Leviathan – Argo – The Last Time I Saw Macao – Miss Lovely – Looper – Frances Ha – To the Wonder

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People's Choice Award Winner and Runners-Up:
Silver Linings Playbook, USA, dir. David O. Russell
Argo, USA, dir. Ben Affleck
The Gatekeepers, Israel, dir. Dror Moreh
 

 
Films I Screened in Toronto:
Ranked in order of preference
 
My Vote for People's Choice
Like Someone in Love (Masters; Japan/France/Iran, dir. Abbas Kiarostami) - Which kind of love? Shamed, seductive, fatherly, hourly, angry, humble—each elliptically reflects the others.

In the Fog (Contemporary World Cinema; Russia, dir. Sergei Loznitsa) - Loznitsa steadily attains Sophoclean austerity, clarity, and power in sober drama of war's unwinnable moral quandaries.

The Last Time I Saw Macao (Wavelengths; Portugal, dirs. João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata) - Risky, eccentric, La Jetée-ish study of a city impossible to parse from colonial and pop-cultural pasts.

Children of Sarajevo (Contemporary World Cinema; Bosnia and Herzegovina, dir. Aida Begić) - One small step for Dardenne-style cinema, one potent leap in evoking Balkan women's complex social positioning.

Thy Womb (Contemporary World Cinema; The Philippines, dir. Brillante Mendoza) - Mendoza's good at blending vibrancy and modesty. Plot scenes are weakest. A bit too enamored of Aunor's wistful closeups.

Once Upon a Time Was I, Verônica (Contemporary World Cinema; Brazil, dir. Marcelo Gomes) - A sexy movie and intriguing character study, even if it pushes fewer envelopes than it pretends.

differently, Molussia (Wavelengths; France, dir. Nicolas Rey) - Stale gallery-cinema tropes, dubious protraction, broad politics. Passably thought-provoking, but only just.

To the Wonder (Special Presentations; USA, dir. Terrence Malick) - Technical virtuosity hard to resist. Otherwise, tatters. Disheveled self-quotations, never in sync with characters.

Lore (Special Presentations; Australia/Germany, dir. Cate Shortland) - Off-putting kids trek through jewel-toned German forest after WWII. Abounds with odd inserts, flat passages, and hedged bets.

What Maisie Knew (Gala Presentations; USA, dirs. Scott McGehee and David Siegel) - Great idea for update beset by narrative gaps, precious lighting and scoring. Still, 6-year-old Aprile nails it.



TIFF Films I Saw After the Festival:
Listed alphabetically within sections
 
Gala Presentations: Argo (USA, dir. Ben Affleck) - Proficient, minus The Town's tautness or Gone Baby's eerie peaks. Strong on period. Dodges complex engagement with its story.

Hyde Park on Hudson (USA, dir. Roger Michell) - Raise the Red Lantern remade as FDR dramedy? Camera, script, score, edits all wholly disordered. Humanoid cast.

Looper (USA, dir. Rian Johnson) - Johnson's obsessive plotting, weird gestalts, and circular structures finally come together. Thrilling and morally complex.

A Royal Affair (Denmark, dir. Nikolaj Arcel) - Pacing, camera could be defter, but rivals Lincoln in blending character portraits with complex historical critique.

Silver Linings Playbook (USA, dir. David O. Russell) - Acting from the gut. Writing from Jupiter. Direction highly erratic. Camera no help. Cooper easily MVP.
Special Presentations: Anna Karenina (UK, dir. Joe Wright) - Ionlyhave140charactersforthissprawlingsto
rysosorryIhavetorushnotemycollapsingwallsandunbeatablegownsshameaboutVronsky

Antiviral (Canada, dir. Brandon Cronenberg) - Scenario smacks of Papa but aesthetic does not. Tensely mixed and lensed. Accrues layers, scares, and wit as it unfolds.

Cloud Atlas (USA/Germany, dirs. Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski) - Wachowskis persist in joining rhetoric of revolution with dictatorial, pacifying image-making. Hit and miss. Ambitious.

End of Watch (USA, dir. David Ayer) - Bonkers formal conceit, iffy improv, lurid swerves. And yet a potent personal and institutional study comes through.

Frances Ha (USA, dir. Noah Baumbach) - Impressive refusal of stricter structure or character types. Pleasures, comic cloudbursts are worth a little meandering.

The Hunt (Denmark, dir. Thomas Vinterberg) - Script, structure repeatedly and pruriently gin up "hard-hitting drama" by skimming transitions, mangling human behavior.

The Impossible (Spain, dir. Juan Antonio Bayona) - Verisimilitude impresses; moving moments. But one family's stamina and luck feel insufficient as window on tsunami.

In the House (France, dir. François Ozon) - Sharp and wicked premise, tasty start, tiresome finish. Chess is more than moving pieces around a board. Dully shot.

A Late Quartet (USA, dir. Yaron Zilberman) - Walken subtle, meticulous, and moving in a film that sadly inclines in all the opposite directions. Keener adrift.

The Master (USA, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) - Boldface yet elliptical. Adventurously but vexingly disjointed. Profits and suffers from haze surrounding focal figures.

Middle of Nowhere (USA, dir. Ava DuVernay) - Unfolds with the impeccable ease of a beach read, but writing, acting, versatile lensing give it uncommon depth.

Much Ado About Nothing (USA, dir. Joss Whedon) - John, Dogberry preferable to Branagh's. Otherwise pales: flat direction, spark-free Benedick and Beatrice.

No (Chile, dir. Pablo Larraín) - Stylistic conceit a masterstroke, as is deadpan irony of hawking life-saving but non-specific "freedom." Could use more tension.

On the Road (USA/Brazil, dir. Walter Salles) - Prismatically shot and cut, but never feels multifaceted. Charismatically cast, but never fires the imagination. Fine.

The Paperboy (USA, dir. Lee Daniels) - Merrily vulgar, yet humid with odd sincerity. Actors push their envelopes; characters sabotage their self-interests.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (USA, dir. Stephen Chbosky) - Uncommonly tender and impressively earnest in mood and style, without being mopey. Lerman a dream.

The Place Beyond the Pines (USA, dir. Derek Cianfrance) - First hour is a muscle; remainder, for better and worse, is a cramp. Vivid, frustrating, mood-crushing.

Reality (Italy, dir. Matteo Garrone) - Arena nails lead role; wayward speculation is an apt theme for today's Europe. Still, second hour is one long comet tail.

Rust and Bone (France, dir. Jacques Audiard) - Audiard's gifts at rhythm and texture, stylistically and psychologically, pay richer dividends than script or theme.

The Sessions (USA, dir. Ben Lewin) - Sympathetic, appealingly played across the board, but feels oddly truncated in almost every direction. Abrupt finish.

Spring Breakers (USA, dir. Harmony Korine) - Squalid but often stunning; a necrophile's autopsy of "innocent fun." Rare US movie where dialogue barely matters.

Stories We Tell (Canada, dir. Sarah Polley) - Film and filmmaker alternate between thoughtfulness and preciousness. Two visions of pained paternity are powerful.

War Witch (Canada, dir. Kim Nguyen) - Harrowing if vaguely familiar child-soldier drama takes surprising turns into mythic imagery and complex introspection.
Contemporary World Cinema: Barbara (Germany, dir. Christian Petzold) - Well-engineered; easily preferable to Lives of Others. Maybe too engineered? Petzold-Hoss glassiness starting to irk a bit.

A Hijacking (Denmark, dir. Tobias Lindholm) - Danish drama of Somali pirates, rendered as a story of the pros and cons of corporate coldness. Modest but ends strong.

Paradise: Love (Austria, dir. Ulrich Seidl) - Pitiless camera, yes, but surprisingly rich in empathy and thought. Women keep teaching men how to be better liars.

Smashed (USA, dir. James Ponsoldt) - Some keen observations in script and performances, but wobbly on the whole. Tone feels elusive. Overquick leap to last act.
Discovery: Blancanieves (Spain, dir. Pablo Berger) - Charming, I guess? Diverting, mostly. Some really good lace veils. Otherwise? I guess I'm in the Mirror Mirror camp?

Burn It Up Djassa (Côte d'Ivoire, dir. Lonesome Solo) - Fleet, compressed, rough-edged melodrama, suggesting spread of Nollywood style outside Nigeria. Punchy but thin.

Clip (Croatia, dir. Maja Miloš) - Visuals no strong suit. Often lurid, but earns stripes and gasps as Apple-era youth study. Nikki Reed would blush, then clap.

Fill the Void (Israel, dir. Rama Burshtein) - Intensity of observation and tone constitutively bound up with stifled flatness. Unsubtle. Tough but memorable sit.

Out in the Dark (Israel, dir. Michael Mayer) - Scene by scene, the Serious Drama you'd expect about a handsome Palestinian guy and a handsome Israeli guy in love.
Masters: Amour (Austria, dir. Michael Haneke) - Perfectly shot Book of the Dead, showcasing partners more bonded to each other than to their child. Impeccably acted and cut.

Beyond the Hills (Romania, dir. Cristian Mungiu) - Diamantine visuals. Waves of tension. But shots, story beats over-repeat. Ideas run at a low ebb.
Midnight Madness: The Bay (USA, dir. Barry Levinson) - Compulsive viewing but full of bad writing, cheap tricks. Dumb frame story. Shots needlessly repeat. Et tu, Barry Levinson?
TIFF Docs: The Act of Killing (USA, dir. Joshua Oppenheimer) - Could use more context. Toes risky ethical lines but risk pays off. A stunning, sobering, sui generis artifact.

The Central Park Five (USA, dirs. Sarah Burns, David McMahon, and Ken Burns) - A potent record of railroading, but again, the Five carry the narrative burden. Contexts, complicities vague.
Vanguard: Berberian Sound Studio (UK, dir. Peter Strickland) - Elegantly shot, machinically cunning at its best but ends in silly entropy. Swimming Pool in a sound booth.

Room 237 (USA, dir. Rodney Ascher) - Director puts nothing on the line—no context, no point of view—in serving unstructured slaw of very selective "readings."
Wavelengths: Bestiaire (Canada, dir. Denis Côt&233;) - Not sure it's the coup of observational documentary it seems to believe, but uncanny appeal builds as the movie proceeds.

Leviathan (USA, dirs. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel) - Like Brakhage filming The Perfect Storm, or Gaspar Noé's Life of Pi. Transfixing sight and sound within haunting milieu.

Mekong Hotel (Thailand, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul) - Clearly minor, but Joe has a lovely feel for laconic bonhomie, even in the face of disaster. Or of cannibal ghosts.

Post Tenebras Lux (Mexico, dir. Carlos Reygadas) - Reygadas crafts brilliant openings; ensuing films can't compete. Gorgeous but arbitrary, and a little desperate.

Tabu (Portugal, dir. Miguel Gomes) - Shimmering bicameral wonder; each half is more than meets the crocodile eye. Politically, emotionally, and semiotically smart.



Programmed Films I'm Curious to See:
Listed alphabetically within sections; more on this year's lineup at the TIFF homepage (opens in a new window)
 
Gala Presentations: The Company You Keep, USA, dir. Robert Redford
Dangerous Liaisons, China, dir. Hur Jin-ho
Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, USA, dir. Shola Lynch
Great Expectations, UK, dir. Mike Newell
Inescapable, Canada/South Africa, dir. Ruba Nadda
Midnight's Children, Canada/UK, dir. Deepa Mehta
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, USA/UK, dir. Mira Nair
Song for Marion (aka Unfinished Song), UK, dir. Paul Andrew Williams
Special Presentations: At Any Price, USA, dir. Ramin Bahrani
The Attack, Lebanon, dir. Ziad Doueiri
Byzantium, UK/Ireland, dir. Neil Jordan
The Deep, Iceland, dir. Baltasar Kormákur
Dormant Beauty, Italy, dir. Marco Bellocchio
Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, France, dir. Laurent Cantet
Hannah Arendt, Germany, dir. Margarethe von Trotta
Imogene, USA, dirs. Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman
Inch'Allah, Canada, dir. Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette
Kon-Tiki, Norway, dirs. Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Laurence Anyways, Canada, dir. Xavier Dolan
Lines of Wellington, France/Portugal, dir. Valeria Sarmiento
Passion, USA, dir. Brian De Palma
Rhino Season, Turkey/Iraq, dir. Bahman Ghobadi
The Sapphires, Australia, dir. Wayne Blair
Still Mine (aka Still), Canada, dir. Michael McGowan
Thanks for Sharing, USA, dir. Stuart Blumberg
Venus and Serena, USA, dirs. Maiken Baird and Michelle Major
White Elephant, Argentina, dir. Pablo Trapero
Zaytoun, Israel, dir. Eran Riklis
City to City: Gangs of Wasseypur, India, dir. Anurag Kashyap
Miss Lovely, India, dir. Ashim Ahluwalia
Contemporary World Cinema: After the Battle, Egypt, dir. Yousry Nasrallah
Bwakaw, The Philippines, dir. Jun Lana
Jackie, The Netherlands, dir. Antoinette Beumer
Kinshasa Kids, The Netherlands, dir. Marc-Henri Wajnberg
Museum Hours, Austria/USA, dir. Jem Cohen
Three Worlds, France, dir. Catherine Corsini
Virgin Margarida, Mozambique, dir. Licinio Azevedo
What Richard Did, Ireland, dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Discovery: Call Girl, Sweden, dir. Mikael Marcimain
Eat Sleep Die, Sweden, dir. Gabriela Pichler
La Sirga, Colombia, dir. William Vega
Masters: Everyday, UK, dir. Michael Winterbottom
Gebo and the Shadow, Portugal, dir. Manoel de Oliveira
Me and You, Italy, dir. Bernardo Bertolucci
Night Across the Street, Chile, dir. Raul Ruiz
Pietà, South Korea, dir. Kim Ki-duk
Something in the Air, France, dir. Olivier Assayas
Student, Kazahkstan, dir. Darezhan Omirbayev
Mavericks: The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, UK/Ireland, dir. Sophie Fiennes
West of Memphis, USA, dir. Amy Berg
Midnight Madness: The ABCs of Death, USA, dir. Miscellaneous
Dredd 3D, UK/USA, dir. Pete Travis
John Dies at the End, USA, dir. Don Coscarelli
Lords of Salem, USA, dir. Rob Zombie
Seven Psychopaths, UK/USA, dir. Martin McDonagh
TIFF Docs: Fidaï, Algeria, dir. Damien Ounouri
The Gatekeepers, Israel, dir. Dror Moreh
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, USA, dir. Alex Gibney
No Place on Earth, UK/USA, dir. Janet Tobias
Vanguard: 90 Minutes, Norway, dir. Eva Sørhaug
Painless, Spain, dir. Juan Carlos Medina
Peaches Does Herself, Germany, dir. Peaches
Sightseers, UK, dir. Ben Wheatley
The We and the I, UK/USA/France, dir. Michel Gondry
Wavelengths: Far from Afghanistan, USA, dir. Miscellaneous
The Fifth Season, Belgium, dirs. Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth
Three Sisters, China, dir. Wang Bing
When Night Falls, China/South Korea, dir. Ling Yiang

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