The Best and Worst of TIFF’12
At a film festival, assuming you’re seeing a lot of films, there are obviously going to be films the stand far about and way below the rest. And what do we do when some movies are better than others? We make lists, of course!
Here goes, in no particular order,
Stories We Tell - Sarah Polley’s extremely personal documentary about a family scandal involving her own genetic makeup could have been a navel-gazing exercise of the worst kind. But instead of just telling the story, which is admittedly fairly interesting in its own right, Polley expands her outlook to ideas of memory, perception, relation, and how all of these things affect our lives and our loves. It’s an extraordinarily craft documentary and one of the most audacious films of any kind I’ve seen all year.
The Master - To see a director with such blazing confidence is a treat. Paul Thomas Anderson’s confidence doesn’t display itself in ego, or even self-indulgence. It’s all right there on the screen. He has no care for what is supposed to work or what you’re supposed to do when making a film. He simply shoots them and puts them together exactly as he feels is best, and the result is almost always incredible. The Master is no different. What’s it about? Religion? War? Sexuality? PTSD? Madness? Friendship? Homoeroticism? Power? It’s probably about all these things, and I can’t wait to see it again and suss out the deeper meanings behind each one.
Frances Ha - The problems of twentysomethings lacking direction in life shouldn’t be enjoyable, let alone cinematic. Lena Dunham has proved there’s gold to be mined in the subject, at least on a writing level, with Tiny Furniture and Girls. Leave it to Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach to bring not only the writing chops, but a cinematic eye to the genre. Frances Ha is accomplished, but also freeing and joyful. France is a charming fuck-up, but not just a fuck-up. She’s a person who has all the ability, but lacks the confidence to really drive herself to success. Luckily, she’s fun to be around, and the screenplay is witty and droll enough to be winning even when the subject could be difficult to take. It all culminates in a life-affirming ending, and really, what more could you want?
Berberian Sound Studio - A pure expression of tone and mood through sound and cinematography. The script is actually quite fun and amusing, and the directions the film takes are beautifully bizarre, but the true spectacle here is how director Peter Strickland draws the audience into his world, lulling us in only to flip the lid once we fully arrive. It’s virtuoso tonal filmmaking of the kind we saw last year in Drive and I hope to see more of in the future.
Ghost Graduation - Sometimes you just want to kick back and watch something endlessly funny and entertaining. Ghost Graduation isn’t some watershed film. It’s not even a distinctly remarkable comedy, except for the fact that it’s totally silly and conventional style manages to be extremely funny from beginning to end, and even a little bit heartwarming. All the actors are great. The script is great. The direction does the job. Michael Jackson jokes! I couldn’t get enough of the film, which is high praise.
Sightseers - Ben Wheatley is on my shit list. I didn’t like his movie, Kill List. He blocked me on Twitter. He generally comes off as a prick who makes stuff I don’t want to watch. Well, except for the fact that Sightseers is awesome and Ben Wheatley was hilariously self-depricating and funny presenting the film. It’s an extremely dark comedy. Very violent. Almost always hilarious. It’s a quick breeze through the countryside with two of the most twisted and funny characters to come out of Britain in a while. What more can I say? If you can stomach a comedy about people randomly killing strangers, you’ll probably love this one as much as I did.
EVERYDAY - Observational films like these are often difficult to pull off, but Michael Winterbottom does it wonderfully. EVERYDAY is a sentimental film, but one grounded in realistic emotion and tiny moments of love and beauty. Shot over the course of five years, the element that could have been a gimmick becomes the film’s greatest strength. As we see the family and the children grow, we gain an appreciation for how time affects relationships both positively and negatively depending on the circumstances.
Cloud Atlas - The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer set out to adapt an unadaptable book. In the process they’ve created one of the boldest, messiest and most impressive films of the year. Not everything works, but not everything can. The power of Cloud Atlas is in it’s awe-inspiring cumulative effect. Several sequences of cross-cutting between up to six stories drum up high emotions that each story on its own could not otherwise do. It’s not that each story is less than the sum of them together, but that by stitching them together the film find even deeper meanings within them about the nature of human connection both directly and indirectly through time.
Honourable Mentions (and really, no less great): Blancanieves, Ginger and Rosa, Room 237, The Gatekeepers, The Deflowering of Eva van End, Something in the Air, Rust and Bone.
Special Mention (these are films I saw at pre-screenings before TIFF):
The Sapphires is another one of those insanely fun movies that gets your toes tapping, and it establishes Chris O’Dowd as one of the funniest and most charming actors working today. Read my slightly more extended thoughts at Dork Shelf.
In the House is the new film from François Ozon, and boy what a film it is. Deftly written, directed and acted, the film explores storytelling in about as meta a manner I’ve ever seen, and I loved it. Read more of my thoughts at Dork Shelf.
Seven Psychopaths is a film I got to see quite far in advance. I never wrote about it because I wasn’t allowed. Really, I wasn’t even supposed to talk about it. But when you see a film that’s this good and this obviously one of the best films of the year, it’s hard to shut up. It’s not as dark or deep a film as Martin McDonagh’s debut feature, In Bruges, but it’s easily as clever, funny and well crafted. It’s also got a string of absolutely brilliant performances from the likes of Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits. It comes out soon and it’s not to be missed.
Alright, so that’s the best, now how about the not so best?
At Any Price - I see a lot of films, and I see a lot of bad films, but usually I just shrug them off. Sometimes, though, a film comes along that I just can’t shrug off. I can’t even comprehend it. Not only is the film terrible and incompetent, it’s insulting to my intelligence. This year, that film is At Any Price, the new mainstream attempt from indie director Ramin Bahrani. I could go on and on and on about how much I hate this movie, but it’s probably not healthy.
Motorway - How do you take a movie where there’s pretty much nothing but well-shot, well-choreographed car stunts and chases and turn it into an utterly boring, inert, unaffected pile of crap? Well, I guess you’d need to ask the makers of Motorway. I can only imagine they were purposely creating an experiment to test how little elation they can extract from an audience seeing awesome things happening in front of them. The paradox is astounding, so I guess it’s a success?
Hellbenders - Lazy. Utterly lazy. A semi-decent concept that could’ve at least made for a fun romp, but it’s stopped dead in its tracks by the complete lack of effort made to actually have it be fun and entertaining. Like a halfway funny joke repeated to you a hundred times in the space of 90 minutes, Hellbenders goes from mildly endearing to extremely irritating before it even gets to the midpoint.
So that’s the best and worst films I saw at TIFF. On the next page I’ll cover the odds and ends of performances, surprises, disappointments and other random tidbits I gleaned from TIFF’12.