The first thing I noticed upon arriving at the Gala screening of Janie Jones at this year's Toronto International Film Festival was the inordinate number of beautiful and svelte six-foot-tall women towering over me -- enough to make anyone of normal proportions (i.e. myself) a trifle self-conscious. Next to these Amazons stood their handsome escorts, encased in tailored three-piece suits and reeking designer colognes. For yet another year the golden birds of Hollywood had spread their wings for a northern migration. I soon discovered I was standing in some sort of VIP area and was promptly ushered to the back of a line snaking hundreds of feet around the building; comfortable now in more plebian environs.
As any film aficionado knows, the Toronto International Film Festival -- which wrapped this last Sunday, September 19th -- is one of the most anticipated events on the cinephile calendar. It offers a unique admixture of major filmmakers/performers and their obscure counterparts. Also, the festival is known for its explicitly uncompetitive atmosphere, as it does not officially issue any awards. However, prizes are endowed by other organizations: Cadillac and Skyy Vodka to name a few. In other words, competition still exists, it's just been privatized. Of course, as a film appreciator (and occasional filmmaker) it has always been my dream to attend but, alas, I arrived last Friday at the tail end of the festival. Though my sojourn was brief, I managed to pack in quite a bit: six films, three interviews (including one with Deborah Chow, winner of the Skyy Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature), and a trip to the mall.
Though it is by no means definitive, I have listed eight films that piqued my interest. Some I've seen and some I haven't. Like I said: it's not definitive. (By the way, I will be posting interviews I did with three directors later on in the week.)
Darren Aronofsky is a thriller set in the ultra competitive world of an elite New York City ballet company. Though the preview does not suggest the brilliant excesses of his earlier work (like π and Requiem for a Dream), it certainly promises a return to something of the director's high style that was lacking in The Wrestler. While the "thriller" descriptor initially set my teeth on edge, my fears have been waylaid by the overall positive buzz. Also, I must admit, films about dance are one of my guilty pleasures. With Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, and Mila Kunis.
I wrenched myself out of bed Sunday morning to catch a final 9:00 am screening of French auteur, Catherine Breillat's latest. And it was well worth it. Though her work may not be palatable to every taste (some critics have labeled her as a pornographer), she is indisputably one of the most arresting filmmakers in contemporary cinema. The Sleeping Beauty weaves together of the elements of the titular tale, The Snow Queen to produce all set in an anachronistic dreamscape. Of course this is no child's fairytale -- Breillat explores her trademark themes of femininity, sexuality and violence.
Who hasn't been wondering what on earth Joaquin Phoenix has been up to for the last two years since he announced his retirement from acting? For his directorial debut, Casey Affleck records Phoenix's struggle in the interim to reinvent himself as a rap artist. It's hard to know where the performance ends and reality begins. A part of me hopes all the talk show antics, eccentric sunglasses, bushy beard and attempts at hip-hop were merely a show of commitment by a very dedicated actor.
Finally eschewing himself of the dourness that has pervaded his work over the past decade, documentary filmmaker, Errol Morris embraces a (somewhat) lighter subject matter. The film centers around a former beauty queen who allegedly abducted, raped and stalked a Mormon missionary and the ensuing tabloid frenzy. Morris has a unique ability to capture the humanity of each of his subjects and I am certain this will be no different, however lurid the source material.
Pretty much anything Werner Herzog touches intrigues me. When I heard he had made a documentary centered around the Chauvet Caves in the south of France, (the site of some of the oldest cave drawings in the world) and he'd shot it in . . . 3-D! I was bursting with curiosity. Herzog has a way of putting a unique spin on any subject matter and incorporating his own idiosyncrasies into all his work -- nothing is ever dull. Though I've heard the 3-D isn't quite Avatar quality, I'm anxious to see what he's done with the subject matter.
After director Gregg Araki's haunting and moving, Mysterious Skin many believed he had left behind the silly/crazy/gory/sexy/outrageous genre-bending films of his past behind. Not so. For better or worse Kaboom (which I had the privilege to see last Saturday) fits perfectly in his canon, alongside The Doom Generation and Nowhere. Though in some ways disappointing, Araki is always entertaining--equal parts humorous and challenging. He remains one of the most memorable voices of New Queer Cinema.
Sylvain Chomet, director of 2003's The Triplets of Belleville crafts a beautifully animated tale of stage magicians who struggle to keep afloat in an age when they are being usurped by rock stars. The film is adapted from a screenplay by Jaques Tati, the man behind the beloved Monsieur Hulot series. It promises to be funny, eccentric and visually spectacular. Strangely I disliked both of these films (Triplets and Hulot) upon first viewing. Thankfully I have since come to my senses.
Initially I thought this looked like a stiff and sedating period piece. However, after it received the Cadillac People's Choice Award and I heard many testaments as to the memorable performances of the two venerable actors (Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush) my interest was awakened. The film centers on King George VI (Firth) who, apparently, was burdened with a terrible stutter. Upon his sudden and unexpected assumption of the throne he attempts to correct his impediment with the help of a speech therapist (Rush). Directed by Tom Hooper.