Monday, September 21, 2009

TIFF 09 Coverage Concludes: Whip It, Mother and Child, Up in the Air

As promised here's the final installment of this year's Toronto Film Festival coverage. My anonymous friend (txt critic) saw 26 movies in half a week (I know!) and agreed to rank them all upon his return.

Here's his last few capsules and rankings
1. A Serious Man A+ (previous post)
2. Precious A (previous post)

3. Up in the Air A
The recipient of the most ejaculatory pre festival hype, I think Jason Reitman’s film’s low-key aspirations, and the small-scale story it tells, will perhaps not benefit from being oversold by everyone and their mother (most random Torontonians I waited on line with over the course of the week told me they thought it was “very good, not great”). So, while adding to the hype is to the movie’s detriment, I have to report that I completely swooned for the movie. I can already see the backlash coming, as the movie’s conventional story arc (man-as-an-island bachelor starts to see the value in having other people in his life) will be easy to bemoan. What really sells it all is that it avoids sentimentality and seems to come from a sincere place of honest emotion. It's also extremely funny, never losing its designation as a comedy, even as the resonance starts to approach around the midway point. What’s perhaps most impressive about Reitman’s direction is the handling of this shift and balance of tone: there aren’t “serious” beats, and the film doesn’t jarringly turn into a drama halfway through. It grows subtly more weighty as it goes along, until you're misty-eyed. George Clooney gives one of his best performances, while still staying in his comfort zone. There will be much bigger, showier performances than this, but the film wouldn’t work without his deft handling of the character’s arc. This isn’t a blow you away emotional movie or Juno-esque crowd-pleaser -- the two prevalent adjectives in my mind are “quiet” and “bittersweet” -- but it’s the sort of thing that’s going to entertain and touch a lot of people, and for once, actually earn the feelings it arouses. Oscar nominations for picture, director, actor and adapted screenplay all seem assured.

4. Mother and Child A
Following up Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her with yet another female-driven ensemble film that happens to be his best yet, Rodrigo García’s latest is an openly emotional, fascinating, complex tale of three different women whose lives may or may not cross but, at the least, run parallel. All three (played by Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington), have had their lives impacted by adoption -- Bening gave birth at 14 and put the girl up for adoption, Watts is her grown-up daughter who’s never met her mother, and Washington is infertile, trying to adopt with her husband. While you emerge from the theater extremely satisfied, no easy answers are found and the film acknowledges the messiness of the emotions / situations entailed in such situations.

Rodrigo García directs The Bening

Watts, Washington and Samuel L. Jackson (in a very small, understated role) are terrific, but the powerhouse performance here belongs to Bening. Starting the film out as an (seemingly) impenetrable bitch, Bening slowly makes us understand the character, and the decisions and emotions that have informed her life. By the time the film ends, you understand why this character ends up in the emotional place that she does. It never feels unrealistic or like a cheat. I don’t know if the film will get distribution before the end of the year but if it does, Bening will unquestionably be one of the five nominees for Best Actress.

5. Micmacs A-
6. The Road A-
7. The Informant! A- (previous post)
8. Harry Brown B+

9. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans B+
One of the best midnight movies I’ve ever seen (a cult following is already assured), this Nicolas Cage vehicle from Werner Herzog -- using the title and pretty much nothing else from the Abel Ferrara-Harvey Keitel film -- has a warped, nutso energy running through it that had me frazzled when I wasn’t busy laughing. Cage’s off-the-wall performance as a cop addicted to pussy, coke, and back-pain pills is a live-wire tour de force, that for once, utilizes the actor’s over the top inclinations for a character they actually work for. The film’s truly a blast. You alternately gasp and laugh in disbelief, waiting to see what Cage (and Herzog) will do next. My personal favorite moment is a TWO-MINUTE-LONG shot of iguanas Cage is looking at, made all the more brilliant when it’s revealed by another character that said iguanas aren’t even there. This won’t play with Cage’s National Treasure fans, but this is an audience movie if there ever was one.

10. Antichrist B+ (previous post)

11. Whip It B+
Drew Barrymore’s roller-derby directorial debut is perhaps most surprising for the fact that it’s more than “fun,” it’s actually “good.” Showing an assured hand on her first go-round, Barrymore more than capably handles every aspect of the story without short-shrifting any of them: the sports elements work (the derby scenes, violence and all, are insanely fun and well-shot), the coming of age story and love story never feel like bullshit, and the family relationship drama actually proves touching.


Whip It never lets Marcia Gay Harden’s overbearing mother become a caricature or a shrill harridan and allows Daniel Stern, of all people, to be the film’s warm, fuzzy heart. Ellen Page is strong in the central role that can't have been well defined on the page, and the supporting cast is aces, most notably Kristin Wiig in her first screen role (besides, maybe, Ghost Town) that allows her to be as funny as she can be.

12. Perrier’s Bounty B+ (previous post)
13. The Trotsky B (previous post)
14. Daybreakers B
15. Chloe B (previous post)
16. Jennifer’s Body B (previous post)
17. Ondine B-
18. Leaves of Grass B- (previous post)
19. Good Hair B-

20. The Hole C+ (previous post)
21. Solitary Man C
22. George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead C (previous post)
23. The Joneses C (previous post)
24. Creation C- (previous post)
25. Get Low C-
26. Capitalism: A Love Story D+ (previous post)
Would you all join me in a rousing chorus of "Release Mother and Child!" I need The Bening back in my life. It's torture that festivals dangle these goodies and the distributors look around like "who, me?"

I hope you've enjoyed this year's TIFF coverage and please join me in thanking txt critic, MattCanada and Lev for sharing their thoughts! Maybe next year I'll even make it there myself.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bening a sure fire Actress nominee? So Swank wins number three for Amelia...

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Nathaniel are you alive and well?

Enjoyed the read on Mother & Child...but I'm not hopeful about Bening's chances. I've realised why Annette has no Oscar, no SAG and one Golden Globe...she plays not many impenetrable bitches - Julia, Deirdre, Mrs. Harris, Carolyn...and voters just can't realise that not playing a sympathetic role doesn't mean that a performance is lesser in any way.

Stefano said...

RELEASE "MOTHER AND CHILD"!!!!!
I hope to see this film released in 2009, and I want Annette finally taking that damned Oscar! What about the category placement? I suppose she could be considered Supporting instead than Lead, because the film seems to be an ensemble piece.

PS: Andrew, Bening won the SAG Award (and the BAFTA) as Best Lead Actress in 1999 for her performance in "American Beauty".

John T said...

I think that Bening could have a shot this year-the Academy isn't going to give Swank a third trophy (she's not Jack), Streep's performance, though I love it, is going to appear too slight (also known as too comedic) to win the trophy, and Mulligan is brand new. Meanwhile, Bening is an industry vet who will be scoring her fourth Oscar nomination over a 19-year span, is Hollywood royalty, and arguably has been in second place every time she's been up for an Oscar (and likely was in sixth place for a nomination back in 1991). All signs point to overdue, and the added bonus of her finally coming out on top in a Hillary/Annette battle has to be enough draw to get her a solid leg up in the race.

NATHANIEL R said...

stefano i would say that she's obviously the lead (since both of the reviews i've read single her out and say 100% best actress contender if it's released.) but i haven't seen the film so...

john t i still think Streep is going to win but i suppose Bening could actually challenge her (if released) on account of more drama + overdue - newbies splitting attention ... but like Pfeiffer and Julianne Moore, The Bening is one of those actresses that I jinxed by loving them too early and too often. I am the cross to the Academy's vampire so i don't expect any of the three to ever cop the top prize :(

Stefano said...

I don't think that Meryl is going to win her third Oscar this year. She's my favorite actress alive and I hope she will get a third Oscar sooner or later... but I don't think she can win in 2010 as the co-star in a light comedy that is not gonna get any other nomination except Best Actress. Anyway I'll be happy for her 16th nomination (this woman is making history year after year!).

I just thought that if Bening goes supporting, maybe she'll have bigger chances to get the Oscar this year; the whole film is an ensemble piece, so it wouldn't surprise me after all. While, if she is nominated as Lead Actress, I suppose it will be among her and Carey Mulligan at this point (I don't wanna hear about Swank winning ANOTHER statuette!!!).

Victor S said...

I'm not sure if I want Mother & Child to get released this year because I think I won't be able to handle a season were Annette Bening loses again, Julianne Moore loses for Mo'Nique and with Michelle Pfeifer and Tilda Swinton not even nominated for anything. It's too much!!!

jess said...

I don't think they'll release it this year, nothing has been announced.

But don't forget that CRASH was shown in Toronto in 2004 but was released in may 2005 and went on to win.

Arkaan said...

As someone who emphatically doesn't care for the Bening (indeed, I'd argue that Swank's best performance in Boys Don't Cry is better than Bening's best - The Grifters) and find Rodrigo Garcia's work to be (largely) trite, I'm not looking forward to the Bening.

The best thing she did was get pregnant and allow Michelle Pfieffer to get the role of Catwoman.

Anonymous said...

Why is no one mentioning Natalie Portman in "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits"? Variety and THR both wrote glowing, best actress courting reviews for her. Where's the buzz?

NATHANIEL R said...

anon 12:10 i think the lack of buzz for Portman has much to do with the increasing difficulty of getting your film sold at festivals. if the movie won't get a release there's no point in talking oscar (same problem Bening is facing)

so until moviegoers decide they like drama on the big screen again... it's a crapshoot with good performances finding any buzz.

NATHANIEL R said...

arkaan "The best thing she did was get pregnant and allow Michelle Pfieffer to get the role of Catwoman." that's so mean!

haha. but i will tell you that when it actually happened i was in the weirdest place fandom-wise. Julianne Moore had yet to surface and Annette Bening was literally my favorite new actress (I was gaga for The Grifters) and I wanted to see her in everything... and then they announced her replacement and i was like "what?!" because Pfeiffer was already my favorite anythign by then.

but it was still super weird for me because i was both disappointed and elated simultaneously and completely nervous on opening night!

Arkaan said...

True. And also unfair.

But my thing with the Bening is the same thing I have with Bacall. A handful of good performances, though nothing "yeh GODS" (The Grifters comes close, but I think the academy made the right choice with Goldburg). Many mediocrities (both in performance and film). But because of her position of Hollywood Royalty, she's accorded a status I don't think is commensurate with her talent.

NicksFlickPicks said...

Di. Tto. Have never said it this well, despite many attempts, though I do think the Scissors and Mrs. Harris perfs were pretty fine. Had MH not landed on HBO (though at least more people saw it there than would ever have bought a theatrical ticket...), I think she surely would have made a lot of headway in that limping '05 race. Or, she just would have come in second again. (Though I would be astonished if she came in second in '04, and suspect she might even have been fourth.)

The Know Nothing Know It All said...

I think Bening vs. Swank round 1 was an actual horserace, whereas Bening vs. Swank round 2 was a media created horserace. With "Vera Drake's" semi-surprise nominations for best director and screenplay, I'm pretty confident that Staunton came in second.

Anonymous said...

the day i die i will send my ghost ass to the academys vault and see the second third fourth and fifth places in every category for every year
oh the joyyy
im going as anonymous because ive just realised im kind of lame

NATHANIEL R said...

Anon. HA! that's great. i will haunt the vaults with you.