August: Osage County – Gravity – The Missing Picture – Attila Marcel – A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness – At Berkeley – Stranger by the Lake

Toronto Festivals by Year:
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People's Choice Award Winner and Runners-Up:
12 Years a Slave, USA, dir. Steve McQueen
Philomena, UK, dir. Stephen Frears
Prisoners, USA, dir. Denis Villeneuve
 

 
Films I Screened in Toronto:
Ranked in order of preference
 
My Vote for People's Choice
At Berkeley (TIFF Docs; USA, dir. Frederick Wiseman) - Prodigious in every sense. Typically lucid institutional survey, comprising many views of what politics and ideas mean.

The Selfish Giant (Contemporary World Cinema; UK, dir. Clio Barnard) - Gorgeous, emotionally walloping, and unimprovably made. Wizardly synthesis of realism, fable, and subjective POV.

Norte, the End of History (Masters; The Philippines, dir. Lav Diaz) - Hypnotic Filipino Crime and Punishment balances prodigious framing, naturalistic acting, eclectic style.

The Last of the Unjust (TIFF Docs; France, dir. Claude Lanzmann) - Lanzmann's epic rigor applied to one remarkable witness whose candor tilts inevitably into contradiction.

Rags and Tatters (Contemporary World Cinema; Egypt, dir. Ahmad Abdalla) - Staggering, near-wordless odyssey of Egyptian convict thrust out into chaos of 2011. Children of Men on a budget.

The Missing Picture (Wavelengths; Cambodia, dir. Rithy Panh) - Moving memoir, vital history. Panh gives each clay figure own nuances, defying totalitarian edict of sameness.

Story of My Death (Wavelengths; Spain, dir. Albert Serra) - Casanova and Dracula cross paths in slow, dazzlingly lit study of pleasure, servitude, and self-enslavement.

Under the Skin (Special Presentations; UK, dir. Jonathan Glazer) - Themes, visual ideas can get soft or obvious, but execution always a marvel. Stunning sound, score, cinematography.

Ladder to Damascus (Contemporary World Cinema; Syria, dir. Mohamed Malas) - 12 Syrians haunted by pasts, bedeviled by war, perhaps too solaced by art. Tough, layered. Amazing it got made.

Borgman (Vanguard; The Netherlands, dir. Alex van Warmerdam) - Odd, amazing thriller opening. A corker of bloody, obsidian, class-based comedy ensues. Bad end, misogynous streak mar it.

Ilo Ilo (Discovery; Singapore, dir. Anthony Chen) - Simple, proficient humanism at first; dislikeable family a risky center. Wise choices, narrative layers emerge over time.

Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari (Vanguard; Russia, dir. Aleksey Fedorchenko) - Strange, gorgeous album of pastoral, half-ironic, wimsomely perverse folklore from Fedorchenko.

Blue Ruin (Vanguard; USA, dir. Jeremy Saulnier) - Muscular revenge thriller veined with black comedy. Fellow Virginians may detect NoVa/downstate tensions. Ace last shot.

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (Wavelengths; USA, dirs. Ben Rivers and Ben Russell) - Vivid, uncanny sounds and images link crunchy, pastoral life cult to amplified death-metal coven.

Bends (Discovery; Hong Kong, dir. Flora Lau) - Manages two poignant tales without gorging on pathos or forcing blunter linkages. Good lead actors. Low-key Doyle lensing.

Eastern Boys (Contemporary World Cinema; France, dir. Robin Campillo) - Hustler-rescue drama deftly makes a moral impulse appealing, dismaying, and perverse at once. "Party" scene amazes.

Child's Pose (Contemporary World Cinema; Romania, dir. Călin Peter Netzer) - Character and camera get a bit hyperbolic in potent, affecting, uneven tale. Works as melodrama or political fable.

'Til Madness Do Us Part (Wavelengths; China, dir. Wang Bing) - Harrowing 4-hour stay in Chinese asylum; peeks outside harrow, too. Sensitive but too long. Context thin.

Stray Dogs (Wavelengths; Taiwan, dir. Tsai Ming-liang) - I prefer hunting Tsai's ideas; these felt overt. Some too-long takes, but quite a view of poverty and shame. Impressive.

Stranger by the Lake (Contemporary World Cinema; France, dir. Alain Guiraudie) - Solid thriller, equal parts lust and inertia, austerity and shimmer. Good lead. Still, water doesn't run deep.

To Repel Ghosts (Contemporary World Cinema; Misc., dirs. Jim Chuchu, Vincent Moloi, Philippe Lacôte, Akosua Adoma Owusu, Mark Dornford-May) - African shorts program a mixed bag with sensational peaks: a modernized Ghanaian Ananse and an operatic Noah's Ark.

When Evening Falls on Bucharest, or Metabolism (Contemporary World Cinema; Romania, dir. Corneliu Porumboiu) - Another compressed exercise in witty pedantry from Porumboiu. Returns diminishing?

Closed Curtain (Masters; Iran, dirs. Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi) - Panahi's house arrest takes more Pirandellian turns. Warmer, trickier than his last but even more openly frustrated.

The Dog (TIFF Docs; USA, dirs. Frank Keraudren and Allison Berg) - Unprofound but very entertaining doc mines humor and pluck from its merrily infamous subject. At heart, though, a sad tale.

For Those Who Can Tell No Tales (Special Presentations; Bosnia and Herzegovina, dir. Jasmila Žbanić) - Sobering cinematic short story in complex commemoration of Serbian war crimes from tourist vantage.

Abuse of Weakness (Masters; France, dir. Catherine Breillat) - Strong early on medical insult and late on passive self-sabotage. Middle is a rut. Sex Is Comedy more revealing.

Tracks (Special Presentations; Australia, dir. John Curran) - Protects privacy of Robyn's sojourn, aided by Wasikowska's lovely reticence. Pretty, if anodyne. Some coddling of audience.

Attila Marcel (Special Presentations; France, dir. Sylvain Chomet) - Chomet makes nifty, natty gimcracks that falter on story; approaches to character, sentiment tend to creep me out.

Bobô (Discovery; Portugal, dir. Inês Oliveira) - Core racial-political terms a bit queasy, but film takes intriguing stabs at blurring them. No knockout, but signs of talent.

Mission Congo (TIFF Docs; USA, dirs. David Turner and Lara Zazic) - Ample prosecution of Pat Robertson's "relief efforts," but skips chances to reach farther or delve into ambiguities.

Child of God (Special Presentations; USA, dir. James Franco) - Early, iffy McCarthy novel gets earnest, proficient go-round from Franco & Co. Visible straining for dubious effects.

The Past (Special Presentations; France/Iran, dir. Asghar Farhadi) - Turgid, sporadically wise wallow in exposition, with few stakes for viewers. Stale visuals. Farhadi's rhythmic gift fails.



TIFF Films I Saw Prior to the Festival:
Ranked in order of preference
 
Paradise: Hope (Contemporary World Cinema; Austria, dir. Ulrich Seidl) - Portraits of Melanie and of teen sociality are vivid and witty. A worthy idea, unlike P:Faith, but still no P:Love.

Don Jon (Special Presentations; USA, dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt) - Flat technique; hashed final act seems more annoying with time. But funny. Moore is good, and Johansson deliciously great.



TIFF Films I Saw After the Festival:
Listed alphabetically within sections
 
Gala Presentations: August: Osage County (USA, dir. John Wells) - Enjoyable but rarely admirable beyond MVP actors. Script has great moments but smug calculations still rankle.

Kill Your Darlings (USA, dir. John Krokidas) - Early sparks gutter completely. Climactic montage ties anal sex to drug injection and murder. Opaque and inert.

Rush (USA, dir. Ron Howard) - Tritely conceived, stylistically ragged. A dispiriting pile-up of shots and entire scenes that only pad or coarsen the movie.
Special Presentations: 12 Years a Slave (USA, dir. Steve McQueen) - Solomon as open book and opaque protagonist, caught in a heightened nightmare and in yes-it-was-that-bad history.

Begin Again(aka Can a Song Save Your Life?) (USA, dir. John Carney) - After clumsy exposition, Carney conjures relaxed magic. Every actor an asset. Basically Twice upon a time, but I wept.

Belle (UK, dir. Amma Asante) - Flawed direction: banal visuals, cast not fully in sync. But material is eye-opening, and Mbatha-Raw's pretty special in it.

Blue Is the Warmest Color (France, dir. Abdellatif Kechiche) - Two very compelling characterizations in engaging but oddly proportioned film with few interesting images.

Dallas Buyers Club (USA, dir. Jean-Marc Vallée) - Moving, funny, excitingly angry. McConaughey hits Brockovich levels of typecasting, type-busting, and charisma.

Enough Said (USA, dir. Nicole Holofcener) - After ace debut, Holofcener's follow-ups all have execution problems. Still, rich ideas for starved demos. Gandolfini!

Gloria (Chile, dir. Sebastián Lelio) - Nearly what you'd get if Mike Leigh overhauled a treatment for It's Complicated, with facets light and dark. Two ace leads.

Gravity (USA, dir. Alfonso Cuarón) - Sure, the emotional allegory feels kind of shoehoOH MY GOD! THE CAMERA! Maybe a bit maudJESUS! DID YOU SEE AND HEAR THAT?!

The Great Beauty (Italy, dir. Paolo Sorrentino) - Neither thesis nor style of this bright, long, grandiose movie feels fresh. Arbitrary edits. Stirring at moments.

Ida (Poland, dir. Pawel Pawlikowski) - Contemplative drama about traumatic pasts, known and unknown, and about discipline vs. abandon as personal recovery tactics

The Invisible Woman (UK, dir. Ralph Fiennes) - Logy passages in script; shaky frame story, finale. But actors, images persuade. Victorian era feels lived-in.

Labor Day (USA, dir. Jason Reitman) - Black actors have it so rough in Hollywood they can't even secure the Magical Negro parts anymore. Dubious on all counts.

Like Father, Like Son (Japan, dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda) - Assured, yet full of crutches and cliché. "Sensitivity" a blessing and a curse. Floating pans, weepy pianos.

Night Moves (USA, dir. Kelly Reichardt) - Utterly untrusting of its ideas and its audience. Reichardt makes leap from intriguing-but-frustrating to off-putting.

Only Lovers Left Alive (USA, dir. Jim Jarmusch) - Great, poignant mood piece with killer punchlines. Vampires as wry eulogists for sicker-than-ever world.

Philomena (UK, dir. Stephen Frears) - Pro or con to keep mixing tones and to avoid overstating analogies at the cost of vague, fitful storytelling? Your call.

Pioneer (Norway, dir. Erik Skjoldbjærg) - A tense experience, but better at showpiece scene construction than storytelling. Psychical and political agendas compete.

Prisoners (Canada, dir. Denis Villeneuve) - Lots of craft on display. Gutsy script. Real steel from Jackman. Virtually all of it poisoned by escalating absurdities.

The Wind Rises (Japan, dir. Hayao Miyazaki) - Gorgeous, daring, and imaginative, however sandbagged by its sentimentality. A delicate, subtly haunted swan song.

Young & Beautiful (France, dir. François Ozon) - Nicely shaded but lithely direct, a treat after In the House's strenuous ingenuity. Vacth a gem; ensemble strong.
Masters: Bastards (France, dir. Claire Denis) - Sort of Denis' Skin I Live In, a handsome, tensile take on a story bound to repel. Semi-illuminating, fiercely confident.

A Touch of Sin (China, dir. Jia Zhangke) - Hard work, which I'm not against. Sharp images, knotty plotting both entice. A Chinese Amores perros, but glassier.
TIFF Docs: The Square (Egypt/USA, dir. Jehane Noujaim) - Could've dug farther past broad strokes, first impressions; key subjects' POVs remain pretty stable. Still, commanding.
Wavelengths: The Battle of Tabatô (Guinea-Bissau, dir. João Viana) - Abrupt cuts, silky lensing, unusual sound, incantatory narration in odd fable of Guinean love, death, rebirth.



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: American Dreams in China, Hong Kong/China, dir. Peter Chan
Cold Eyes, South Korea, dirs. Cho Ui-seok and Kim Byung-seo
The Railway Man, Australia/UK, dir. Jonathan Teplitsky
Special Presentations: All Is By My Side, UK, dir. John Ridley
Bad Words, USA, dir. Jason Bateman
Burning Bush, The Czech Republic, dir. Agnieszka Holland
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her, USA, dir. Ned Benson
The Double, UK, dir. Richard Aoyade
Exit Marrakech, Germany, dir. Caroline Link
The F Word, Canada/Ireland, dir. Michael Dowse
The Face of Love, USA, dir. Arie Posin
Hateship Loveship, USA, dir. Liza Johnson
The Liberator, Venezuela/Spain, dir. Alberto Alvero
Mary, Queen of Scots, Switzerland, dir. Thomas Imbach
Mystery Road, Australia, dir. Ivan Sen
Omar, Palestine, dir. Hany Abu-Assad
Real, Japan, dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Southcliffe, UK, dir. Sean Durkin
Sunshine on Leith, UK, dir. Dexter Fletcher
Thérèse, USA, dir. Charlie Stratton
Tom at the Farm, Canada, dir. Xavier Dolan
Unforgiven, Japan, dir. Lee Sang-il
Violette, France, dir. Martin Provost
Visitors, USA, dir. Godfrey Reggio
Watermark, Canada, dirs. Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky
We Are the Best!, Sweden/Denmark, dir. Lukas Moodysson
City to City: The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas, Greece, dir. Elina Psykou
Miss Violence, Greece, dir. Alexandros Avranas
Standing Aside, Watching, Greece, dir. Yorgos Servetas
Contemporary World Cinema: Club Sandwich, Mexico, dir. Fernando Eimbcke
The Dismantlement, Canada, dir. Sébastien Pilote
Empire of Dirt, Canada, dir. Peter Stebbings
An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, Bosnia and Herzegovina, dir. Danis Tanović
Manuscripts Don't Burn, Iran, dir. Mohammad Rasoulof
Metalhead, Iceland, dir. Ragnar Bragason
Palestine Stereo, Palestine, dir. Rashid Masharawi
Siddharth, Canada/India, dir. Richie Mehta
Under the Starry Sky, Senegal, dir. Dyana Gaye
A Wolf at the Door, Brazil, dir. Fernando Coimbra
Discovery: Bethlehem, Israel, dir. Yuval Adler
Sarah Prefers to Run, Canada, dir. Chloé Robichaud
Masters: Moebius, South Korea, dir. Kim Ki-duk
Our Sunhi, South Korea, dir. Hong Sang-soo
Triptych, Canada, dirs. Robert Lepage and Pedro Pires
Midnight Madness: Oculus, USA, dir. Mike Flanagan
Witching & Bitching, Spain, dir. Álex de la Iglesia
TIFF Docs: Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus, USA, dir. Madeleine Sackler
Finding Vivian Maier, USA, dirs. John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Jodorowsky's Dune, USA, dir. Frank Pavich
Midway, USA, dir. Chris Jordan
Tim's Vermeer, USA, dir. Teller, of "Penn and"
Vanguard: Gerontophilia, Canada, dir. Bruce LaBruce
Sapi, The Philippines, dir. Brillante Mendoza
Thou Gild'st the Even, Turkey, dir. Onur Ünül
Wavelengths: Manakamana, USA/Nepal, dirs. Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez
The Police Officer's Wife, Germany, dir. Philip Gröning
The Strange Little Cat, Germany, dir. Ramon Zürcher

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