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.
When people ask me, in the days to come, what my “highlight of TIFF” was, I will answer with absolute certainty. Friday was a day of highlights, but the top one was surely the screening of the piping hot, fresh-out-of-the-TIFF-ovens restoration of Crime Wave, which I got to attend with director John Paizs.
the first five minutes of the best Canadian movie ever
But let’s begin at the beginning. I start Friday with a few errands – delivering some weekend TIFF tickets to friends, and so on. I follow it up with a film, though not the one I’d hoped to see. I race to the Scotiabank to see Phoenix, which everyone had been raving about all week, but the final P&I screening is already too jammed by the time I arrive (admittedly kinda late – only a minute or two before the film is scheduled to start). So, I do the only logical thing I could under the circumstances. I look at the schedule and walked into the next available screening, an Argentinian comedy called Two Shots Fired, which started out promising and then meandered into a directionless series of vignettes with no real story to bind it all together. Good concept, shaky execution.
In the afternoon, I have only one priority: to leave myself enough time to shower, change and feel confidently fabulous enough to attend the pre-screening reception for Crime Wave, which is being held on the small but charming rooftop patio of the brand new Beverly Hotel (it’s not where the old Beverly (the bar, I mean) used to be, it’s actually on Queen between John and Peter).
In my first actual moment of outfit-panic during TIFF, I decide I can’t wear the devastatingly hot purple dress I had planned on because it clashes with the red lipstick I have fallen in love with. First world girl problems, or whatever. Don’t judge me, I’ve been looking forward to this night for months. I opt for a mini-skirt & crepe top, with patterned fishnets and T-strap wedges. All black. The red lipstick is a fine match. Phew. The bitch-goddess success hasn’t claimed me yet, though the outfit is 100% on point.
I get to the reception early and chat with Adam “The Editor” Brooks about Crime Wave for a while. We completely agree on one thing: John Paizs has to write and direct another film and we are willing to do whatever it takes to get him there. By the time John arrives, I’m literally buzzing with excitement.
A backstory-aside: when I found out Crime Wave would be restored and screened at TIFF, I emailed John to ask whether there would be any pre- or post-screening receptions, and whether I could a) tag along to them, and b) sit with him for the screening. He seemed to feel that I wouldn’t have to beat any competition off with a stick, but I’m pretty sure he was dead wrong. I managed to swoop in first, that’s all. It’s obviously no secret that I’m a fan of John’s work, but I actually feel pretty honoured to call him a friend as well. By which I mean “I’m glad he lets me bully my way into sitting next to him at his screening, because I sure loved it.”
The reception is lovely, I have a glass of wine and a tiny amount of (actually pretty delicious) food because I’m too nervousxcited about the screening to eat properly (besides, I don’t want to mess up the red lipstick). At a certain point, John tells me he has to go to the Lightbox for a tech check and I opt to head down with him, for the full VIP experience. The check goes fine, and I continue to float about seven inches above the ground for the entire time that we’re inside TBL Cinema 4 (a small but really lovely space, one of my festival faves, actually). I get to briefly meet Jonathan Ball, the writer whose book on Crime Wave was part of the impetus for this whole event (I have a copy, I got it right before TIFF and haven’t had time to read it yet, but of course it’s at the top of my post-festival list).
The restoration, of course, looks and sounds incredible, and it’s such a joy to be reminded of some of my favourite jokes (and a few I’d forgotten about). And what a pleasure, to hear John laugh along with the crowd. Only regret of TIFF: not being able to buy that charming genius a post-screening drink, because I have to jet off to the Midnight Madness screening.
Though, I do not at all regret attending the Midnight Madness screening, as it is the funniest film of the year, What We Do in the Shadows, and I get to sit next to The Moms (mine and Colin’s) who came out for it. Who would have guessed that one of the most heartwarming and hilarious films of the festival would be a Spinal-Tap-esque mockumentary comedy about vampires? And yet, Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement’s film is just about the best thing I’ve seen all year. The jokes all land exactly where they’re supposed to, but there’s an unexpected line of real emotion running through the whole thing that really touched me. Brilliant stuff.
The film is both hilarious and heartwarming, and just as I think my day was coming to an end as we all shuffle out of the Ryerson, Colin gets a text from a friend asking us to join him and the team from the French gala The Connection, at a private speakeasy recommended to him earlier in the week. Since it’s right around last call, we text a quick “yes”, ask them to order us a couple of old fashioneds, and hop into a cab.
It’s so nice to have a low-pressure drink with a good friend and some assorted French charmers (but no, Jean Dujardin wasn’t there). The staff close the place shortly after the other patrons leave, and then let us drink (and smoke!) in the bar until past 4am. The French are especially thankful for the opportunity to smoke indoors. I am thankful for the potato chips (I skipped dinner due to Crime Wave butterflies) and the personal bourbon tasting menu I’m treated to by the delightful bartendrix.
Another late night, but a wonderful one. Can anything at TIFF 2014 top that Crime Wave screening, though? Probs not.