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.
Wednesday September 10, 2014
Things have, by Wednesday, started slowing down. Many of the industry types who clogged up every inch of space between Queen, John, King and Peter streets have left. The theatres are still full, at public screenings especially, but it feels less hustle-and-bustle-y.
For me Wednesday was the kind of easy, not-too-hectic festival day that I enjoy, but also makes me feel a bit sad – like, oh, it’ll be over soon. I know in this case the felling was a bit of a lie, because everything (my own energy included) would pick up for the final weekend.
I started the day by going for breakfast at Avenue Open Kitchen with Colin. It’s on a small side street off Spadina, between Richmond and Adelaide. It’s the only remaining old school diner downtown, and their peameal bacon is brilliant. Tip for out of towners: if you’re looking for an authentic greasy spoon experience or want the best possible version of “Canadian bacon”, this is the place.
I watched Waste Land, a dutch thriller that I thought would be more of a straight ahead police procedural, but turned out to be a “descent into madness” story instead. I’m not sure whether that’s criticism or praise, but I liked the film, and pensively-hot Jérémie Renier’s performance as the troubled cop, especially.
In the afternoon, I got to do something that has never happened before, in the history of my relationship with Colin. I got to go to a public screening of a TIFF film that he did not program, with him. And we got to sit together, munching on popcorn, and watching the movie, like a regular couple of audience members. It was so nice! We saw Roy Andersson’s Venice Golden Lion award winning A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Contemplating Existence. I really liked it, though I have to admit I briefly dozed off at a certain point. No reflection on the quality of the film, only on the quantity of sleep I’ve been getting.
In the evening, we briefly attended a party put on by the US distribution company A24, where I got to meet the directors of The Editor for the first time (what sweethearts!) and drink champagne out of a golden goblet. I was pretty tired, but that champagne helped, kinda. Then, off for dinner at Ematei, our favourite Japanese joint, with our friend Roxanne, who Colin had earlier in the day described as being someone who “energizes him and cheers him up”. It’s true! Some people just have a really great vibe about them.
After dinner, in the faint drizzle of the encroaching autumn, I couldn’t bear the thought of more movies, so I scurried back to the hotel, and actually went to bed early. It’s too bad I had to miss Cub, which apparently went over like gangbusters and involved a creepy gimmick, wherein the terrifying feral child from the film turned up at the Ryerson to freak out viewers during the film.
Tuesday September 9, 2014
This was a well planned day. I saw three movies quite early on in the day, which is really the way to do it. It left me with time to eat dinner and get down to the SXSW party early, which was my biggest goal of the day. Start partying early so that I could, in theory, also quit early. Of course, I did not quit early. But hey, you win some, you … drink a lot of gin and tonics.
First up was the charming story of a somewhat autistic math whiz, X + Y. The awkward teen dreams of competing in the math olympiad, but when his chance comes, he struggles more than he realized he would, with the fact of no longer being the only “weird one”, nor for that matter the only very, very smart one. There’s a touching side-story about his single mom and his math tutor, and on the whole this was one of the few uplifting films I saw at TIFF.
Next, the fairly heart-wrenching story of the early days of the FLQ, Corbo, a story about a young man in mid-60s Quebec who was so inspired by the liberation movement that he ended up getting involved in some bombings. These events would, a few years later, culminate in the October Crisis, but Corbo is just the tragic and powerful story of one young man and the fierceness with which youth embrace the causes they care about.
Third, I saw the Korean film Cart, which was a simple but affecting story of temporary contract workers in Seul fighting against unfair dismissals, and trying to unionize. The hardships the (mostly female) workers endured were difficult to watch, all the more so because the film was inspired by true events, and is a common sort of tale in South Korea, where 60% of the workforce are “temporary” workers and earn 50% of what their permanent counterparts can make.
In the evening, a lovely dinner with Fabrice du Welz, the director of one of Colin’s Vanguard picks, Alleluia. I cannot recommend this film enough. It’s probably one of the best films I’ve seen all year. This man deserves to be a much bigger name in international cinema, and hopefully after this spotlight in Cannes and TIFF, he will be. Alleluia is playing again on Saturday night. Go see it!
After dinner, I walked down to the SXSW party, which is the one social event at TIFF where I’m guaranteed to see the largest number of my American (and other international) friends. I prioritize it because it’s a perfect opportunity to catch up with folks I haven’t seen much of otherwise. Plus, it’s fun as hell. I managed to hang out with many of my beloveds, get some good movie recommendations, get a Twitter friend into the party on an unexpected plus one, and dance & sing along to several karaoke classics without ever getting up on stage myself. Oh, and drink like a dozen gin & tonics. Basically, a perfect night?
Monday September 8, 2014
Monday was clearly going to be the best day of my TIFF, because it was the day I got to see Ned Rifle. Though by the end of the fest it may be tied for best day with Friday, the day on which I’ll get to sit next to John Paizs and watch the restored print of Crime Wave (swoon times ten).
I eased into the day with breakfast and a bit of work on that Hal Hartley interview (it can be found here), which I fiddled with for probably longer than was necessary. Then off to Ned Rifle, which was a lovely, pleasant surprise. Funny, smart, and all the other things I have come to expect from Hartley, and it was a really great conclusion to the trilogy – definitely his best work since Henry Fool, and definitely “for the fans”. Every actor from the Hartley stable makes an appearance, even ones who have no business in this trilogy. Of course Martin Donovan is perfect (always perfect) but I especially liked Bill Sage’s cameo (who is also perfect, by the way).
Just watch the trailer and feel the Hartley vibes just radiating straight out of your laptop.
In the afternoon, I went up to the REEL CANADA office to do a bit of work, then to the Royal to give a few out of towners a tour of the facility (mostly friends who are in town for TIFF and run cinemas in other parts of the world). The brief taste of post-TIFF life was intoxicating. I love this festival, but I can’t wait to get back to a normal routine for a while after it’s over. I don’t want to travel or do anything exciting this fall. I just want to live in Toronto, hang out with my actual, non-festival-life friends, cook my own meals, and be at home. It will be wonderful.
In the meantime, hilarious TIFF moments are also wonderful. I had dinner with Norbert and Nadino at Yuzu, a top-notch Japanese place near the festival centre, and then joined Colin for a drink at the fancy place where the TIFF directors’ dinner was being held. A couple of times during the festival, TIFF organizes giant dinners for all the directors. Just think! Your first movie gets selected for TIFF, and you find yourself munching on a kale salad while you’re seated next to … I don’t know, Jean-Luc Godard or someone. I mean, I’m pretty sure he’s not here, but you get my point.
While we were enjoying our drinks, a jovial older man and his small-ish entourage joined us on the rooftop patio, and the bartender quietly informed us that it was “some German director who had just won a prize.” Turns out it was (totally Swedish) Roy fucking Andersson, who’d just found out he won the Golden Lion in Venice. Holy!
We didn’t want to intrude on his private celebration on the patio for very long, so we packed it in after one round and cabbed up to the Ryerson.
At Midnight I battled the sleep-veil that was descending upon me to watch Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. It’s a fun documentary of the sort Mark Hartley always makes. The kind of doc that I can watch at midnight and not fall asleep. I’m already making a mental list of films to watch post-TIFF. Top contender? Ninja 3: The Domination, in which the spirit of an evil ninja possesses an aerobics instructor. It’s Flashdance meets The Exorcist meets … y’know, ninjas. Sounds perfect.
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.