Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Mini TIFF Preview

Readers of this blog know that every year I take a week off and see 20-30 films at TIFF. It is my favorite week of the year – a chance to simply get lost in movies, and ignore the real world for a while. This year however – much like 2011 – I will only get to go to TIFF for two days – and for the same reason: A new baby. In 2011, my first daughter was not quite a month old when TIFF came around, so I only went on the second Friday and Saturday. This year, my second daughter is 6 months old – and I am off on paternity leave until February to take care of her (my wife and I split the yearlong leave). This, obviously, means I cannot take a whole week off – and can only go on the weekend. I decided to go the second weekend – to miss the madness of the first weekend, when all the big movies premiere. I made this decision in part because I don`t really care about the big films – not that I don’t want to see them, just that I know I will have a chance to see them in the next few months – in part because the odds of getting into one the big films I really wanted to see were slim anyways – and finally in part because that first weekend is so packed, that the whole experience is hectic, and everything gets behind schedule. By the end of the festival, many people have gone home, and things run a little smoother.

So without further ado, these are the 8 films I will see over those two days. It is distinctly lacking in the "buzz-worthy" films the festival has to offer, but still offers a lot to look forward to. In fact, out of these 8 films, I still think I got three of what would have been my top 10 priorities had I attended the whole festival. Not bad for two days.

1.    The Humbling (Barry Levinson) – This one worries me a little bit, but I couldn’t find anything else at that time I really wanted. It worries me because Barry Levinson hasn’t made a great film since 1997s Wag the Dog, and although I am a huge Philip Roth fan, The Humbling is not exactly one of his (many) masterpieces. The tour of misery on display in that novel almost borders on the comical if I am being honest. The reviews from Venice are mixed at best. Still, it should offer a showcase role for Al Pacino, and Levinson has made great films in the past. And if nothing else, the rest of the films I am seeing have to be cheerier.

2.    Fires on the Plain (Shinya Tsukamoto) -  A last minute substitution, after Roy Anderson's latest sold out, and I decided that two Al Pacino movies in a row (the second being David Gordon Greens Manglehorn) in a row may be too much overacting – plus that one also got mixed reviews at Venice. But the for this film reviews from Venice, which just hit this morning, have been strong – and it gives me an excuse to watch the 1959 original by Japanese master Kon Ichikawa. If nothing else, it sounds insane.

3.    Time Out of Mind (Oren Moverman) – Moverman’s  first two films as a director -2009's The Messenger and 2011's Rampart – were well made, well written and well-acted – so while this one almost sounds too conventional – a homeless man (Richard Gere) tries to reconnect with his daughter (Jena Malone) – I trust that it will be a good movie. Gere can be a very good actor in the right role, and Malone is talented, so it should be of interest.

4.    Alleluia (Fabrice Du Welz) – While I have heard of some director Welz’s  previous films – Vinyan and Calvaire – I haven’t actually seen them. The film received some strong reviews out of Cannes (where it played in the Directors Fortnight section) – and it promises, if nothing else, to be disturbing and violent in yet another version of the infamous Honeymoon Killers case – most memorably filmed as The Honeymoon Killers (1969) and quite a few times since – although this one updates it for the internet era. You have to take some chances at TIFF to see some good ones.

5.    The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer) – Two years ago, I walked out of Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing stunned – it was the best documentary I had seen in quite some time, and damn well should have won last year's Documentary Oscar. I had zero expectations for that one, but this one – a companion piece – I have very high expectations for, especially since the near universal praise out of Venice and Telluride – including some who think it’s even better than his first film. Here`s hoping that’s true.

6.    What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi) – Clement is one of the funniest men in the world, and one Film Comment critic called this vampire comedy the best film out of Sundance earlier this year, so it quickly became a must see for me. Vampires are overexposed right now, and are ripe for a good ribbing, and I trust that this film will deliver that. After so much darkness the rest of the festival, I may well need a good, bloody laugh at this point.

7.    Shrew's Nest (Juanfer Andres & Esteban Roel) – Out of all the films I`ll be seeing this year, this is the biggest unknown in the bunch. I don’t know the directors – who are making their feature film debut – and it hasn’t played anywhere else, so there`s no reviews to go on. The guide says it’s a Misery-like horror film, but interestingly it’s not part of Midnight Madness, but the Vanguard program. I always like to give an unknown filmmaker or two a chance to win me over at TIFF, and with little else in this timeslot of interest (especially Nick Broomfield's Tales of the Grim Sleeper would have been cutting it too close with the rest of the day), I figured I`d give it a go.

8.    Goodbye to Language 3-D (Jean-Luc Godard) – If you've been reading me for a while, you know I am ambivalent at best on most of Godard`s post-1967 work, and I downright hate some it (like his previous film, Film Socialism). Yet, I have never denied that the man is a genius. The reviews coming out of Cannes – where the film shared the Jury Prize with Xavier Dolan`s Mommy – were pretty much outstanding, with everyone saying that Godard does things with 3-D that no one else would dream of. I have no idea if I`ll love this, hate this, or be somewhere in between on it. But, to me, going to TIFF is, at least in part, about seeing some films I may never get a chance to see on a big screen again. If Godard really has reinvented the use of 3-D, then I need to see it on a big screen – as intended. And given the box office of his films, there is a very good chance I`ll never have another chance – so to me, this was one of my absolute must-sees of the festival, and I'm glad I got it.

So that is what I will see at this year`s TIFF. As you can see, I won't seeing the big, Oscar movies this year at TIFF – which I`m fine with. There will be lots of time to see those movies when they come out later this year. For me, TIFF is a celebration of films from all over the world. The Oscar movies get the most attention at TIFF – and sometimes they even deserve it. But the great thing about TIFF, is that it allows people to have different kinds of festivals. I may not see the biggest films this year, but that doesn’t mean I cannot have a great festival.

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