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.
Saturday September 13, 2014
This is the end, my friends.
By Saturday, I’d already mentally checked out of festival mode, but I knew the evening would bring one last avalanche of mega-socializing.
Friday was an unintentionally late night, so on Saturday I had no particular desire to race around trying to see movies – besides, I’d be seeing The Guest at midnight and frankly, by this stage of the game, one film is enough. I spent the day mostly doing nothing and getting ready for the evening, which involved a pre-midnight dinner and party with Team Guest.
At dinner, Colin and I squirrelled ourselves away at a side table with Simon Barrett and just caught up for an hour, which after days of big events and large groups was just what the doctor ordered. Post-dinner, a party for the film, at which bar staff were dressed like hunky soldiers (way to theme it up!) and I spent a good chunk of time catching up with friends from Baltimore who I don’t see often enough but love (unrelated fact: one of them made a movie called Small Pond, which I really liked).
The Guest, which I watched in the European Film Market in Berlin (twice, because I liked it so much that I really wanted to see it with Colin, who wasn’t free for the first screening) was a treat to see again with a public audience. Besides, being there for the public screening meant seeing Matt Brown in the Symbol pyjamas Colin recently gave him. Which was worth the price of admission, and then some.
After the film, we went back to our apartment with a few dozen of our closest friends and whatever filmmakers were still in town. This is something Colin and I do every year after the final Midnight Madness screening, but this TIFF we took it up a notch by getting some amazing friends to cater the party with booze and delicious made-on-the-spot tacos. They took it up several notches, to be honest.
Seriously though, Symbol might be one of the best and weirdest movies of all time.
The after party was more of a chance for me to catch up with Toronto friends than visiting filmmakers, though I did my fair share of both. This year, for the first time in the afterparty’s illustrious seven year history, someone passed the usually fairly private invitation around to some random festival guests, and we ended up playing babysitter to a pair of very drunk short filmmakers who spent at least 20 minutes having a relationship argument (in German) in our kitchen. And an extravagantly drunk Dutch dude who was really hard to get rid of. But hey, 98% of the party was great. Besides, now I can say that handsome Dan “Downton Abbey” Stevens has been in my living room! He was actually quite nice and very sweet to fans and he’s brilliant in The Guest. I definitely recommend that you all see it when it opens in Toronto in a week or so. Or y’know, today, in select cities in the US.
I haven’t seen Downton Abbey but I guess now I have to, since I was told by a hundred people during TIFF that it “really is very good”.
It took me a week to get around to writing this final diary entry, and that’s because post-TIFF, all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and not think about TIFF. I mean, it’s not like some traumatic experience. I’m not trying to paint a fun week of movies and parties as an ordeal, by any means, but I definitely do feel a bit over-saturated with TIFF-related matters, and with film festival life in general.
I’m thrilled to be back at my apartment, back at my (really wonderful) new office, back to the gym, to grocery shopping, to playing board games with friends, to watching old movies with Colin (this weekend, we watched a double bill of Working Girl (an all time fave of mine which I’ve probably watched 100 times since the age of 12 or so) and Mean Streets (which I had never seen before!) and it was basically the best night ever).
Lots of our film friends are currently having the times of their lives at Fantastic Fest. But fun as every tweet and Facebook update from Austin sounds, I must say, I’m not jealous. I couldn’t be happier to be staying home for the foreseeable future. I am so in love with my regular Toronto life.
Saturday Feb 8 & Sunday Feb 9. Also known as the busiest two days of the market. By Monday, only four days after it began, lots of people will already be packing up and heading home. Seems crazy, considering the leisurely pace most people approach film festivals with, that a market should be so rushed.
This weekend involves a lot of rushing around, and I’m very grateful for my week-long pass to the public transit system. One of my top tips for anyone coming to Berlin is: get friendly with the subway. It’s efficient, clean, and really the easiest and best way to get around. There are buses and trams too. It’s extensive.
People who come from transit friendly cities like New York (or Toronto) will find this advice obvious, but take heed car-dependent Americans: the Berlin subway is easy to navigate and not scary. You will save a lot by not always taking a cab.
You can buy tickets from vending machines at track level (and the machines have an English option, of course) but if you’re not sure what kind of ticket would suit you best, look for a booth with a human working it – some of the larger hub stations have them. I went for the weekly pass. Since it all works on the honour system, I bought my ticket, validated it (basically a date stamp that you get at track level – don’t forget!) and then popped it into my wallet and forgot about it for seven days. While there are inspectors who come around to check whether you really have a ticket, I’ve never seen one, so I guess I could have easily cheated the system. But honestly, I am happy to pay into something as well run as the Berlin subway, because I still want it to be here every future time that I visit.
Saturday was Colin’s day to hang with other TIFF staff for approximately 100 hours. They had a lengthy staff meeting and dinner, during which I puttered around and then went to see The Guest. I have very high expectations for any Wingard/Barrett joint, and this film met them all.
I didn’t see any other films on Saturday because sometimes you have to end on a high note. Instead, I went to Berlin’s best chicken joint, Henne, where I ate a half chicken with my hands, in the company of some Fantastic Fest / Drafthouse Films pals and several other delightful people. Then off to the Canadian Embassy to party with Canadians. A lot.
The only 9am breakfast meeting of the trip was of course scheduled after the latest night, so Sunday morning we raced out of bed to the Mandala hotel to meet our Replace director, Norbert, and a UK company that’s shown interest in another project of his. Later, I meet a Danish dude who may be able to help with another project I’m working on – my only solo meeting so far.
Later in the day, I saw The Guest again with Colin. I know. Again. It’s that good.
Quick sidebar about market screenings: you’re not supposed to review market films (and I don’t), because they haven’t necessarily “premiered” yet to a public audience. Since The Guest played Sundance, it’s more ok to post about that than, let’s say, the new Nacho Vigalondo film that also had an invitation-only EFM screening. That film’s official premiere will be at SXSW, as they recently announced, so mum’s the word till then.
In the evening, dinner with our lovely Replace compatriots, followed by the enormous Trust Nordisk party, where all the fancy, sweet looking pastries turned out to be savoury (thank you, Danes, you’re my kind of people). Apparently both Stellan Skarsgard and Lars von Trier walked past us at some point in that party but I saw nothing. I am not very observant.
We left Trust Nordisk early-ish in order to hang out with Joe Swanberg at the party for Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, which was much more relaxed. And it turned out to be the right decision, because apparently Trust Nordisk got wild and went late, and several of our friends didn’t make it home from that one until 6am. I would have cancelled Monday altogether if that had been me.