Thursday, September 10, 2009

Weekly Top Tens: Most Memorable TIFF Screenings

So, as I get ready for another year of the Toronto Film Festival, I thought I’d look back at my own most memorable screenings that I have attended in the past four years. These are certainly not the “best” films I have seen there (the two best – No Country for Old Men and I’m Not There - are not even listed at all), but the screenings at the festival that I will always remember for various reason. This is probably not of interest to anyone but me, but who cares? It’s my blog.

10. Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love (Chai Vasarhelyl, 2008)
Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love is an average documentary about the famed African singer who created controversy when he decided to sing about his Muslim faith. It is certainly not a bad documentary by any stretch of the imagination, but one that I found rather dull and uninteresting, as there did not seem to be much conflict in the film. So why then does this mainly forgettable movie stand out in my mind? Simple. Last year, I went with a friend to see a few movies at the festival. We had tickets to two, and about 4 hours in between, and she suggested we go see this movie to kill time, because she had heard them raving about it on CBC Radio (another example of why they suck!). About halfway through the movie, I’m almost bored to tears, and think to myself “Well, at Jen is happy we saw this movie”, and which point I looked over, and saw that she had fallen asleep. While she napped, I was stuck watching a damn movie I didn’t want to see in the first place! We’re going again this year, but I am not listening to any more advice from the CBC!

9. A Good Year (Ridley Scott, 2006)
Another movie that just wasn’t very good, A Good Year sticks out in my mind because it is the one, and only, Gala I have ever seen at the festival. Luckily for us, we had reserved seats (I got the tickets from work), so we didn’t have to fit the lines or anything like that. I do not think I’ve ever been in a bigger place to see a movie than Roy Thomson Hall, and me and my then girlfriend (now wife) joked that we were close enough to the stage that Russell Crowe (who was there of course) could hit us with a telephone if he so choose. The movie sucked, but I will always remember going.
8. When the Levees Broke (Spike Lee, 2006)
When the Levees Broke was the last film I watched at TIFF in 2006. Spike Lee’s brilliant four hour documentary about what happened before, during and after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was brilliant – perhaps the best documentary of the decade. Lee was on hand to introduce the film before it started, and for some reason felt very strongly about eliminating the proposed intermission after hour two, which meant we had to go straight through the film for four straight hours. By then, I was in the middle of my annual TIFF cold (I think it’s because I spend so much time either in the hot or rainy streets, or in movie theaters that crank their air conditioning too high, and it does a number on my system), tired as hell, and yet I still thought it was the best film I saw that year.

7. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillero Del Toro, 2006)
Director Guillermo Del Toro’s excitement is contagious. Unlike many directors at the festival, Del Toro showed up for the morning screening of his movie, did a great introduction, and one of the best Q&As I have ever seen at the festival. He was obviously very proud of his film (and rightly so, the movie is his masterpiece), and his enthusiasm when talking about every aspect of the film was simply a wonder to behold. Sometimes it seems like actors and directors who are stuck doing a Q&A are that at gunpoint. But Del Toro loved every minute of it.

6. Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)
Sometimes at the festival you take a chance on a movie that you have never really heard, by a director you are unfamiliar with, and stars you cannot name on sight. Such was the case was Koren filmmaker Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine, one of the best films of the decade, and it still has not got picked up for North American release, and remains unavailable on DVD over here. All I knew about the film is that lead actress Do-yeon Jeon has won the actress prize at Cannes, so I gave the film a chance. Her performance was remarkable – it put the Oscar nominated performances that year to shame. Also excellent in the film was Kang-ho Song, who has become one of my favorite actors. What starts as a movie about a young widow trying to rebuild her life in a small town with her son, turns into a story about a mother grieving when her son is murdered, and then morphs into a quest for spiritual redemption, then finally turns into a story about a woman punishing God. Despite the radical story shifts, the movie remains remarkably consistent, believable and enthralling throughout. So despite the fact that none of the people involved with the film were at the screening, this is one I will always remember.

5. Nothing But the Truth (Rod Lurie, 2008)
Rod Lurie’s Nothing But the Truth is an intelligent, absorbing legal thriller about a woman who breaks a major news story that outs a CIA agent, and then refuses to reveal her source, despite demands from the government, and threats of going to jail. The film itself is fine, with great performances by Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Alan Alda, Vera Farmiga and David Schwimmer, but has an ending that feels a little too pat and predictable. But what made this one of the most memorable screenings is the fact that writer/director Rod Lurie had the longest, most interesting Q&A I have ever seen at the festival. Starting with the film, that branching out into politics – on the eve of the election last year, the conversation quickly turned to Barack Obama, John McCain, Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton – Lurie went off in several different directions all at once, and had an involving conversation/confrontation with the audience (there appeared to be a surprising number of American Republicans in the crowd). This is the kind of experience you can only have at the festival.

4. Che (Steven Soderbergh, 2008)
On the last day I attended the festival last year, I walked into Steven Soderbergh’s two part, four plus hour Che biopic at 9 in the morning, and stumbled out sometime past one amazed by what I had just seen. Watching the film all in one sitting (well, it did have a brief intermission in between) is certainly the way to watch Soderbergh’s masterwork, a film that does not take the traditional biopic form, but instead does something wholly unique and interesting with it. Benicio Del Toro was magnificent in the lead role, and the movie is just simply fascinating. A great experience.

3. Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008)
I have never been in a theater filled with so much energy as I was last year at the Ryerson for Slumdog Millionaire. This was a movie I picked solely because I like Danny Boyle, but I did so with trepidation, as when I read over the description about an Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, I thought it sounded retarded. But once that film started, the audience ate up every minute of the film, and the spontaneous standing ovation at the end was truly remarkable. I think the reason why I was disappointed in my subsequent viewings of the film have to do with just how much energy was in the room last year – because the first time I watched it, I absolutely loved it.

2. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)
I saw The Fountain in 2006, and remember just how disappointed the audience was when they announced that Darren Aronofsky would not be present for the film. So I held out no hope that he would show last year. Then Cameron Bailey came on, by himself, at the scheduled start time of the movie and announced that the screening would start late, because Aronofsky was on his way. By the time he finally arrived – 20 minutes late – the Ryerson was rocking. It really was like being at a wrestling match, as the audience was screaming and yelling to get things started, and when Aronofsky stepped on stage, you would have thought it was a rock star. This alone would have made the screening memorable, but then the movie was an absolute masterpiece – the best I saw at last year’s festival – and by the time Bruce Springsteen’s closing song starting playing, I was crying like a little girl, and was barely able to compose myself, before walking out in front of 2,000 people. No one noticed though – half of them were also crying.

1. Breakfast on Pluto (Neil Jordan, 2005)
For the sheer virtue of being my first ever TIFF screening, this would have been on the list. But when you add in everything that happened around the screening, I had to put it at number 1. After standing outside the Ryerson for an hour waiting to be let in, they finally let the line start moving. As soon as I got to the part where the line crosses the Red Carpet, they stopped me. I was pissed, I wanted to get inside, but they had to let some VIPs in first. First, the star of the movie Cillian Murphy walked by, and I thought that was pretty cool. Then Bono came up the carpet. He was shaking everyone’s hand, so I stuck my hand out, and he shook it and moved it. Pretty cool, but nothing compared to what happened inside. I choose a seat behind a short, bald guy, thinking there was no way he would obstruct my view. I heard him talking to his wife, and although I knew the voice, I couldn’t place it. As I was trying to figure out who it was – I assumed maybe someone from work – he turned around, and in surprise I said aloud “Bob Hoskins!!” He was incredibly nice, and we talked for a minute or two, and then a tall, red head walked by, and to my surprise, Hoskins slapped her in the ass. The red head? Miranda Richardson. So that day, my first TIFF screening ever, I shook Bono’s hand, talked to Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson, and saw a movie that was actually quite good. I never again got that close to celebrity again, but it is something that I will never forget.

No comments:

Post a Comment