Film Festivals

There was a trend to the movies on my screening list for day ten at TIFF. In all four of the films I attended, a lead actress shone in a plum role; however, all four of cases also fell short of providing a film to match her talents. I started the day with a double shot of Canadian content and began with Winnie, the Canadian-South African co-produced biopic about Winnie Mandela, the political activist and former wife of President Nelson Mandela, played by Jennifer Hudson.

Winnie might not win Hudson a second Oscar, but all those who scoffed at Hudson back in 2006 and deemed that she was not a serious and/or talented actress will surely eat crow after attending a screening of Winnie. (However, the film could score Hudson her first Genie nod.) Hudson dives into her subject with a dual edge and reveals the bipolar sides of Winnie, both humane and maniacal. She does her subject justice and she gives a performance that refuses to shy away from the controversy of the former Mrs. Mandela. Most importantly, Hudson wears the suffering of Winnie’s thirty-odd years of political power, so even when Winnie becomes more like a devious mobster than a devoted philanthropist, her humanity rings true.

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Day nine of the festival yielded one of the collectively stronger days of screenings. Day nine was also one of the heavier days of the festival, with Take Shelter, Tyrannosaur, and Wuthering Heights comprising the last three acts of the line-up. It was therefore a relief to start the day with a comedy, Hysteria. Hysteria is a very funny historical romp that details the invention of the vibrator by a Victorian era physician, Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) and his resourceful friend (Rupert Everett).

Mortimer begins his medical profession as a keen physician. He is eager to dispense with antiquated methods, such as bleeding or leeches, and he treats his patients by putting into practice the latest methods advocated by the leading contemporary research. His methods get the best of him, though, because curmudgeonly old-timers run all London’s hospitals.

Desperate, Mortimer takes a job with Dr. Robert Dalrymple, a wealthy curer of women’s needs (Jonathan Pryce). Dr. Dalrymple believes that over half of London’s women suffer from sexual hysteria, a malady whose symptoms include restlessness, anxiety, and burning desires. Dr. Dalrymple prefers to treat his female patients without use of elixirs or tonics, and he take a more manual approach towards offering his clients relief. He is essentially a gigolo with a medical degree.

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Day eight of TIFF was light for movie-going, as I had only two films on the schedule. The day began with a resounding thud with a screening of That Summer (Un été brûlant). This new feature by French filmmaker Philippe Garrel pits two couples in romantic squabbles as they vacation together in Rome. That Summer ranks among the most flaccid infidelity dramas I have ever seen, aside from one great dance sequence in which Monica Bellucci heats up the screen. The early scenes of That Summer show promise, but the film ultimately becomes as empty and directionless as its four characters. Like an exasperated parent awaiting ‘Back to School’, Summer can’t end soon enough!

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Buyers at TIFF beware! A genuine crowd pleaser is still up for grabs! This morning’s screening of Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding drew raves from the full house at the Visa Screening Room. The film marks a repeat triumph for director Bruce Beresford, whose last film, Mao’s Last Dancer, took the runner-up spot for the Audience Award at TIFF 2009.

The top draw of the film is a winning return from Hollywood icon Jane Fonda. Despite a considerable decline in the frequency of the actress’s onscreen output, one leaves Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding with the impression that Fonda has been continually active throughout the years. The actress simply does not miss a beat in her hilariously groovy performance as Grace, a legendary hippie of Woodstock, New York. (Keep an eye on Fonda when it comes time to count the ballots for Best Actress in a Comedy at the Golden Globes.) Grace is a fun character who draws heavily upon Fonda’s star persona – the protest scenes seem an especially nostalgic nod at “Hanoi Jane” – as well as the breezy energy of her exercise tapes.

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Reviewed here yesterday by AD correspondent Patrick Mullen from TIFF.

Jason Reitman to serve as guest artist and will present a live reading of The Breakfast Club with surprise cast.  The festival, beginning October 13, will premiere The Rum Diary and will also screen Martha Marcy May Marlene. Press release:

Los Angeles (September 13, 2011) — Film Independent, the non-profit arts organization that produces the Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival, and The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) celebrates the launch of the Film Independent at LACMA Film Series, presented by The New York Times, on Thursday, October 13.  The inclusive series offers unique film experiences, bringing together Film Independent’s large community of filmmakers and wide spectrum of audiences, with LACMA’s commitment to presenting cinema in an artistic and historical context.  The new program will present classic and contemporary narrative and documentary films, artists and their influences, emerging auteurs, international showcases, special guest-curated programs, in addition to conversations with artists, curators and special guests.  Film Independent at LACMA is under the curatorial leadership of esteemed film critic Elvis Mitchell in collaboration with LACMA Film Coordinator Bernardo Rondeau and Film Independent’s programming team.

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Anyone who has read a James Ellroy novel can attest to the author’s unparalleled ability to dramatize the dark corruption of the LAPD. Ellroy’s collaboration on the screenplay of Rampart brings his hard-boiled world to the screen, and starkly so through the gritty style of director/co-writer Oren Moverman (The Messenger). Rampart is an unflinching and unflattering portrait of the Rampart division of the LAPD. While the graphic realism of the film pushes it near the point of repulsion, Rampart is also a fascinating interpretation of seedy cops thanks to Woody Harrelson’s bravura performance as Dave Brown, the prototypical LAPD cop who abides by the philosophy of “shoot first, ask questions later.”

Brown is perhaps the worst kind of cop. This is not because he’s a hotheaded racist pig, but because he packs an earnest desire to protect the streets, yet his vigilant ethic frequently turns into vigilantism. Brown prefers to work outside the law in order to uphold it. Like a small boy playing with his toys, Brown flaunts the law ignorant to the consequences. The repercussions of his ire are evident in his fractured family. Brown supports two sisters – one is his current wife (Anne Heche), one is his ex-wife (Cynthia Nixon) – as well as one daughter from each of the two mothers. All four women in Brown’s life are plainly suffering from neglect. Much like the relationship between Brandon and Sissy in Shame, Dave’s recklessness explodes with complete disregard to his family.

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The day after seeing Take this Waltz, I attended a party at Sarah Polley’s alma mater, the Canadian Film Centre (CFC). Polley wasn’t in attendance, unfortunately, but spirits at the annual BBQ were high because several alumni have hotly buzzed films at the festival, including Waltz, Ingrid Veninger’s i am a good person/ i am a bad person, and Randall Cole’s 388 Arletta Avenue. CFC is Canada’s top school for advanced training in film, television, and new media. Oscar-nominated director Norman Jewison founded CFC, which also produces shorts and feature films, and it runs the WorldWide Shorts Film Festival (one of only three festivals accredited by the AMPAS). Aside from the school’s recent films, you might have seen CFC in the news lately when it was announced that director Christopher Nolan selected CFC as the charity of his choice to receive a $100,000 donation. The annual BBQ was a fun event overall and a nice celebration of Canadian talent during the festival.

My first screening of the day was Steve McQueen’s Shame, and was it ever an exciting one! One of the great things about the Venice/TIFF overlap is that enthusiasm builds considerably whenever a TIFF selection triumphs in Venice. Post-Venice, the ticket lines (and Twitter) are all a flurry with extra-anticipation. TIFF-goers were so eager for Shame that I arrived at the venue an hour and a half before the screening to find the ticket holders line beginning to wrap around a few streets.

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“They don’t make ‘em like they used to.” I would feel foolish making such a statement after seeing The Artist, the much-buzzed silent film of the festival circuit, for the film itself refutes the idea that movies have been in a decline the glory days of the silent era. If anything, the style and substance of The Artist demonstrate that the films of today are just as good as they were eighty years ago, if not better.

The Artist was a late addition to my TIFF line-up. You could also call it an early one, since my brother and I were so determined to get tickets that we both awoke in time for the festival’s final release of ‘same day’ tickets at 7am. Being a member, he got to the box office for seven, while I stayed at home to place an order online so that we could beat the members at the front of the queue. Oh, the things we do for film. Continue reading…

Golden Lion – Faust
Silver Lion – Shangjun Cai
Cinematography – Wuthering Heights
Screenplay – Alps
Volpi Cup Actor – Michael Fassbender, Shame
Volpi Cup for Best Actress – Deanie Yip, A Simple Life
Emerging young actor/actress Shota Sometani, Fumi Nikaido from the film, Himizu
Jury Prize – Terrafirma

Today’s TIFF started with a whole lot of line-ups. It’s so good to see so many excited moviegoers! In the morning, I went to the box office to pick up my ticket for Sunday’s Premium screening of Shame (be jealous!) and I added Tyrannosaur to my Friday schedule. (That’ll be a packed day with Hysteria, Take Shelter, and Wuthering Heights already penned in.) I wanted to add an afternoon show for today; however, none of the “On sale” films piqued my interested, so I rushed on over to the AGO and took a spot in the rush line for Le Havre. Le Havre seems to be one of the more in-demand films at the fast, and the queue of moviegoers was far too long for everyone to get in. Unfortunately, I was among the fifty or so people who were out of luck. Hopefully word will be passed along to distributors and Le Havre will eventually be coming to a theatre near you. [Here’s Sasha’s review of Le Havre from Cannes.]

Since I only had the night-time screening, I decided to make a detour to Roy Thompson Hall while en route to We Need to Talk About Kevin. I made it to RTH just in time for the red carpet segment of the Moneyball premiere, and I managed to see Anna Faris, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman and…. BRAD and ANGELINA!!! It was very exciting to see Hollywood’s hottest couple in person (even though I was about six rows deep). I even managed to snag a few pics! Only at TIFF would I spend an hour creeping on stars whose film I’m seeing the next day…

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In addition to winning the international critics’ FIPRESCI Award in Venice, Shame also earns Best Film honors from Arca CinemaGiovani and CinemAvvenire.  The Leoncino d’Oro Agiscuola Award goes to Roman Polanski’s Carnage.  The Queer Lion has been awarded to Al Pacino’s Wilde Salome.

Venice La Biennale Collateral Awards 2011

FIPRESCI Award
Best Film, Venezia 68: Shame by Steve McQueen
Best Film, Orizzonti and International Critics’ Week: Two Years at Sea by Ben Rivers
SIGNIS Award
to Faust by Aleksandr Sokurov
Special Mention to A Simple Life by Ann Hui

The TIFF Midnight Madness screening of Gareth Huw Evans’ Indonesian thriller The Raid kicked ass to hell and back. Andrew Mack at Twitch says it’s “the action film of the year.”

By now you should know the premise of the film. A criminal overlord lives on the top floor of a large apartment building. It is wired to the nines with cameras and speakers. No one moves in this building without him knowing it. He owns everything and everyone inside it. Two-bit criminals take refuge behind its doors. Junkies get their fix in derelict apartments. Nearly everyone inside the building is bought and owned by this overlord. Iko Uwais is Rama, a rookie SWAT team member. One of twenty attempting to infiltrate this fortified complex and snatch the boss. Thing is, they are discovered and whole building turns on them and they have to fight for lives, from floor to floor, room by room. Do they continue with their mission? Or do they just try to get out and survive?

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How strange to think of last year’s results for the Golden Lion when Tarantino-led jury chose Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere and from whence it was never seen nor heard from again.  You’ll want to read this piece by Guy Lodge which, I think, gives an interesting rundown on Venice and their award history.  At any rate, he closes it with his predictions of how he thinks it will go and how he wishes it would go:

WILL WIN

Golden Lion: “Shame,” Steve McQueen
Silver Lion (Best Director): 
“Alps,” Yorgos Lanthimos
Grand Jury Prize: 
“Faust,” Aleksandr Sokurov
Best Actor: 
Michael Fassbender, “Shame”
Best Actress: 
Deannie Yip, “A Simple Life”
Best Screenplay: 
Eran Kolirin, “The Exchange”
Outstanding Technical Contribution:
 Robbie Ryan, “Wuthering Heights”
Best Young Actor: Juno Temple, “Killer Joe”

SHOULD WIN

Golden Lion: “Alps,” Yorgos Lanthimos
Silver Lion (Best Director): 
“Wuthering Heights,” Andrea Arnold
Grand Jury Prize: 
“Shame,” Steve McQueen
Best Actor: 
Christoph Waltz, “Carnage”
Best Actress: 
Carey Mulligan, “Shame”
Best Screenplay: 
Yorgos Lanthimos, “Alps”
Outstanding Technical Contribution:
 Robbie Ryan, “Wuthering Heights”
Best Young Actor: Juno Temple, “Killer Joe”

I find these jury awards are very difficult to predict.  I would have thought that Black Swan would have been the easy choice last year, but, as Lodge points out, there might not have been the sentiment to push it forward as it seemed like it would go far in the awards race.  Do they think about stuff like that? I don’t know.  But this year, the jury is headed up by Darren Aronofsky.  I haven’t seen most of the films up for the award but having seen Shame I can’t believe it won’t win.

It’s my pleasure to cover the Toronto International Film Festival this year for Awards Daily. This year, many of the heavyweights at TIFF have already bowed at other festivals, so it will be fun to see which films have crossover appeal and which ones, if any, do not. The advance buzz (and the new advance-tier in the ticket lottery for high roller donors) made it difficult to get tickets for some of the hotter films. I was mildly successful in the lottery but was more so on ‘single ticket day,’ and I had my Toronto-based brother to count on for ticket exchanges. The only significant omission in my schedule is A Dangerous Method (I’m not willing to pay the $475 someone was asking on Craig’s List). I currently have a packed schedule of 26-28 films, so there will be lots to report in the next few days.

We began the first night of the festival with a documentary. It wasn’t the U2 doc From the Sky Down – it’s difficult to get a ticket for the opening night film, unless said film happens to be Score: A Hockey Musical. Our first film was Pina, the documentary on contemporary dancing directed by Wim Wenders. I’m so glad to have chosen Wim over Bono, though, because Pina is an impressive and audaciously original piece of filmmaking.

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J.Edgar will debut at this year’s AFI Film Festival one week before it’s official limited release November 9. (via Steve Pond at The Wrap)

Over the past decade, four other films directed by Eastwood have made the American Film Institute’s annual list of the year’s best movies: “Mystic River” in 2003, “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004, “Letters from Iwo Jima” in 2006 and “Gran Torino” in 2008.

“Clint Eastwood is an American icon – one whose work as a director, actor, producer and composer not only stands the test of time, but also continues to add new, rich chapters with each passing year,” AFI president and CEO Bob Gazzale said in the press release announcing the booking. “ … What an honor it is for the American Film Institute to premiere his latest contribution to America’s cultural legacy.”

The 25th Annual AFI Fest takes place from November 3 through November 10

The last days of Telluride were about seeing movies but they were also about connecting with people.  Some of them were movie stars.  Some of them were film critics, some were publicists, and some film bloggers.

On one morning I had the occasion to meet and talk to the great Glenn Close, staring in Albert Nobbs. A few of us were given a small window to interview her after the film screened the night before.  She was there to do a q&a about the film.  Close, now in her 50s 60s, is still a strikingly beautiful woman.   Scott Feinberg, Kris Tapley, Anne Thompson, Jeff Wells and I were all sitting around up at the Chuck Jones theater shooting the shit about the Oscars.  I bet Feinberg a cool $20 that Viola Davis was going to win in the Best Actress category, despite it being really Close’s year.  The reason for this is that I think Davis wins in any category she’s put in but I think they’ll put her in lead. If she isn’t put in that category, Close will take it.  The Oscars are always hard to predict, especially when you try to do it as early as September.

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I don’t need no lasso
I don’t need no ball and chain
I don’t need anything with you
Such a shame, shame, shame
Shame, shame, shame
Shame is the shadow of love
–PJ Harvey

Steve McQueen’s unflinching look at sexual addiction and what drives it is the subject of this startlingly moving film, which had its premier in Venice but played here in Telluride yesterday.  The film stars Michael Fassbender as a successful but isolated businessman who relies on porn, prostitutes and masturbation in place of real intimacy. He can’t get close to anyone but he can have pseudo closeness.  It’s not all that far from Thomas Haden Church in Sideways, “you don’t understand my plight.”  But in Sideways it was never really examined so closely.  In Shame, the character is running from past emotional damage; he’s doing whatever it takes to rub out whatever that was, driving him deeper into his addiction.

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“A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: ‘There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.'”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 4

It was hard not to think of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby as we made our way in the shuttle up the winding dirt road to a party thrown for patrons and VIPS – their reward for their generous donations and coverage was hob-nobbing with the various celebrities who were in Telluride to promote their films.  The shuttle picked people up down on Main Street, in front of the Sheridan hotel, all of them crammed in tightly, cell phones at the ready so as to avoid conversation.  But if conversation did start it was usually the same kind of thing: How long is the ride? Is this where the brunch was last year? Is George Clooney going to be there?

The shuttle stopped at the top of a mountain that itself wasn’t even the highest mountain but still boasted the kind of view you only have if you’re if you’re a winner in life.  You’ve at last won the game, either by getting something coming to you, or you worked hard for it and this is what you have to show the world that you’ve won the damned game.

We wandered down the dusty road where there were white tents with round tables underneath them.  The staff busily prepared the all local and organic menu, the mimosas, the coffee, and of course, the one thing you simply can’t do without in Telluride: water.  There were a few names there already and we were began rubber-necking.  Ken Burns, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Alexander Payne were the early birds, each of them talking to anyone who happened to approach.

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Sasha’s own hand-held giggle-cam videography.

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