TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2010 PREVIEW
christopher funderburg & john cribbs
Well, my friend, I just printed out the TIFF Press & Industry schedule and, as is my habit, did an initial run-through and highlighted all the films that I definitely want to see and it's got to be said: the festival looks pretty rough this year. On the first two pages of the schedule (which cover September 9th, 10th and half of the 11th) I highlighted only one film. One film. And that film is Ben Affleck's The Town. Of course, I'm a pretty big fan of Gone, Baby, Gone and genuinely excited to see if Affleck's excellent handling of pulp crime material was a fluke or not, but still it's bad sign that the only movie in which I'm interested for the first 2 and a half days of the festival is an Affleck-directed action movie starring that wiener from The Hurt Locker, one of Woody Allen's talent-free "discoveries" and the likable but decisively useless John Hamm. It makes the opening few days feel pretty dire – but I guess that's when I'll have the most energy and patience, anyway, so it's better than if things were lean at the end of the festival. And I won't feel bad about skipping out on Thursday night screenings (there's only one anyway) to catch the opening night of the NFL season when the wicked and evil Vikings take on the lovable world champion Saints (excluding Sean Payton and Reggie Bush, who are clearly the upmost tool-y of tools.)
Here's the real kicker: after that drought, the next 3 movies I want to see have start times on September 11th of 1:45, 2:00 and 2:15. So, I'm going to kick around unenthusiastically for 2 and a half days then have to make a choice between Mike Leigh's Another Year, James Gunn's SUPER and Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins. Another Year is going to win that battle because it's only going to screen once for P&I, while I'll have another chance to see SUPER or 13 Assassins on the 15th at 4:15 and 6:15, respectively. Hopefully, Gunn's film won't run too long otherwise I could get squeezed out of a seat in Miike's. Still just dumb (bad) luck that the films are mashed all over each other like that. And I'm not even sure that I'm so excited for SUPER – it just sounds too much like a repeat of Gunn's script for The Specials, which wasn't that special. If you get what I mean. And what I mean is to make an awful pun. Still, Slither is awesome, so I'll give the man plenty of leeway – even if I can't get excited for a film that combines the deadly played-out "super hero in the real world" concept while parodying superhero films. I don't give a shit about comic books to begin with, so to me the meta-jokery is just so fucking boring. In general, I like to have no idea of the plot any film I'm seeing and with Miike in particular that's a lot of fun. His films are so unhinged and unpredictable that being completely unprepared for whatever he may throw at you leads to some very memorable screening experiences. All I know is that Assassins is being positioned like a Kurosawa samurai flick; I just hope it's not a leaden, ill-conceived pastiche like Sukiyaki Django Western. And if Quentin Tarantino's big fat face isn't in it, I'm cool with that, too.
Next on the list is Alain Corneau's Love Crime. John, I know in your 5 from the Fire featuring Corneau, you said you had no idea who he was, but I guarantee if you check him out you will like him. I first saw his Police Python .357 last summer in a noir series I programmed at the JBFC and it made me resolve to dig up his hard-to-find other work like Choice of Arms and Serie Noire. It was well worth it: he makes hard-nosed crime flicks that are a real pleasure even if they don't aspire to too much beyond two-fisted, genre action. Aging Yves Montand is great in them and even his remake of Second Breath with a blonde Monica Bellucci is better than it has any right to be. Love Crime does indeed have a terrible title that immediately reminds me of a terrible Sean Young movie and features the frequently detestable Kristin Scott Thomas, but on the plus side it's got the luscious Ludivine Sagnier in what appears to be another case of sexual obsession. She's well (and constantly) cast in those roles. Hell, Scott Thomas looks good for an older lady and I certainly prefer their lesbian-ish pairing to the Julianne Moore/bug-eyed Mormon team-up that coaxed me through last year’s TIFF debacle Chloe. I'm perfectly ready to believe Love Crime will be the type of solid entertainment that's necessary to ingest if one has any chance of making it through a festival full of the work of 20 year-old directorial "prodigies," Romanian "discoveries" and uncles who can remember their past lives. A tough, sexy little crime programmer goes a long way to helping a guy like me make it through the day at TIFF.
Seriously, though, after perusing it, that line-up is pretty dire. I have Alex Gibney's documentary about my hero (no joke) Eliot Spitzer and John Sayles' new film on my list of must-see's, but let's be honest here: one is a political documentary and one is a John Sayles movie. There's almost no chance either one is going to be any good. They're films that I am predisposed to liking, so if there's anything positive to be had from them, I will have it. Plus, I hope Gibney plays a clip of that phone-call where Spitzer flips out and declares that he is a fucking steamroller and will destroy his opponents with cruelty and efficiency. Sayles must be capable of making a good movie still, right? I just have to keep reminding myself that Matewan, Brother from Another Planet and Eight Men Out exist lest I lose interest in one of the most delicate prospects of this year's slim pickings. What's this? You say the films start an hour and a half apart on the 12th? And that I'll have to duck out of Client 9 early? So be it – I don't think I want to see that beautiful madman's downfall anyway and a bunch of sickening moralists decrying his predilection for wearing black socks while screwing 18 year old girls. Plus, all of Gibney's films run out of steam well before the end, anyway, so I think it's a safe bet that this one will also lose its way in a thick haze of Liberal Questions and Indignant Investigations at about 55 minutes in.
Did you know 35 Rhum's adorable Mati Diop directed a short film? It's in the experimental Wavelengths program, so I'm not sure I'll be able to sneak in and catch it. I've made the mistake of trying to sit through that program in total too many times in the past – a grueling festival is just the wrong setting for a cavalcade of experimental work of variable quality. I love that they do it and they have a pretty good track record in terms of what they screen, but it's just hard to stay focused even under the best of circumstances and I can't give the work a fair shake in my addled mindset mid-week of an exhausting schedule. I prefer to catch the NYFF sidebar when I'm more mentally correct for work that requires the attention of experimental film. But still, I'd love to see what Diop has come up with – it's probably foolish to hope she's become some kind of a Claire Denis protégé, but, dammit, wouldn't that be awesome? This year's lack of quality goods at TIFF means somebody's got to step up their game. And it's not like TIFF is passing on anything I think should be here. It's pretty much what I expected after Cannes and Sundance this year - and if Cannes underwhelms so completely, there's always a good chance TIFF will have the same sort of problems. But enough negativity, I'm just excited to get up to Toronto and watch movies until I collapse – having a little baby at home means this is really my chance to get out and see films in 2010, so I'm happy just to be able to see garbage, if that's what it comes down to. Plus, Cooney and Cribbs are two tastes that go together like fried chicken flesh and spicy buffalo sauce. I know it's a business trip for me, but it really is one of the most consistently fun things I do all year, even if Cooney does ridicule my love for the Philadelphia Eagles in a way that hurts my feelings. Can't the constant tradition of losing be enough for you, Cooney?
There are a few more films floating around by directors that I more or less enjoy, but don't have any special enthusiasm for like Susanne Bier, Francois Ozon and Tsui Hark. Susanne Bier is very talented at creating intelligent and subtle melodramas – After the Wedding, Brothers and Open Hearts all could have been much, much worse. Her new film, In a Better World is at a disadvantage in that it doesn't feature her frequent collaborator Mads Mikkelson, a forceful actor with a natural gravity who is never better than in Bier's films. Plus, it's a "white people in Africa" movie which is always a dicey prospect. I'm willing to believe that she can deliver a good movie, but I'd be surprised if it ended up being a film about which I'm particularly passionate. Ozon is excessively hit-or-miss – it's impossible to guess before you see one of his movies whether it will be radiantly genius (Sea the Sea) or ruthlessly awful (Sitcom.) Potiche pairs Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, a pairing which like an Ozon film itself could potentially be either complete genius or complete crap. I don't like Deneuve's track suit in the stills. Case closed. As for Tsui Hark, even when his movies are enjoyable, I'd be hard pressed to say they're great. His films range from enjoyably stupid to unwatchably stupid. Detective Dee and The Mystery of the Phantom Flame is, quite frankly, the most enjoyably stupid title of the year by a wide margin and I hope the film lives up to it. Plus, the sell seems to be "Sherlock Holmes in Tang Dynasty China!" which we can all agree is quite an effective sell. I hope it doesn't disappoint like the film from TIFF 2009 that most fits its profile: the Final Destination-squad fizzler, Accident. James Wan of Saw and Death Sentence fame could deliver similarly low-brow fun with his haunted house flick Insidious, but I'm most excited for Kim-Jee Woon's I Saw the Devil. It's an excellent title and a disturbing plot – Woon is an established director but I'm not very familiar with his work, so it's hard to gauge how far I should get up my hopes.
Speaking of improperly calibrated hopes, Catherine Breillat has a new film at the festival and so does Werner Herzog (in 3-D, no less!) – you'll never guess which one I'm more excited to see! It doesn't help that Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a title that sounds like a bad Herzog parody, but my former cinematic idol has been moving steadily into self-parody for years. Geez, maybe he's been there for decades and it's just me that changed. At any rate, I can't say I'm excited to see Herzog in three dimensions fawning over a bunch of cave paintings and spitting out a steaming load of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo about the poetic essence of our tribal ancestors. For certain, the worst films of his career have all come in the last few years (Rescue Dawn, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done) and at an alarmingly rapid clip, so I'm genuinely skeptical he can recover. 3-D is a gimmick that an increasingly gimmicky filmmaker didn't need – I'm in no hurry to see Herzog become the arthouse William Castle. And with Breillat, what can I say? I loved The Last Mistress and thought that Bluebeard was one of her best films, too. I'm glad she's dropping the more childishly provocative elements from her work while keeping the sex, violence and insanity. It might be a thing clichéd to say it, but she's matured and I'm more than willing to give her new The Sleeping Beauty a chance. It sounds a bit like Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence and if it's half as good that film, I'll be thrilled. Breillat has made enough excreable films in the past and Herzog enough works of astounding genius that I really should have my expectations reversed, but I think one filmmaker is hitting her stride while the other is plummeting off a cliff. However, I think that this could easily be my most short-sighted and instantly regrettable position – coming out of the festival, this seem like the paragraph most likely to generate a healthy "what was I thinking?"
That brings us to the main event and its undercard (in my mind): Errol Morris' unexpected new documentary Tabloid and John Carpenter's John Carpenter's The Ward. Carpenter's film is the undercard in that I don't have high hopes for it, but come on, it's John Carpenter's first new feature film in almost a decade. Granted, time seems to have passed Carpenter by to a certain extent (I get the feeling he's under the impression stuff like Marilyn Manson's music video imagery is "freaky"), but the man brought us The Thing, Halloween and They Live. If he can even deliver an In the Mouth of Madness-level horror film, I'm psyched. The film sounds fine (a haunted mental institution, Amber Heard in her underwear, Jared Harris being all ugly, etc.) but more than anything it feels good to have Carpenter back from Canada and cable-t.v. purgatory. Morris' film is far and away the most awesome thing at TIFF. Even more awesome than the new swanky hotel we'll be staying at. Even more awesome than those little cheese Danishes from Tim Horton's. Even more awesome than L.L.B.O. certification and French fries with gravy. It's just that awesome. Morris was keeping the film's very existence under wraps and almost no one even knew he was working on it before TIFF announced in their line-up. Morris has made only one documentary in his career that isn't unalloyed genius, so I'm going to go ahead and pencil in his new lurid true crime tale to be one of the best films of the year and the clear front-runner for the best of TIFF 2010. I literally can't imagine a scenario in which I don't love this film: he seems to have gotten away from the sprawling, heavy, unfocused approach that sunk Standard Operating Procedure (and could've been produced by any number of less talented documentary filmmakers like, say, Alex Gibney) and streamlined his process to quickly produce a wicked and weird sounding little film that only could've come from The Man himself. I probably won't get a chance to see it until late in the festival and that's perfect: it'll be the carrot dangling at the end of the stick and keep my enthusiasm and excitement bubbling all week long
So, what's on your radar, John? Anything I'm over-looking? And we really need to address all those films which are lurking in the schedule like gruesome and dangerous traps, full of Natalie Portmans and mystical Thailands, the crap we'll end up seeing in spite of ourselves I'll give you a start: Kelly Reichardt has a new film. Arrrggh! My eyes! And I don't want to be the one to tell you this but John Turturro appears to have made another musical. Another musical. Keep your hands and feet away from that thing, lest it snap shut and tear them clean off.
Ohhhhhhhhhh Can-a-da! Toronto! "Diversity Our Strength!" It's one of the best times of the year for me as well, and I can't wait for you me and Cooney to fly into town in a convertible, arms in the air like we're on the world's most thrilling roller coaster, semi-enthusiastically cheering "Torontooooo! Yaaaaay!" Hopefully we'll get a chance to do some white guy Bollywood-dancing on the rooftop. Sorry anybody else reading this, I'm making reference to "City of Toronto" ads that played at the beginning of movies at last year's festival, which included clips from classic Canadian films. And I'm not talking about Videodrome, The Decline of Western Civilization or The Sweet Hereafter - I mean thrilling scenes from newsreel footage of a turn-of-the-century fire, Christmas in the 20's, the Canucks celebrating their liberation at the end of WWII and the aforementioned shot of some hooligans motoring into town from some grainy 70's flick called Goin' Down the Road (they were really excited to be in Toronto, probably because they were headed for the Brass Rail). Funderburg, what snippets do you anticipate seeing 100 times before each film this year? I really hope they bring back that one where the volunteer with the weird neck walks on stage and the audience goes bug-fuck over him. It wouldn't feel like TIFF if they didn't use that one for the sixth year in a row.
Speaking of The Sweet Hereafter - Clint, what the gams are you thinkin man? I thought his next big mistake would be casting pimply, pasty Leonardo DiCaprio as boorish lord of the G-men J Edgar Hoover...turns out before he crosses that rickety bridge he'll first revisit the one he took into Madison County with his new self-described "chick flick" Hereafter. I know his thing these days is to make 5 or 6 movies a year, but seriously Mr. Eastwood slow down, you're not as young as you used to be. And show a little more restraint in your directorial choices: more Gran Torinos, less Changelings. The premise of this one sounds like something by Paul Haggis. You know Clint, he's that hack who added the ridiculous white trash family characters to Million Dollar Baby and did a terrible job adapting Flags of Our Fathers? Created "Walker Texas Ranger?" Did he write this one? Bryce Dallas Howard, really? I don't know if I'm going to let you sucker me into this one, Mr. Man With No Name, if that is your real name...
Well, breezing over the schedule it turns out that entire rant was unnecessary: apparently Clint's latest won't even be having a P & I screening...oh well. So what else do we have to look forward to? A lot of these descriptions are leaving me cold. I mean I loved Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky, but do I really want to see her as "the catalyst for the 1968 Ford Dagenham strike by 187 sewing machinists?" I'm sorry but that's the most boring plot of a movie I've ever read. Well, it at least rivals "two Filipino workers discover a discarded couch, which transforms their normal Sunday routine into a tale of adventure, perserverance and self-discovery." Listen, we've all had magical moments of self-discovery thanks to moldy old discarded couches, but that doesn't mean you have to make a movie about it. The possibility of discovery this year seems less likely than ever, although this is the first time I feel like my scheduling decisions are actually informed by my past experiences in the Great North. Thanks to last year's festival, I know to sit out the new movies from "wunderkind" Xavier Dolan and Manoel de Oliveira, whose claim to fame seems to be that he's terrifically old. (Who's going to tell a 101-year-old man that his boring film has been rejected for inclusion in a film festival? I wouldn't!) And yet positive festival experiences also make me second guess my decision to skip new releases from Gregg Araki and Darren Aronofsky (even though I've had both negative and positive experiences with his movies at TIFF). I have no intention of seeing Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, but I'm curious to see if it achieves the heightened buzz that Slumdog Millionaire did two years ago (or if everybody just complains "yeah, it FELT like 127 hours!") As for films which I have no reference to go on, I'm excited to play a little festival roulette. Could Roland Joffe's son do justice to Graham Green's excellent novel Brighton Rock? A new Kelly Reichardt seems horrible, but then again it's set on the Oregon Trail of 1845! I've got to give her credit: I did not see that coming. Even Emilio Estevez's new movie sounds touching, with Martin Sheen collecting his son's bones (assumedly Charlie's) from the Pyrenees. I'm more likely to give that one a shot than come within a mile of the new Julian Schnabel, Michael Winterbottom or Palme d'or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives from the interminablely dull filmmaker Archie Weevel.
The calendar is littered with a slew of unremarkable Cannes selections: Brownian Movement (if it's anything like Wolfbergen's "little action and much silence" approach I'm out), Route Irish (Ken Loach, 'nuff said, no interest), My Joy (a German truck driver apparently has a series of chance encounters which may or may not have been instigated by the discovery of a discarded couch), Of Gods and Men (Islamic fundamentalists kill some Algerian monks, uplifting) and October (doofus finds baby in a basket and it changes his life, jesus no thanks). Blue Valentine, with its coupling of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams and soundtrack by Grizzly Bear, has "hipster" written all over it. The one I may be drawn to is Tendor Son - The Frankenstein Project, mainly because Cannes critics slammed it as "pokey and pretentious" as well as "vile." That's good enough for me! The typically underwhelming Canada First selections include some Zack Braff bullshit, a rip-off of that Golden Gate Bridge/suicide doc and a movie starring Martha Plimpton. Martha Plimpton! Is she considered a star in Canada? At least the "Real to Reel" documentary section seems more prestigious than usual thanks to big names like Fred Wiseman and Errol Morris, the Spitzer film and new ones from that that Inconvenient Truth guy and that No End in Sight guy (whose movie sounds a lot like Chris Smith's Collapse from last year). A documentary about teenaged aspiring magicians? It would be a love crime to miss it!
As far as the selections that have any chance in hell of being good, I'm with you all the way re: Another Year, Tabloid and John Carpenter's The Ward. Those are the must-not-misses, the ones I'll be getting to early to guarantee a seat. Even as someone who still has no problem whatsoever with Ghosts of Mars, I'm trying not to get too excited for John Carpenter's The Ward but have no such reservations about Tabloid - everything I've read by Errol Morris over the last ten years has made me long for him to abandon the political heaviness of his last two movies and make something exactly like this. I'm a big fan of A Tale of Two Sisters, so I'm glad you pointed out I Saw the Devil (and 13 Assassins, which wasn't included in the complete film list for some reason). I appreciate your tepid endorsement of Susanne Bier's new one, but it conflicts with Kim Ji-woon's film so I may have to miss it. Besides that schedule looks like nothing I don't intend to miss will get canceled out except Machete Maidens Unleashed!, which I'd be curious to see mainly to find out how much they discuss Ramon Revilla and Efren Piñon's The Killing of Satan. It drops right around half time of the Eagles game on Sunday so unless Kolb's inability to score reaches an intolerable level I'll probably have to wait for that one to be on Netflix Instant Viewing. Of course the only movie even worth seeing opening day, with nothing competing against it, is The Town, a movie that opens wide one week later. Figures! But I'm curious to see whether Ben Affleck can fulfill his destiny as the Martin Scorsese of Boston. I know you're not as fond of Triplets of Belleville as I am, but I'm looking forward to seeing what those guys do with The Illusionist. And I'll definitely be attending Breillat's new one, in fact I might partake in a little Last Mistress/Bluebeard double feature right before we go up. What's the best food to eat during a Breillat double feature? Something grotesque to look at with an excessive amount of cream in the center I'm guessing.
In the on-the-fence department, it's the director of Kamikaze Girls vs the director of Suicide Club in the "awesome-sounding Japanese film" face-off between Cold Fish and Confessions. I was intrigued by The Five Obstructions, but does that mean Jorgen Leth's feature length Erotic Man will be any good? Slither granted immunity to whatever James Gunn's followup film happened to be, but I've got to say I'm depressed said followup is SUPER, with that guy from "The Office" as a clownish nerd pretending to be a superhero and a title that reminds me of a Joe Pesci movie. I guess it's better than his seemingly aborted "Pets" project, and I do like the idea of Kevin Bacon as a drug dealer. I'm intrigued by the Ryan Reynolds-in-a-coffin for two hours horror film Buried, but my claustrophobia will probably preclude me from going out of my way to form a hole in the center of my seat from excessive squirming during that one. What's Wrong With Virginia's description reads "Jennifer Connelly," and I'm already sold! Stop talking, greenlight that bad boy! You've struck gold! (That's not true, I didn't see that Darwin movie last year...but I'll keep this one on the back burner just the same). I agree with you about the Herzog movie: it sounds like a Mr. Show parody of a Herzog movie. Will the famed director be interviewing Ole Swerdlow? (Go ahead, imagine Herzog saying "I find myself becoming aroused and titillated by this lascivious display!")
As usual, there are a couple likely forgettable things I may begrudgingly end up seeing. I call those my Death Defying Selections, after the mediocre movie Death Defying Acts I felt obligated to sit through a few festivals back since it featured such unrelated topics of interest as Gillian Armstrong, Guy Pearce and Harry Houdini (and yes I had to look that title up - I thought it was called Abracadabra! or You Can't Escape the Cage Around My Heart or something like that). I've got no interest whatsoever in Woody Allen's latest London-set lame-fest, but I'll probably end up seeing it for the lovely Freido Pinto, who I sat through all of Slumdog Millionaire for two festivals ago. The Lincoln Assassination buff in me is going to insist on seeing The Conspirator, despite the fact that everyone associated with the movie makes my stomach turn and Mary Surratt's involvement is by far the least interesting aspect of the famous conspiracy (she sent poor Lewis Powell up the creek!) In the same vein, I might be persuaded to see John Madden's The Debt - if I decide I'm curious enough to see how they handle the facts behind the failed arrest of Josef Mengele*, and if Madden 11 is unavailable in the hotel room. Ozon's movie belongs to this category, since "Ozon directing iconic old French ladies" (8 Women, Time to Leave) does not represent the sleazy auteur at his best: where are the attractive young people hanging out at beachside houses? And that track suit...is Deneuve playing Bill Murray's character from Broken Flowers? I'll probably skip it in favor of the more interesting-sounding Womb, which I found intriguing even before I realized it stars the irresistible Eva Green and Matt Smith, the brilliant new Doctor Who. Finally, Godard's latest self-indulgence is in an isolated evening slot that may be hard to talk myself out of...but not too hard.
* Then I found out they don't even call the guy "Mengele," so it's probably one of those lame masked-version of real-life movies. Pass!
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