The Toronto International Film Festival of 2012 is officially over and while we had a great time and saw a lot of different movies, it was definitely a far more bittersweet experience than past years, maybe because we didn’t feel there was an Up in the Air or No Country for Old Men or Slumdog Millionaire or 127 Hours in the bunch – a movie that’s guaranteed to be in our Top 10 for the year. Don’t get us wrong. There were lots of really good movies, but something with that sort of staying power that we can watch it over and over again (as we have with those movies?), it’s hard to tell, but we’ll see.
This was also the sad year that we finally got over Toronto darling Rachel McAdams. Before this year’s TIFF, she was one of our favorite actresses and we loved watching everything she did on screen but between her roles in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder and Brian De Palma’s Passion, we just don’t think we can love her as much as we used to.
Before we get to our “Best of the Fest” though here are some thoughts on two movies we saw late in the fest.
We were hoping to see Joss Whedon’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing (Lionsgate) earlier in the festival, but there was something to say about seeing it at a public screening at Toronto’s Elgin Theater, clearly filled with “Firefly” and Avengers fans. We’re convinced it was the best (and possibly only) version of the play that many of them had ever seen, but having seen three previous stage productions and another movie by fellow Marvel movie director Kenneth Branagh, Whedon’s decision to do a black-and-white modern-dress production at his home just left us wanting. It’s clear that Whedon’s greatest strength is his writing and working directly with Shakespeare’s text, unaltered, he’s left at the mercy of his cast and their ham-handed acting. We strongly believe that the worth of an actor is often proven by whether or not they can deliver the Bard’s words with any sort of understanding, but this one is made up of long-time Whedon friends, mostly pretty Los Angeles TV actors who have appeared in other shows and movies he’s produced. When Whedon’s cast can’t cut the muster, they instead turn to sight gags and pratfalls in order to get easy laughs. Despite having seen the play, it took me some time to figure out who everyone was and having never watched a single episode of “Angel” or “Dollhouse,” I didn’t understand the audience’s love for Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, who are fair to middling as Beatrice and Benedick, the hesitant lovers at the story’s core. Similarly, Fran Kranz, who was so great in The Cabin in the Woods, is grossly miscast as Claudio as are some of the others. Clark Gregg proves to be the strongest actor in the cast, both in terms of drama and comedy, while Nathan Fillion comes along midway through to step things up with the movie’s funniest scenes and bits. Otherwise, it’s basically a lot of goofing around while trying to be taken seriously and while longtime Whedon fans will probably adore it, personally we found it to be wait for it much ado about nothing.
It’s been a couple of years since Ryuhei Kitamura made his last American movie Midnight Meat Train and he brought his latest movie No One Lives to “Midnight Madness” this year. After a typical horror movie opening of a pretty semi-clad young thing running through the woods for her life, we’re introduced to Luke Evans and a woman, seemingly his wife, as they’re driving through the remote woods when they encounter a group of thieves who we have already seen kill a family who came upon them during a crime. They capture the couple and that’s about where anything in this movie goes where you might be expecting. Without spoiling it, we’re pretty sure we’ve never seen Luke Evans in a role like this, but it suffers from the same problem as last year’s “Who’s Next?” in that you never who to root for and it’s quite grim and extremely gory, almost too much at times. Kitamura has a great cast including Lee Teregesn and it’s a really slick well-directed gorefest that should have enough kills to appease the most avid horror buff, but the script isn’t that good and the acting is spotty at times. The overall plot and where a kidnapped heiress played by Adelaide Clemens–that young woman at the opening–fits into it is a real head-scratcher as well.
We watched one more movie up at TIFF, and surprise, surprise, our very last movie seen actually] made it into our annual “Best of the Fest”. So let’s get to it!
TIFF ’12 Best of the Fest!
We’re going to disqualify movies like James Ponsoldt’s Smashed, Amy Berg’s doc West of Memphis and Ben Lewin’s The Sessions, since they played at previous festivals and were already listed in our “Best of Fest” after Sundance. We also saw Dredd 3D at Comic-Con, so it would be cheating to include that, and sadly, we didn’t get a chance to see the People’s Choice award-winning doc Artifact, about the problems Jared Leto and his band 30 Seconds to Mars had with their record label, in time to include it.
Biggest disappointment of TIFF was not having a chance to see Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, which try as hard as we did, we just couldn’t fit it in. Now that Focus Features has picked it up, who knows when we’ll have a chance to see it?
It’s a bit worrisome that almost all the movies that made our list came to TIFF with distribution in place except for one, and we actually had a chance to see at least four of the movies before we even arrived in Toronto. It’s hard to say what that means for this year’s TIFF in terms of the quality of movies over quantity–because there sure was a lot–but at least we found 12 movies we can praise unequivocally.
1. The Central Park Five (Sundance Selects) Maybe it was coincidence, maybe it was fate, but for the second festival in a row, our favorite movie and the one we deemed “Best of Fest” is a documentary about teenagers who were improperly accused of a crime and jailed for years, forcing one to question the justice system and how lives are affected by careless mistakes. This one is by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who teams with his daughter Sarah and David McMahon to tackle the case of five teens who were arrested and jailed for the brutal beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park in 1989. Via interviews with all the five accused (all in their 30s now), the film recreates the night of the events, their conviction and the years that followed before someone else came forth and admitted to having committed the crime in 2002. Having been in New York City only a couple of years when this horrendous event happened, I remember it quite vividly, since the story was everywhere though everything I knew about it came from the media who seriously skewed the story. By allowing the accused to speak for themselves as well as getting other experts to speak such as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, the Burns and McMahon create a powerful portrait of the times and a moving doc that finally tells the definitive story of what Koch called the “crime of the century.”
2. The Impossible (Summit) – Juan A. Bayona’s debut, the Spanish horror film The Orphanage, played at TIFF five years ago, that one having the name of Guillermo del Toro to help generate interest, but Bayona goes it alone with much of the same crew from his debut for a very different type of disaster film. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play the parents of three boys who are spending the Christmas holidays at a resort in Thailand when the tsunami of 2004 hits, tearing the family apart. The film has a scale and a filmmaking competence that makes one think it was directed by a far more experienced filmmaker, not only creating a shockingly realistic recreation of the tsunami hitting Thailand but also handling the human dynamics of such an event and how it affects one family. Watts is fantastic and McGregor is quite good, but it’s young Tom Holland making his acting debut who really blew us away, giving a performance we’d expect from a much more experienced actor. We fully expect this movie to be in the discussion during awards season, because it’s too powerful a film not to be. (Look for our review soon.)
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Summit – September 21) – Stephen Chbosky adapted his own novel to the screen, writing the screenplay and directing himself, which normally would be a no-no, since one might expect a novelist to be too precious of their own words to change them. This one works quite brilliantly mostly due to the casting of Logan Lerman as the film’s protagonist Charlie, a damaged teenager who meets Ezra Miller and Emma Watson as quirky half-siblings Patrick and Sam, who force Charlie to come out of his shell. It’s a film that uses the high school setting far more creatively than other films this year as well as using a soundtrack of music from the 70s to 90s that will allow anyone, regardless of their age, to relive their own high school experiences. (Look for our review soon.)
4. Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Company – November 21) – Definitely one of the bigger surprises at TIFF – not that we ever doubted director David O. Russell, but he certainly on a roll following the Oscar-winning The Fighter and he reminds us how great he is with comedy in this throwback to the family comedy of Flirting with Disaster. With great performances by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence (who is very funny), Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver and more, this was easily one of the more crowd-pleasing movies of TIFF, so it didn’t even surprise us in the slightest when it won the festival’s People’s Choice Award, which is a great precursor for the Oscars. Just ask previous winners The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire.
5. The Master (The Weinstein Company September 14) – A lot has already been said about Paul Thomas Anderson’s innovative Scientology-inspired drama and the unforgettable performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s unlike anything else we’ve seen and we wouldn’t believe the hype if we didn’t see it for ourselves. Anderson has doubled down with a film that’s just as daring as There Will Be Blood and one that will have just as big an impact on awards season, and he used his film to elevate the theatrical experience by getting the word out to true cinephiles that seeing it in 70mm is the way to go.
6. Looper (FilmDistrict September 28) – Rian Johnson’s sci-fi crime noir kicked TIFF off as the Opening Night Gala and it really was a terrific third film for the filmmaker who was constantly breaking new ground within the realm of genre filmmaking. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a futuristic hitman and Bruce Willis as the older version of himself he is assigned to kill. It was a brilliant concept and a terrific film, especially when halfway through the movie, it completely changes look and tone as Emily Blunt is introduced as the guardian of a young boy who may be responsible for all of Joe’s problems.
(Look for our interviews from the movie soon.)
7. Rust and Bone (Sony Pictures Classics November 23) – The latest from French filmmaker Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) and possibly his most unconventional drama to date revolves around a friendship between two very different people, played by Oscar winner Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenarts, star of the Oscar-nominated Belgian drama Bullhead. She plays Stephanie, a trainer of killer whales at a marine park and he is Ali, a former prison inmate trying to take care of his son and get his life together with a series of jobs. When she becomes debilitated by a horrifying accident, she calls upon him to help her and an unlikely friendship forms as he starts participating in underground fight club matches. It’s another fantastic awards-worthy performance from Cotillard and another fascinating film from Audiard, who constantly defies the art of dramatic filmmaking with storytelling unlike anything we see from other filmmakers.
(Look for our review soon.)
8. The Hunt (Magnolia) – Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg returns with a drama starring Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas, a schoolteacher who is falsely accused of exposing himself to the daughter of his best friend, who is a student in his class, a crime so heinous that it turns all his friends and family against him, even though from what we can tell, he’s completely innocent. Mikkelsen delivers an intense performance in what ends up being a riveting look on how perceptions of people can change based on rumors.
9. What Maisie Knew (Millennium Pictures) – The first movie on our “best of” list that didn’t have distribution going into the festival was another unconventional drama from filmmakers David Siegel and Scott McGehee, but we weren’t too shocked, being fans of their previous films like The Deep End starring Tilda Swinton. This one has just as potent a lead actress in Julianne Moore, but the real star of the movie is 6-year-old Onata Aprile as the title character, who watches her parents’ marriage fall apart. Aprile’s absolutely amazing to watch on screen but she also brought out the best in Moore as well as co-stars Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham, another newcomer who shined under the direction of Siegel-McGehee. (Look for our interviews with the filmmakers soon.)
10. Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros. – October 26) – Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski’s adaptation of David Mitchell’s complex six-storied novel turned out to be a vast improvement over the book due to the way they used the visuals and editing to tie the characters and themes together far more successfully. While some of the performances (like Tom Hanks) didn’t really do much for us, the film was just an amazing achievement that left us thinking about what we watched and making us want to see the fairly long movie a second time. Those just excited to see the Wachowskis’ return to science fiction action won’t be disappointed either.
11. Sightseers (IFC Films) – Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to his psychological horror flick Kill List, paired him with British comedians Steve Oram and Alice Lowe as an odd couple who go on a caravan trip across England and eventually turn into serial killers as they start encountering people they don’t like. Like a funnier version of Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” the movie just threw out one surprise after the next but it was the quirky personalities of the characters created by Oram and Lowe that kept us entertained throughout the film’s darker than dark humor.
12. The Attack (Cohen Media Group) – One of the few other foreign films we saw at the fest besides Rust and Bone was Ziad Doueiri’s drama set amidst the Israeli-Arab conflict starring Ali Sulliman, who first got our attention in the suicide bomber drama Paradise Now. In this one, he plays an Arab surgeon working in Israel who learns a dark secret about his wife after a suicide bombing that kills 17. Most of the movie involves him looking for answers to what happened, and it’s pretty slow, but it delivers some shocking moments at the end that really make up for the journey.
Honorable mention goes to The Sapphires (The Weinstein Company), Wayne Blair’s film about an Aboriginal girl group who travelled around Vietnam entertaining troops, with a terrific well-rounded performance by Chris O’ Dowd (Bridesmaids) as the manager who discovers them.
That’s it for this year’s TIFF, although we’ll have more interviews and reviews in the coming weeks from some of the movies above and others.