As my flight from Toronto landed here in New York, I saw on Twitter that the awards for TIFF 2010 were being handed out that minute-- and, predictably, I had seen none of the winning films. I'll plan to catch up soon with the Audience Award winner The King's Speech, and since Sony Classics picked up Best Canadian Feature winner Incendies I'll have my chance with this one as well. But this happens every time I cover a festival, breaking my neck to see as many movies as possible over 10 days and then seeing an awards ceremony from people who clearly experienced an entirely different festival.
Nobody can comprehensively cover a festival as large as Toronto-- with 246 movies on the slate, you'd practically need a month to get through them all-- so the best I can do is give you my take from what i saw. I still have plenty of coverage left to post, but with 36 TIFF movies under my belt after 10 days, here's the best, the worst, the weirdest, and everything in-between. Links take you to the reviews I managed to get written, and below them are snippets of those reviews (when available).
Best In Show: Black Swan.
A highly competitive ballet company may seem an odd location for the director of muscular, masculine films like The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream, but Aronofsky brings all of his obsessions here, from the intersection of the physical body and art to parental relationships with the power to destroy. He's also made a damn effective horror movie, and wrung a career-best performance from Natalie Portman. The list of superlatives here could well go on forever.
Best in Show, First Runner-Up: Meek's Cutoff.
Like Kelly Reichardt's previous work, Meek's Cutoff demands a certain stillness and acceptance from the viewer-- plenty of people are going to walk out of this complaining that "nothing happens," and the enigmatic ending may draw more groans than that spinning top in Inception. But anyone who marveled at Wendy and Lucy's quiet dissembling of the American dream will be equally captivated by Meek's Cutoff.
Best in Show, Third Runner-Up: 127 Hours.
It's impossible to ignore how genuinely inspiring Ralston's story is, not to mention the marvel that Boyle has made a story about an accidental punishment into one of redemption and hope. Without ever leaning too hard on the emotional buttons or cheapening Ralston's personal story with too general a message, 127 Hours combines the power of cinema with a great story to terrify us and move us in equal measure. Said simply, it's wonderful.
Worst In Show: Dirty Girl.
Especially with the terrific Easy A playing at the festival, with its open embrace of teen female sexuality and gay identity, Dirty Girl feels particularly out of place, an attempt at being edgy and raw that instead beaches itself on that border between irony and actual storytelling. Far be it from me to underestimate the Weinsteins and the marketing genius, but even with relatively big names on board Dirty Girl is all kinds of a tough sell.
Best Movie Without Distribution: The Whistleblower.
I went into The Whistleblower, directed by first-timer Larysa Kondracki and starring Rachel Weisz, with muted expectations-- I hadn't heard much about the film or even its premise, but figured it would be another standout Weisz performance if nothing else. To my surprise, the movie slayed me. It's not the best film I've seen at the festival, and will struggle to find an audience with its earnest politics and brutal depiction of violence, but The Whistleblower is a fantastic exploration of the struggles of women in a world run by men.
Best Movie Excuse For A Nap: Casino Jack.
Documentarian Alex Gibney already told the story of power lobbyist Jack Abramoff with his excellent documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money, and now George Hickenlooper is mining the exact same territory in a narrative film that adds nothing to the conversation, whether you've seen Gibney's film or not. Kevin Spacey is compelling as the charismatic, totally bizarre Abramoff, but the character is a cipher even after two hours, and story full of so many weird twists and political figures is drowned in pedestrian, unengaging direction that seemingly goes on forever. Having seen Gibney's film already, I felt entitled to the extended nap I took in the middle of this one-- though, of course, a little guilty about it as well.
Best Surprise, Movie: Let Me In.
The movie is well-acted down the line-- Smit-McPhee and Moretz are as wide open and natural as their Swedish counterparts, and Jenkins, as ever, is a marvel-- and the movie never shies away from its more violent, disturbing elements, which in some ways makes it a very un-American movie. You've got to admire the efforts and intentions of everyone involved here…
Best Surprise, Male Performance: Michael Angarano in Ceremony.
Even though I couldn't stand Angarano's pretentious, fast-talking character Sam in the opening acts of Ceremony, I marveled at his ability to keep up the film's comedic pace and stick with his fairly reprehensible character. Then Angarano fully sold Sam's transformation into an actual human being, and it became abundantly clear that this young actor, who looks like an eerie hybrid between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Sam Rockwell, has the chops to keep it going through adulthood. I'm officially looking forward to whatever he's bringing us next.
Best Surprise, Female Performance: Sally Hawkins in Submarine.
In a well-acted little comedy full of tons of surprises, Hawkins is particularly stellar as a stand-offish mother who has fallen out of love with her husband and, seemingly, her entire life. The woman who so captured vibrancy and youth in Happy-Go-Lucky just two years ago is shut down and morose here, though occasionally revealing flashes of humor, just enough to keep you interested in her. I was more surprised to see that Hawkins was in the film at all, knowing so little about Submarine before seeing it, but I was also impressed with her ability to show chilly restraint, especially in such an exuberant, sometimes wild film. Submarine has been picked up for distribution by the Weinstein Company, so you'll have a chance to get a look as well.Biggest Disappointment (tie): It's Kind Of A Funny Story and What's Wrong With Virginia.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have made two gems with Half-Nelson and Sugar, but with their move toward the mainstream with It's Kind of a Funny Story….
Boden and Fleck bring some of their trademark gifts for observing humanity and accepting the more complicated twists of human nature, but the story sticks firmly to the indie playbook, right down to the climactic kiss on a roof and even a musical number that expresses the characters' innermost feelings. It's not that the directors weren't allowed to change it up, but without their handheld camera and naturalistic feel, all the depth and honesty of their filmmaking seems to have vanished as well.
Directed by Dustin Lance Black and starring a very able Jennifer Connelly, I wanted What's Wrong With Virginia to be a worthy spin on Todd Haynes's campy obsession with stultifying suburbia. Instead...
The movie is all over the place in every imaginable way, set in some modern-day American pastiche of the 50s as translated by David Lynch and Todd Haynes, vacillating wildly from camp to melodrama to harsh satire and back again, and relying on us to stay grounded in the whole thing by Gilbertson's Emmett, who seems like a nice kid and all, but sure doesn't have the strength to carry a movie on his shoulders.
Best/Worst Acid Trip of a Movie You'll Probably Never See: Passion Play.
7. This is a movie in which Megan Fox and Mickey Rourke don't just share a frame and hold hands, but have fairly graphic sex.
Best/Worst Acid Trip of a Movie That IFC Is Brave Enough To Bring To You: Super:
While Super is even darker and weirder and more cynical than Kick-Ass, its tonal inconsistencies and a whopper of a terrible ending hamper it all the same. The TIFF Midnight Madness crowd ate it up when I saw it last night, but I suspect they had the same experience I did of coming home and realizing how much of the film didn't work once all the pieces were in place.
Worthwhile TIFF movies you can already see in theaters: The Town, Never Let Me Go and Easy A.
Worthwhile TIFF movies you'll see in theaters soon (aside from the ones already mentioned): Errol Morris's Tabloid, Alex Gibney's Client 9, Rodrigo Cortes's Buried, John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole, Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine.
Worthwhile TIFF movie you'll see on HBO soon: The Promise: The Making of the Darkness on the Edge of Town.
I don't know when I'll write about this Bruce Springsteen documentary, or even how to review it beyond typing out the lyrics to "Badlands," but this making-of chronicle from Springsteen's and the E Street Band's salad days was one of my most satisfying TIFF experiences. It's heavy enough into the detail of performing and mixing a record to satisfy the music geeks, features enough archival footage to tickle the Springsteen aficionados, and is damn fascinating enough to thrill those of us somewhere in-between. I've long said I'd do anything to be able to witness a young Bruce Springsteen in person, and The Promise is probably the closest I'll get without a time machine.
More Cinema Blend coverage from the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival right here.