TIFF19 – Reflecting on 11 Days of Spectacular Cinema

To say I’m suffering from a film induced hangover is an understatement. Today I was asked more than once “are you okay?” I mean I feel bad, but I didn’t realize I looked so bad. My eyelids are heavy, my hips ache, I have dry mouth and my skin has a greyish vampire tinge to it, so maybe I don’t look so great. Let’s just say I’ve got a healthy case of TIFFulicus. A couple of nights sleep and some time in the sun should help. But it was worth it. So worth it. I saw thirty films, 17 of which I rated 4 stars or more, only 3 I could have missed but nothing I wanted to walk out of.

My top 17…

1. MARRIAGE STORY ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Absolutely loved Marriage Story. I didn’t think I would because Noah Baumbach’s films often irritate me with their self-obsessed characters and on-the-nose dialogue but this film was damn near perfect. Characters impeccably drawn, brilliant dialogue and a story that broke my heart. All performances were top notch but it’s Adam Driver that shoots it out of the ball park. Those of you who are not a Adam Driver fans because of Girls or Kylo Ren, I urge you to give this man another shot. He’s got the chops. Hope he is appropriately recognized for his extraordinary performance.

2. FORD V. FERRARI ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ford v. Ferrari is one of those huge blockbuster films you feel guilty about seeing at the festival because it’s going to get wide release. But, having seen the premiere of Ron Howard’s Rush at Roy Thomson Hall a few years back I was not going to pass up on seeing James Mangold’s take on this incredible story on the even bigger screen and better sound system at RTH. And wow, just wow. This is a blockbuster of a film. We were catapulted back to 1966. The cinematography is incredible and the story doesn’t let you down. Christian Bale and Matt Damon are perfect, and Tracy Letts has a very memorable scene stealing moment that had the whole audience gasping and cheering. I cannot wait to see this one rack up a whole bunch of awards this season from technical to acting and everything in between.

3. JOJO RABBIT ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

For the record, and I’m not embellishing, I predicted Jojo Rabbit would win the Grolsch People’s Choice Award Days before the festival began. Throughout the festival I never wavered. My money was on the bunny. Judging from the trailer, the premise and what Taika Waititi has done recently, I had a feeling this would be awesome. And it was. I’m so happy the “anti-Nazi satire film” won. I was a bit concerned because some were saying critics were mixed on the film. I get some films invoke controversy but for this one, I don’t buy it . As someone said, Taika is Jewish so he gets a pass. This is a terrific film that deals with heavy subject matter using humour and satire to send a strong positive message. Hope the TIFF audiences help raise it to Oscar heights. Taika Waititi is one of the quirkiest, most imaginative filmmakers around today.

4. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’d been following Dolemite Is My Name through award winning screenplay writer Larry Karaszewski’s twitter posts. He and partner Scott Alexander wrote Ed Wood, Big Eyes, Man on the Moon, 1408 and so many other great films. Save it to say I trust them to be involved in a great project. Larry said it’s great so he had me at hello. And, guess what guys. This film is really great! Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes blow the doors off. That Eddie is a hit is no surprise, but Wesley? The guy steals the show. He’s priceless as in funny, hysterical actually. The story is excellent, it’s hilarious, heartwarming and has you feeling like anything is possible. I’ve heard people compare it to The Disaster Artist. On the surface, perhaps, but this is a much higher caliber film in all respects. Ruth Carter is a lock for another costume nomination and I’m hoping for actor noms for Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and a screenplay nomination obviously!

5. WOMEN MAKE FILM; A NEW ROAD TRIP THROUGH CINEMA ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Women Make Film: A New Road Trip Through Cinema is a new documentary project led by Belfast native documentarian Mark Cousins. One of my many regrets is that I was only able to catch the last two hour part of this 13 hour extravaganza. Forty sections explore aspects of filmmaking in incredible detail. I will definitely catch up on the other parts as soon as it’s available for streaming. This new look at the school of filmmaking through the eyes of women around the world is refreshing to say the least. The list of films referenced in the documentary is expansive with directors from around the globe. Only 16% were women from North America. We can thank Mark for helping move the diversity dial forward by looking back through the eyes of women so poorly represented in the industry. My next project is to watch as many of these films as I can find.

6. UNCUT GEMS ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨

I thought Good Time was so unique, fresh and exciting, so I was not passing up on the Safdie Brothers’ next one. Uncut Gems is even messier, but Howie the protagonist is a mess, so it works. Loved Daniel Lopatin’s soundtrack, Darius Khondji’s cinematography, the characters, the dialogue and the mucked up story. It’s the perfect film for Adam Sandler to straddle his affable jokester persona with something more serious. Idina Menzel is the perfect bitchy wife in this. I would have enjoyed hearing them sing some show tunes together. Sadly I only heard about it. Will go back further in the Safdie catalogue to see some of their earlier works.

7. LA BELLE ÉPOQUE ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨

In La Belle Époque, Nicolas Bedos has penned the perfect second chance story. Victor, who is slipping into the doldrums of old age, boring his wife and worrying his son is gifted an invitation to his son’s friend Antoine’s experience company that offers a chance to relive the good old days. Antoine, the seemingly accomplished entrepreneur, has issues of his own and a subplot evolves. This clever screenplay, great dialogue, lots of laughs, tears and a kick ass performance from Fanny Ardant, is a winner for me.

8. JUST MERCY ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The social justice warrior in me was an easy target for Just Mercy, the powerful true story of Bryan Stevenson, Harvard educated lawyer who was drawn to defend death row prisoners in Alabama after his experience in a student internship. While Bryan Stevenson has spent his entire career defending the disenfranchised in the south, this story is focused on his early career defending Walter McMillian, a man sentenced to death for the murder of a white girl in a laundromat when it is evident he couldn’t have committed the crime. This is not an easy film to watch as one feels a like hopeless bystander. You know what happens to people in prison is wrong, but what can we do. We were fortunate to have Mr. Stevenson introduce the film, and encourage all of us all not to give up, to do more to right the wrongs. In his words “there is no justice without hope.” And by the way, Jamie Foxx and O’Shea Jackson Jr. are incredible in this film. I’ve heard from some calling this a TV movie. Ya’ll are so jaded. It’s a true story. Look it up. This should be paired with Ava DuVernay’s 13th.

9. SAINT MAUD ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Every year I try to make it to as many Irish films as I can. This year I couldn’t make many work, but Saint Maud fit the schedule nicely. I picked a winner. This psychological thriller, written and directed by Rose Glass is my hidden gem. That Rose’s mentor is Carmel Winters is no coincidence because I also loved Float Like a Butterfly TIFF18 FIPRESCI prize winnner. Even though I saw the second screening of Saint Maud and people who saw it earlier claimed its brilliance, I had selected it blind. A young Catholic nurse having a rough time embraces God to help her through, he speaks to her and things go a little squirrelly. This atmospheric horror film was beautifully shot on the Northern coast of England, a rundown seaside town that has seen better days. The film hails one of the best film endings of TIFF19 and I concur. Best horror film I’ve seen directed by a woman. I sure hope it sees distribution.

10. THE PLATFORM ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Midnight Madness Grolsch People’s Choice winner was The Platform. This conceptual film takes place in a mysterious and dire “pit” reserved for criminals and those who “choose” to be there to serve a personal sentence and receive a diploma. The Pit is made up of an unspecified number of levels. Each level has a large rectangular hole cut out of it . If you’re not careful you could fall to the bottom (however far it goes). Two people share each level, roommates if you will. Each person is allowed to bring one item with them. Time on a particular level is 30 days after which time you are randomly assigned to another level. The lower the level, the worse the conditions. At level zero “0”, world class chefs prepare an extraordinary quantity of Michelin quality food that is placed on a rectangular platform. The fresh food is lowered to the first level, what’s left is lowered to the second level, and then to the third and so on. Platform lowers through the hole I described earlier of course. At some point there is no food on the platform and people at the lower levels begin to starve. At this point you are probably wondering why someone would volunteer themselves to this hell hole. False advertising? Suspend disbelief. This is a clever, shocking, gruesome and interesting film which is why it won the prize. Purchased by Netflix, everyone will soon see it.

11. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I loved The Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It’s a beautiful film about forbidden love. It reminded me a bit of Miss Julie, with the Lady of the house, the person employed to work, and the maid all left alone for the weekend. Not exactly like Miss Julie given the artist sent to paint Heloise is of much higher stature than the valet. We can probably draw connections between lots of films if we try hard enough. The performances in this film are stellar. My only beef was with the multiple endings, but then someone explained that they both needed an ending. I’ll buy that.

12. 37 SECONDS ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

37 Seconds is a very fresh take on the coming of age film. Yuma, a 23 year old comic book artist lives in the shadow of the cousin she works for, as well as under the control of her mother who worries about her constantly. Yuma has cerebral palsy and her disability which limits her mobility. Frustrated with her confinement and lack of artistic recognition, Yuma is inspired to take a drastic leap to improve her circumstances. Funny, heartwarming and tragic at times, this film makes you think about what people are capable of and the sacrifices they make for those they love. Hikari is a filmmaker to watch out for. I cannot wait to see what she does next.

13. HONEY BOY ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I added Honey Boy to my schedule at the last minute. A fourth film on an already packed day, but this was a great choice. Beautiful film in so many ways, the cinematography, the approach to the shocking scenes, the balance between the love and hardship. Alma Har’el does beautiful work. Shia Labeouf did not have an average childhood, he had a very confusing and often abusive one. I hope the making of this film and portraying his father has helped him therapeutically.

14. THE SOUND OF METAL ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Sound of Metal was not at all what I expected. This is a film about a musician’s acceptance of his hearing loss, but it is complicated by his struggles with drug addiction. He was broken before he was broken. When you are an addict, additional trauma can be triggering. Like A Place Beyond the Pines, penned by Darius Marder, this is a longish story that drags a bit, but its realistic feel coupled by an outstanding performance by Riz Ahmed, makes it seem like we are watching a real person deal with this rather raw deal rather than a movie.

15. THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Personal History of David Copperfield was a pleasant surprise. Iannuci’s take on Dickens’ classic is quirky, entertaining and gorgeous. A phenomenal cast enhances the characters in this familiar tale. David Copperfield is already a story of class struggle and humanity, and Iannuci has gone one step further to represent the characters diversely, mixing the races and backgrounds of family members, sending a strong message. People are people. I would watch this one again with my family.

16. SORRY WE MISSED YOU ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ken Loach’s films are painfully real and this is no exception. Sorry We Missed You takes us on a journey with a struggling family trying to make ends meet. Mum is a private care nurse who visits, baths, cooks and gives medicines to the elderly and other housebound patients. Dad is hoping a new venture as a white van delivery man will bear fruit but it will require a new van purchase and the sacrifice of Mum’s car. Son is an aspiring graffiti artist, who skips school and gets into heaps of trouble, and daughter tries to keep everyone happy in the house. This is a family we recognize, a family doing the best they can but are getting nowhere. Loach is unflinching in his depiction of hardship and hopelessness, and leaves us with an ending to ponder. More people need to watch his films.

17. KNIVES OUT ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

An all-star who dunnit, it’s as if the Clue board game in your cupboard came to life with your favourite movie stars playing the characters. Knives Out is an homage to the masters of sleuth cinema. While it’s not rocket science, it’s fun, engaging and for that I award it an extra star.

The next ten films were alright, not perfect, but I’m glad I saw them. Waves, The Goldfinch, While at War and The Traitor were all ambitious films that while not perfect had some incredible moments. All four of them could easily have been mini series instead of feature films. Waves was highly experimental, melodramatic and got carried away with itself at times, but this highly manipulative film managed to suck me into its lair and made me feel lots of feels. The Goldfinch wasn’t perfect but it condensed an 800 page novel into an effective film the way I never thought possible, moments in the film are positively outstanding and despite what some say Finn Wolfhard and Aneurin Barnard were the perfect Boris combo. While at War wasn’t perfect either but it had moments of brilliance and inspired me to learn more about the Franco era. Lastly The Traitor, based on the true story of Tommaso Buscetta’s testimony uncovering Sicily’s Cosa Nostra in the early ’80s was too big a story to boil into a feature but I enjoyed the courtroom scenes. Again, it has inspired me to learn more. Hopefully someone will make a series with all the details of the families, their relationships and crimes.

Jungleland, Blow the Man Down, Sea Fever, The Burnt Orange Heresy, The Vast of Night and Proxima are all smaller fare that you enjoy at the festival. Films you are not likely to see on the big screen. All had memorable moments. Jungleland leaves me with the notion that Charlie Hunnam can really act, Jack O’Connell looks great in pink and Max Winkler should do something bigger. Blow the Man Down reminded me that women always get the job done. Sea Fever broke conventions on who survives the survival game. The Burnt Orange Heresy while not perfect, had a very clever ending and left me wondering if Claes Bang should be the next James Bond and Mick Jagger could be Q. The Vast of Night, while a slim story, was a great little throwback film that recreated the 1950s in every way. And Proxima tried to show us how women struggle between career and motherhood the way no other film has to date.

The only three I didn’t enjoy were The True History of the Kelly Gang, The Song of Names and Greed. Others enjoyed them, and that’s terrific. After all, there’s an audience for every film.

While I saw some great films, there are some I missed that I’m adding to my watchlist based on others recommendations like Bacarau, The Report, Bad Education, The Lighthouse, Beanpole, The Hidden Life, The Painted Bird, and many others.

If you are wondering about Parasite, I’d seen it before the festival and yes, I loved it.

So long TIFF 2019, thanks for the films and the memories.