If TIFF 2015 failed to dazzle with one spectacular film above all others, it did deliver me some choice morsels.
Does a film have to be perfect to win my love?
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
For all the arty offerings, heady trips and meditative beauties, the success of this festival for me comes down to heartbeats. Quicken mine and I’m yours.
There isn’t anything to match the escape and reunion scenes played out by the remarkable young actor Jacob Tremblay in ROOM. I read the book and knew the story. It didn’t matter. My heart raced with Jack in that truck, hidden in the rolls of a dirty carpet; with me in the darkened theatre, every other heartbeat pulsing in syncopation. That’s why it won the Peoples’s Choice award yesterday. We were all shouting GO JACK in our heads. We are all someone’s child. There isn’t anyone who won’t be profoundly moved by this story of essential intimacy. What do you do when stripped of all outside reference? How do you create wonder and joy? What happens when your cave is discovered and the world tumbles in? Brie Larson told our audience she had to break down her character of Jack’s mom into pieces and spoke to trauma therapists to guide her preparation. The results were a performance I won’t forget anytime soon. If you haven’t seen her work, watch Short Term 12. Equally powerful in that award winning gem, Larson is on her way to a huge career. Room isn’t a perfect film; others in the festival had more finesse and polish in execution. It was the most moving.
Here is the rest of my big thrill TIFF 2015 movies.
Best film: Son of Saul ( see my post TIFF part one)
- A phenomenal achievement in filmmaking with a lead actor who carries your heart in his hands throughout. Unforgettable.
Best cinematic marvel: Victoria.
- This German film blew my mind. I still can’t figure out how director Sebastian Schipper accomplished a two and half hour film in one take. You heard right. A Spanish woman on a wild night in Berlin is all I’m going to tell you about the plot because anything else will spoil this edge-of-your-seat roller coaster ride that won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year for “outstanding artistic contribution for cinematography.” Right on.
Best debut: James White.
- Another shot of adrenaline, this portrait of a young man in crisis was among the most absorbing I screened-I forgot I was watching a movie and instead was inside a life both tender and tragic.
Best of the Platform series, a new juried category featuring bold, innovative films from mid-career and emerging filmmakers: Land of Mine.
- This Danish film about German prisoners of war defusing land minds in Denmark was one of the little gems that remind me exactly why I attend film festivals. Compelling and straightforward, the film offers heart stopping tension and phenomenal performances. Look for it in theatres next year and likely at the Oscars in the Foreign Film category.
- Give it up already for Brie Larson (see above). Ditto her co-star, Jacob Tremblay. The rest of the cast of Room are impeccable here as well.
- Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, who does the impossible: outshine the prodigious talents of her co-star, Eddie Redmayne. Vikander’s performance is the best reason to see this film.
- Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years. Her performance is a master class in subtlety.
- Cynthia Nixon and Christopher Abbot in James White. Incredible and raw, these two shine in one of the most intense films I’ve seen yet.
- Jesuthasan Antonythasan in Dheepan. As the Tamil freedom fighter struggling to make a new life for himself in France, this actor will break your heart.
- Ethan Hawke in Born to be Blue, a surprising and creative reimagining of the comeback of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. I didn’t expect to like this film as much as I did, mostly for avoiding cliché and delivering an original biopic.
- Ellen Page and Rachel Evan Wood in Into the Forest. ( see my TIFF PART ONE)
Best triple threat: Julie Delpy.
- Delpy wrote, directed and starred in Lolo, a French farce that is silly and delightful in equal measure. Comedy is notoriously difficult to write and Delpy achieves some fantastic snappy dialogue here and makes it look effortless.
Best love story (you knew I’d have to find one on my schedule): Un plus Une.
- Gorgeous to look at and swoon over, this romance about a composer finding romance in India was almost as good as a vacation away. So the plot was hard to swallow? I didn’t care for one moment. Jean Dujardin and Elsa Eylberstein created some fantastic chemistry here.
Best reason to cheer: Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
- Shot in a cab as it moves around Tehran, this portrait from revered Iranian director Jafar Panahi is proof that great art is possible in the most dire circumstances, in this case a government ban that prohibits Panahi from making any films for twenty years.
Best documentary: As much as I liked the old Hollywood glamour of Women He’s Undressed, Gillian Armstrong’s buoyant portrait of Oscar winning costume designer Orry-Kelly, the doc that resonated the most is Guantanamo’s Child: the untold story of Omar Khadr.
- This is the first time Omar Khadr tells his side of the story. If that isn’t a reason to see a film, I don’t what is. In one of the biggest goosebumps of the festival, an audience member told filmmakers Patrick Reed and Michelle Shepard that the film had changed her mind forever about Khadr. If ever a film demonstrates the power of the medium, it’s this one. I came away outraged, devastated, and touched by the humanity in the most unlikely corners.
Best Q and A: I loved hearing from directors Patricia Rozema, Gillian Armstrong, Jean-Marc Vallée and Lenny Abrahamson, but my favourite was French master Claude Lelouch who lamented the loss of chance in today’s Tinder landscape* and told a charmed audience he feels the “need to save love.”
Love never gets old.
What else did I learn this time schlepping around town between theatres? If choosing films is getting easier for me, then scheduling them is still a mysterious art.
Some films need to stand on their own in your mind for a time before crowding the space with other narratives.
The trouble is figuring out which ones they will be ahead of time.
I just needed to be ready to catch the moment at any time.
Life lessons from a dark theatre. No red carpet sparkle needed. Just some curiosity and a water bottle.
*For more on Tinder, dating, and what that landscape really looks like, read this disturbing piece in Vanity Fair.