Reviews include All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, White Noise, and The Inspection.
TFCA TIFF Picks
September 4, 2014
Members of the Toronto Film Critics Association pick the films they’re most looking forward to at TIFF this year. The rules? There were no rules.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson): Every six or seven years, Andersson returns with a film that somehow gathers together all the misery in the world and puts it together in a meticulously crafted package that alleviates the sheer agony of being with a spirit of joy, wonder and ingenuity. That these vignettes are typically populated by stone-faced Swedes in ill-fitting business wear and what looks like sloppily-applied kabuki makeup adds greatly to the deader-than-deadpan humour at hand. The new one has something to do with a long-dead King of Sweden and includes a musical number. Maybe someone at Disney will see it and be sufficiently impressed to hire him to direct Frozen 2: Olaf’s Revenge.
The Unbelievable Truth is what drew the teenage me to contemporary movies in the first place, so at the very top of my list is the world premiere of Hal Hartley’s Ned Rifle. After him it’s Nina Hoss, whose performance in Barbara moved (if not eviscerated) and who reunites with director Christian Petzold on Phoenix. I also have grand plans to make a double bill of Sophie Barthes’ Madame Bovary and Gemma Bovery, Anne Fontaine’s adaptation of Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel riff on Flaubert (odd coincidence: the latter’s lead Gemma Arterton also starred in the film adaptation of Simmonds’ Tamara Drewe). I’m intrigued by Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, a coming-of-age story set in a Parisian suburb; Mélanie Laurent’s directorial debut Breathe; and The Duke of Burgundy from Peter Strickland. After dark I hope to catch Àlex de la Iglesia’s throwback 1950s thriller Shrew’s Nest and for comic relief What We Do in the Shadows, a slacker vampire roommate comedy co-directed by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords. It looks like a spiritual descendant of British shows Blackadder and The Young Ones. Except in New Zealand. With fangs.
Every year I make a list of movies I am excited about seeing during the festival and two things happen: one of them will be disappointing and I will stumble on a movie that wasn’t even on my radar that turns out to be a standout. So with that in mind here’s my list, in alphabetical order, for my most anticipated TIFF films: La French (The Connection), Love & Mercy, St. Vincent, While We’re Young and Whiplash.
A Second Chance (Susanne Bier): I can’t be the only one relieved that Oscar winner Bier (In A Better World) has come back to drama after the iffy rom-com Love Is All You Need. A cop with junkie parents? Bring it on.
Mommy (Xavier Dolan): Dolan’s pic about a single mother struggling with her emotional wreck of a son lives up to the hype. I’m calling Dolan Canada’s best filmmaker.
Preggoland (Jacob Tierney): It’s not exactly deep, but but Sonja Bennett’s script about a woman who fakes a pregnancy is very sharp, and Bennett’s terrific in the lead role. A talent to watch.
This is My Land (Tamara Erde): Three schools in Palestine and three in Israel teach their versions of history in this timely documentary. Can movies foster peace?
Mommy (Xavier Dolan): Never quite figured out Dolan’s appeal until seeing last year’s Tom at the Farm. Now I’m hooked and Mommy is high on my TIFF list. Also the Midnight Madness screening of Cub (Jonas Govaerts) because it’s about boy scouts on a major survival trek: promises of violence and slip knots.
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy): If there’s one film I can’t wait to see it’s Nightcrawler. The title, the plot, the lead actor – everything sounds intriguing. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the few actors I follow with blind interest; his dramatic career, at least from his momentum post-Enemy and Prisoners, has me sold from the get-go. Though I should say that in my program book I have circled The Judge, The New Girlfriend, The Riot Club, The Equalizer, Wild, Haemoo, Pawn Sacrifice, The Forger, 99 Homes, A Second Chance, Men, Women and Children, Rosewater, The Humbling, The Dead Lands, The Drop, Force Majeure, American Heist, The Last Five Years, The Reach, Before We Go, St. Vincent, Top Five, Preggoland, ’71, Corbo, The Little Death, The Tribe, Backcountry, Charlie’s Country, Breathe, The Yes Men Are Revolting, and Merchants of Doubt. Whew. If I see even a handful of these titles, I’ll walk away from this festival a happy camper.
Roger Waters The Wall (Roger Waters, Sean Evans): As a former rock critic and still obsessive Pink Floyd fan, I’m a sucker for this movie. I’m pretty confident it’s going to rock my world, since I’ve twice seen the live show the film is based on. First time in Toronto, where it premiered during TIFF 2010 (I played hookey from the fest for a night). The second time was later that same year in Ottawa. It’s built around a great concept album, arguably the greatest concept album, and the giant wall built during the performance really is a marvel. But it’s not all just about getting comfortably numb. The film follows Waters as he revisits and discusses the European landmarks associated with the World War II death of his father Eric, who died when Roger was just five months old, and the World War I death of his grandfather, G.H. Waters. With tragedy so much a part of his family history, it’s small wonder that Waters has made the futility of war such a passionate part of his art and music.
Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-Liang): Fourteen shots, 56 minutes, Denis Levant and no dialogue. Sold.
Horse Money (Pedro Costa): For my ongoing Pedro Costa education.
Maidan (Sergei Loznitsa): A rigorous documentary on events in Kiev’s central square last winter, by the director of My Job and In The Fog.
Bird People (Pascale Ferran): I’ve heard polarized reactions to this film about a business man (Josh Charles) and a maid (Anais Demoustier) in a Paris Hilton hotel and what the program book calls “cinema magic.” I want to see it for myself.
L’il Quinquin (Bruno Dumont): The philosophy prof turned filmmaker is one of those directors I really didn’t like, and then, at some point, really did like. This was originally a four-part mini-series, both a murder investigation, and a comedy.
Tu dors Nicole (Stéphane Lafleur): Missed it at Cannes, but heard nothing but good things about this black-and-white coming-of-age story mixed with music. Lafleur (Continental: A Film Without Guns) is also a musician and notable editor (The Dismantling, Monsieur Lazhar).
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Julie Taymor): I have childhood memories of seeing (what I later learned was) the Max Reinhardt/William Dieterle 1935 version of this on TV, so it kind of haunts me. Taymor’s Tempest wasn’t very good and her Spider-Man musical a major mess, but I’m excited by why I’ve read.
Stories of Our Lives (dir. Anonymous): Short films shot in black-and-white look at gay, lesbian bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Kenya. I think the documentary aspect of these illegal identities sounds fascinating, and the whole subject of the gender spectrum and justice is such a fertile subject.
Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang-Soo): Hong’s one of those directors I’m beginning to learn about and appreciate, and his themes of miscommunication and screwing up feel particularly urbane and contemporary in a trans-national way.
Wild (Jean-Marc Vallée): Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby feel like a good pairing, both humane artists with a fondness for flawed protagonists. Plus, my favourite Reese Witherspoon movie was definitely Freeway — so another road movie, 18 years later, seems like a good idea. It may end up on Oscar lists, so I can get my homework done early.
Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve): Løve has been steadily developing a spare, elegant filmmaking style since her debut All is Forgiven, but this looks like the first time she’s worked on a kind of epic canvas. A ’90s period piece about the rise and fall about EDM? Sign me up.
Pasolini (Abel Ferrara): While I might prefer to see Willem Dafoe play Abel Ferrara, Dafoe playing Pasolini in a movie directed by Ferrara still sounds alright.
Goodnight, Mommy (Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala): An Austrian whom I trust just told me that this Vanguard selection is “a pretty good movie.” Sounds promising.
Horse Money (Pedro Costa): The still in the TIFF programme book is one of the most beautifully lit and composed movie images I’ve seen all year. Colossal Youth was a revelation when I saw it back in 2006, and the other Pedro Costa movies I’ve caught up with since have all been very worthwhile. Very excited for this.
Men, Women and Children (Jason Reitman): Because into every life, a little rain must fall.
Spring (Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson): The duo behind the brainy and unjustly slept on meta-horror thriller Resolution – one of the best films of 2012 – get a chance to shine in this year’s Vanguard program with what sounds like an even more cerebral kind of genre effort than their previous outing. These are filmmakers to watch and I’m hoping for great things.
Manglehorn (David Gordon Green): I somewhat consider myself a bit of an apologist for this American filmmaker (don’t tell anyone, but I don’t think Your Highness was THAT terrible). I do like how as of late he’s kind of made his mission to help rehabilitate stalled careers. After giving Nicholas Cage and Matthew McConaughey more momentum, let’s see what he can do with Al Pacino as a heartbroken locksmith. Pacino needs a success, and I’m not quite sure if his other film in this year’s festival – Barry Levinson’s The Humbling – will be able to do it as well as this one might.
St. Vincent (Theodore Melfi): Bill Murray as a misanthrope trying to life coach a 12 year old? That’s the kind of thing that’s worth seeing for curiosity sake, alone. A supporting cast that includes Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd makes me hope it’s as funny as the premise seems.
From What is Before (Lav Diaz): Five hours with Lav Diaz is oddly less than I was expecting to spend with the best filmmaker working out of the Philippines, but everything I hear about this effort suggests it might be one of his best yet. And that says something considering how the prolific artist hasn’t misfired yet.
The Face of an Angel (Michael Winterbottom): Speaking of prolific directors, I will always give Michael Winterbottom the benefit of the doubt. Taking cues from the 2007 Amanda Knox murder case, Winterbottom gets a chance to work with Kate Beckinsale and Daniel Brühl for the first time. His output isn’t always consistent, but I’m always excited to see what Winterbottom does next.
Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg): In a way, Cronenberg is often a better thinker than filmmaker, but what he’s exploring has always intrigued me. So as a defender of post-eXistenZ Cronenberg, I’m excited to see what the director will do with the oh-so tantalizing topic of celebrity.
Two Days, One Night (Dardenne brothers): An obvious choice, but the heart wants what it wants. There’s not only the deeply humanist cinema that the Dardennes are known for to look forward to, but also for what will surely be an amazing performance from Marion Cotillard.
A Midsummer’s Night Dream (Julie Taymor): I don’t think Taymor has ever topped her 1999 debut, Titus, but I still insist on continually checking in on what she’s making.
Princess of France (Matías Piñeiro): Continuing the Shakespeare adaptation theme, Piñeiro will surely not disappoint with the third instalment in his astounding re-envisionings of the Bard’s works.
Girlhood (Céline Sciamma): It would be too easy to say that in the year of Richard Linklater’s (good but hyperbolically overpraised) Boyhood, we need a film about girls coming-of-age. But, then, maybe we do. Plus, Sciamma has already proven she knows how to evocatively capture sexual maturation through a distinctly non-XY lens with Water Lilies and Tomboy.
Pasolini (Abel Ferrara): Mystery. Murder. Willem Dafoe. This will make for fantastic Ferrara.
Le Beau Monde (Julie Lopes Curval): Fresh, energetic, unpredictable; like a film about youth should be.
Coming Home (Zhang Yimou): Yimou and Gong Li in top form not since a decade ago.
Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev): The story of Job given a different twist with fantastic results.
Le Temps Des Aveux (Regis Wargnier): Cambodia under scrutiny this time after Wargnier’s Oscar winning Indocine.
Wild Tales (Damian Szifron): The most fun at a movie this year.
The movie I most looked forward to seeing was The Drop – not because of Tom Hardy or because it’s James Gandolfini’s last movie (for real this time), but because I’d read the book by Dennis Lehane a week earlier at the cottage. It was a page-turner, as they say, albeit with only about 200 of them. I started it at breakfast and finished it by lunch. It sometimes happens that a movie comes out based on a book I’d read years earlier, but seldom does one follow the other so quickly. I’m embargoed from reviewing the thing publicly for a while. But I was startled by how unbelievably faithful the movie was to the book – the dialogue, the events, the scenes. A few minor scenes and one minor character were all that was missing. The answer in the credits made me laugh out loud: “Script by Dennis Lehane.” Later, I’d discover that the book The Drop was actually Lehane’s own novelization of the script he’d written. The script, in turn, was based on his own short story, “Animal Rescue.” From one wordsmith to another: Bravo, Dennis Lehane! The paycheques from one story. That’s how it’s done!
Even at their most (seemingly) conventional, the films of Oliver Assayas are films that no one else could have made. What’s exhausted and what’s elided over the course of The Clouds of Sils Maria, which is probably closest in tone to Summer Hours, give the film a resonance and mystery that only gradually reveals itself. Its study of show business, of actresses of certain age, of the feistiness and reflexive resistance of Juliette Binoche, works as an antidote to the fascinating yet finally vaporous Maps to the Stars and its fixation on the fathomless insecurity deftly generated by Julianne Moore. Clouds is buried in the Special Presentations programme and it’s a tough film to make sound sexy. To synopsize: a middle-aged actress goes to a dead playwright’s remote Alpine home and can’t decide whether she wants to accept a role in a play she made over 20 years ago. But what this film is really about is as wondrous and voluminous as the spectacular cloud formations alluded to in the title. See it.
This is awkward, because if you pick up the current issue of NOW Magazine you’ll find my TIFF 2014 festival picks right there in our special pullout preview thingie. But I’ve found a loophole! Those picks were made in mid-August, before the festival released its full film list. And I’ve already seen a couple of them – and will see at least one more before the festival officially starts on Thursday – so now I have the leeway to construct a different list. So here, in alphabetical order, are the five movies I’m most looking forward to seeing during the festival:
Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve): I’ve admired Hansen-Løve’s work for a while, but I’ve been particularly interested in this look at the rise of electronic dance music in France in the ’90s ever since fellow TFCA member Adam Nayman told me it contained a digression about Showgirls. (Said digression is quoted in Adam’s book.)
The 50-Year Argument (Martin Scorsese): I’ve been enjoying Scorsese’s recent documentary work more than his dramatic features – especially in regards to how they view New York City – so I’m especially excited to see what he and co-director David Tedeschi have to say about the New York Review of Books as it marks a half-century of literary discussion.
Gemma Bovery (Anne Fontaine): I’m looking forward to an Anne Fontaine film for the first time in a very long while, because this is an adaptation of Posy Simmonds’ graphic-novel update of Madame Bovary, with Gemma Arterton – who previously embodied another of Simmonds’ literary riffs in Tamara Drewe – in the title role.
Laggies (Lynn Shelton): Shelton’s circuitous dramedies (Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister, Touchy Feely) have proven increasingly divisive, but I’m still entirely on her wavelength; I like the shruggy, introspective worlds she creates, and she gets great performances from her actors. This time, she’s working with Kiera Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell. Don’t wanna know anything else.
99 Homes (Ramin Bahrani): Yes, Bahrani’s becoming an increasingly wobbly bet; Man Push Cart and Chop Shop are great, and while Goodbye Solo and At Any Price are, well, not. But I expect him to deliver something good with this drama about a young man (Andrew Garfield) trying to keep his mortgage afloat by repossessing other people’s homes at the behest of an unscrupulous realtor (Michael Shannon). At the very least, it’ll be a clash of foreheads for the ages.