ve been there since, but I can certainly confirm that there wasn’t a gigantic ice sculpture stuffed with mini-champagne bottles at my prom.
I stole a very soft Canada Goose toque from the party. It was on this weird life-sized husky-&-sled diorama that I couldn’t stop myself from hopping onto. I’m sorry, Canada.