Earlier this week, you got my A list. Now the imperfect films (I’m picky) but still fascinating, depending on taste.
Toronto TIFF audiences are notoriously friendly. It is why so many filmmakers are eager to bring their work here;
I can’t believe how full this theatre is at 2:30 in the afternoon. That is what’s amazing about this festival. It’s just full of movie lovers and that’s not always the case with festivals, not always the case when you show movies. You really feel the enthusiasm from the crowd here. I’ve always wanted to show a movie here.Todd Philips, director, Joker
The applause was there for Judy, a blandish film saved by a spectacular star performance. A lengthy standing ovation greeted Renée Zellweger as she came on stage following the Toronto premiere. Nobody there seemed to mind the script’s problems, nor should they have, for Zellweger’s spin on Judy Garland is fascinating, pure fun to watch, despite the tragic undertones of Garland’s real-life addictions. Directed by Rupert Goold and adapted from a stage musical “End of the Rainbow,” the film focuses on the final days of the troubled Hollywood legend’s life as she is coerced into a series of performances in London to revive her flagging career and earn enough money to provide a home for her children. Flashbacks of Garland’s early career and punishing schedule—thanks to an abusive studio system— are meant to illustrate where some of her troubles began but lack subtlety. (In fact, the pill-popping came earlier as Garland’s mother gave her daughter amphetamines before Garland had hit puberty). You’re craving performance; here is when the film kicks it up to eleven. Anyone who loved Judy Garland will want to see this film if only to sing along to all those glorious standards, delivered with brilliance by a now fifty-year-old Zellweger who has endured her career struggles. The vulnerability is there, as is the charisma, if not a note-perfect mimicry, but who would want that? There is only one Judy, after all. By the film’s end, I was stunned at how commanding this performance was as it elevated the movie into a rainbow for the ages.
While we’re still on performance, you’d have to be sleeping under a rock not to have heard the deafening chorus of admiration for Joaquin Phoenix’s magnetic performance in Joker. Distributed by Warner Brothers, this controversial film is a launch of what director Todd Phillips hopes will be a new label called DC Black, providing stand-alone films that offer different takes and character studies (read R-rated ) on comic book characters. Casting Joaquin was sure: he wrote the script with him in mind.
If you know Joaquin, and you know his work, Joaquin is an agent of chaos. He has chaos in him. You can act that probably but if you’t have to, there’s something to that.Todd Philips, director, Joker, at the Toronto premiere
Me, I found his performance downright creepy. Yes, that is the point, the role, the text, grim as it is. My unease has nothing to do with Phoenix: the guy has skills-add him to the long list of actors willing to do wild physical transformations to win an Oscar inhabit the role. The plot: a failed comic becomes unhinged and wreaks violence, igniting a revolution. This is a film that you are not
When armed with material that’s compelling you have to ask yourself — does this help? Does this need to be in the world?Meryl Streep
Here’s a movie with clear intent: highlight the global inequities resulting from the retail fashion industry. British director Michael Winterbottom delivers a script that covers a lot of ground and, like Joker, has, at its core, the same theme: Eat the Rich, except satire is the genre in his wheelhouse. Steve Coogan stars as Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie, King of the High Street, who has gathered family and other minions to help him celebrate his 60th birthday in lavish and ridiculous style on the island of Mykonos. Lots to like here, including some juicy bits from Coogan and no short order of fun watching the crazy party prep in disbelief. Yet the movie is not funny enough or serious enough with its knife until the closing credits arrive with a series of infographics which appear like those familiar After School Special this-is-what-you-need-to-know facts instead of background as intended. Still, I will see Coogan in anything. As a performer, he doesn’t disappoint here.
Knives Out is another Eat the Rich chapter, the subtext for most if not all, the offerings on the TIFF 2019 menu and the most fun film of the festival. I choose films for all sorts of reasons, and some of them include: If the Cast Includes Christopher Plummer. There is one delicious little moment among many in this funhouse murder mystery when the fabulous Canadian actor (he alone gets that moniker around here) mocks his age. It is so perfect it makes the whole film. Still, one may wonder why this film didn’t make the A side for me, which comes down to Daniel Craig. I loved him as Bond. Not so much as Benoit Blanc, who is hired to investigate the murder of a wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (played by Plummer), and that was the only real problem for me in an otherwise savvy showbiz splash. This film is the famous Hollywood sign in the hills, thanks to a star-studded cast who make up this despicable Thrombey family. The editing could be sharper (the film is too long). Still, total points for fun and plenty of snappy contemporary dialogue, delivered by a cast you love to hate. Chris Evans is having a riot here, and so will you watching him, Jamie Lee Curtis, and so on. Look for it in theatres in Canada on November 27th.
This French/Italian historical romance won the Platform prize, and I’ve already told you which film I would have picked as the winner. Perhaps the jury was dazzled as I was for the first two-thirds of this film by its star, the uber-intense Luca Marinelli, who is in almost every scene. Italian director Pietro Marcello isn’t the first to adapt Jack London’s 1909 novel. This version, set in the 20th century, is the first to shift the action to Naples. The sprawling story of an uneducated sailor who meets an upper-class woman and decides to become a writer is given gorgeous context by Marcello’s use of archival footage. Still, a sudden jump in time in the film’s third act woke me from my reverie and sunk it for me: I didn’t buy the radical transformation, and all the political theory overwhelmed what was, until then, a compelling drama.
A modest and dedicated teacher named Ling and her unfaithful husband share a Singapore apartment with his ailing father as the monsoon season delivers a season of malcontent. This is the moody setting for a beautiful, forbidden romance drama from Singapore writer/director Anthony Chen. Ling wants a baby desperately and has been trying to conceive for eight years. At work, where she teaches Mandarin to teenage boys, she gets little relief until she forms a unique bond with one of her remedial students. This film was such a whisper you could have missed it easily amongst the other Platform splashes. Such is the restraint this talented director delivers as he pulls together all his narrative threads for a poignant finish. This is a film with great sensitivity towards all his characters. Still, he saves most of his focus on his lead character, a woman weighed down by responsibility, played by the amazing Yann Yann Yeo. A dose of
Sorry We Missed You
83-year-old British filmmaker Ken Loach has so many awards attached to his name that you’d think he’d rest a little, but the famous social campaigner has yet another story to tell, another righteous fist to shake, and so we shall, for Loach is a master. In Sorry We Missed You, we meet a Newcastle family trying to live productive lives in the gig economy. The entire film is heartbreaking and so bloody authentic your first instinct is to reach out and hug the whole family in collapse. All of them are people to root for in a broken system recognizable to anyone with a pulse. This one almost made the A list, too, but I slumped in my seat at the ending, even if any other finale would not have been classic Loach. Great suspense and wonderfully touching performances will keep this onscreen family in my thoughts for some time.
From French actor/writer/ filmmaker Julie Delpy comes a sci-fi flick about a severe medical crisis that delivers a shocking second act I cannot tell you anything about without spoiling it all. This is Delpy’s seventh film and the first to jump ahead in an undefined future where laptops can fall, break on the ground, and bend back into shape. I liked this film mainly for the powerhouse that is the triple threat, Delpy, although I’m not sure I agreed with her directorial choice of not using any music in the film as a manipulative tool: the film needed it here and there for air. Delpy directs herself, acting here as a geneticist based in Berlin who shares custody of her beloved only daughter with an increasingly hostile ex-husband. What follows is a creepy build toward the film’s central moral questions about science and ethics. For pure provocation, this film gets an A.
Michael B. Jordan does a lot of pensive glaring in this film based on civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s bestselling memoir, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. I was bored in the first quarter by what looked like a pedestrian and preachy procedural about racial injustice in the legal system. Things change when the film moves to death row, where some solid performances anchored by Jamie Foxx give this film the needed fuel. Moving and essential is how it lands, and yes, it’s that kind of film where audience members clap at plot turns. Not sure if this will expand Jordan’s career resumé, but I loved Brie Larson in this as much as I did in director Destin Daniel Cretton’s earlier work, Short Term 12 (now on Netflix: a much better film if you haven’t seen yet). Just Mercy will be in Canadian theatres on Jan.17, 2020.
Pain and Glory
Antonio Banderas and Pedro Almodóvar appeared on stage as BFFs to introduce this film to us, and the crowd cheered before the movie even began. (Almodovar has fans. Plenty of them) So too, the critical love-in. But wait! As much as I wanted to love the Spanish auteur’s latest, I couldn’t get past all the self-indulgent self-therapy on hand as Banderas, playing the acclaimed director, explores his physical and spiritual pain. Banderas is as beautiful as ever, and I liked him very much in this, even as the vehicle around him falters. Still, there are some tender moments to relish, including an encounter with a former lover, and this writer loved the ideas Almodóvar is massaging in this self-portrait of an aging artist who suffers writer’s block. The gorgeous production design is also a reason to cheer: the film recreates the acclaimed director’s apartment, an explosion of rich
Anne, at 13,000 Feet
The only Canadian contender for the Platform prize, this story from indie filmmaker Kazik Radwanski surrounds a Toronto daycare employee in crisis. This is captured by extreme close-ups of Stratford-born writer/actor Deragh Campbell (one of TIFF’s 2015 rising stars). I found the style both exhilarating and irritating at once, even as I loved her nuanced performance as a woman (who isn’t always
This was a buzzy film throughout my ten-day run around festival theatres, with added screenings fuelling chatter that it would scoop the People’s Choice award (see my earlier post about who won). Waves has that kind of flashy DNA. Like many contemporary Netflix shows, it is highly sensory, with music to every edit; chic camera work; gorgeous cast; young love drenched in tragedy… I wanted to love it. No doubt, talent is on display in this drama of an upper-middle-class family whose son, Tyler, cracks under pressure (no spoilers here) while his sister Emily copes with the fallout. The film is split purposely into two acts with vastly different energies between them. Smack in the centre is a gorgeous scene-—one of the festival’s standouts— between brother and sister (Kelvin Harrison Jr and Taylor Russell), a moment of love, empathy and connection that captures the film’s heart. Still, I found it too long; its message was far too
The Personal History of David Copperfield
I came across this linear tablet device recently. It was called a book. If you’re able to binge-watch thirteen hours of something, you can read 900 pages of Dickens.Armando Iannucci, director, The Personal History of David Copperfield
I felt a little cheated by Armando Iannucci, a director known for creating delicious, biting satires (Veep, The Thick of It, The Death of Stalin) and expected to find another sharp-edged poke here. Instead, I discovered a much more humane offering featuring an excellent multi-ethnic cast performing various characters from Dicken’s famous semi-autobiographical novel. Once I settled in, I enjoyed the gentler comedic touch and rich performances led by a capable Dev Patel as Copperfield. Hugh Laurie (delusional Mr. Dick) and Tilda Swinton (Aunt Betsey) are incredibly outstanding in lending buoyancy to a film that struggles at times with balance, if not the compassionate undertone. Hard not to love that. Hard not to love the excellent source material. Hard not to see Iannucci’s master plan here, as he told us all when introducing the cast to us at the Toronto premiere, “This story was written before Brexit was invented.” This colourful film defies genre and pierces the notion of period piece stuffiness. Amidst a sea of despair, this film was a honey balm. Dickens himself would have approved. Look for the movie in theatres here in early 2020.
“Whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely …in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.”David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
Tomorrow in this space: A wrap-my final TIFf notes.