Thursday, August 27, 2009

Toronto Film Festival Preview

Every year, I spend the week at the Toronto Film Festival, watching somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 films. I take the week off of work, and essentially run from one screening to the next all day. I absolutely love it. This year, it will be a little harder, since I’m coming from Brantford – but I’m not going to let that slow me down. I’ll just be a little more tired each day.

So this week, I picked up my advance order booklet for the two 10 passes I ordered. Because three other people are joining me on Saturday for two movies, that “only” gives me 14 films to select. I will fill out the rest of my schedule later when single tickets go on sale. But I must say, I am pretty excited about the 14 films I have selected. I hope that I get all 14, but even if I get my backups picks, I’ll be happy. The only two films that I am really upset that I will have to miss are An Education and Antichrist – both have their premiere screenings on the first Thursday or Friday (which I most likely cannot attend) and their daytime screenings far too early on the first Saturday to make it feasible to make it. But I have already planned out my (hopeful) festival schedule including the films that I will have to buy additional tickets for next week. I should have this all finalized by next Friday, when I will provide a final list of what I'm going to see, but until then, this is my dream line-up of 22 films. For the record, I saw the last two best picture Oscar winners (No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire) at the festival, so look closely, as one of these 22 may just win this year.

1. Jennifer’s Body (Karyn Kusama) – From Diablo Cody, the writer of Juno, comes her twisted take on the horror film with this story of a high school hottie with a lust for human flesh (Megan Fox) and her goody two shoes best friend (Amanda Seyfried). Getting JK Simmons and Amy Sedaris for supporting roles was also genius. While I am not convinced that Megan Fox can actually act, I love horror films, especially ones with a sense of humor, so I am looking forward to this one.

2. Up In the Air (Jason Reitman) – The Oscar buzz on this one is already deafening. George Clooney stars as a man who works as a consultant – for firing people, who starts to have doubts about the morality of his profession. With a cast that includes Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Jason Bateman, and Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking and Juno) directing, I am sure this one will be at the very least entertaining.

3. A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen) – I saw both of the Coen’s latest films – No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading – at the festival and loved them both, so I figure I cannot go wrong going for three in a row. The trailer does look hilarious, and I will follow the Coen brothers anywhere. Even after the preview, I still do not have a clue what the movie is about, but I don’t care.

4. Survival of the Dead (George A. Romero) – George A. Romero returns with his sixth zombie film, and really that is all I need to know. I am still bitter that when he was filming this one around my wife’s school, and there was a call for extras to be painted as zombies, she did not let me know until the day of the shooting. I could be a zombie for Christ's sake!

5. The Road (John Hillcoat) – This is my most anticipated film of the festival. John Hillcoat directed the wonderful Western The Proposition a few years ago, which felt like a Cormac McCarthy adaptation, although it wasn’t. Here, he returns with an adaptation of McCarthy’s best book – a post apocalyptic tale of a father and son just trying to survive day to day. McCarthy’s novel was incredibly dark and violent, but Hillcoat can handle both of these things easily. With Viggo Mortenson in the lead role, and a supporting cast including Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron and newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee this is one I have been waiting for a long time to see.

6. The Hole (Joe Dante) – A 3-D, family oriented thriller about a bottomless hole in the new house the basement of two kids. I like Dante enough as a filmmaker – even when he’s doing weird movies like Looney Tunes: Back in Action, to give this one a go. Besides, there was nothing else playing at this showtime I wanted to see.

7. Wild Grass (Alain Resnais) – Resnais is the only surviving French New Wave director still doing great work (take that Godard!). His new film, which was raved about at the Cannes film festival stars the great Mathieu Almaric, and has something to do with a lost wallet. But really, I’d see anything done by this master filmmaker.

8. Enter the Void (Gaspar Noe) – Noe is known for his extreme violence and unsettling material in his films, and his latest one appears to be no exception. It sparked wild debate at Cannes this year, for it’s story, entirely told from the point of view of a dead drug dealer in Tokyo coming back to protect his sister. Apparently at some point there is a bloody fetus. Not sure what to make of this one, but it is something I have to see at the festival – I may never get another chance!

9. The Loved Ones (Sean Bryne) – If I have learned anything by watching Australian horror movies, it’s that the Aussies are pretty screwed up. As a fan of horror films, I always try and check out at least one Midnight Madness movie (just not at midnight, that would be madness) and so this is the one that caught by attention. This is a high school horror movie set at the prom, where things go insanely wrong. Looking forward to it.

10. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog) – Herzog is a mad genius of the cinema, and so I was not as concerned as I otherwise would have been when it was announced that he was remaking Abel Ferrara’s brilliant Bad Lieutenant with Nicolas Cage in the Harvey Keitel role. Apparently, the films share little other than a title, and the fact they are about drug addicted cops in moral crisis. The chance to see Herzog in a Q&A was too much to pass up.

11. Leslie, My Name is Evil (Reginald Harkema) – Harkema, who directed the good little Canadian film Monkey Warfare a few years ago, returns with his twisted take on the Manson family with this film. I like the idea of a buttoned down guy whose girlfriend tells him they must wait for marriage to have sex (“I love you, but I love Jesus more”) becoming obsessed with the Manson family ideal of free love, and possibly murder. Sounds at least interesting.

12. Youth in Revolt (Miguel Arteta) – After his horrible first film, Star Maps, Arteta has come along quite nicely with films like the weird Chuck & Buck and the good indie romance The Good Girl. He has spent much of his time recently directing great TV (The Office), but it’s good to have him making a movie again. The film stars Michael Cera, but oddly the character (at least in the book) is not quite like the normal comic persona that Cera embraces. The book was weird – really weird – but also quite funny and touching. So, I’m in.

13. Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz) – One of my most highly anticipated films at this year’s festival. Although much of the film community has seemingly ignored Solondz’s last two films – Storytelling and Palindromes – I found both to be amazing, thought provoking moral puzzles. Even if Storytelling got a plant thrown at my head, I still loved it. I know little about this movie, and honestly I don’t want to know. I just want to see Solondz work his magic.

14. The Unloved (Samantha Morton) – Morton is one of the best actresses in the world, and she has always struck me as a very intelligent woman. As such, I cannot help myself of checking out her debut film as a director, even if it does not really sound like a Dave movie. It is the story of a little girl, taken out of her home by social workers, who has to endure the terror of group and foster homes. Sounds cheery, eh?

15. High Life (Gary Yates) – I cannot go to the film festival and not see at least one Canadian film - two years ago, I made the mistake of making that film All Hat, a terrible conman movie, so you do have to be careful. But High Life, starring Timothy Olyphant, who I love, about a drug addict planning on robbing an ATM sounds entertaining. I’ll give it a go anyway.

16. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (Rebecca Miller) – Miller, daughter of Arthur and wife of Daniel Day Lewis, has proven herself to be a gifted writer (her novels are quite good) and filmmaker with her first two films – Personal Velocity and The Ballad of Jack and Rose. Although I have not read this book (yet, I may try before the festival starts), anything that gives Robin Wright Penn a good role, I’m there for. Miller is one of the best writers of female characters in the world, and since she has filled her cast with talented women – Winona Ryder, Julianne Moore among them – I am looking forward to a good one here.

17. Mother (Bong Joon Ho) – Bong is my favorite of the new Korean filmmakers. The two films of his I have seen – the police procedural Memories of Murder and the monster movie The Host – were both brilliant. This psychological thriller got some great reviews at Cannes, but honestly, I’d see this one no matter what they said. Bong is one of the best young filmmakers in the world.

18. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (Werner Herzog) – Apparently, this is the exact opposite film as Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant, which I also plan to see at this year’s festival, as it focuses on a good cop (the brilliant Michael Shannon). The film co-stars Chloe Sevigny, so you know at least the acting will be good. Like with Bad Lieutenant, I am really hoping for a crazy Q&A with the director after this one.

19. The Ape (Jespar Genslandt) – Never heard of this filmmaker before, and when you go with the Vanguard program, you are taking your chances as you may end up watching a completely pretentious piece of crap. But the festival booklet, that says it would unfair to give any of the plot away, had me intrigued enough to go for it. I hope it works out.

20. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke) – Along with The Road and Life During Wartime, this is my most anticipated film of the festival. Haneke is one of my favorite filmmakers in the world right now – a man who makes complex, moral studies in his films. After winning pretty much every other prize at the Cannes Film Festival over the years, this one finally won him the big one – the Palme D’Or. The film, about a group of children who taught to believe in fascism in 1914 Germany, will hopefully be another masterpiece.

21. Leaves of Grass (Tim Blake Nelson)
Tim Blake Nelson is a wonderful actor, but he is also quite a good filmmaker, with the underrated films Eye of God, O and The Grey Zone under his belt. Edward Norton, who I have often thought needs to take on some roles that match his talent, stars as two polar opposite identical twins. The rest of the cast is filled out by Susan Sarandon and Keri Russell, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

22. Ondine (Neil Jordan) – Normally I have a rule about watching films about mermaids – I don’t. But director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, The Butcher Boy) has rarely made a bad film, and always tries something a little bit different, so this time I am willing to make an exception. Starring Colin Farrell, who has got much better in the last few years, and shot by Christopher Doyle – perhaps the most original cinematographer in the world right now, that was enough for me to break my own rule.

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