There were 24 films on my agenda. I skipped out on two due to exhaustion and sold another to a friend. The result: 21 films seen in 9 days. 21 out of 289 feature films is a mere slip of an experience, you may think.
You would be wrong.
I won’t bore you with the lesser efforts.
What follows in no particular order are my superlatives.
Best surprise: Cloud Atlas.
Advance word on this was not good. The novel was too dense to film and the results was said to be a convoluted mess.
Almost sold my tickets as the screening fell on a gorgeous day and my kids could use some maternal attention. Still, hubby and I decided to go on instinct and were thrilled that we did.
The movie is epic, edging on schlock…except that it isn’t. Instead, what’s offered are six different stories that span over centuries; connected by huge themes of love, friendship, freedom and revolution.The film dares to be audacious.
I like that.
So did the crowd I saw it with; on their feet at the conclusion. Maybe they had to get up and shake out their numb limbs: the film clocks in at nearly three hours. But I didn’t feel the time: I fell for it all, especially all the scenes with Brit genius Jim Broadbent.
Now I have to read the book.
Most fun: Much Ado About Nothing
I saw the film with a crowd of followers of hipster director Josh Whedon. Sometimes those kind of screenings mean the experience will be positive no matter what is on the screen. Here the loud roars and giggles of pleasure were well deserved. Whedon adapted Shakespeare’s beloved comedy with disarming simplicity. He shot the film in his own home in black and white, over a mere 12 days. The cast is young, attractive and deliver Shakespeare’s lines with contemporary spin and style. They all look like they are having way too much fun—the experience watching it is akin to being invited to your big brother’s bash while visiting his way cool pad. I saw a near perfect production of this play last month on stage at Stratford. The crowd there was filled with seniors. Surely, a younger crowd will fall in love and recognise the source of all the derivations in popular culture that fall from this gem. This was entertainment writ large in a way Shakespeare never dreamt. Or maybe he did.
Most unnerving, most moving: Amour
This film picked up the Palme D’or in Cannes earlier this year and it is easy to see why. Austrian director Michael Haneke gets my vote for best director as every single scene is near perfect and precise. This is a film that will be a hard sell in the crowded marketplace as all the action takes place in one apartment. Nor is the story pretty. Two legendary French actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, inhabit the roles completely of an aged couple whose love for one another resonates through debilitating illness. I cried at many moments but haven’t seen a film that I admired so much as it forced me to go deeply to a place I rarely visit: my own mortality. Anyone who is fortunate to have their parents in their lives should see this film.
Fave documentary: Storm Surfers 3D
This was my last film of the festival and what a fun ride was had by all. One of the films directors was on hand to crow over his runner up win for best TIFF doc and entertained the crowd by calling one of the surfer stars of the film on his cell and playing the call for the audience. We whooped and hollered our approval of this story of two best friends, famed Aussie surfers Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones, as they search for the biggest waves in the world.
Here is a total adrenaline rush and crowd pleaser that made me feel like an old fart. I think I should take up something. Then again, maybe not. That’s what movies are for.
Best actress: Rachel Mwanza ( Rebelle)
Rebelle is on my list thanks to the shimmering performance of newcomer Rachel Mwanza. She was discovered by Canadian director Kim Nyugen when he went to the Republic of Congo to shoot this fantastic film. Mwanza won the Silver Bear award for best actress at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year —an incredible feat given her age and inexperience. Director Nyugen was eloquent and endearing at the Q& A after the screening and deserves much praise for this unflinching look at the life of a child soldier. The film, which took 10 years to get made, will be playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this month. I hope everyone sees it, if not for the story itself, but to discover, as I did, this remarkable young actress.
Best actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master AND A Late Quartet
This guy is a wonder to watch. I saw him in two very different films, days from one another and forgot I was watching the same guy. He never repeats himself.
Best cast: The Sapphires
A hoot thanks to a quartet of actors who shine throughout this Australian movie about four Aboriginal singers who entertained the troops during the Vietnam war. Based on a stage hit that was itself based on a real life group of singers, this film was great entertainment and had us grooving to its awesome soundtrack as we left the theatre.
Best chemistry: Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts in Rust and Bone
This was my first screening of the festival and it will a long while before I forget what proved to be the most chilling scene for me at TIFF featuring a frozen lake and a desperate father. I won’t give away much more but look for this one at the Oscars and pray you get to see the the very hunk of man Matthias Schoenaerts show up in a tux. Or anything. Or nothing at all. He and Marion Cotillard steam up this beautiful drama which counts as one of my festival faves.
Best swoon worthy performance: Chris O’Dowd in The Sapphires
This guy was a lesser presence in Bridesmaids (one of my faves of last year). But here he makes every scene pop with charisma and I am a fan. Maybe it was the accent. I predict a big career. Either way, I’ll be watching.
Favourite Q& A: Mr. Pip
There was nothing short of awesome performances of Xzannjah Matsi and Healesville Joel in Mr. Pip. I loved this book and was hopeful for a decent adaptation which this certainly was, if not as wondrous as the book itself. But these two were discovered by director Andrew Adamson who told us he used mostly non actors for his film and plucked these two from the very village of Bougainville in the South Pacific depicted in the story. The two, real life mom and daughter, gave what became one of those magic TIFF moments, as they were introduced to the TIFF audience, smiled shyly and told us it was their first time in North America. Beautiful and eloquent in all their responses. Hugh Laurie may have been the “name” actor on set but if there’s a reason to see this, it is these two remarkable women. In my world a special achievement award for versatility to director Adamson who is known for Shrek and The Chronicles of Narnia. This is guy to watch.
Best thriller: A Place Beyond the Pines
This was far from perfect but it still ranks as a highlight. Like Cloud Atlas, it demands a little patience in telling three, separate chapters that are linked, in this case, by fathers and sons. Director Derek Cianfrance explained in the Q and A that this was a film that demanded the cast pass on the baton for each chapter to a new set of actors who would carry the narrative forward. Ryan Gosling more than steals the first act but that was hardly a surprise given the opening shot of his six pack torso. Bradley Cooper continues the story with some sizzle provided by Ray Liotta as a corrupt cop. The last chapter connects the whole narrative and according to director Cianfrance, demanded two young actors who could live up to the screen magnetism of Gosling and Cooper. He found his performances in two dynamic young men, Dane deHaan and Emory Cohen who make for a compelling finish. This is a story about the legacies fathers pass on to their children and will resonate at the box office if a marketing team can figure out a way to tie in all the threads.
Hardest film to stay awake for: The Master tied with Great Expectations
I saw both these films late at night after a long day of screenings. Both probably deserved more of my attention. The Master is enthralling for the first hour but falls flat as the film progresses despite some acting wizardry from Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The international press have all convened in one giant love in for this film and I am rarely a contrarian but this one was too much for me. Call me a simpleton.
Great Expectations was predictable, solid and boring. Charles Dickens would be disappointed. He was a guy who knew how to spin a tale yet the emotional wallop of this story was missing for me. Big thrill to see one of my screen gods Ralph Fiennes show up to support director Mike Newell at the screening. He didn’t disappoint on screen either. But forgive me Ralph. I am still your biggest fan but I dozed off. I will still love you in the morning though.
Best director intro: Quebec wunderkid Xavier Nolan who directed the winner of best Canadian film, Laurence, Anyways:
” Cannes may have a palais and a beach but Toronto has heart”.
We were seduced at go. Except that the film, about a guy who likes to dress up as a woman, wasn’t nearly as charming as its director and lost me with a ridiculously long running time.
Most accessible crowd pleaser: Argo
I get turned off by too much buzz and often suffer from letdown. This is a very good film with confident direction and terrific pacing. Was it the best film of the festival as critics have suggested? Not by a long shot. There are no soaring performances, sizzling chemistry, original story, soaring score. There is, however, a fascinating behind the scenes peek at one of the more exciting chapters in recent history. It will make buckets of money and deserves much praise.
A good film, if not great. Great cameos from Alan Arkin and John Goodman made it fun to watch.
Most intimate: Everyday
If you are a festival newbie, you can roll the dice and pick something from each program. But you would likely find luck in the Masters program which the festival bills as the latest works from the world’s most influential arthouse filmmakers.”Everyday” was one of these gems from British director Michael Winterbottom who made me howl with the film The Trip a few years back. Here he follows a family separated by a father’s stint in prison. Winterbottom shot the film over five years using 4 real siblings, non professionals all, and seasoned Brit actors Shirley Henderson and John Simm as their parents.
The film plays out like the cinéma vérité films I studied at university and indeed reminded me of the work of Canadian documentary pioneer Alan King. Unbelievably intimate, tender and quiet, this is a film that appears to be a slice of nothing but is really a plate of everything. I was touched especially by the many beautiful frames of the children doing everyday things. Seeing them age over time made for a degree of authenticity rarely seen in feature films. Mastery by a master.
That’s it, that’s all, I won’t tell about the weaker films, the disappointments and crash landings.
But there were enough highs to call the whole thing a stupendous success.
For this fan anyway.
Now for the laundry…