Fun’s over and everyone’s back at work including my guest blogger, the other guy in this household of film freaks. Here’s his final tally on the last days of TIFF and his Top Ten. If you missed my list, check it out here.
How do you hold on to a moment?
It was a line of dialogue coming at the end of my opening night film, Toni Erdmann, a line like many that grabbed me from my seat and told me to pay attention. Toni Erdmann wowed the critics at Cannes but that wasn’t the only reason to choose that film among the 32 titles I would screen during TIFF: a comedy coming from German cinema is a curiosity, and it was written and directed by a woman who formed her own production company while still at university. Maren Ade told all of us gathered and giddy there on opening night about the two years it took to write her script, “a bit like digging a hole and coming up at some point.” This hole-dweller cheered at the end of the story of a prankster father trying to crack his corporate strategist’s daughter’s armour. There on screen was everything I love about great cinema: a narrative I couldn’t anticipate, rich characters that ripen as the film does, crackerjack writing, revelatory details about contemporary life—the film is quietly brilliant on the realities women face in the workplace—and two of the best scenes this year in film, scenes provoking from me, and everyone else in the theatre, head back, knee-slapping, roaring eruptions of LAUGHTER. Spoiler I’m not but I’m in a generous mood so here’s a hint: nude parties. And yes, this frequent event host is inspired.
Ok then, so we’re off having some fun at the movies now. And those moments? To answer that question above, the answer maybe came from French director Olivier Assayas, sharing profundities once again in his generous and erudite manner after wowing audiences once again with his latest film, Personal Shopper.
Movies stay with us in our subconscious years after we’ve seen them.
Yes, and so do ghosts, as his muse Kristen Stewart discovers in his spooky thriller that again had me guessing as the story of a personal shopper trying to communicate with her dead twin brother unspooled.
This puzzle box experience was to be repeated throughout the ten days as this year’s TIFF for me looked to be the year of the pivot: movies that offered endings and plot turns I didn’t fully grasp, nor see coming. Among the surprise endings were big budget stunners like Arrival and La La Land, and quieter films like the beautiful Two Lovers and a Bear from Montreal’s Kim Nyugen. This lovely gem reminded me again of the stamps on my cinematic passport thanks to many years at this festival: here I traveled from my seat to the Arctic and some gorgeous snowy sequences that fill out the last half of the film.
Other recurring themes in my TIFF experience this year?
Grim poverty tales like the heartbreaking I, Daniel Blake, and immersive Ma’ Rosa, or the hard-scrabbled ragtag posse in American Honey, a road movie that swerves off in indulgent splashes but won me over for sheer heart and bold filmmaking.
Fractured parent/child relationship studies, the best of them all is aforementioned Toni Erdmann but also affecting was the adaption of Carol Shield’s novel, Unless, with the always A-game Catherine Keener as the mom of a troubled daughter who has taken to living on the streets of Toronto, and Graduation from Romanian director Christian Mingiu about a doctor who crosses moral boundaries to help his daughter. Less successful were two literary adaptations: Julieta, a wonky adaptation of three Alice Munro stories from Piedro Almodovar, and American Pastoral, from Philip Roth’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel with Ewan MacGregor in the director’s chair and in the starring role where he should have remained.
Readers, I know you’re impatient (just give us the list and be done with it).
Manchester by the Sea
Kyle Chandler spoke for us all the premiere when he turned to the uber-talented writer/director Kenneth Lonergan and said he had yet to figure out how he mastered it, this searing portrait of suffering with notes of grace that will rock everyone who sees it. Applause was rapturous and much of it was for Casey Affleck, here in a performance that will be hailed for years as a master study of How to Be an Actor.
Voyage of Time
The last 45 minutes of this film are astounding. Just breathtaking work. I saw the 90-minute version with Cate Blanchett’s narration. Also at the festival was a shorter version in Imax with Brad Pitt’s voice. I wish Terrence Malick had left it without any narration as it’s the only thing I hated about the film. Whatever version you can see, I urge you to try and watch this gorgeous documentary.
When I grow up, I want to be in a Tom Ford movie. He makes everyone and every thing look gorgeous. This is a stunning film to watch, even as the narrative turns gruesome. Minimalist canvasses, bleak storylines…the festival was dotted with them so I was ready for the full cinematic glory of the style master Tom Ford’s sophomore film about a LA art gallery owner shaken by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband. I don’ t know how you spend an average week but Tom Ford opened this film in Venice, flew to New York for Fashion Week to unveil his new see-now, buy-now collection, then came to Toronto for TIFF. And manages to look pretty swish. As for his cast? Shiny.
This film caught me at go with a stunning soundtrack, and entry points into a story I thought I already knew. Chilean auteur Pablo Larraín’s vivid portrait benefits greatly from the always radiant Natalie Portman. Truly creative storytelling here as we are taken into the origins of the Camelot legend. As the filmmaker told us at TIFF, “I wanted to be at that round table.” You and me both, pal.
La La Land
This film won the People’s Choice award. It almost wins a rave from me too but for a few missteps in tone. Still, I’m plenty charmed by some beautifully buoyant scenes that will have you cheering too, and heaps of sparkling chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Among the best scenes at TIFF are a gorgeous singing audition by Emma Stone that will knock you flat.
My favourite ending of all the movies at TIFF, and the most beautiful boy on screen. Two good reasons to watch an absorbing narrative about finding your family. The film suffers by a weighty middle act but it soars nevertheless. I refuse to show the trailer here as the Weinstein brothers don’t need me to help them but hats off to Aussie director Garth Davis in his debut turn as feature film director. This is what you call a debut.
2 Lovers and a Bear
See above. Fans of Tatiana Maslany will want to see her in this love story that won me over even as it chilled me to the bone along the way.
Gorgeous filmmaking drenched with wonder, smarts, and plenty of nuance. I loved Amy Adams in this as much as the idea behind the film: language first. Of course.
I, Daniel Blake
This film broke my heart and will resonant the longest for one scene especially that arrives mid-point in the film. A single mother breaks down in a food bank and tears open a tin can. Sounds simple. Not by a mile. This film won the Palm d’Or at Cannes. They’re no dummies. It is more a polemic than a film. But everyone in the world should see it.
Where TIFF can improve:
- Why open this internationally recognized festival with a splashy reboot? Surely a film festival with this many eyeballs could showcase a smaller film in need of a boost? Why not start each screening with animated or live action shorts? Instead film fans were subjected to repeat viewings of sponsorship ads that provoked catcalls and howls in almost every screening? Surely a sponsor making more than a billion a year can come up with something more creative than rerun ads? How do you spell LOST OPPORTUNITY?!?
- Why don’t directors come to every screening? Much of the festival experience is about access. For the red carpet screamers, it’s about access to the A-listers. For the wannabe players, it’s proximity to the power brokers. For lifetime students of the art form, it’s about hearing from the storytellers. Tickets are expensive. The full experience should include a director introduction for every screening, not just the high-priced premium affairs. I know the answer already but I don’t like it: they’ve moved on to their next project, they’ve flown back, etc. You make a film and deliver it to a captured audience. This is your baby. I promise to be there when I make mine.
Tomorrow: My guest blogger will deliver his top ten to end our TIFF coverage here.
More TIFF bits from my guest blogger, the nutty film fan that shares my bed and his reviews on movies, some of which this fan skipped. I’ll let you guess which ones I loved too. Tune in Monday to hear my list.
REVIEWS – TIFF – DAY 7
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – Lee (Casey Affleck in a performance of a lifetime) is a loner handyman in Boston, who avoids people and small talk. When not working he is alone in his basement apartment or picking a drunken fight at a bar with anyone who looks his way. It doesn’t take long to figure out be has a deep sadness from another life.
His brother dies and Lee returns to his hometown to deal with his teenage nephew, the estate, and his past. Through a series of dramatic flashbacks, we learn of Lee’s personal tragedy. It is a devastating moment in the film.
This film has Oscars all over it. It is a simple story, about ordinary life, extraordinary pain. At times, very difficult to watch. It is the film everyone is talking about in the line-ups. Run, don’t walk, to see it.
HARMONIUM – An uneventful family life is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious man. He is the husband’s old friend, just released from prison. He joins the family as an employee and live-in guest. His gentle manners cannot conceal his disquieting presence and unresolved past.
A powerful tale of crime and punishment within the tight confines of a family drama. Slow-paced but riveting.
PARK – Set on the grounds of the decaying Olympic Village built for the 2004 games. A group of teenagers pass their time playing in this parched concrete wasteland. Victims of Greece’s economic catastrophe with no hope, no future but resilient. The director uses non-professional actors in this verity style realism film. A style and a film that is…not for everyone.
REVIEWS – TIFF – DAY 8
GRADUATION – A young woman is attacked on her way to school just before her final exams are set to begin. Her father, a prominent and well-connected doctor, is obsessed with his daughter’s potential. A scholarship to Cambridge depends on the results of those exams.
Cristian Mungiu won Best Director at Cannes for this morality play in which good intentions cannot ward off corruption. I trace my continued interest in Romanian cinema back to Mungiu’s brilliant 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Once again, he doesn’t disappoint with his masterful ability to explore human nature.
UNKNOWN GIRL – The door bell to a clinic rings only once. An overworked doctor, whose clinic closed an hour late to accommodate patients, does not answer. The next morning, the unidentified girl who ran the door bell turns up dead. Our young doctor, consumed by guilt, sets out to find the identity of the girl. In the process, she closes in on the killer.
This film drove me crazy with its convenient plot twists. As luck should have it, all the potential witnesses are her patients. Her Nancy Drew routine of “trust me, I’m a doctor, tell me what you know” was comical. As it turns out the routine was effective because in the end it gets her the confession. All she needed was persistence and her film-long look of permanent constipation. Nonsense.
NEVER EVER – Never ever see this film.
RAGE – The film opens with the aftermath of a grizzly murder. It then follows three different stories. Each one includes a mysterious character that could be the killer. As disturbing questions arise about each suspect and we are challenged to decide who is the killer.
Great idea that worked for most of the film. I really wanted this to work. Unfortunately, it falls apart in the last half hour. The conclusion of each of the three stories ranged from melodramatic to silly. Very disappointed.
Peter’s reviews continue. Let me know what you think in the space below. Should I keep him around?
REVIEWS – TIFF – DAY 5
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS – Susan (Amy Adams) is a successful but unhappy art dealer in LA. Her second marriage is in trouble. A manuscript arrives from her long-estranged first husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal). Alone in her house, with her husband away, she starts reading the manuscript and is propelled into the fictional life of a teacher (also Gyllenhaal) whose drive to his summer house is about to turn into a nightmare. As Susan gets deeper and deeper into the book, ahe is forced to examine her own past.
Stylish and absolutely gorgeous to look at but much more than an exercise in esthetics. Ford, who was quite the charmer at the Q+A, moves the story effortlessly between Susan’s reality and the Tony’s manuscript, drama and suspense.
Thoroughly enjoyed this film. A must see.
JACKIE – Chilean director Pablo Larrain masterfully films this fresh take on the Kennedy assassination. Told through the eyes of Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman), Larrain uses a series of finely-crafted flashbacks that cover that fateful day in Dallas and the events leading to the funeral. You have never seen the assassination filmed from the perspective of the former first lady sitting in the convertible.
Stellar script, unique perspective, and a lock on the Oscar for Portman.
ARRIVAL – Alien space ships arrive on earth. Language professor Amy Adams and physicist Jeremy Renner are in a race against time to learn how to communicate with the aliens and their intentions. Throw in a time-shifting angle and there’s your film.
If the lesson here is “a new language gives you a new perspective”, I got it. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the suspense, the urgency of the mission.
I wasn’t expecting Independence Day 3 from Denis Villeneuve (please, no ID3) but just a little more excitement.
Note from Anne. You’re all wet on this one. More after the smorgasbord.
AMERICAN HONEY – A Dickensian gang of misfits and runaways criss-crossing the Midwest selling fraudulent magazine subscriptions. Drugs, booze, fights and trashed motel rooms. No hope, no future, attitude and bravado to hide pain and insecurity. Shot in verité style realism with mostly non-professional actors with a dead or dying America as a backdrop.
I understand that it is an “important film” but I didn’t need 158 minutes of it. Powerful but way too long.
REVIEWS – TIFF – DAY 6
BLEED FOR THIS – There is only so much you can do with a boxing film. You overcome adversity and win or lose (in a split decision) the title fight. The real draw for me was Miles Teller, the up-and-coming young actor I last saw in Whiplash. A great performance in a film with a decent script. See this before Rocky 42 or Creed 17.
BIRTH OF THE DRAGON – One day, someone will make a film about Bruce Lee that does not have a paint by numbers, two–dimensional character script.
THE SALESMAN – Their Tehran apartment block on the verge of collapse, a couple (Emad and Rana) are forced to move into a shabby nearby flat. Soon after, Rana is attacked by an intruder while taking a shower. In the aftermath, things turn strange and tense for the couple. Feeling vengeful and confused, Emad plays detective while Rana is in a state of shock. Meanwhile, the two are performing as Wily and Linda Loman in an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
Director Farhadi’s A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. At Cannes this year, Salesman received prizes for Best Actor and Best Screenplay. Masterfully crafted, great pace and performances.
ASURA: CITY OF MADNESS – Korean crime dramas generally don’t disappoint. This had all the makings of a solid cop film. Formerly good, now bad cop, dying wife, doing dirty work for corrupt mayor, painted into a corner by Internal Affairs to cooperate or go to jail. Big production budget.
Unique angles in the car chase scenes and fights. Solid acting. Unfortunately it gets stupid. A prolonged, over-the-top, lazy bloodbath ending.
We’re in the home stretch now. Peter will wrap up his reviews here on Sunday. For my take on some of these films (we saw many together) and some others he missed, check back here Monday.
His car is always immaculate. This remains a curiosity to those who know him as the guy who will ask you to join him for a bowl of Chinese soup at midnight or lead you to some other delicious discovery on a street you’ve never heard of in your own town.
A man who loves to eat never has crumbs in his car. Go figure.
I didn’t marry him for his curiosity but it’s kept us intact these years even thought I refuse to play trivia games with him— it’s no fun having him win every time. That he loves rap tickled the fancy of my children’s peers when Dad was on late night driving duty. None of those kids likely guess that he cries at the opera and has gorgeous cover art of all his favourite operas on his office walls. Once he made me sit in the dark on our sofa to listen to Clifford Brown. We held hands as the music filled the room and our children slept above us. Forget the guy in the tux; paid to serenade table-side at some over-priced noshery. Being married a long time teaches you when to pay attention.
Sitting in the rain to watch soccer isn’t my thing (fair-weather fan, go ahead. Shoot me), nor strategic board games that stretch over cottage tables pass their expiration date. Some passions are solo projects.
I do like going to movies with my man. His entry points into the art form were not mine so we often find traces the other missed.
Here follow’s Peter’s snapshots of films seen over the opening two days. Read More
Rare are films that treat audiences as intelligent and capable moviegoers—viewers who appreciate stories without a dictionary of signposts. Into the Forest, directed by Canadian filmmaker Patrica Rozema, is just that: a thriller for grown-ups.
Shot in B.C, this adaptation of a novel by Jean Heglund focuses squarely on the evolving relationship of two sisters in an unspecified forest. Faced with a continent-wide power failure, the two fight for survival and take us along with them as they adapt to increasingly terrifying new realities. As viewers, we never find out what caused the blackout. Instead, we are treated to a masterful study of grief, courage, and renewal. As siblings, Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page deliver highly skilled portraits.
While there are plenty of frights and no shortage of violence (including a terrifying scene sure to break your heart), this is not a page torn from the Walking Dead. It is a narrative drenched with hope as the sisters forage their own depths for strength. I saw this film at TIFF last September and it lingers yet whenever the house lights flicker.
If you have daughters, go see it. If you have sisters, go see it. If you have neither, see it for a rare glimpse of intelligent suspense and female grit. And yes, applaud our gorgeous Canadian topography while you’re at it.
What it’s really like to make a movie in Canada right now.
Three young women take on a Queen West iconic club
20 original CanLit names to give your baby (Hurrah. Anne is new again)
Gilmore Girls waiting for the Netflix revival can now wait it out Rory-style and take the Rory Gilmore reading challenge.
Is your bathtub a place to go when you’ve run out of options? Find out in The Bath: A Polemic
Or maybe the bathtub is part of an escape plan. It was for this dad: In search of Lost Me Time
Happy June. June is a big birthday month for a bunch of people I love. This one’s for all of you-it’s my new jam. Psst-she just turned 50, and yes, I want her hair.
The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.
1995 was a year of transformation for bestselling author Cheryl Strayed, as it was for me. In March of that year, I became a mother. A few months later, in the summer, Strayed went on a solo trek for 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. Her journey, detailed in her memoir Wild, resulted in what she calls her “genesis story”.
My transformation from solo driver to infant-seat-in-the-back-mama was certainly more showy (I had a baby:she had blisters) yet the real growth—so much more “discreet” in real life transformations, says Strayed — was equally terrifying. Was I ready?
How do we bear the unbearable?
This very question forms the spine of the forty-seven year old’s memoir, as much a treatise on grief as it is a feminist fable. By now, Wild— her experiences using sex and drugs to escape the pain of losing her mother at age twenty-two, her failed marriage, and eventual epiphanies on the trail— has become an inspiration for many around the world. Wild has been translated into forty languages. Within a week of publication, the book caught the eye of Nick Hornby. The celebrated UK screenwriter and novelist told Strayed he liked the book’s authenticity: she didn’t go on the trail in order to write a book, but waited seventeen years to pen her memoir. By then, she was an award-winning essayist, as well as a mother of two children (Among her writings is an essay about her deep respect for Alice Munro. As she told the audience this week, this Canadian icon was her literary mother for many years.)
Okay, stop right there, I blinked: enough with all this. Are you my sister from another mother? (fangirl on Munro here)
So I skipped some of her life chapters and am still waiting for a brilliant screenwriter to make a film about my life (an experience Strayed highly recommends. She had Reese Witherspoon*. I’m holding out for Amy Schumer). What connected me were a series of profound insights only available through age, motherhood, a few wounds and wrinkles later.
Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.
These sentiments; many expressed in Strayed’s popular advice column, and her books Tiny Beautiful Things and Brave Enough; are like warm towels for her thousands of fans, including this writer. Mostly, I champion her sense of “gathering oneself”. This is what mothering has been for me for two decades. It is as apt a description as I’ve heard yet. If I could, I’d wear it as a t-shirt uniform (loose and baggy, thanks. Those snug little numbers belonged on my twenty-year old self).
The day I gave birth I was a shivering mess. I called my mom on the phone, minutes before they wheeled me into the OR to have a C-section. A newbie to surgery of any sort, I had not responded well to the news of this unexpected procedure, a full twenty-four hours after labour: my very wild state was on full display. My mother (an old pro:I’m one of five) assured me it doesn’t matter how you are to become a mother, embrace the fact that it’s about to happen any minute now!
Still I wailed,
They’re going to cut me open!
Twenty-one years and two daughters later, and I now know.
That was a prophecy.
No, I wasn’t ready. Ready is overrated.
*If you haven’t seen the film, Wild was one of my favourites from 2014. See my whole list here.
I heard a commentator sign-off yesterday on the untimely passing of Prince as “it’s just the cycle of life”.
Fifty-seven is mid-cycle last time I checked. For some of my peers, it’s also kindergarten. Rarer still are those pulling over to the curb to quit. A week ago, Prince played two sets in one night in Atlanta. Acoustic sets. Not much to hide behind there. And he had just announced he was writing his memoir. The title was to be “The Beautiful Ones”.
What do we do with these events that confuse our sense of things?
Be relentless and daring in our own creative endeavours.
Watch a movie infused with so much spirit that we immediately feel better—Opening today, Sing Street is your prescription. Spunky and semi-autobiographical—the film is based on a year in director John Carney’s life- Sing Street was part of the Next Wave festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox earlier this year. As he does handily in this crowd-pleaser, sixteen year-old star Ferdia Walsh-Peelo charmed an audience dotted with Irish Canadians clearly delighted, as I was, to witness the hit parade of eighties music in a gritty 1985 Dublin.
The movie belongs to that soundtrack, but Walsh-Peelo, who trained classically as a soprano before his voice changed, is great fun to watch as he reinvents himself with eyeliner and various costuming familiar to all of us who lived through that decade of music videos.
Here Carney is on clichéd turf yet he soars high with a tone both tender and as unassuming as his earlier hit Once, and a less successful but still charming Begin Again. Every member of this cast nails it. Evident too is a simple innocence missing from so many films that navigate this genre with cloying crap instead of the authenticity in abundance here. A nostalgia piece it is not. Rather, an irresistible love fable about youthful dreams that won me over early on.
They saw me coming when they made this one. Romantic? Where have you been? Duh.
Have your own purple moment. Grab a posse and get out to see this low budget winner.
Weekend reading for Earth Day.
Buying seeds at the nursery? Heres the world’s biggest seed bank.
Fellow artists looking for new retreat spots? Here’s one list for people who love nature and science.
And because I like to look at fields of glory today.
Forget the snoozefest that is the bulging middle section of the usual Oscar telecast.
Tonight promises fireworks after weeks of protest over the Academy’s lack of diversity, resulting in a vigorous #OscarSoWhite backlash. What will host Chris Rock do? That alone will boost numbers, declining fast in all demographics in recent years.
And yes, the backlash is long overdue. Any film festival fan knows the world of film is far more expansive than what Hollywood churns out yearly. If I can just plug for one moment the phenomenon of our very own TIFF, a festival where diverse global storytelling is on show daily for ten days every fall. Of the many reasons I attend, stoking my travel lust right there in my fangirl seat is one of the best.
I don’t get to vote for the Oscars, but if I did, I’d change the rules on a bunch of wonky categories. Why does animation need to be separate? Inside Out belongs among the years’ best list, not sent to the margins. Why aren’t there trophies for whole casts? More than anything, film is collaborative; hundreds of talents creating magic.
What stood out for me this year in this swirling circus of Oscar gold?
1. Canadian geography, the true star of The Revenant. Gasp-worthy cinematography from Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki is what I will remember more than anything from this remarkable film, shot mostly in freezing conditions in the Rockies.
2. Subtlety from the masters, seen in 45 Years, a nuanced portrait of a long marriage, and a lesson in how to convey a world of emotion in one look from the wonderful Charlotte Rampling.
3. Reinventing cult classics into feminist fables is not a pipe dream, as 70-year old filmmaker George Miller demonstrated in the dazzling Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth instalment that came thirty years after the last.
4. Novelists can be screenwriters of their own material, despite the stark difference between the two literary forms. Emma Donoghue adapted her own acclaimed novel Room for the big screen and the result is an intense and powerful film with the most gripping escape scene of the year.
5. Finance can be fun. Exhibit A: The Big Short.
6. Charisma can carry an entire film. Saoirse Ronan in the beautiful Brooklyn, Matt Damon in one of my favourites from 2015, The Martian, Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs, and the wondrous Jacob Tremblay in Room.
7. Brevity can be brilliant. The Oscar live action short The Stutterer stole my heart in 13 minutes.
8. The contest for Best Foreign Film is always the most compelling. This year, two of the best films of 2015 are up for the title: Mustang and Son of Saul. Both are must-see films.
9. Oscar often nods to the right actor but the wrong performance. While her turn in The Danish Girl was excellent, it is as Ava, the humanoid robot in Ex Machina where Alicia Vikander really shines. That film gets my vote for best original screenplay.
10. You can listen to the music and know the bullet points of a tabloid tale. But until I saw the poignant documentary Amy, I didn’t understand fully the tragedy of this British singer’s life. That’s the power of film.
“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.”
For more on all my favourites see Best of 2015.