At this year’s TIFF. I saw 27 movies, which is more than any other year, and more than the Cannes jury sees every year, so I decided to give out my own awards for the first time ever. I did not see the People’s Choice award winner this year - Precious - but I will certainly see it when it gets released later this fall. But I did some great films. I have named the five best films, plus some additional awards.
1. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen) - The Coens brothers latest film is one of their very best. It stars Michael Stuhlbarg as a man whose life starts coming apart at the seems. The film is inspired by the Book of Job, as Stuhlbarg faces one moral dilemma or test after another, and has to decide what to do. The film is hilarious, but also quietly profound. The Coens have made another masterpiece.
2. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke) - Haneke’s Palme D’Or winning masterwork takes place in 1914 Germany, where in a small town, the patriarchs of six different families impose their absolutist values on their kids, slowly stripping them of any and all individuality, and the ability to tell right from wrong. The film is a slow burn, so some will undoubtedly be bored by it, but for fans of Haneke, this is one of his best.
3. The Road (John Hillcoat) - Cormac McCarthy’s Pulizer Prize winning book becomes a great movie for director Hillcoat. Starring Viggo Mortenson as The Man and Kodi Smit-McPhee as his on, making their way through a post apocalyptic American landscape, digging for food, trying to avoid cannibals, and just trying to stay alive. Bleak in the extreme, the movie is actually quite life affirming and touching. Brilliant performances and a visual look, the film is great.
4. Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz) - Solondz’s follow-up to Happiness, casts all new actors in the roles originated a decade ago. The film contains Solondz’s signature blend of a awkward humor and taboo subject matter. While not quite the moral puzzle of Palindromes, or quite as involving as Happiness, Life During Wartime is still a brilliant little movie about some very screwed up people.
5. Mother (Bong Jong-ho) - Bong is one of the best directors in the world right now, and Mother may well be his best films to date. Focusing on the amazing Kim Hye-ja as a mother whose mentally challenged son is charged with murder, who decides to investigate the matter herself. The film has a distinctive visual look and feel, and the film is a brilliant mix of dark comedy, psychological thriller and disturbing family drama. A masterwork.
Best Actor: Viggo Mortenson in The Road - Mortenson is masterful as a man just trying to stay alive with his son. An emotionally powerful, devastating performance from one of the best actors in the world.
Runner-Up: Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man - Stuhlbarg is understately hilarious, and heartbreaking, as a man whose life completely falls apart. A subtle performance, but a masterful one.
Other Great Performances: Nicolas Cage has is best role in years in Werner Herzog’s twisted, dark comedy Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans. Edward Norton delivers not one but two great performances as twins in Tim Blake Nelson’s Leaves of Grass.
Best Actress: Kim Hye-ja, Mother - A TV star who has played countless mothers over the years, here gives a disturbing performance as a woman who will do anything for her son. A brilliant turn, that should, but never will, get nominated for an Oscar.
Runner-Up: Ellen Page, Whip It - Page carries the movie with her charming, funny performance as a teen girl who just wants to do her own thing. Yes, the movie follows the Juno formula, but when Page is this good, you don’t really care. Still one of my favorite young actresses in the world.
Other Great Performances: Giovanna Mezzogiorno is brilliant as a woman trying to get Musslini to acknowledge the fact they were married in Vincere, Shirley Henderson takes on the Janes Adams role in Life During Wartime and knocks it out of the park and Rose McCleavy is the most disturbing female horror movie psycho is years in The Loved Ones.
Supporting Actor: Burghart Klausner in The White Ribbon - As the pastor, Klausner gives a performance of rare power and authority in Haneke’s masterpiece. It is dark, disturbing role that he plays to perfection.
Runner-Up: Robert Duvall in The Road - In just one scene, Duvall packs an emotional wallop as the old man who they come across. He is neither a kindly old man, nor a crazy one, but sometime altogether more unforgettable.
Other Great Performances: Fred Melamed and Richard Kind are both brilliant, one as a new age hippie type, the other as infantile middled aged man in A Serious Man, Michael K. Williams delivers two great performances as the Thief in The Road and a pervert in Lfe During Wartime and Paul Reubens is disturbingly good as a ghost in Life During Wartime.
Supporting Actress: Charlize Theron in The Road - She takes what was a nothing role in the book, and makes one of the most unforgettable characters of the festival, as a woman, seen only in flashback, who simply wants to give up.
Runner-Up: Allison Janney in Life During Wartime - Janney fits perfectly into the weird world of Todd Solondz. She has the many of the best lines, which are disturbing, but brilliantly funny in her hands.
Other Great Performances: Sari Lennick is wonderful as the cheating wife in A Serious Man, Ally Sheedyis gloriously self involved in Life During Wartime, Maria Victora Dargis is the best of the put upon children in The White Ribbon.
Most Plesant Surprise: Leaves of Grass - I liked Tim Blake Nelson’s first three directorial films, but nothing prepared me for just how good Leaves of Grass was going to be. Hilarious, heartfelt and profound, Leaves of Grass was a wonderful surprise.
Runner-Up: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans -I did not think that Bad Lieutenant needed to be remade, and thought that this would be a train wreck. But this dark comedy is absolutely hilarious, and disturbing, and Nicolas Cage is brilliant.
Biggest Disappointment: My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? - Going into the festival I thought that Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant would be the bad one, and this would be the good one, but I was so wrong. Herzog, teaming up with producer David Lynch, creates a movie without much of a plot, with no characters to care about, and nothing really going for it.
Runner-Up: George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead - I actually liked this one quite a bit, but it is definitely the least of Romero’s Dead series. At only 90 minutes, the movie seems a little too long to support the thin material. A fine film, but it could have been so much better.
Weirdest Movie: Enter the Void - It takes talent to be a festival with two Herzog movies and a film about a man who falls in loves with a tree and still be clearly the weirdest movie of the festival. A visually interesting film, they film that tells an utterly ridiculous story that culminates in an orgy and sex from the point of view of a vagina. Can’t say I liked it that much, but I am glad I saw it.
Runner-Up: Nymph - A love triangle between a man, a woman and a tree, this Thai film is a nearly plotless, nearly wordless tone poem about a married couple in trouble. Really strange, and not nearly as interesting as Enter the Void.
Worst Film: Year of the Carnivore - The first film of the festival was clearly the worst. A terribly unfunny, awkward romantic comedy by Sook Yin Lee, this one was downright painful.
Runner-Up: Partir - A painfully self serious French adultery drama with Kristen Scott Thomas a woman who leaves her wealthy husband for a poor worker, this film is really dull and uninteresting.