Saturday, September 19, 2009

TIFF: The Finale

Lev Lewis signing off from the Toronto International Film Festival

For ten days a year my little big city is overtaken by the masses of the film industry. Celebrities of all kinds are spotted walking casually through Yonge St.; semi-recognizable journalists with their green laniards hurry from screening to screening. A little piece of Hollywood just one streetcar ride away from me. So, it's odd to see how a city can overnight seem the centre of the world and then, just like that, retreat back to its former, seemingly dull self.

Not that I'm complaining. As exciting as the last ten days have been, a respite from line-ups and writing and, yes, even films, will be most welcome. 18 films in ten days isn't an exorbitant amount but it's more than enough for me. I'll leave you with a write-up on the best films I saw at the festival.

Now for the movies!

Un Prophète
Winner of the Grand Prix at this years Cannes, revered auteur Jacques Audiard's sprawling and gripping crime drama, A Prophet follows the ascent of a young Arab man named Malik through the political labyrinth of a French prison. Audiard and co-screenwriter Thomas Bidegain carefully avoid the trappings of the crime genre without completely subverting them, and in the process have crafted a film that pays homage to the great crime films without simple imitation. Constant motion and an unusual use of music counterbalance the film's gritty hand-held feel and lengthy running time. Grade: A-

Bong Joon-ho follows up his brilliant monster movie The Host with another look into family and the lengths parents will go to save their offspring. Mother is the story of a, what else, mother trying to get her mentally-challenged son cleared of murder. What's remarkable about Joon-ho is the way he utilizes different genres (in this case, mystery) to tackle issues of corruption, family, guilt, government etc. with careful subtlety. His deceptively simple mystery is weaved together with such ease, through a screenplay laden with a perceptive eye towards the smallest detail that the film's final conclusion is shocking yet quickly apparent. Finally, Kim Hye-ja delivers what may be the female performance of the year. Almost single-minded in her desperation for her son, Hye-ja avoids histrionics and instead creates a character of remarkable depth. Grade: A

The White Ribbon
Recalling some of the greatest work of Bergman, Michael Haneke's fully deserving Palme d'or winner The White Ribbon is a masterwork. Haneke brilliantly underpins the beginning of fascism in Europe within the context of horrific attacks upon and within a small village. His breadth of ideas and his exacting yet straightforward use of editing, cinematography and sound to create atmosphere are all applied to their fullest extent. This is an unsettling and exceptional film. Grade: A

A Note: All three of these films have been submitted by their respective countries for the Academy Awards. If the Oscars have any sense all three will be nominated.

Films, Ranked
1. Antichrist (A)
2. The White Ribbon (A)
3. Mother (A)
4. A Prophet (A-)
5. Fish Tank (A-)
6. Bad Lieuteant: Port of Call New Orleans (B+)
7. Dogtooth(B+)
8. Police, Adjective (B)
9. White Material (B-)
10. Les Herbes Folles (B-)
11. A Serious Man (B-)
12. Mr. Nobody (B-)
13. Up In the Air (C+)
14. Jennifer's Body (C-)
15. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (C-)
16. Get Low (D+)
17. Life During Wartime (D+)
18. Glorious 39 (D)

Best Director
Lars von Trier, Antichrist (Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon and Bong Joon-ho, Mother)
Best Actor
Willem Dafoe, Antichrist (Nicolas Cage, The Bad Lieutenant...)
Best Actress
Kim Hye-ja, Mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist)

Best Supporting Actor
<--- Michael Fassbender, Fish Tank (Niels Arestrup, Un Prophete and Richard Kind, A Serious Man)
Best Supporting Actress
Roxanne Duran, The White Ribbon (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air and Juno Temple, Mr. Nobody)
Best Ensemble
The White Ribbon (Fish Tank)
Best Screenplay
Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon (Lars Von Trier, Antichrist and Park Eun-kyo, Mother)
Best Cinematography
Thimios Bakatatakis, Dogtooth (Hong Kyung-pyo, Mother and Anthony Dod Mantle, Antichrist)
Best Original Score
Lee Byeong-Woo, Mother (Stuart Staples, White Material)

Thanks so much for reading and Nathaniel for giving me the space to have some of my writing read. Perhaps I'll see you next year.


kin said...

So with Precious winning audience at Toronto as well, do we think it is the (really really) early frontrunner?

kin said...

Oh look, Nat was talking about this just one post down. Oops.

UncleVanya said...

I had a ticket to see “The Young Victoria” at 8 PM so was unable, unfortunately, to attend the free screening of “Precious” at Roy Thomson Hall. What a bad deciscion on my part.

The Last Day:

After a screening of “The Young Victoria”, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (”C.R.A.Z.Y.”), I left the theater thinking, “that was no “Mrs. Brown” (John Madden). Of course this film details Queen Victoria’s early years, especially her troubled courtship with her huband to be, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). Emily Blunt is lovely as the future Queen (perhaps too much so), but after a while I lost interest in her trials and discomforts;
frankly, it’s difficult to sympathize when the characters in question are sitting on priceless furniture and relieving themselves in bathrooms that could fit my entire 2 bedroom apartment. Most of the time, because the film was so over-lit, I kept grumbling to myself, “turn off those god-damn flourescent lights (again, this is no “Mrs. Brown”). Finally, because I was hating the movie, I had to remind myself why I was in this theater. The answer is that I wanted to see Jean-Marc Vallee’s follow up to his wonderfully nostalgic (and disappointingly overlooked foreign film contender) “C.R.A.Z.Y.” , a film about growing up gay in Quebec suburbia. Here, however, his direction is inert, and, in the end, not even Emily Blunt could wake up this roadkill of a movie from it’s celluloid coma. Seeing that, I almost feel like declaring war on biographical movies because when only one out of ten is any good then it’s time to give the genre a rest. For example, I give you exhibit B:

“Coco avant Chanel”, directed by Anne Fontaine, explores the fashion maverik’s early days before fame. Audrey Tautou plays Ms. Chanel serviceably (sorry, talk of an oscar nomination is just that: talk, and, perhaps, wishful thinking). What i see, here, instinctivly is that Fontaine was trying, or hoping, to catch some of that autobiographical “Ma vie en rose” fire (which was so good to Marion Cotillard). Notwithstanding a script by the gifted Christopher Hampton (”Dangerous Liasons”, “Atonement”), the film, for the most part, is sluggishly bland and uninspired, due, in large part, to Fontaines lifeless direction. The costumes, however, are stunning (they had better be considering it’s a film about Chanel), and most likely will be remembered on oscar night. But after all is said and done, “Coco avant Chanel” is as bereft of life as the heroine it’s based upon. Perhaps Fontaine should have made a movie that simply starred the clothes…that would have been infinately more interesting.

At any rate, TIFF is over, and I am ready to sleep for a week. Goodnight.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you liked Mother. It's the one of my favorite films of the year.

- Melisa

Mame said...

Ugh. I'm already so tired of Precious and I haven't even seen it... Ever since Oprah got attached to it, I'm a bit weary of all buzz I hear. I mean, Oprah is a true oscar whore after all.

Anonymous said...

You're weary? Then don't listen!

Slayton said...

ROXANE DURAN! I applaud you for that choice. She's heartbreaking in the film and the standout of the amazing ensemble cast... but I also liked Christian Friedel (who has luscious lips), Leonie Benesch, Susanne Lothar, Burghart Klaussner and Ursina Lardi.

hehehe... I messaged Roxane on facebook complimenting her performance and she messaged back! Very gracious to the fans as well :)

Justin Timberlake said...

Slumdog Millionaire is an EXCELLENT movie. Period. Deserved Oscars (8 were too much, but the most important were deserved).

Precious can be an EXCELLENT movie too, if that happens, then welcome the Oscars.


when i was editing this post i accidentally deleted the grade for Antichrist. Lev, was it an A or A+... the mistake is haunting me.

this is the first i'm really hearing of any particular performance in White Ribbon (Duran). Most of the reviews seem to just be all Haneke all the time. which is fine but now i'm curious about Duran -- is she but a useful pawn in his awesome directorial blueprints or does she provide a life force of her own in her role?

Dame James said...

Mame: How on earth can Oprah be described as an Oscar whore?! She's only been in two high-profile movies and got one (highly deserved) nominations 24 years ago. And if it's because she devotes an episode each season to her favorite movie, well that's really because (a) she's the most powerful person on the planet and can do whatever the hell she wants, (b) she wants to reach out and embrace celebrities and (c) she wants to make sure people see movies she absolutely loves. I don't see how that makes her an Oscar's not like she's Harvey Weinstein peddling Chocolat or something like that on us.

I'm really curious about the incredibly low grade for Glorious 39. I was hoping that it would be Romola Garai's "leading lady" breakthrough after being so freaking amazing in Atonement

Mame said...

It's because she NEVER talks about a movie without mentioning oscar. Absolutely never. Well, unless it's a Tyler Perry film.

My point is that her way of appreciating a film is by either saying (a) she voted for it, or (b) it's gonna get nominated, or (c) the film is a religious experience, and oscars will be flying out of everybody's ass. She never just touts films as being works of art, she touts them as being films that deserve all the awards in the universe.

Even Memoirs of a Geisha was discussed by her as a film that was sooooooo gonna be nominated and that was sooooooo beautiful. She's basically a female version of Harvey Weinstein in her film discussions.

Lev Lewis said...

Nathaniel: Don't worry, it was a A. You got it correctly.

Lev Lewis said...

Dame James: I like Romola Garai quite a bit, but almost every aspect of "Glorious 39" was abysmal. The film's extremely long and went from tedious to laughable. My D is actually being quite generous.

NicksFlickPicks said...

These capsule reviews were great, Lev - really enjoyed your coverage!

Jsimple said...

I was able to see 13 films this year at TIFF and I only 3 of them are on your list. I thought a Serious Man and Up in the Air were both grade A films and am a bit surprised at your grades for them. I would also give Un Prophete an A. I am surprised how negative you were towards Get Low since I have been hearing such good things about it, would you care to explain why you disliked the film so much.

Lev Lewis said...

Nick: Wow, thanks very much. Coming from you that's high praise indeed.

Jsimple: I realize I'm in the minority on both films, and I'm okay with that. Although in the case of "A Serious Man", I do sometimes feel as if I've seen a different film than others. Everybody keeps saying it's reminiscent of "Barton Fink" and all I kept thinking was how I wanted more "Barton Fink".

"Get Low" is a whole different story. Dull, middlebrow filmmaking applied to a dreadful script stacked with every cliche in the book. The sort of movie that makes the artform unexciting.

Jsimple said...

What did you think about Robert Duval?

Slayton said...

Nathaniel - this is perhaps Haneke's most humanistic film (think La Pianiste but with some actual levity) and certainly the one with the most focus on performance. Haneke's my favourite working director, but I must admit that often his characters are symbolic representations or plot devices instead of actual characters, and usually "good acting" in his films is purely incidental (witness the family in Funny Games - they didn't need to be so well-acted, but he managed to get great actors for the roles). Here the entire cast sort of forms a symbolic representation but the individual characters are very well-developed and very well-acted. Something interesting to note is that many are not German (there are many Austrians and quite a few Italians in the cast, and Duran is French) but they all speak perfectly accented German.

Duran was the highlight of the cast for me and I would say that she definitely puts her own mark on the role. She's really heartbreaking. My second-favourite would definitely be Christian Friedel (who is my new celebrity crush... omg those lips, those eyes, those curls... look him up on YouTube, he can sing too) who gives his role a really beautiful warmth and presence. Leonie Benesch as his love interest has a sort of flighty gravitas that reminded me of Jennifer Jason Leigh. Susanne Lothar and Ursina Lardi are very good and both very sympathetic in their roles but Lothar has been better in other films and Lardi only has one scene that she really gets to impress in. Burghart Klaussner impressed me the most out of the male supporting cast, but I didn't absolutely love his performance - in my opinion, most of the supporting adult men were a bit more coldly efficient in their performing than the women or children (or Christian) were.

The film will pretty much be identified as a village-as-state metaphor, which is true to some extent, but I think it was more a damning indictment of the way women and children have been treated in the traditional German family unit for decades. Regardless, it is absolutely fantastic and I doubt that I'll see another flick this year to top it... gets an A+ from me (and I don't toss them around often)

Slayton said...

Oh, and just so you know - the IMDb cast information for The White Ribbon is incomplete (Duran's not on the list and neither are a couple other actors, including Birgit Minichmayr - this year's Berlin Festival best actress winner, who plays a small role in The White Ribbon). Duran plays the Doctor's daughter, Lothar plays the Doctor's mistress, Lardi plays the Baroness, Klaussner plays the nasty priest, Friedel plays the schoolteacher and Benesch plays the schoolteacher's girlfriend.