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TIFF 2018: The list

By September 18, 2018 Film, Headlines, Performance

It gets harder on this body every year, it being the annual cinematic circus this writer calls school.  My knees ache and sleeping…what is that exactly? Dreams are chaotic at best. Reeses Peanut Butter Cups are not a food group.

Still, when the circus comes to town, I’m all in. For those uninitiated, TIFF is a feast for creatives, hungrily navigating a vast international menu of strange and wonderful offerings.

Scrumptious Films

(Only nine here in this list. Tomorrow, I will bring you more on a bunch of very good films with flaws.  This elite group are here because they allowed me to travel and forget where I was. And they made me believe. Out of 36 films screened, these are the gems that stood out)


A masterpiece of time and space, Roma is Mexican auteur Alfonso Cuarón’s valentine to his childhood nanny at the time of his parents’ divorce.  Earlier this month it won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. Toronto audiences too were wowed as it was the third runner up in the People’s Choice awards. (I didn’t see the winner, Green Book)  Forget all that. Why I loved it was the spectacular breadth of it all; one tableaux after another of extraordinary detail of life for the indigenous worker who was the heart of an upper-middle class family in the wealthy district of Roma in Mexico City. Cuarón spent months researching the 1970’s era and the recreations are epic and intimate in equal measure. The film spans political and social events but never losing the central through line of Cleo, played by first time actor Yalitza Aparicio. None of the cast had a script. Cuaron shot the film himself and the film feels at once deeply personal, at every turn, a tribute to the women that shaped him. Roma is a gradual build (the film is long but utterly immersive thanks to phenomenal sound design) and one deserving a place at every theatre around the world. A big theatre that is, not the living room variety. Netflix has this one*


Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda is highly skilled at capturing human behaviour without the usual shiny tricks lesser talents cannot escape from. Here, he is at his best, with a beautiful film about a made-up family of thieves that will linger in your heart for days after you meet them. There are a lot of heartbreaking films at TIFF every year. Shoplifters is the least manipulative I’ve seen and wins my praise for its generous treatment of each character.  Critics at Cannes anointed this one with the Palme D’Or earlier this year. Canadians will have a chance to catch this when it opens in selected cities including Toronto on December 7th.



If the parent figures in Shoplifters don’t steal your heart, surely the beautiful father/daughter relationship in the Belgian drama Girl will slay you as it did for me. Selected as the Belgian entry for Best Foreign film for the next Oscars,  Girl is about Lara, a fifteen-year-old transgender ballerina featuring a knock out performance by Victor Polster as Lara and Arieh Worthalter as her father. Expect great attention to be paid to specifics in this film; ignore them all. Lara is the adolescent in all of us, seeking, and not always finding answers as quickly as your soul demands.  This was one of many astonishing debut features at TIFF and I loved it, among many reasons, for the beautiful ballet sequences and the space between dialogue: what was not said spoke volumes. Three cheers for restraint. Look out for director Lukas Dhont.


If Beale Street Could Talk

I loved every minute of Oscar winner Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his miraculous Moonlight. In this drama, he shows his reverence for writer James Baldwin, whose 1974 novel about a wrongly convicted young lover here gets nothing short of glorious adaptation. The production design in this film is dreamy. Mostly, I fell for the faces, the family (the whole cast is terrific) and surely the most earnest couple on the planet: Tish and Fonny are a new classic. Pure gold.


Wild Rose

Often I’m asked why I don’t just wait for films to come out, given the massive cultural shift known as surfing through streaming networks. The TIFF screening of Wild Rose in Toronto is one good reason. Witnessing the international premiere of an actor whose career is about to explode thanks to the most sizzling performance of the festival was pure magic. Irish actor Jessie Buckley is already well known in the UK (War & Peace on the BBC, and the talent show I’ll Do Anything) and was named a rising star at TIFF last year where she starred in Beast (one of my 2017 picks). But in this film, as sure a crowd pleaser as any in the festival, Buckley is Rose-Lynn, a Glasgow convict dreaming of singing in Nashville. We were all with her that night, and her gutsy performance bursting out of the screen. Also in this musical genre at TIFF was another knock out star turn by Elle Fanning (yes, she can sing, and how!) in Teen Spirit, actor Max Minghella’s debut feature as a director, and a very good one at that.  Both Wild Rose and Teen Spirit are little films up against the Goliath that will be A Star is Born when all hit theatres. (I didn’t see the latter but plan to when it opens here October 5th.*****) Wild Rose will come to theatres in North America next May.


It’s hard to be surprised anymore when I’m watching movies. I try to erase former etchings for each new screening but the clichés scream their way in every time. If your taste runs into disturbing fairytales, this one has some darker shading. Border got me. The Swedish mystery film by Ali Abbasi wins the most unforgettable storyline featuring a strange looking heroine, Tina, who was born with a weird scar on her tailbone and an unusual ability to sniff out sleaze balls. As a border agent, she can sense fear, guilt, and shame. I can’t tell you much more without spoilers but mostly, I knew I was in for a crazy ride when the director introduced the film by promising us all a refund at the end if we didn’t like it. No one says that if they’re not confident. For fans of the weird and creepy, this one delivers but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Everybody Knows

Old lovers (real life couple Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz) with unfinished history reunite for a wedding in the Spanish countryside. Secrets and mystery lurk, brought to head by a disturbing event. It all swirls in a sumptuous melodramatic soap opera soup, deliciously stirred by Oscar winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. Barden and Cruz are the reason the film makes my list; without them, it would be ordinary, no matter how beautifully shot, no matter how assured the direction. These two are simply gorgeous together and there is a wedding scene in this film that is simply irresistible.


This is the type of quietly intense film that often gets overlooked by showier titles, but with two powerhouse actors as principal cast, actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut had no chance of getting lost. Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are a housewife and golf pro in crisis in 196o’s Montana. Watching his parents every move with deepening despair is their son, Joe, played by Australian Ed Oxenbould, who is the best thing about this film. Dano is a director to watch. What he achieves here is a highly composed essay with perfect balance. Look for Oscar to come calling for Oxenbould, and also for Mulligan, outstanding once again.


Attention all high school teachers and girls camp leaders: this is that inspiring documentary of awesome adventure that will remind all the younger generation that gee whiz, there were some trailblazers that came before them. I shed a tear at the end of this hard-to-resist story of barrier breaking sailors who were the first women to sail the prestigious Whitbread Round the World Race. The film, directed by UK doc director Alex Holmes, offers thrills of all kinds: from archival footage of the actual race to talking head reminicences of this feisty crew, led by the heroine of the hour, Tracy Edwards.  If you’re a sailor, you’ll be impressed plenty. If you’re not a sailor, you’ll be dumbfounded. Courage is underrated. These women spell it out in bold.



Will you, readers, have access to these? Yes, and no. Some of the titles screened already have hefty distribution deals with release dates in theatres this fall. Others generated heated bidding wars midway through the ten day run and you may or may not see them in wide release until next year. Others will show up on TIFF headquarters, the Bell Lightbox, where some of the festival hits are screened throughout the year. My favourite film of the festival, Roma, is distributed by Netflix.

*For more on that, read Roma is Netflix’s Most Compelling Big Screen Argument Yet (Atlantic)

For more on how I endure, a post from 2012: WHY TIFF

Next in this space : the Also-Rans: films I liked even for their flaws.  

****POSTSCRIPT Since posting this blog, I have now seen A Star is Born. Yes, yes, yes. More to come. But that it belongs here, on this list, a resounding yes.

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A good catch

By June 14, 2018 Film, Life, Performance

As Summer offers up her breezy welcome, I salute the Spring that was, the Spring that sprung me loose, for a time, among olive groves. Did I manage to catch enough? Moments, not olives. Here follows a few that sustained me before the days became long and sunny:

Watching the sweet new documentary about Mister Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbour with my guy, both our faces stained with tears, all of us there in that theatre suddenly children again, we agreed we were the lucky ones who grew up with this gentle spirit leader, even if the experience was again peering at the snowglobe: the world will never be like this again. Go see this film, out now in theatres, my favourite from Hot Docs 2018.

Fun Home. What a theatrical masterpiece, featuring three actors playing a character at different stages of her life; the production we saw received rapturous applause. Mine was mostly for Sara Farb for her solo, I’m changing my major to Joan. Who doesn’t remember that first thrill of amazing sex, no matter what your orientation?  Here’s the Toronto cast:

 Other theatrical highs for me this past spring include the exuberant cast of Wavestage’s Beauty and the Beast. I’ve rarely seen that show done with such joy, helped along with the mad skills of a young choreographer who juggles gorgeous wedding photography on the side. More reason than ever to admire these hustling millennials. Yup. I said millennials. They are more than a trend colour.

Every social gathering is now lined with small screen binging currency. What have you seen? What are you watching? My answer this spring is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Yes, it is marvellous, and reason enough, along with Mozart in the Jungle, to keep an eye on Prime. Both are antidotes to The Handmaid’s Tale. Yes, I’m watching that too and who could not as it is beautiful execution at every turn, even as it is harrowing.


To rid myself of too much angst, I go to a handful of NHL hockey games every season. Let’s leave stats and scores for the whiz kids like my nephew John but here’s a confession: it’s mostly about the collective experience for me. Are there any left? Where hollering and whooping with the rest of the crazies is better than…just better? We may be shouting Go Leafs Go but here’s a handy translation: Fuck Gloom. We’re for Glory. World Cup mania is about to hit. I’m ready. 

Driving my youngest kid home after her university year wraps up and she has to say goodbye so of course there’s tears, and me maintaining control of the wheel on the 401 when there is a sudden cry in the car: she’s looking at her phone as an email just came in from her school with her marks. And her smile is as wide as the road ahead.  I turn up the radio and we’re rocking all the way home now.

Hearing my father express his enduring love for our mother on their 61st anniversary with this simple grace note, when I wake up in the night and reach over, she’s there, warm beside me. 

Two months later, they were together at University of Toronto, where Mom showed off her medal received, along with other classmates, for their 65th reunion from Victoria College.  I sat beside Mom as she smiled at her two old chums across from her, all of them singing their school song there in Burwash Hall, and she told me she didn’t want to leave quite yet; there was strawberry shortcake after all.  Memory isn’t like my ten year old dog, Lucy; she our faithful door butler/surest secret keeper. Memory flirts ferociously, flutter here, flutter there, where did I put my keys? I don’t know how to find my way there anymore… But old friends and school songs and holding hands like college coeds?  That’s the there there.When my young nephew Henry came over to muck about with our dollhouse, his current set-up for the miniatures that inhabit our children’s library were configured as a band surrounded by fans. He was hearing music in his head when he set this up. Imagination just needs a door.

Then came Greece. Leaving for a spell is easy when you have people. Not rows of uniformed help. Rather, friends. A certain kind of friend who says yes when asked if she can be your surrogate caregiver while you are away. You know there’s work to be done and people in need, and without a back-up, your absence would produce challenges too hard to bear. So you ask. Her response, I would be honoured. Every day I was gone, she was here, quietly offering up intuitive leadership with efficiency of which I can only dream. My siblings cleared a way for me to travel. My friend Eva made it easy for my soul to fly.


Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world. 

-Mary Oliver, To Begin With, the Sweet Grass

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Unpredictable means entertaining (she says with hope)

By March 4, 2018 Film, Headlines, Performance

Drama. The certainty of it is sure to bring viewers to the Oscar telecast tonight. But how many? The awards show has been bleeding viewers in one steady decline to match that of the overall box office: we’re just not going to the movies as often. Streaming devices have proved so disruptive that movie fans like me should be alarmed. Our beloved and immersive art form is in threat. Yes, wondrous things are happening on small screens, yet watching anything that way is a different way of interacting with art. Not a worse way, just a different way. If you can pause the film, get up and let out your dog whining at the door, you are not immersed; that changes the way these stories will be told in the future. Already, wizards are at work interpreting data of this very nature.

Now, there are things to be killed off immediately. Let’s start with the casting couch. Set all of them on fire. I’ll dance around that blaze.

Other things I’d like to see gone forever? Read on:

Read More

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A fierce and welcome bolt

By February 20, 2018 Film, Headlines

When you watch films as often as I do, you sit in a surfeit of sameness. Green screens film often bore me; the behemoth that is Marvel and caped leotards running about saving the world from evils, all one-dimensional, mostly eliciting yawns from me…then I saw Black Panther.
Black Panther is a game changer; a touchstone for real cultural change, all so elemental that our shame should be deep.

Why? Tell the story of your people. And your people will see themselves and feel authenticated.  Story is culture. Through story, we allow others in, and begin to understand one another and develop social consciousness. Without stories, we are nothing. Read More

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wear a pin but open your wallet

By January 8, 2018 Film, Headlines, Performance

The Golden Globe awards are popcorn and candy floss; bread and circus for the masses still stunned from holiday comas.
It’s just fluff. Or is it?

This year, a seismic shift turned the tables on a creative community reeling from one announcement after another of powerful industry men being rooted out from their plush and seedy man caves.
Instead of rainbow gowns, women—actors and all their peeps—were wearing black for a movement they hope will open the gates to true equality in pay, in production, and so on.

Is it a true shift?

Wearing black is easy. Ditto a lapel pin. Real change comes with money.

Read More

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Best of 2017

By December 31, 2017 Books, Film, Headlines, Life, Performance

I’m staying in tonight. Spending the last day of the year with my main squeeze, my only squeeze, who has mopped the floor three times this holiday season and knows how to make a bed better than any hotel maid. He has many tricks but these are two you appreciate after a long marriage. That he makes me laugh daily is why this party girl is content with our plans to cook up Nigella’s champagne risotto and tick off happy moments in our cosy abode. I promised him chocolate mocha creme brûlée. I too have other tricks but that’s one of them.

Last day of a very rich year. Rich in lessons. Rich in moments. Rich in howling at the moon or the tv screen.  A year I almost threw my phone in the toilet for surely nothing good was worth reading on it, or in my still-delivered-daily newspapers.

On the first day of this year, I made a toast with my family present, a toast to buoyancy in heavy times. I’m thrilled to say I think we made it. The world is not broken. Aim for the light.

Here is my Best of 2017: or what I can remember after the holiday coma.

Favourite moments on the page:

  • In a year rocked by revelations of terrible deeds, one author’s words screamed at me from the page. Of course it was Alice Munro (Lives of Girls and Women). “There is no protection, unless it is in the knowing.”

  • from Felicity by poet Mary Oliver, this line from her poem Moments: “There is nothing more pathetic than caution, when headlong might save a life, even, possibly, your own.”

  • from The Girls by Emma Cline: “That was our mistake, I think. One of many mistakes. To believe that boys were acting with a logic that we could someday understand. To believe that their actions had any meaning beyond thoughtless impulse. We were like conspiracy theorists, seeing portent and intention in every detail, wishing desperately that we mattered enough to be the object of planning and speculation. But they were just boys. Silly and young and straightforward; they weren’t hiding anything.”

  • from Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips: “She doesn’t picture them as Arabic—she has been wondering, of course. But they do not sound like that kind of terrorist. They sound like young, obnoxious white men—aren’t they always young white men?—and she is not sure whether this makes them more or less dangerous than fanatics on a jihad.”

  •  Canadian poet/novelist Steven Price wrote the kind of big fat novel you want to hide out by the fire with and speak to no one but the characters on the page.  I loved it, and read it in the moody month of March and I wish to return to exactly that sensation every time I read. By Gaslight was my favourite read of 2017.

Favourite moments on the stage:

  • Come from Away was the first show I saw early January 2017. What a start to my year of theatrical highs, thanks to an early birthday present from my sister. My 2017 personal theme of buoyancy was shared by those actors on that stage delivering the most heartfelt piece of Canadian theatre I have seen in years. Come from Away later opened on Broadway and scored seven Tony nominations, and won for best direction of a musical.

  • The Shaw Festival’s Michael Therriault as Bill Snibson in a note perfect production of Me and My Girl

  • The brilliant new musical Life After featuring a sensitive and intelligent performance by lead actor Ellen Denny who brought me to tears. “If you grow, then you know it was worth a little bruising. And it’s alright, as long as your height gains in inches what you’re losing.” I’ll be watching everything playwright Britta Johnson does now.

  • Kristen Thomson made me howl in The Crow’s Theatre production of  A Wedding Party 

  • In the lobby of the small but mighty Coal Mine theatre, following a fantastic production of Superior Donuts, I was introduced to Sarah Polley (there, along with many other actors, to wish the cast well following the show).  Polley has zero airs. That she penned a brilliant piece in the New York Times later this year made me even prouder of this true Canadian gem.

  • The entire cast of Soulpepper/Bad Hats Theatre coproduction of Peter Pan lifted me high into the rafters of imagination. I felt blessed to have seen it, alongside my nine-year old nephew who told me after the play he wished he could learn swordplay to take on Captain Hook. I’m with you, Henry.

  • the kids of the youth programme at Wavestage theatre who truly nailed my favourite Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, in particular the mature performance of young Lucas Guesebroek as Marley

  • Is it cheating to say I loved a performance on ice? A stage of sorts, no? My six-year old niece Charlotte sparkled and held her own in a year end skating show that also featured dazzling performances by Canadian Olympians. Made me itch to get my old skates out. See you on the ice this Saturday. 

Favourites on screen: A near impossible task for this film nerd as you regular readers will know by now. Best place to start is my Scrumptious Films list from TIFF 2017 for my favourites, many now released in theatres.

In addition, these films all impressed and moved me in some way:

  • Patti Cake$

  • The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

  • Dunkirk

  • Bladerunner 2049

  • The Big Sick

  • Step (documentary)

  • I, Daniel Blake

  • Girls Trip

  • Land of Mine

  • The Man who Invented Christmas

Favourite moments lived (in no particular order because memory doesn’t work like that!)

  • Moving was an unwelcome theme this year. Moving kids from residence to home, and back to university and out of apartments; then to another country… and my own belongings to pack up while my house was under repair from a flood(!) and then unpack when it was done…Through all of it, the kindness of family and friends who didn’t know they saved me from myself with their extra arms (my godson Ben who responded so swiftly when we asked for help moving heavy stuff — surely, he deserves a medal; my sister Mary who arrived, flood-ready with rubber boots and towels in the middle of the night; friends who offered houses and food and come sit in my garden).

  • My entire wedding party gathered at the start of the year, here in our home, and recreated our wedding photo from 25 years ago. One of my bridesmaids brought a surprise. She unzipped her winter coat and there underneath was the dark red velvet dress made, along with all the others by my mom; back when women did these kinds of heroic domestic duties. We all shared laughing fits when she told me it didn’t zip up quite as readily in the back.  Still, she wore it with panache.  Later that night, my other bridesmaids brought out letters I had written about this crazy man-child I adored, way back when taking a pen to paper and gushing about love was still in fashion. Both my girls were there to listen to it all.  When I showed a movie I made about our wedding to my mom, who sometimes forgets, she said, weren’t we lucky to have that talented man to make your sparkly dress? That man was a talented couture designer and having a dress made by him was her gift to me all those years ago.  I won the lottery that night. Yes indeed.

  • My eldest graduated from University of Toronto this year (Victoria College) and was able to celebrate this with her grandparents, who graduated themselves from this very institution six decades ago, and other cherished family members who attended the university. After a glorious day on the lovely campus, as we drove away, came this from our newly minted graduate: I learned a lot here. This was a good place for me. Later, my daughter told me her beloved Pappou, who hasn’t been well and was unable to attend her ceremony, gave a long diatribe about having no mother or sisters (he grew up an orphan, and was raised by his four older brothers) and then told her, our family needed more women. You were born and you are a smart woman. We need more like this.

  • I will be in a bad mood if you don’t come. Blessed are you if you get that kind of text from your sister.

  • Barenaked laps in a lake that time forgot in Algonquin late summer. I was there for a solo retreat courtesy of my brother John who joined me on the first night for a beer. Did he himself deliver that perfect sunset? Or the autumn Ontario heat wave that made warm water that felt like a hug? Who knew I needed it that badly that moment?

  • Dancing in the aisles to Earth,Wind& Fire with Peter and the girls. Best moment of the summer, second only to a spectacular weekend of wine, theatre, friends and gorgeous weather in Niagara over the Canada Day weekend.

  • Attending McGill Homecoming and I get to sit in a dazzling new Montreal resto (Jatoba) and hear my own McGill kid tell me, over the course of a fantastic meal, about the hardest paper she’s ever written, and did I say yet it is likely the best I’ve written too? 

  • A three-way tie between the absolute glee when we sat down together in my dining room for our annual Christmas book club table with all our wee trinkets for one another- you’d think we were opening diamonds; when my pal Jo went to dig her dish gloves out of her purse to do all the dishes and everyone pitched in to dry;  the recitation of A Night Before Christmas by another member Jill, complete with perfect eyebrow punctuation.

  • Sitting beside my folks at Christmas dinner. My dad clinks a spoon to his wine glass; we all stop talking. “Let’s remember this is a good country. And I’m lucky to have my wife.”

  • Picking up my kids in the airport following their six week Summer of 17 Sisters backpack trip. There is no better moment than seeing my kids in that airport. Not by a mile.

There are things that, as a parent, you cannot do for your children, as much as you might wish to. You cannot make them happy (if you try too hard they become whiners); you cannot give them self-esteem and confidence (those come from their own accomplishments); you cannot pick friends for them and micro-manage their social lives, and finally you cannot give them independence. The only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out.

-Michael Thompson, Homesick and Happy

I wish all my readers a magical year ahead. What adventures will it hold? I know one thing. It will be more fun with you along. #WeRallinthistogether

Happy New Year.

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This is us: the sugar version

By December 5, 2017 Books, Film

One year ago I was at a bookstore signing copies of my brand new food memoir. It’s been a wild ride since; some of it away from my home office as well as my kitchen, thanks to a summer house flood that rendered the place wonky with exactly the wrong kind of mayhem.

Houses mend, as do spirits. Before too long, what pained becomes a mere blip in a year resounding with buoyancy.

December is now here and with it, a house full of red and readiness (almost) for family and friends coming home for the holidays. Oh how gorgeous that sounds: home for the holidays. Someone should write a song/book/film/play about it? Wait…what? You say it’s been done already? Well then, I’ll just focus on my own version: another shipment of my books has arrived, marked for new readers. Are you one of them? My store is here. It’s an easy process and you’ll have your books by Christmas* if you order by December 18th.  with love and sugar home for the holidays.

Here’s a little film I produced* to give you an idea what’s between the pages. You already know the film nerd. Now meet the home baker, owner of too many aprons and a kitchen never this clean.


*Baking cinematography by Gayle Ye. Editing by Sydney Cowper. Home movies by me. I’ve been making movies off and on for years since the days of sitting with brilliant editors at Global Television in my first (professional) iteration as a storyteller. My love for the medium began in a scholarly forum, but my homegrown offerings are anything but: my films are little peeps—making them hatch is my happy place, second only to spontaneous lick-the-spoon soirées with my favourite humans. Sorry Lucy, dogs can’t have chocolate.

For Canadian orders only. Outside of Canada, email me at for your copy. 

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TIFF 2017: the mess

By September 22, 2017 Film, Headlines, Performance

Hats off to the film programmers. You did another stellar job bringing the world to our screens. Kudos for killer curating! And all the volunteers. You make me happy every year. I love seeing fellow movie freaks in those orange shirts, doing their best to shepherd the line-ups.

Still, TIFF lost some lustre this year. In my final TIFF 2017 post, here is the messier side of the festival. My beefs are few:

  • When a director comes out on stage and apologies to his audience for what they are about to see, the audience should just get up and leave. Apologizing is patronizing. TIFF audiences have seen plenty of provocative work over the decades. Fainting is for the fawning mobs pressing for selfies outside. There are some movies you never want to watch again but are still glad you saw once (Silence of the Lambs, Schindler’s List, First There Will Be Blood). Mother! the latest from shock darling Darren Aronofsky, isn’t one of them. It’s just bad torture porn. Did this film need a big splashy gala ticket? Jennifer Lawrence, Aronofsky’s romantic partner and star of this insanity, should have run away too.

  • What’s with the plethora of priority seats? Perhaps Aaron Sorkin papered the audience for his directorial debut, Molly’s Game (indulgent, way way too talky..and I’m a Sorkin fan). But when almost every seat in the first floor of the theatre is reserved, one wonders if TIFF still deserves to be called The People’s Festival.

  • Delays were the worst I’ve ever experienced; line-up chatter echoed my frustration. A delay in the screening means a carefully curated schedule becomes a wash. Missed endings? Check. Missed Q&A’s? Check. Standing in line is expected. Standing in line outside on the pavement as you watch the start time of a movie come and go, and nobody’s in the theatre yet is a good way to lose your core audience.

  • I have resigned myself to ads but why not preface each TIFF screening with a film short*? Open it up to artists across the country? Run the ads instead at the end with the credits, with all those who helped make the film. That’s where sponsorship nods belong. I watched a makeup ad over three dozen times. “Real beauty is colourful” (all the models are wearing black). “Real beauty is unique” (all the models are impossibly thin, leggy, and longhaired). Sigh. I understand sponsorship. These things don’t get made on their own. That’s why I support the festival myself.  Meanwhile, in the multiplexes year round, moviegoers have to sit through ridiculous and utterly mindless gimmicks to play on smartphones to pass the time before the film begins. And distributors and executives wonder why nobody is going to the movies anymore…

Rant over. Go watch a movie and support filmmakers. This is your season.

Weekend  links:

  • I saw this young talented actor on stage earlier this summer in a gorgeous production of Me and My Girl at the Shaw Festival and now grieve his passing. Read theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck’s beautiful obit of  Jonah McIntosh

  • So worth it: (and only one hour long!) Before Jerry was Seinfeld.  Streaming now on Netflix.

  • Missed TIFF? *Try the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival happening this weekend at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

  • Get excited for Alias Grace. The six episode miniseries adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel (yes, another one!) will air in Canada on CBC this coming Tuesday and will stream November 3rd on Netflix. 

  • Simple yet brilliant answer to all this happiness talk:



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TIFF 2017: Quotables

By September 20, 2017 Film

Part of the TIFF experience is hearing from those who made the film, in brief Questions & Answer sessions following the screening. Cringing at the odd dumb question is part of it; mostly, it’s a peek, a very tiny glimpse, into the one of the world’s most collaborative art forms.

Actors can’t always articulate what it is they do. Directors are often eccentric or mumblers and sometimes they ditch altogether because speaking to an audience who have paid money to see their film as it begins to make the rounds in public isn’t a priority to some. Or they have to dash off to another project. 🎵 There’s no business like show business … These are performances after, all, these sessions with the public. And when they click magically, it makes that TIFF ticket (more $ every year, sadly) a meaty thing.

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TIFF 2017: Scrumptious films

By September 18, 2017 Film, Headlines

What have you seen that you liked?

So goes the question rippling through line-ups. Non-TIFF goers are perhaps stymied by the dizzying pace of screenings; the rest of us shrug it off. This is what we do. There are no bragging rights, just crazy ones. See what you can while it’s here and forgive the mess at the edges; the corporate trappings, questionable allowances for priority seats, a steady screeching fan crush stomping out any and all sensible paths to theatres. Ignore it as you sample the banquet table, eyes always on the prize: spectacular voyages and peeks at universal truths, all of it lending instructions for living, and wondrous creative inspiration.

Not bad for ten days.Yes, your eyes will pop, your mouth will drop. Pay attention. School has begun.

I know you like lists. Here is mine from a feast of global storytelling:

Scrumptious: films to love

Call be by your name:

The lights went down and off I went to Italy for a morning of pure bliss. This is sumptuous filmmaking, shot in Crema, Italy, by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, in an Italian, French and Brazilian co-production about a summer coming of age love story starring a beautiful actor you’re sure to see more of, Timothée Chalamet, and Arnie Hammer; both bring to life characters first found on the page in the much-loved novel by André Aciman (adapted for the screen by the genius James Ivory). Luckily for non-TIFF goers: you’ll get your own chance at this heady trip later this fall as it’s set for release late November.

The Shape of Water

This is the eyes-pop-mouth-drop film for sheer beauty and magic throughout. Phooey to one critic who sneered and dismissed it as a “surf and turf romance”. Not so. Sally Hawkins does fall for an aquatic creature but in Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro’s hands, the creature is spectacular, as is the cinematography, production design, all artful, all dazzling. I loved the story, the cast, the setting, and the soul. Everyone cheered at the end of this one, cheering for imagination—here, it’s strutting in extraordinary strokes, cheering for the Toronto Elgin theatre and other Toronto locations used by del Toro, who loves Toronto so much he lives here part-time. I was spellbound. This one opens in Toronto early December.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Hurrah for clever Toronto film audiences who picked this film as this year’s People’s Choice winner. I voted for all the films in my scrumptious list so don’t make me choose one winner but colour me happy to see this film anointed. Frances McDormand is Mildred, a mother who takes action against the police for failing to solve her daughter’s murder. When you see as many films as I do, you are grateful as hell for perfect balance: this one has it. British playwright Martin McDonagh has delivered a script with snap and zero waste. If all films could be this lively, I would be a happy fangirl. Somehow he sneaks in a very rich mix here and makes it look effortless;exploding a study of grief into an angry symphony. One flaw: two brief portraits of minor characters, both sketched as dimwit young women…unnecessary and worth a sigh from this old broad.


French cinematographer Emmanuel Gras travelled to the Congo for this remarkable documentary about one man’s struggle to provide for his family. We follow Kabwita as he makes charcoal in the Congolese countryside and then carries it on his bike for three agonizingly long days to sell it in the city. There is little here but the very looming present, in real time segments, and the result is mesmerizing. Here is the human condition in extraordinary measures. When the camera follows him into an intense prayer session, I was moved to tears. This is a film that will stay with me long after many others have faded.

Lady Bird

Among my very purposeful film picks were debuts and this one is stunning. Greta Gerwig has co-written films before with her partner, Noah Baumbach, but here, she shepherds her own script with confidence and heart and somehow avoids cliché in a well-worn genre.  It helps to have the wonderful Saoirse Ronan to play the rebellious teenager in the semi-autobiographical story set in Sacramento, with Laurie Metcalf delivering the second mother of the year performance (first is Frances McDormand, as mentioned earlier) and the talented playwright/actor Tracy Letts as the dad. Again, tone is king here. Gerwig nails it.

The Death of Stalin

I wanted this film, based on a graphic novel, to win the juried section of TIFF’s three year old Platform programming: it seem the three-member jury was seduced by dramatic fare (see below*). If comedy is done well, it looks easy. Scottish satirist Armando Ianucci has a huge fan base, thanks mostly to hilarious projects like VEEP ( he left after the fourth season) and In the Loop.  This is his first time delving into history and his dive is as profane as ever, in a delicious black comedy that had everyone in my screening roaring. A superb cast of performers play the Soviet dignitaries who are panicking at the demise of their leader, Joseph Stalin, and so begins a race for the leadership. Thank goodness for wit, on full display here.

The Florida Project

Sean Baker turned the cinematic world upside down with his film Tangerine, shot entirely on an iPhone. His follow-up is shot in regular 35 mm but again, Baker is set to stir things up with this absolutely absorbing story of a ragtag group living on the fringe in a motel on the outskirts of Orlando, Florida. The motel is run by Bobby, played wonderfully here by Willem Dafoe, who tolerates these kids just enough to keep them safe. I was set to hate this movie for the kids in the film have trash mouths and bratty is the behaviour code here, sure to grate on my nerves. Or so I thought. Sneakily, the film won me over. Dammit, those kids are engaging. Think Little Rascals with a contemporary spin and you’re halfway there. Poignant and packing a shimmering heart in ice cream colours, Baker’s film has done a very nifty trick here, capturing the world of childhood wonder in the midst of sober surroundings. The two young actors stole the stage at the screening I attended. More on that tomorrow.


First Reformed


Another habit of my TIFF picks (years in the making) are choosing titles in the Masters section. Sure, there’s the chance the Master has nobody left but sycophants who won’t tell him his latest effort is sour: we’ve seen this many a time. Get too good (or too rich) at your game and nobody tells you the truth anymore. More often than not, choosing a film from a cinematic giant means you’re in for a juicy ride. This film is from Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bill, The Last Temptation of Christ, to name just a few) and it is so engrossing I need to see it again, just to hear the bon mots from Schrader’s script. Ethan Hawke is brilliant as a priest suffering a crisis, one both unnerving and powerful. There are themes here that would be dangerous in the hands of a lesser talent. In Schrader’s hands, they underscore this thriller that might just be mistaken for a masterpiece.

The Other Side of Hope

From Finnish master, writer/director Aki Kaurismäki a fantastic story about a Syrian stowaway who escapes into Finland and begins to work in a restaurant run by a sour middle-aged businessman. In his first performance as an actor, Sherwan Haji begged us to not judge him harshly when he appeared at our screening to introduce the film. Hardly. His was a face (and performance ) easy to love. This film made my list because of the parade of fantastic faces cast and the overall genius tone: droll, deadpan, deadly. Can you make a comedy about the refugee crisis? Yup.

Very good: films not quite perfect but admirable and eminently watchable


The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Weird and wonderful, this dark tale surrounds a strange teenager who has wormed his way into a family’s life. No spoilers here — if you saw The Lobster or Dogtooth, you’ll understand the twisted world you find yourself wandering around in, courtesy of Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos. Here things could be merely sinister but you’ll laugh too, maybe nervously, and hold your breath right to the end. Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell lead the cast but the star of this show is Irish actor Barry Keoghan  (last seen in Dunkirk), who has thrown down a masterful performance. Keep your eye on this actor. He’s fascinating to watch. Is it a horror film? That would be far too easy. Lanthimos doesn’t fit into a box other than he is the guy everyone wants to work with right now. The film will be released in Canada November 17th.



Still on the subject of Irish actors, TIFF Rising Star Jessie Buckley may be known in the UK for her musical theatre chops but during TIFF she was mesmerizing filmgoers with her performance in Beast as the misfit Moll who falls for a man who may or may not be a serial killer. British director Michael Pearce has his own killer eye for visual detail and sets the tone at tense from beginning to end. This was another gem in the juried Platform series of films: all twelve films were picked for their strong authorial visions from mid-career talents, and most of them deserved that spot.  I loved Beast as much it terrified me.

If you saw his heart

Another Platform film (check) another debut (check), another female director (check, check, check)-would I go wrong with this pick?
Like Greta Gerwig, French film director Joan Chemla, who took part in the Toronto Talent Lab, stunned me with her first feature, a story she adapted from the Cuban book, Boarding Home, a series of portraits about the disenfranchised in a rundown hotel. In this film, Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal acts as her hero, a gypsy thief with a heart of gold, haunted by his past. Lots of brooding atmosphere and worthy production design made up for some of the weaker parts but Chemla is most certainly a star to watch.



Still in Platform territory comes a film from one of the Arab world’s best known directors, Nabil Ayouch, starring his gorgeous wife, Maryam Touzani in her first acting role. Razzia follows five narratives about Casablanca, weaving in and out of each over a forty year period. l loved this ambitious film, which was just chosen as Morocco’s candidate in the foreign language category of the 2018 Academy Awards. It falters on some of the storylines, but everyone on screen is captivating as hell.

What will people say

Equally captivating is newcomer Maria Mozhdah in this autobiographical film about female oppression from Iram Haq, a Norwegian-Pakistani actress and director. Mozhdah plays Nisha, a contemporary first generation teenager confronting her Pakistani-born parents’s traditional values. This film is perhaps the saddest film I saw at TIFF for it might as well have been a documentary, rather than a fictional piece, as it explores intimately the unravelling of a family caught between two worlds. a family like many here and across the globe. I cried at this one too. It made me miss my daughters terribly (empty nester, can’t help it) but you don’t need a daughter to feel gut-punched.

*Sweet Country

Australian director Warwick Thornton won accolades and prize for his 2009 debut, Samson and Delilah, and here he’s at it again: this won the $25,000 Platform prize in a race of excellent films. Guess the jury loved brooding westerns: this one set in the 1920’s in the outback of Northern Territory, Australia and centres around an Aboriginal who kills a white station owner in self-defence. My favourite thing about this fugitive narrative was the young kid, newcomer Tremayne Trevorn Doolan, who holds his own in a cast of heavyweight Aussie familiar faces including Sam Neill and Bryan Brown. While others were stronger in Platform section, I liked the film a lot; certainly nobody can argue the continued relevance or lyricism.


American indie darling Dee Rees brought together one of the best ensembles at TIFF for this 1940’s epic about two farming Missisippi families trying to cope during the war. The story overlap wasn’t always a success (the combat scenes were weak) but Rees has huge chops: this sprawling story was gripping and utterly relevant. Hard to watch as is all bold cinema, and some powerful performances across the board. After it premiered at Sundance to raves, Netflix picked it up: it will begin streaming November 17th.

Our People Will Be Healed

This film was the most hopeful film I saw during the entire ten days. I admit I was completely starstruck by the master documentarian behind the lens who wowed us all after the screening. At 85, Alanis Obamsawin is crackling with energy, style, and the ever fierce compassion that has driven all of her work with the National Film Board. This latest film, her 50th, is a celebration of a school in Manitoba, a school indigenous people across Canada hope can be a model in decolonization. Norway House is a joyful place of learning and community projects celebrating Cree culture. Obamsawin’s keen eye for children and their infectious energy is something I won’t forget anytime soon.

C’est La Vie!

Pure French pastry, a fluffy farce about a fussy Parisian wedding planner who tries to corral his event planning team for a massive wedding set in an 18th-century chateau. This film will cause you to develop a tickle, then a giggle, then a roar. These kind of confections in the American mainstream are often woefully predictable. In the hands of the directing pair, Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano, who made the beloved 2012 hit The Intouchables, it is just right.

Imperfect but still listworthy

Happy End


A follow-up to the brilliant Amour, this from master Austrian director Michael Haneke is not as fully realized as that earlier gem but is still fascinating in part because of his ever provocative poke (much of it dealing with technology) at the mess of contemporary family life. It helps to have the ever dazzling Isabelle Huppert on screen as the matriarch but equally capable was the rest of the French cast.

Brad’s Status

Ben Stiller suffers a midlife crisis in a film that is more polemic than a real cinematic narrative, produced in part by Plan B, Brad Pitt’s company. Still, Stiller is fantastic as the dad taking his son to see colleges and who can’t relate to his pondering, often portrayed here in hilarious light from writer/director Mike White. This is the tell part of show, don’t tell, but go along with it. You might recognize yourself.  This is first world problem kind of film, the only one I saw at TIFF. For that, I’m glad.



The latest film, another Platform contender, from Swedish director Lisa Landseth brings together her muse, Alicia Vikander, onscreen once again for their third collaboration, this time set in a beautiful forest where the dying go to attend to their last wishes before being put to death by choice. Vikander plays one of two sad sisters (Eva Green) attempting to reconcile their past in this surreal setting. Rounding out the cast are Charles Dance and Charlotte Rampling, both lending some more dazzle to a sometimes sappy story. Still, I think Vikander and Green are huge talents. Nice to see stories by women for women.


Another in the Masters programme: Russian auteur Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan was one of my faves from TIFF a few years back. He follows it up with another dark tale about the grim turn a bad marriage can take and the child left behind. The only reason this isn’t up higher on my list is for a relentless middle act which dragged the film down. Still, that this guy makes every image poetic is clear. The film is stunning to look at, and as bleak and beautiful as Bergman. It is for these kinds of films I attend TIFF.

Ana, mon amour

From Romanian director Colin Peter Netzer, a rocky relationship is put to the test by mental illness, explored through time shifts and lots of sex, much of it implicit. To quote my TIFF partner, if it’s on a computer in a dark room, it’s porn. If it’s on a TIFF big screen, it’s art.  There is always sex at TIFF. Here it comes thanks to two fearless performers in a portrait of a truly toxic union. By the end, I was exhausted. But for awhile, I was mesmerized by these talented actors as they delved into the roots of trauma.

The Wife

I love Meg Wolitzer’s novels. So it was an easy pick to see this adaptation from Swedish director Björn Runge, especially one starring Glen Close and Jonathan Pryce, as a husband and wife dealing with the news of his Nobel prize for literature. It should be a thrill but there’s a mystery lurking that unfolds with Close at the centre. This movie needed more zip. Still, the mystery and good performances keep the film moving and Close delivers yet another riveting performance, a reason alone to see the film. Somebody please give this woman an Oscar sometime soon.


That’s it for films worth reviewing. The rest of my picks were meh and at least one was downright infuriating…if I had brought a tomato, it would have been pitched at the screen. More to come.


Appearing next in this space: TIFF 2017 wrap: quotables and quips and the messy side of TIFF

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