Films of 2012: The Best So Far

Here are we at the midpoint of 2012. How have the movies been? Pretty good, I think, although the output of studio films has not been particularly strong so far this year. (Although I’ll admit that The Avengers has probably caught on more than any other film released at this point.) 2012 has been a great year for the indies, though, with plenty of strong films that debuted last year on the festival circuit expanding their audience in theatrical/home release. The year has been especially kind to documentary filmmakers, for many quality docs have made an impact. Perhaps this sense is simply a product of being able to see more films at Hot Docs this year; regardless, there were enough documentaries fighting for spots on my list that I considered giving them their own one. I opted not to, though, since a separate list might seem to diminish their status to the other films, and this didn’t seem fair since my two favourite films so far this year – We Are Wisconsin and The Imposter – are both documentaries. Instead, I offer a list of the fifteen best films so far this year, rather than separate lists of say, ten and five.


Oscar Winner 'The Artist' Comes to DVD/Blu-ray

Now that the dust has settled on the Oscar race of 2012, I can once again appreciate The Artist for all of its black-and-white whimsy. It's crazy how getting caught up in the award-season frenzy can make someone trash talk a movie that they were recommending to all their friends in September. The Artist really is a film that belongs in the collection of any serious film buff. It's about our love for the movies and how the movies shape who we are and how we see the world. Upon reading my first thoughts about The Artist after seeing TIFF, I'm reminded of how much I like the film: 

What has not been expressed enough about The Artist, though, is that the film is not merely an exercise in nostalgia. Much like Woody Allen looks to the past for inspiration in Midnight in Paris, The Artist shows that film buffs should appreciate the classics, but also recognize silent film as a product of a bygone era. As The Artist demonstrates with the turn in George’s career, there is a danger in refusing to adapt to the times. The Artist is a joyful tribute to the movies, but it also hints that as films progressed from talkies to Technicolor, the medium evolved.
And film lived happily ever after.


Last Night

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
(USA, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria
Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Connie Britton, Martin Sheen, Melanie Lynskey, William Peterson. 
Ah, the end of the world is such an intriguing premise… circa 1998. Around the time when millennium was approaching, the movies brought out all sorts of memorable films that tapped into the sense that time was nigh. Armageddon probably remains the most popular, but the best 'end of the world movie' remains Don McKellar’s Last Night. (And no, I don’t mean the Keira Knightley one.) Last Night is also the first apocalypse comedy, or at least it’s the first of the millennium-era doomsday films that was intentionally funny. It’s in a similar vein of laughing in the face of destruction that the Steve Carell/Keira Knightley comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World enters the multiplex just when the Mayans are predicting the end of days. 


Summer Movie Reading List

A still from Deepa Mehta's Midnight's Children
Does this beautiful summer weather make you want to lie down on the beach with a good book? I know I do! Every year I like to read up on all the upcoming film adaptations, and summer usually provides the best time to do so. This year has been a bit of a crash course on reading for me, since I’m finally getting to crack the spines on some books that piled up while I was finishing my thesis. 2012 has already seen a slew of good page-to-screen efforts, too, with films like Cosmopolis, The Hunger Games, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel among the list of movies with tie-in-editions at your local bookstore. If you have kept on top of your reading, however, and are looking for some good summer movie reads, here are 10 books whose pages you should flip through before they get a makeover at your local movie house. There are five that I've read and recommend and five that we can read together:


Happy Birthday Meryl Streep!

Meryl Streep in Postcards From the Edge (Mike Nichols, 1990)

Meryl Streep turns 63 today.

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, dear Meryl,
Happy birthday to you! 

Make a wish!


Nothing But a Good Time

Rock of Ages
(USA, 124 min.)
Dir. Adam Shankman; Writ. Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, Allan Loeb
Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bryan Cranston, Malin Ackerman, Mary J. Blige.
A whopping heat wave is spreading across the land. It’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk (but given the humidity, it might boil faster), so the air-conditioned multiplex is the place to be. Moreover, just when one is sweating for escapism, Rock of Ages brings harmless, groovy, family-friendly fun to the big screen. This new musical by Adam Shankman (Hairspray) is a welcome respite in a season that’s been serving mostly dark meat, and while Rock of Ages might not be the year’s most substantial film– if your favourite musical is Une femme est une femme then this film probably isn’t for you – it provides just the right thing for anyone looking to beat the heat and have a good time. Rock of Ages is simply two hours of toe-tapping, fist-pumping, dance-in-your-seat fun. 


On Prometheus and Viral Videos

(USA, 124 min.)
Dir. Ridley Scott, Writ. Jon Spaiht and Damon Lindelof.
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Guy Pearce.
The name Prometheus comes from Greek mythology. Prometheus, whose name means “forethinker,” played a crucial role in the crafting of the human race. The gist of his story is that it didn’t work out. It is thus an odd but appropriate irony that Prometheus honours its namesake. The god of forethought might have helped this blockbuster, since the elements of advance buzz and anticipation might be the film’s main downfall.


Cronenberg Smells a Rat

(Canada/France, 108 min.)
Written and directed by David Cronenberg
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, Kevin Durand, Samantha Morton, Jay Baruchel.
“A rat became the unit of currency.”
-Zbigniew Herbert.

David Cronenberg smells a rat. Its name is Capitalism. The rat, as the epitaph that opens both the novel and film adaptation of Cosmopolis suggests, is the new unit of currency. Capitalism, aka the rat, thrives on currency, on trade, and commerce. It also breeds rats. It’s a self-fueling machine; however, as rats proved as the unit of trade during the Black Death, all such currency has an inevitable downturn. So, too, does Capitalism. As Cronenberg suggests in beautifully cerebral film Cosmopolis, Capitalism is the vile rat of the new millennium and its day has come.

To Be a Kid Again

Moonrise Kingdom
(USA, 94 min.)
Dir. Wes Anderson, Writ. Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Bob Balaban.
It looks like Wes Anderson has found his niche. Moonrise Kingdom, which might one day be seen as the exemplary Wes Anderson film, makes a strong follow-up production to 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Fox is an animated fairy-tale based on a story by Roald Dahl, aka the master of children’s lit. Moonrise Kingdom, on the other hand, takes Anderson back to his live-action roots, but Moonrise still has the fanciful whimsy that makes Fox such a charmer. An enchanting tale of child’s play, Moonrise Kingdom magically captures the joy and innocence of childhood.


WSFF 2012: Best of the Fest

Withering Love is my pick for 'Best of the Fest'
Another year of WSFF has come to a close. I really enjoyed attending/covering the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival again. I know that I complained a few times that the programming was a bit too dark, but I realize that is not necessarily a bad thing, since the films were generally strong overall and they offered a good snapshot of a collective sense of what’s going on in the world of filmmaking. I did not *quite* make my goal of seeing everything in the festival, but I did manage to see 148 films. Pretty darn good, I think. Although it was hard to limit my list of the best of the fest to ten, it was an obvious choice for my top spot: Withering Love by Samanou Sahlstrøm. Perhaps the only disadvantage to the darkness of the programmes was that nothing could match the beautiful, gratifying bleakness and grittiness of this film. To be fair, Margo Lily and Kali the Little Vampire were also heavy favourites and I found myself recommending them throughout the festival.

Without further ado, here are my picks for the Top Ten films of the 2012 CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival in alphabetical order:

Worldwide Short Film Festival Award Winners

Edmond was a Donkey - winner for Best Canadian Film
The winners were announced today for the 2012 Worldwide Short Film Festival. The awards were handed out at the annual awards picnic at the Canadian Film Centre, with over $65 000 in cash and prizes awarded to filmmakers. The award winners were chosen from the films screened in the Official Selection programmes and they were deliberated by the festival jury, which comprised of director Jean-Marc Vallée (Café de flore), Shane Smith (Director of Public Programming at TIFF Bell Lightbox), director Iain Gardner (whose film The Tannery won Best Animated Short at last year’s WSFF), Susanne Folkesson (acquisition exec. For UR), and Ian Marnarine (2012 Genie winner for Doubles with Slight Pepper).

The winners are:
Bravo!FACT Award for Best Canadian Short:
Edmond was a Donkey (Dir. Franck Dion)
Deluxe Award for Best Live Action Short:
The Factory/A Fábrica (Dir. Aly Muritaba, Brazil)
Best Animated Short:
           The Maker (Dir. Christopher Kezelos, Australia)
Panasonic Award for Best Documentary Short:
           Eighty Eight (Dir. Sebastian Feehan, UK)
            Honourable mention: Remember Me My Ghost (Dir. Ross McDonnell, Ireland)
Deluxe Award for Best Performance in a Live Action Short:
           Miss Ming in My Sweetheart
Kodak Award for Best Cinematography in a Canadian Short:
           Christophe Collette, Gravity of Centre
Best Experimental Short:
Gravity of Centre (Dir. Thibaut Duverneix, Canada)
Honourable mention: Moving Stories (Dir. Nicolas Prevost, Belgium)

As winners for Best Live Action and Best Animated film respectively, The Factory and The Maker are now eligible for Academy Award nominations. Best of luck to them – they’re worthy choices (see my Top Ten soon!) and I think that they have the goods to make it through the next few hurdles. You’ll remember that The Tannery made it quite far last year, so let’s keep some fingers crossed. Edmond was a Donkey is now eligible for a Genie nomination because it won Best Canadian Short, and I’m sure it will bring The NFB the same kind of attention they got last year for Wild Life and Dimanche. The award choices are good overall, although I would have bumped Remember Me My Ghost up for the win and I would have considered other actresses over Miss Ming, but the subject matter and sentimentality of her film make her an easy choice.Out of 91 possible films to choose from, though, I think the jury did well.

The award winners screen tonight at the Bloor Cinema at 7:15.

WSFF Days 4 & 5: "Stranger in a Stanger Land", "Scene not Herd", Master Class with Jean-Marc Vallee

Screening on Days 4 and 5 of the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival was the Official Selection “Stranger in a Strange Land.” A programme that arguably offers the widest appeal in the festival, “Stranger” includes one of the more diverse line-ups. It has a few dark tales to be sure, but they have some release and catharsis. There are some comedies here, too, so the laughs can all come out of hiding.


WSFF: CFC Short Dramatic Films

Since the Worldwide Short Film Festival is an impressive undertaking by the Canadian Film Centre, it’s understandable that the fest has a programme to spotlight the latest works by CFC students. This year’s “CFC Short Dramatic Films” offers four films, running about fifteen minutes each, which give festivalgoers a glimpse at new talents that have arrived on the Canadian film scene.


WSFF Day 3: "Superfans", "All Tomorrow's Parties", "Someone to Watch Over Me"

Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke
Day three of the Worldwide Shorts Film Festival included three screenings of Official Selection programmes: “Superfans,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties”and“Someone to Watch Over Me.” As with the other Official Selections, the films in these three programmes slant heavily towards the scale of dark, edgy, and provocative. I tend to like my films on the dark side, though, so that’s fine; however, since many of the shorts tread similar lines, it’s hard for them to stand out from the pack, especially when films like Withering Love and Margo Lily set the bar for dramatic films of such a tone. There were a few standouts in the day, though: not only for their refreshing tone, but also for the tangible authenticity that set them apart from the rest.


WSFF Day 2: "Family Compact", "Creative Control"

After the great opening night screening of “Award Winnersfrom Around the World” followed by a fun after-party at the C-Lounge, the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival continued its good run of shorts into the second day of the festival. The first screening of the day that I attended was the Official Selection “The Family Compact.” Although “Family” might not be as strong overall as some of the other line-ups in the Official Selection, there are a few standouts among these films that show the darker side of family dynamics.


WSFF: The Night Shift

Here’s something that should satisfy the Midnight Madness crowd in the months leading up to TIFF! The CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival offers one night of gruesome mayhem with “The Night Shift.” Horror fans can enjoy blood spattered fun from dusk ’til dawn in this one night triple-bill. It’s a true evening of horror! 


WSFF: Slap 'N' Tickle

Anti-reproductive Mating Ritual
Lock up the kids and throw away the key! This is one night at the movies that’s strictly 'adults only'. Often one of the more popular attractions at the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival (i.e. buy your ticket soon), “Slap 'N’ Tickle” is the programme that celebrates the sins of the flesh in one quick-n-dirty night of R-rated cinema. This year’s selection at “Slap N’ Tickle” is a good mix of frank portrayals of sexuality along with some of the giggly stuff that's sure to tickle your funny boner. In one night, festivalgoers can enjoy a giant orgy on the big screen with cougar lesbians, popsicles, electric guitars, puppets, and a chauvinist pig from Brazil.

WSFF: Celebrity Shorts

Friend Request Pending
 Advertised as having “more famous faces than an episode of Celebrity Rehab,” “Celebrity Shorts” boasts more A-listers, Oscar-winners, and top-tier talent than any other program in the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival. Thanks to familiar faces and novelty, “Celebrity Shorts” is arguably the most popular program at the fest. It might also be the best program to introduce casual moviegoers to the world of shorts. And just remember the golden rule of short film: if you don’t like something, there is always the comfort of knowing that it will be over in a few minutes. They’re called “shorts” for a reason, after all.


Intimacies: The Cinema of Ingrid Veninger

Ingrid Veninger and daughter Hallie Switzer (left) in i am a good person...

There's a really exciting film event in Ottawa this week, so it's too bad that I've already booked the week to be in Toronto for the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival. Anyways, one of the CFC alum, Ingrid Veninger, will be presenting some of her work at the Canadian Film Institute, including her newest film i am a good person/ i am a bad person. (I missed the film at TIFF and had really wanted to see it, too.) The event should prove enlightening for anyone who wants to see the small, personal type of filmmaking that that has long been the core of Canadian filmmaking. (Hence the title, Intimacies.) A Q&A with Miss Veninger should  interest Canadian film fans because she is arguably the reigning queen of 'do-it-yourself' filmmaking in Canada: it would be great to hear her perspectives on the potential for innovative filmmakers when the Canadian film industry is undergoing so much change.

WSFF: Date Night!

Lunch Date
Of all the programmes I attended at last year’s edition of the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival, the most enjoyable had to be “Date Night.” Screening within Toronto’s CN Tower, “Date Night” makes festivalgoing an event. A night out includes an hour and a half of short films, plus a ride up the tower for dessert at Horizon’s restaurant as well as access to the Look Out and Glass Floor of the Tower. I had the pineapple turnover for dessert last year (recommended), but the trio of crème brûlées looked the most decadent. For a non-Torontonian who had never actually been to the CN Tower, “Date Night” offered a pretty sweet deal. Running at $25 a ticket, the event is a real bargain if one considers that the same ticket for a ride up the CN Tower regularly costs $23.99 sans movie and dessert! Whether you’re on a date, going stag, or simply being a bargain hunter, “Date Night” is sure to be a highlight of WSFF 2012.


Where Did We Go Wrong?

Where Do We Go Now?
(Lebanon/France, 100 min.)
Dir. Nadine Labaki; Writ. Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily, Rodney Al Haddad, Thomas Bidegain.
Starring: Nadine Labaki, Layla Hakim, Yvonne Maalouf, Sasseen Kawzally.
Very few films have the ability to rouse a collective cry of "WTF!". It happened last year when Madonna tried to direct, or more recently when Nicole Kidman performed a golden shower on Zac Efron. As far as festivals go, however, the reigning “huh?” moment remains the day that Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now? came out of nowhere and won the Cadillac People’s Choice Award at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Where Do We Go Now?, a true sleeper hit, beat out acclaimed favourites like The Artist, The Descendants, A Separation, Monsieur Lazhar and more. It’s a testament to the influence that awards have, since a film that was on very few radars became a film to watch. After seeing Where Do We Go Now?, however, TIFF-goers might scratch their heads and ask for a list of names of patrons who gave the film a five on their ballot.

WSFF: Official Selection - Love Hurts

Looking for some shorts to see with that special someone? Well, let the lovebirds do their PDA atop the CN Tower at “Date Night” because these films offer the harder side of love that doesn’t find its way onto Hallmark cards. The honeymoon’s over in the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival Official Selection “Love Hurts,” but not before offering some pretty good films.


WSFF: Official Selection - Who's Your Dada?

The Big Tree
Guy Maddin fans unite! The Worldwide Short Film Festival Official Selection “Who’s Your Dada?” opens with the black and white acid trip The Big Tree (Canada, 5 min.), which clearly owes a debt of inspiration to the eccentric Winnipeg formalist. Directors Andrew Struthers and Pasheabel Hart craft a tale from the lunatic fringe about a lumberjack, a fair maiden, a cast of singing woodland creatures. Don’t expect the “Happy Working Song” from Enchanted: this is Bambi gone bananas. With its clever use of tone and style, The Big Tree proves that The Artist is as original as a bologna sandwich. Bologna sandwiches, though, might provide the kind of manly fuel for the cast of the next film, Men of the Earth (Australia, 10 min.). Directed by Andrew Kavanagh, Men of the Earth shows what’s actually going on in those busy construction sites filled with the men in the bright orange shirts. Men of the Earth boasts some showy and precisely orchestrated direction and cinematography – not to mention some truly impressive Steadicam work – and it offers a nice homage to the men on the road.

WSFF: Official Selection - Iron Ladies (Includes Contest!)

No doubt inspired by the wave of girl power stimulated by Meryl Streep’s recent Oscar winner, the Worldwide Short Film Festival Official Selection “Iron Ladies” offers plenty of femme-centric short films. The series has much to offer in portraying the lives of girls and women (to steal a title from Alice Munro) both in coming-of-age stories and retrospective reflections. “Iron Ladies” opens with What a Young Girl Should Not Know (Canada, 5 min.), which is an experimental film by Emily Pickering of York University. What intertwines live action and animation, with shots of a young girl running playfully as myths of femininity are revealed in stitched title cards. By using these sewn images, Pickering offers an impressive structuralist approach of using images of “girliness” in order to deconstruct ideas of femininity.

"I'm awfully sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you."

Snow White and the Huntsman
(USA, 127 min.)
Dir. Rupert Sanders; Writ. Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini.
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Spruell, Sam Claflin, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost.
The second adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to hit theatres in 2012 (after the Julia Roberts farce Mirror Mirror, which I’ll admit I didn’t see), Snow White and the Huntsman is a darker, more contemporary revamp of the classic story. This is Snow White by way of The Lord of the Rings with a detour through Game of Thrones. The story of the girl who is saved by true love’s kiss benefits from a modern sensibility that teaches girls not to be damsels in distress; it also benefits from the keen eye of a producer who aims for the wide audience of gender neutrality. A screening of Snow White and the Huntsman boasts a bipolar lineup of previews, going from The Katy Perry movie to The Bourne Legacy to Les Misérables to Ice Age 4. This film is clearly a difficult sell when it comes to marketing. It’s more of an action movie than a fairy tale, so SWATH might appeal more to male audiences that may not be keen on convincing their buds to buy a ticket to see Snow White.


WSFF: Opening Gala - 'Award Winners From Around the World'

Trotteur, winner of Quebec's Prix Jutra
The CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival revs things up by offering two free screenings before the festival (ie: “Christmas in June” and “Flick-Nic”), but the festival officially begins with the opening night gala screening of “Award Winners From Around the World.” Every festival benefits from a strong screening on opening night, and this programme gets WSFF 2012 off to a good start. As the title suggests, WSFF starts a new year of shorts by showcasing the films that stood tallest in the world of short film circa 2011. So get your passport ready and prepare to fill it with the golden ink of award-show glory.

Fucking Terrible

Piranha 3DD
(USA, 83 min.)
Dir. John Gulager, Writ. Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan and Joel Soisson
Starring: Danielle Panabakar, Matt Bush, David Koechner, Chris Zylka, David Hasselhoff, Christopher Lloyd.
Forget James Cameron. Forget Martin Scorsese. The key to making a good 3D movie is not a visionary director. As Piranha 3DD shows, the magic ingredient for 3D goodness is a pair of big jiggly boobs. Piranha 3DD takes ‘tits and ass’ entertainment to the third dimension. The only difference between seeing this film and visiting your local titty bar is that one does need to be nineteen to enter. (One also need not leave a tip.) This movie shamelessly exploits the latest cash-cow in cinematic entertainment for the sake of an easy buck: Piranha 3DD is the sorriest excuse for a movie since From Justin to Kelly.