TIFF 2015: Festival Wrap-up and Best of the Fest

Michael Caine in Youth - My pick for 'Best of the Fest'
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Yet another year at the Toronto International Film Festival is done for the books. 2015 marks my busiest and craziest year yet covering the Festival and, for better out for worse, it was a breathless pace for eleven days of festivalling. In total, I saw 44 features and 11 shorts, did 3 sets of interviews, and enjoyed 3 parties. I'd hoped to have covered even more films prior to the festival, but personal commitments occupied more time than anticipated on Labour Day weekend, so I spent the first few days of the Festival playing catch up while maintaining a commitment to documentaries for POV. In total, I saw two thirds of the slate of thirty docs programmed at the Festival. Coverage still has yet to be posted at POV, but about a dozen films will be covered there in reviews and interviews, while the rest will likely appear in the TIFF report for the next issue.

Sicario. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

The Films

The size of the documentary continent alone, while strong overall and well curated by Thom Powers, illustrates just how much the size of TIFF has swelled to its capacity. TIFF was more daunting than ever with its line-up of 400 films. While that scale guarantees something great playing at any given time slot of the day, it also means that the programme is overwhelming, tricky to navigate, and a complete game of Tetris to manage: missing a scheduled screening almost inevitably crosses a film off a list. It’s hard to remember which film is what—unable to recall the difference between The Clan and The Club, for example, I just saw something else—and the size often makes it difficult to discover hidden gems if one only remembers the films of interest while exploring the schedule.

However, the upside to the massive programme is that TIFF is the festival happens year-round. It’s impossible to see even a quarter of the line-up even if one catches five films a day, never mind squeezing in time to digest the films and write about them. (I’ll be covering more TIFF films, especially Canadian films I missed and titles in the Discovery programme, in the weeks to come.) This year’s Festival boasts an overall strong consistency to the programming, mostly thanks to the doc-heavy slate I had, but TIFF 2015 offers fewer duds than previous editions of the Festival. While only one film received a five-star rating (Youth), only one earned a one-star pan (In Jackson Heights). The number of 4.5 star reviews is higher than ever, and it would be even higher if reviews at POV featured star ratings. Commenting on the size is only really an observation when it comes to the quality and quantity of the films: once one simply accepts that a well-enjoyed Festival covers only a fraction of the line-up, TIFF’s a great and satisfying experience.

HURT: Canada's Alan Zweig wins Platform

The Awards:

Room is this year’s winner of the coveted People’s Choice Award. It’s not especially surprising, since this very moving film offers the immediate emotional pull that inspires to put their tickets in the box. It’s a good film, if somewhat disappointing compared to the novel, but I also have to revisit the film since I caught it a 9:30 in the morning after getting back from a party at 2:30 AM. (There’s probably a reason I’m not as enthusiastic as others are!) The inaugural Platform award, on the other hand, went to Alan Zweig for his doc HURT. (Yay!) I’m pleased to see Zweig win, especially since I finally had a chance to meet him at the Festival this year and we chatted about the film and docs in general. (Check POV soon for the interview.) He’s also been working hard and has had a surprising difficulty breaking out of the Toronto film scene despite the strength of his films, so here’s hoping that the Platform win boost delivers results.

TIFF Awards:

People’s Choice: Room (Runner-up: Angry Indian Goddesses, 2nd Runner-up: Spotlight)
People’s Choice – Documentary: The Winter Fire (Runner-up: This Changes Everything, 2nd Runner-up: Al Purdy Was Here)
People’s Choice – Midnight Madness: Hardcore
Platform Award: HURT
Best Canadian Feature: Closet Monster (so sad I missed this!)
Best Canadian Feature – Special Citation: My Internship in Canada
Best Canadian First Feature: Sleeping Giant
Best Canadian Short: Overpass (Runner-up: Bacon and God’s Wrath)
Best International Short: Maman(s)
FIPRESCI Prize – Special Presentations: Desierto
FIPRESCI Prize – Discovery: Eva Nova (check back soon for a review!)

Al Purdy Was Here. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

The Best of the Fest

Of the 44 TIFF films I saw during the Festival, there’s one easy favourite: Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth is the standout film of the fest. I love everything about Youth. The exceptional performances by Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, and Rachel Weisz, plus Sorrentino’s drippingly gorgeous style make this film one of the most memorable TIFF films ever. It’s easily my favourite film of year so far. Runners-up include the aforementioned Sunset Song, Sicario, and the horror show The Witch. On the non-fiction front, the top doc is Brian D. Johnson’s Al Purdy Was Here. (Check POV soon for a review.) This elegiac documentary is essential viewing, not simply for its portrait of a great Canadian writer, but for its inspired conversation that illustrates the value in engaging peers with the arts.

The Top Ten Films of TIFF 2015 (in alphabetical order):

Al Purdy Was Here
Miss Sharon Jones
The Music of Strangers: Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
Where to Invade Next

Honourable mentions (alphabetical): Dégradé, Demolition, The Heart of a Dog, Hurt, Thru You Princess

Pat’s TIFF awards:

Best of the Fest: Youth
Runner-up: Sicario

Top Doc: Al Purdy Was Here
Runner-up: Where to Invade Next

Best Canadian Film: Al Purdy Was Here
Runner-up: My Internship in Canada

Best First Feature: Al Purdy Was Here, The Witch (tie)

Best Short Film: Bacon and God’s Wrath

Hidden Gem: Thru You Princess
Runner-up: Dégradé

Best Director: Paolo Sorrentino, Youth
Runner-up: Denis Villeneuve, Sicario

Best Lead Performance – Female: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Runner-up: Cate Blanchett, Truth

Best Lead Performance – Male: Michael Caine, Youth
Runner-up: Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Best Supporting Performance – Female: Jane Fonda, Youth
Runner-up: Rachel Weisz, Youth

Best Supporting Performance – Male: Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
Runner-up: Harvey Keitel, Youth

Best Cinematography: Luca Bigazzi, Youth
Best Score: Alexandre Desplat, The Danish Girl
Best Song (cover): You Got the Love,” Youth
Biggest letdown: Ville-Marie     
Most excruciating: In Jackson Heights
Best Freaky Goat: Black Philip, The Witch
Most Confusing Line-up: The simultaneous wait for Youth and Truth at the Elgin
Best Q&A/intro: Julie Delpy and Dany Boon, Lolo

Thanks to all the volunteers, programmers, (friendly) publicists, film fans, and everyone else at the fest who made this another great TIFF!

What are your #TIFF15 highlights?

Please visit www.tiff.net for more information on this year’s festival.
More coverage on this year’s festival can be found here.