|From top: Won't You Be My Neighbor?, A Star is Born, The Favourite, American Animals, Roma, |
Isle of Dogs, Suspira, BlacKkKlansman, and Destroyer are the year's best films
It pretty much sums up 2018 in a nutshell by saying that my two favourite films of the year are the Mr. Rogers documentary about the value of kindness and the movie where Nicole Kidman mercilessly beats the shit out of everyone. What a mood.
|Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Tilda Swinton, Carmina Martínez, Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, |
Rosamund Pike and Nicole Kidman are among 2018's top stars.
2018 might not have been a so-so year for movies, but it’s hard to find a year with a stronger list of acting credits. The films of 2018 excelled in large part by the quality of the performances that fuelled them. I could easily have limited the list of the top lead performances of 2018 to Best Actress contenders and still omitted worthy names if I capped it at 10. Not even Meryl Streep made the lists this year, the acting was so good!
The team behind Embrace of the Serpent is back! After the 2015 arthouse hit and Oscar nominee comes Birds of Passage, an electrifying Colombian cartel drama directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra. The film is Colombia's Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film and recently made the shortlist.
Birds of Passage gives drug wars a tribal spin by setting the drama in the land of the Wayuu clans in northern Colombia. “Since Embrace went well, it was very easy to finance this film,” said Gallego, speaking Gallego, speaking ahead of the film’s Canadian premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. “It let us take the next step in the scale of film we could make. In Colombia, movies are usually pretty small because of financing.”
|Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman star in The Favourite|
Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
On the Basis of Sex
(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Mimi Leder, Writ. Daniel Stiepleman
Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates, Jack Raynor
Every good superhero deserves an origin story. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the cloaked crusader of 2018, gets her turn in the biopic On the Basis of Sex with a spunky performance by Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) charting her journey towards becoming a Supreme Court Justice and the meme-able “The Notorious RBG.” On the Basis of Sex is the second entry in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg cinematic universe of 2018 and while it’s a perfectly decent and timely film, it’s neither great nor essential viewing for anyone who saw Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s documentary RBG. The doc is not cinematic masterpiece, either, so an RBG reboot seems inevitable.
|Meditation Park, Anthropocene, Mary Goes Round, Kingsway, The Fall of the American Empire and Cardinals are some of 2018's best Canadian films|
It is harder and harder to see a Canadian film in a Canadian theatre these days. And I hate to say it, but many of the Canadian movies that actually find space on big screens are not good. However, there are some real gems in between the schlocky horror flicks, lo-fi comedies about thirtysomething males, and cheap Canadian movies four-walling a theatre simply to meet their funding requirements.
(USA, 110 min.)
Written and directed by Brady Corbet
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Raffey Cassidy, Jennifer Ehle, Stacy Martin, Willem Dafoe
1999. A year of pop music, tragedy, and violence.
(USA, 132 min.)
Written and directed by Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Alison Pill, Tyler Perry, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Lily Rabe
"Out, vile jelly! Where is thy lustre now?"
Dick Cheney is a villain worthy of Shakespeare. The Bard deftly blended tragedy and comedy to comment upon the rulers of today and while Adam McKay might not be William Shakespeare, he certainly knows how to craft a bad guy. After skewering Wall Street, the man behind The Big Short takes aim on the White House and sends audiences back to the dark ages of the now- second worst administration in the history of the USA. George “Dubya” Bush is too easy a target though, and has already been picked apart by movies like the incendiary Fahrenheit 9/11 and the Bush-league Oliver Stone biopic W. Instead, McKay sets his sights on the junior Bush’s wingman, Vice President Dick Cheney, played in a deadpan performance by Christian Bale in a furiously funny film. Cheney is a man of many vices and McKay’s flick portrays him as a crafty, Machiavellian politician who was really pulling the strings throughout Bush’s reign of terror. Vice is an all too relevant satire when yet another idiot is running the show in 2018.
Mary Poppins Returns
(USA, 130 min.)
Dir. Rob Marshall, Writ. David Magee
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Dick Van Dyke
If there’s one silver lining to be found in Donald Trump’s administration, or the likes of Doug Ford and whatever other terrible people happen to be in power now, it’s that they make a film critic’s job too easy. One could have easily made a drinking game out of the number of films deemed balm for divisive times in 2018. Many films received praise for their relevance, while others got a passing grade for showing up at the right time. However, the holidays are here and everyone needs some Christmas cheer. If there’s a film to warm the heart and make the yuletide gay, it’s Mary Poppins Returns. The film is a welcome homecoming for the magical nanny who touched generations of children. Mary Poppins Returns is the grand finale to the “movie we need right now” festival of 2018!
Mary Queen of Scots
(UK, 124 min.)
Dir. Josie Rourke, Writ. Beau Willamon
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Joe Alwyn, Adrian Lester, Guy Pearce, Adam Bond, Jack Lowden
400 years before Nancy and Tonya, there was the rivalry of Mary and Elizabeth. One of history’s biggest grudge matches receives a hot-blooded and contemporary adaptation in Mary Queen of Scots. The film pulses with regal tension as Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie face off as the royal rivals in two powerhouse performances.
Ben is Back
(USA, 103 min.)
Written and directed by Peter Hedges
Starring: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton
Ben is Back might be the most depressing Christmas movie since It’s a Wonderful Life. But if there is a Jimmy Stewart in Hollywood today, his spirit endures in Julia Roberts’ infectious smile. Roberts is heartbreakingly good in Ben is Back playing Holly Burns, the devoted mother fighting to save her family with the same indefatigable goodwill that makes audiences cheer for George Bailey year after year. She gives one of her best and most surprising performances opposite Lucas Hedges (Boy Erased) in this engaging, emotionally draining, and ultimately rewarding portrait of addiction’s ability to tear families apart.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
(USA, 117 min.)
Dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman; Writ. Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake B. Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Kathryn Hahn, Kimiko Glenn, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage
A few years ago, two-time Academy Award winner Sally Field described her experience playing Aunt May in one of the Spider-Man reboots, saying, “You can’t put ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag.” Unfortunately, that’s what far too many of these superhero movies try to do. Between putting lipstick on a pig and cramming poop into a sack, comic book movies often take themselves too seriously and forget why people are drawn to superheroes and crazy villains. Comics are great entertainment. They’re escapism and opportunities for anyone to dive behind the mask of a hero and have some fun while saving the world—and there’s nothing wrong with that.
|Alfonso Cuarón's Roma was named the year's best film by the Toronto Film Critics Association|
Photo by Carlos Somonto / Netflix
(Canada, 84 min.)
Dir. Jeremy LaLonde, Writ. Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall
Starring: Aaron Abrams, Tommie-Amber Pirie, Kristian Bruun, James Cade, Christine Horne
People say Canadians are nice, but I say fuck that nonsense.
We’re not “nice.” We’re just nicer than people from the USA are, and they aren’t very nice to begin with. Like, really—have you ever been to Toronto? It’s colder than an outhouse in Whitehorse!
(UK/Ireland/USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, Writ. Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn
|Rachel Wesiz and Olivia Colman in The Favourite|
Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos / Fox Searchlight Pictures
The Favourite is a saucy delight. Buoyed by a trio of courtly wenches in award-calibre performances, this spirited portrait of the affairs of Queen Anne in 1700ish Britain is a darkly funny romp. It’s the cleverest take on All About Eve since Working Girl as social climbing strumpet Abigail (Emma Stone) seeks to dethrone her cousin, Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Malborough (Rachel Weisz) as the Queen’s BFF. Both ladies cozy up to Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and assure her that she’s the bee’s knees when all evidence points to the contrary. These mean girls have cruel intentions.
|A Star is Born- if there was ever a "Globes movie", this is it!|
I completely forgot that the Golden Globe nominations come out this week so here’s a quick crack at them along with updated Oscar predictions. I’ve had a chance to see nearly all the contenders so far with Vice, Mary Poppins Returns, and Ben is Back rounding out screenings before the end of the week and the upcoming TFCA vote, so I’ve been a bit busy…stay tuned for reviews of The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots, On the Basis of Sex, Stan & Ollie, Vox Lux and more!
|Patrick J. Adams and Troian Bellisario star in Akash Sherman's Clara|
Courtesy D Films
The Drawer Boy
(Canada, 98 min.)
Dir. Arturo Pérez Torres, Aviva Armour-Ostroff; Writ. Michael Healey, Arturo Pérez Torres
Starring: Richard Clarkin, Stuart Hughes, Jakob Ehman
The Drawer Boy is a contemporary classic of Canadian theatre and the film adaptation could enjoy similar esteem. This stage-to-screen take on Michael Healey’s acclaimed play is a refreshingly vibrant drama. Some audiences might find the adaptation a bit too talky and a bit too stagey, but stick with it. The Drawer Boy is a sparse, small-scale affair smartly told that takes the bare essences of good filmmaking—a good story, strong actors, and a sense of cinematic space—and bundles them together like a sturdy bale of wheat. It’s nice to have a Canadian film to get excited about again.
At Eternity’s Gate
(USA/France/Switzerland, 110 min.)
Dir. Julian Schnabel, Writ. Jean-Claude Carrière, Louise Kugelberg, Julian Schnabel
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Emmanuelle Seigner, Mads Mikkelsen
Julian Schnabel is a master of visual poetry. The Oscar-nominated director of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly returns with another original and impeccably realized dive into the artistic process. Schnabel, a painter as well as a filmmaker, daubs a canvas of dreams and madness while bringing to the screen the brilliant yet troubled mind of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, played masterfully by Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project). The film is not a cradle to grave biography of the artist who is as famous for his Starry Night painting as he is for cutting off his ear. Instead, it’s an impressionistic interpretation of a genius both fuelled and plagued by demons. At Eternity’s Gate feels the evocative portrait Van Gogh would have wanted.
A Private War
(USA/UK, 110 min.)
Dir. Matthew Heineman, Writ. Arash Amel
Starring: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, Stanley Tucci
There is a war going on. It doesn’t have bullets. It doesn’t have bombs. It doesn’t have drones. Instead, this war is one of words, access, and angles.
(Canada, 78 min.)
Written and directed by Karl R. Hearne
Starring: Hugh Thompson, Lola Flanery, John MacLaren
(Canada, 78 min.)
Written and directed by Karl R. Hearne
Starring: Hugh Thompson, Lola Flanery, John MacLaren
I Am Not a Witch
(UK/France, 92 min.)
Written and directed by Rungano Nyoni
Starring: Margaret Mulubwa, Henry Phir,
The inciting event of I am not a Witch could easily be a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A woman fetches a bucket of water and drops it when she encounters a young girl on the path home. Her explanation for being startled? The little kid’s a witch.
(USA, 114 min.)
Written and directed by Joel Edgerton
Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Xavier Dolan, Joe Alwyn, Troye Sivan
There’s a moment in Boy Erased in which Nicole Kidman brought the house down at the Princess of Wales Theatre when the film premiered at TIFF earlier this fall. Kidman’s character Nancy rescues her son, Jared (Lucas Hedges), from a gay conversion therapy camp that she’d enlisted him in with hopes to straighten him out. As they escape, the camp’s leader and self-certified “therapist” (Joel Edgerton) comes running after them, convincing them to stop and correct their sins. Nancy, a devout Baptist, realizes that she can reconcile her faith with her love for her son. Nancy turns protectively and fiercely admonishes her foe with the sassiest “Shame on you!” decreed in cinema. The line comes straight from the heart as love gives Nancy a reality check and Boy Erased provides a pure, heart-breaking portrait of the bond between parents and their children.
(Bulgaria, 120 min.)
Written and directed by Ilian Djevelekov
Starring: Velislav Pavlov, Teodora Duhovnikova, Vesela Babinova, Anastassia Liutova, Mihail Mutafov
How many cameras does a person walk by every day? The fear of Big Brother watching over us is a reality that people take for granted. Government spying might be one thing, since they can only monitor so many people, but the threat of surveillance is everywhere, as are the inherent elements of power and control that come with the information gleaned by the voyeur. Omnipresent, the opening night film of Toronto’s European Union Film Festival and Bulgaria’s official entry in this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film, explores the destructive role of the panopticon as one man takes the all-seeing eye of the camera too far. It’s a chilling morality play on the power of media.
(South Korea, 148 min.)
Dir. Lee Chang-dong, Writ. Lee Chang-dong, Jungmi Oh
Starring: Ah-In Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jeon
Burning is a slow and difficult film. South Korea's Oscar bid is lethargic even by the standard with which one approaches a film by auteur Lee Chang-dong (Secret Sunshine, Poetry). Lee has mastered the art of slow cinema, rarely making a movie that clocks in under two hours and twenty minutes, so what Burning lacks in immediate payoff it enjoys in long-term gain. See it in a theatre and leave your phone behind—or, if watching Burning at home, turn the phone off, remove the battery, and leave both parts in different rooms. This is the kind of movie from which one can easily be distracted, since the action happens almost imperceptibly in Lee’s carefully measured frames. Miss not a beat, lest ye be lost forever. The film is a slow burn with a sting that creeps up a day later.
(Italy/USA, 152 min.)
Dir. Luca Guadagnino, Writ. David Kajganich
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloë Moretz, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Jessica Harper
“It’s time to break the noses of all beautiful things,” declares Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) to Susie (Dakota Johnson) during a devilish dance in Suspiria. There are many broken bones and bloodied beauties in Luca Guadagnino’s gorgeously macabre Suspiria, and many a horror fan is bound to be tickled pink by the cries of pain and pleasure that echo throughout the film. One major difference between this Suspiria and the 1977 Dario Argento original is the sheer amount of dancing as sequences punctuate the film with violent, staccato rhythms. Both films take place in a dance studio/coven in divided Berlin, but the dancing in the classic is almost incidental whereas the stylish moves of the new film are essential to the spell it casts. This wild dance party is even better than the original Suspiria.
(USA, 84 min.)
Written and directed by Jonah Hill
Starring: Sunny Suljic, Na-Kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Gio Galicia, Ryder McLaughlin, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterston
Bradley Cooper isn’t the only actor who can direct! Superbad and Wolf of Wall Street star Jonah Hill makes a respectable feature debut as a director with Mid90s. While Mid90s isn’t the out of the park grand slam of Cooper’s A Star is Born, complete with fireworks and somersaulting cheerleaders, Hill’s flick bats a solid triple and lands a hot dog on the side. Hill crafts a goofy, tough, and surprisingly sweet coming of age story in Mid90s.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
(USA, 106 min.)
Dir. Marielle Heller, Writ. Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant
Lee Israel is pathetic. When we meet the writer circa 1991, she’s a 51-year-old has been, clinging to her fifteen minutes of fame while churning out entry level work during the graveyard shift. Israel achieved some measure of repute thanks to her literary biographies on Tallulah Bankhead, Estée Lauder, and reporter/game show panelist Dorothy Kilgallen, the latter of which was a New York Times bestseller. Israel thinks this modest success entitles her to more out of life, but as a bitterly depressed and resentful alcoholic, she squanders her talent far more than she uses it.
Room for Rent
(Canada, 89 min.)
Written and directed by Matthew Atkinson
Starring: Mark Little, Brett Gelman, Mark McKinney, Carla Gallo, Stephnie Weir
Living with random roommates is an experience that everyone should face at least once, if only to appreciate how normal and kind one’s friends and family are. For example, when I moved to Toronto, I answered a Craig’s List ad for a house that was led by someone who seemed perfectly chill and relatable. She turned out to be a batshit crazy hoarder who cleaned the shower for an hour every week (usually at midnight) and ran an amateur massage studio out of our messy living room—an expected everybody to vamoosh when her clients arrived. Not the most pleasant year, but it gave some perspective.
|Clockwise: Roma, The Favourite, BlacKkKlansman, A Star is Born, First Man, If Beale Street Could Talk|
(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Felix van Groeningen, Writ. Luke Davies, Felix van Groeningen
Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Kaitlyn Dever
Steve Carell wants an Oscar. Timothée Chalamet deserves one.
(Canada, 89 min.)
Dir. Michael Peterson, Writ. Michael Peterson, Kevin Cockle
Starring: Luca Villacis, Michael Ironside, Munro Chambers, Kathleen Munroe, Chenier Mundal
The appeal of children generally eludes me, but the little hellions seem to be awfully good tools to have whilst trapped in a creepy home with a maniac. Video games and movies have taught kids to be resourceful, and as the new horror-comedy Knuckleball shows, there’s at least one practical benefit to having children. Kids slay the darnedest things—at least they’re good for something.
(USA, 142 min.)
Dir. Damien Chazelle, Writ. Josh Singer
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Olivia Hamilton
Neil Armstrong might have been the first man to walk on the moon, but we’ll all feel like we’ve been there after seeing First Man. La La Land director Damien Chazelle takes audiences to the moon with such heart-pounding skill that one could swear he shot the film in space. This technically accomplished achievement chronicles the landmark Space Race that culminated with the Apollo 11 landing on the moon with Armstrong (played by La La Land leading man Ryan Gosling) taking a major leap for all of humanity.
(Sweden/UK/USA, 100 min.)
Dir. Björn Runge, Writ. Jane Anderson
Starring: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Irons, Annie Stark, Harry Lloyd
It’s hard to imagine a better showcase for Glenn Close’s talents than The Big Chill, Fatal Attraction, The World According to Garp, Dangerous Liaisons, or Damages, but The Wife might be the finest example of her strength as an actress. That might be the case because The Big Chill, Fatal Attraction, The World According to Garp, Dangerous Liaisons, or Damages are all great pieces of film and television. The Wife, unfortunately, is not a good film, but Glenn Close is great in it. She’s reason alone to see the film as she elevates every scene in which she appears with subdued, repressed rage. Close’s performance in The Wife is a masterclass in subtle, nuanced acting.
Chien de garde (Family First)
(Canada, 87 min.)
Written and directed by Sophie Dupuis
Starring: Jean-Simon Leduc, Théodore Pellerin, Maude Guérin, Paul Ahmarani
Telefilm Canada threw us all for a loop Wednesday when they announced, without the usual warning or fanfare, the completely random selection of Sophie Dupuis’ Chien de garde as our official submission in the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s a random choice because Chien de garde marks the first time in a very long while that the pan-Canadian committee has put forward a film that had virtually no boost, platform, or exposure outside of Quebec. The film, which opened theatrically in La Belle Province in March and was dumped unceremoniously onto VOD for the rest of Canada sometime between then and now, actually drew some stellar reviews and garnered three of Quebec’s Iris Awards in the categories of Best Actress (Maude Guérin), Best Film Editing, and Best Breakthrough Performer. (The film has a full-throttle performance by Théodore Pellerin).
|Destroyer, Blind Spot, Birds of Passage, A Star is Born, Roma, and Hotel Mumbai were some of TIFF's best|
That’s a wrap for another year at the Toronto International Film Festival! TIFF had its best and arguably most exhausting year yet in 2018. There were some great movies and moments of TIFF, but the highlight might have been the Saturday of the first weekend when I came home and stress ate an entire bag of Kettle Chips with a bottle of prosecco. After spending nearly the entire day on email coordinating or conducting interviews that consumed the first few days of TIFF, it was a great way to unwind after missing several movies. Check out more coverage at POV and stay tuned to BeatRoute for the work fuelled by greasy chips and bubbly.
|Sarah Gadon in Paseo|
Courtesy of TIFF
Director Matthew Hannam describes having an a-ha moment one day in Barcelona. While other tourists were taking photos and selfies, a picture formed in his mind. “The fucked up part is that most people aren't there, they're just trying to get enough pictures to prove that they were,” says Hannam. “At a certain point you don't even know where you are.”
(Netherland/Belgium, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Esther Rots
Starring: Circé Lethem, Lien Wildemeersch (Miller, Lee), Martijn van der Veen (Simon)
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (World Premiere)
Audiences seeking a healthy dose of WTF needn’t look any further than Retrospekt. This Dutch oddity is a true original. One might classify it as the first arthouse domestic violence musical, but that doesn’t really fit the bill since nobody belts a tune onscreen in Retrospekt even though the soundtrack is layered with peculiar original songs that twist the story in myriad ways. It might sound disrespectful; it might sound stupid; it might sound awful, yet Retrospekt somehow works thanks to the fearless audacity with which writer/director Esther Rots pulls it off.
The Fall of the American Empire (La chute de l'empire américain)
Written and directed by Denys Arcand
Starring: Aléxandre Landry, Maripier Morin, Rémy Girard, Louis Morissette, Maxim Roy, Pierre Curzi, Vincent Leclerc
Programme: Special Presentations (Toronto Premiere)
Denys Arcand is back with a vengeance! The Quebecois master returns with The Fall of the American Empire, a Robin Hood fable for the Trump era that resonates strongly with the anxieties, tensions, and unrest of the time. It's a perceptive punch in the face to capitalism and a damning satire of these days of darkness.
Angel (Un ange)
(Belgium/Netherlands/Senegal, 105 min.)
Written and directed by Koen Mortier
Starring: Vincent Rottiers, Fatou N’Diaye
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (International Premiere)
Twelve years ago, Fatou N’Diaye gave a heartbreaking performance as Gentille, a young Rwandan waitress at the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Robert Favreau’s drama A Sunday in Kigali. Audiences who saw this touching story of the 1994 Rwanda genocide at TIFF 2006 (or in release later) will recall N’Diaye’s touching innocence as the better half of A Sunday in Kigali’s love story about a Hutu waitress and a Canadian journalist who fell in love in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cut to TIFF’18 and N’Diaye is the star attraction of another ill-fated love story, and she steals the film as Fae, a doe-eyed prostitute in Senegal who strikes the fancy of a Belgian cyclist named Thierry (Vincent Rottiers). Viewers who slept on her performance in A Sunday in Kigali won’t want to close their eyes this time around.
(France, 96 minutes - about half of which are just insufferable)
Dir. Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile
Programme: Midnight Madness (North American premiere)
Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has well earned his status as a love-him-or-hate-him director. He wears his notoriety like a badge of honour after 2002’s Irréversible polarized cinephiles with its real-time rape scene, 2009’s Enter the Void had folks laughing in the aisles with a grand finale that imagined conception seen from the inside of a character’s cervix, and 2015’s 3D sexapalooza Love shot a bit too much pleasure in audiences’ faces. Noé’s latest romp Climax is arguably his best film—if only because it isn’t complete insufferable trash. I actually loved nearly 30 minutes of it, which is more than I can say for the rest of Noé's filmography combined.
(Canada/USA, 104 min.)
Written and directed by Zach Lipovsky, Adam Stern
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Lexy Kolker, Bruce Dern
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
|Courtesy of TIFF|
Room meets X-Men in the tense sci-fi family drama Freaks. This feature collaboration from Vancouver-born directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein is a smart exercise in small-scale science fiction. Freaks takes a simple conceit, namely that an unnamed father (Emile Hirsch) shelters his daughter, Chloe (Lexy Kolker), from the outside world. Chloe has never left their house. Her dad knows that she is unwelcome in the world because, like him, Chloe has unique powers. The outside world is not a friendly place—and it’s uncomfortably familiar to the world we live in today with its hostility to outsiders and fear of difference.
(Norway/Sweden, 86 min.)
Written and directed by Camilla Strøm Henriksen
Starring: Yiva Thedia Bjørkaas, Maria Bonnevie, Sverrir Gudnason, Casper Falck-Løvås
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
A phoenix is a symbol of renewal and resilience. The mythical bird rises from ashes to be born again, and its flame-lit image suggests light after darkness. There is little to lightness to be found in Camilla Strøm Henriksen’s feature directorial debut Phoenix, though, but after nearly an hour and a half of sombre melancholy, one can only leave the film with a sense of hope for its young protagonist.
Blind Spot (Blindsone)
(Norway, 98 min.)
Written and directed by Tuva Novotny
Starring: Pia Tjelta, Nora Mathea Øien, Oddgeir Thune, Anders Baasmo Christiansen
Programme: Discovery (International Premiere)
The power of the long take finds one of its best examples in Blind Spot. This outstanding Norwegian drama from actor-turned-director Tuva Novotny gives Birdman and Victoria a run for their money as the one-take wonder. A single 98-minute unbroken shot provides one of the most emotionally absorbing case studies in family dynamics and mental illness one could see at the festival this year. (TIFF’s programme guide incorrectly notes that Blind Spot is a series of long takes. The film doesn’t even credit an editor.) Even more impressive is the fact that Blind Spot marks Novotny’s first feature as a director, so the sheer difficulty of orchestrating all this camerawork and human drama into one perfect shot only makes the coup more noteworthy. Blind Spot is an outstanding technical and artistic achievement
Float Like a Butterfly
(Ireland, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Carmel Winters
Starring: Hazel Doupe, Dara Devaney, Johnny Collins, Hilda Foy
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
TIFF throws a crowd-pleasing punch in its line-up of girl power. Audiences willing to overlook the many boxing movie clichés in Float Like a Butterfly may find an empowering tale of a young girl’s fight for freedom. Whatever its shortcomings, Float Like a Butterfly has a lot to admire in the representational aspects, which inevitably tipped the crowd in its favour.
(India, 112 min.)
Written and directed by Nandita Das
Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rasika Dugal, Tahir Raj Bhasin
Programme: Special Presentations (North American Premiere)
Great voices in literature often reveal truths the public doesn’t want to hear. Particularly in times of social change and political uncertainty, the pen is the mightiest tool to give voice to the disenfranchised. Writer/director Nandita Das provides a biographical rendering of Pakistani author Saadat Hasan Manto with a stark and sobering eye for the late writer’s significance in capturing the social inequities of Partition-era India and Pakistan. Manto is a thoughtful biopic that honours the writer’s courage and his ability to capture the cultural pulse with a voice ahead of its time.
|The Stone Speakers|
Courtesy Time Lapse Pictures
(Canada, 84 min.)
Dir. Aidan Shipley, Grayson Moore; Writ. Grayson Moore
Starring: Sheila McCarthy, Noah Reid, Katie Boland, Grace Glowicki, Peter MacNeill, Peter Spence
Sheila McCarthy gives the performance of her career in Cardinals. Is this really the same woman who was so effervescent and full of life in I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing? If McCarthy made audiences soar with Mermaids, she lets them feel the sharp pain of hitting rock bottom in Cardinals. Playing Valerie Walker, a suburban mother who returns home from prison after serving time for killing her neighbour in an alleged drunk driving incident, her subdued performance is a master class in restraint. I am in awe of her intensity and focus.
(Australia, 115 min.)
Dir. Simon Baker, Writ. Gerard Lee, Simon Baker, Tim Winton
Starring: Samson Coulter, Ben Spence, Simon Baker, Elizabeth Debicki, Richard Roxburgh
Adolescence feels a lot like being underwater. It has a certain murkiness and it takes a lot of feeling one’s way around to find direction. Add the feeling that time works against you while struggling to navigate this uncharted territory: there’s only so long before going up for air. This sense of suffocation, of life closing in on you the deeper you get, becomes more turbulent as the waves crash down and send you tumbling.
Never Saw It Coming
(Canada, 83 min.)
Dir. Gail Harvey, Writ. Linwood Barclay
Starring: Emily Hampshire, Eric Roberts, Tamara Podemski, Shaun Benson, Katie Boland, Nick Serino
Keisha Ceylon is a small town charlatan. She moonlights as a psychic, helping families of the small snowy town of Sorrow Bay find their missing loved ones, but only after she gets their cash. Five grand nets a few easily plucked clues and everyone generally leaves the transaction happy.
(USA, 95 min.)
Dir. Peter Berg; Writ. Lea Carpenter, Graham Roland (story)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, John Malkovich, Iwo Uwais, Rhonda Rousey, Peter Berg
Mile 22 opens with a bang and doesn’t let up. Mark Wahlberg and company deliver high octane, heavy calibre entertainment playing a group of covert operatives on a dangerous mission to transport and protect a key witness. Mile 22 is a slick, swift, and energetic thrill ride. It is also relentlessly, savagely, and exhaustingly violent. The flick’s going to please its target audience, but I just don’t have the stomach for this kind of movie anymore.