TIFF 2016 – Festival Recap

This was by far the best TIFF I’ve attended since my very first festival 10 years ago.  Perhaps I was lucky with my film selections, but I do a lot of research ahead of time so maybe it’s skill, ha ha. If I am taking the week off work I’d hope it’s not a waste of time or money. I missed last year, so this year I had to make up for it.

Originally planned to see 36 films, but I dropped a few along the way and ended up seeing 32.  I have written mini reviews of each of the films, but everyone always wants a top 10 list.  I have more like a top 22 list, so I may as well rank them all.  My absolute favourites are the first 13, my enthusiasm dwindles around #24, and the only ones I really disliked were the last 4.

  1. Nocturnal Animals
  2. Moonlight
  3. Manchester by the Sea
  4. I, Daniel Blake
  5. Toni Erdmann
  6. La La Land
  7. Brimstone 
  8. Lion
  9. Bleed For This
  10. The Journey is the Destination 
  11. Arrival 
  12. Handsome Devil
  13. Free Fire
  14. The Handmaiden
  15. The Journey
  16. Paterson 
  17. American Pastoral
  18. The Secret Scripture
  19. Trespass Against Us
  20. Brain on Fire
  21. The Bleeder
  22. LBJ
  23. Beyond the Flood
  24. Daguerreotype 
  25. Ma’Rosa
  26. Their Finest
  27. Orphan
  28. Things to Come
  29. Una
  30. Salt and Fire
  31. Elle
  32. I’m The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

It’s going to be a very interesting awards season this year. With so many incredible films screening at TIFF I have to think that the best picture is among them. La La Land did win the Grolsch People’s Choice award. This was not entirely surprising given its wide appeal. I’m not exactly clear on how votes are tallied and if number of screenings is a benefit to films winning the prize.  If so, there were additional screenings of La La Land and Lion so odds would be in their favour.  Nocturnal Animals, Manchester By The Sea and Moonlight were my top three favourites of the festival.

Other highlights of the festival include:

  • King Street ruled by pedestrians and food trucks
  • The spectacular weather
  • Chuck Wepner
  • Michael Shannon’s shorts
  • Stumbling across Keith Richards
  • The Hilton
  • Lunches at Richmond Station and Osteria Ciceri e Tria
  • The VISA screening lounge
  • Seeing films with the people I love!

It will be tough to beat TIFF16, but next year I will be ready, willing and able to take it on!

The Bleeder – Dir Philippe Falardeau

Cast: Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber and Elisabeth Moss

I’ve been following this one for a while. Rocky is one of my favourite films of all time and when I heard Chuck Wepner’s story was being told by Canadian director Philippe Falardeau and Liev Schreiber was playing the role of Chuck Wepner, I was in.

This wasn’t the best movie at the festival, but it was an enjoyable one. It was a fun film and the performances were solid.  Chuck Wepner is a lovable guy, and this film is very nostalgic taking us back to a time in the 70s some of us remember fondly. Perhaps a bit macho at times, but strong female characters balance this story out. I loved the raw gritty realism of the time.  It’s what I remember as a kid. From the horrible wallpaper in the kitchen to the loud and over patterned polyester outfits, this film did not sugar coat this pretty ugly period in fashion history.

This screening’s Q&A was most memorable, with Chuck taking over the microphone for a good length of time.  Humble, yet not, he’s still a charactor.  He seems to be a lovable force.

The soundtrack is great. I’ll probably watch this again some day.  And let’s get some more good roles for these three superb actors.

The Handmaiden – Dir Chan-wook Park

Cast: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Hae-sook, Moon So-ri

Based on Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, this is a Victorian tongue in cheek thriller-romance, set in Korea. Yes, Korea. Told in three parts, with time shifts to keep you guessing, it’s a quirky, eye-popping fun ride.

The sets and  cinematography are absolutely stunning and the music is perfect.  The casting is excellent, especially the two main girls who are absolutely gorgeous.  The erotic scenes, plot lines and violence won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  If you’ve never seen any of Park’s films before, they are hard to describe and this is one of his most accessible mainly because of the humour. His films tend to be on the disturbing side.

The Handmaiden is bound to be popular with the director’s existing fans and likely to attract new ones.


Before The Flood – Dir Fisher Stevens

Narrated by : Leonardo DiCaprio

Not going to lie, I picked this one because of Leo. I’ll watch the doc at home, but how often does Leo come to TO. The premier was not premium priced, so no skin off my wallet. I was also curious to see what was taking so long to put this film together.  The best part of seeing this film was experiencing Leo’s biggest fan’s exhuberance, friend Andrea below.  She managed to meet him and get an autograph on her Catch Me If You Can DVD.  I also had an opportunity to share my extra ticket with a work colleague and TIFF newbie, Eddie, who got to experience the TIFF trifecta – Superstar – Premier – Q&A, and now he’s hooked on TIFF!

Back to the film itself, the best part of the film for me was the tie in to Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights” which apparently hung above Leo’s crib as a child.  This very detailed three paneled painting shows three worlds, the first a world of bliss, second a world of over-indulgence, and the third showing the hellish result of the second.  Quite a terrifying visual for a developing young mind, and Bosch’s prophecy has been a very important influence for DiCaprio.

The film seemed solid.  It covers a number of environmental concerns fairly well.  I am not a scientist, nor have I had time to study the film’s claims in detail to identify falsehoods or far reaches. Leo does not play the role of expert but rather concerned questioning citizen, which most viewers will relate to.

Leo is being criticized by some for his own hypocracy and inconsistent practices ( private planes, investments, etc).  There is a point in the film where he admits he needs to decrease his footprint, and I hope he does.  Most of all I hope the film reaches people who are otherwise unaware of the issues, that it compels people to do their own research and come to informed conclusions.

Bleed For This – Dir Ben Younger

Cast: Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds, Ted Levine

This inspirational story will keep you engaged.  Miles Teller is a force of nature and the perfect choice to play Vinny Pazienza (Paz, or the Pazmanian Devil) who is indeed an unpredictable force of nature.

Boxers often have relentless enthusiasm, stubbornness and tenacity but Vinny is someone who takes these qualities one step beyond.  After a car accident leaves him with a broken neck and he’s told he will never box again, he is determined to prove everyone wrong. His biggest champion, trainer Kevin Rooney, is played by an unrecognizable Aaron Eckhart who gained a few pounds to play the role. He’s pretty terrific in this as well. Vinny is someone who knows nothing else and he’ll whither away if he never boxes again. Gutsy and fearless he doesn’t give up.  The story is reminiscent of Niki Lauda’s.  These guys are born with a lifelong passion and unique ability to challenge themselves, endure pain and beat all of the odds.

Ben Younger has done a fine job with this film.  Apparently he ran out of money and had to scrounge his pennies to get some final scenes wrapped up. Good investment. I would be surprised if we don’t see Miles Teller, and possibly Aaron Eckhart, in the awards discussion.  Ciarán Hinds and Katey Sagal also play well in very strong supporting roles as Vinny’s parents.


Brain on Fire – Dir Gerard Barrett

Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Thomas Mann, Richard Armitage, Tyler Perry, Carrie-Anne Moss

This film is more than a film, it’s a public service announcement to ensure awareness around a treatable brain disease that is often misdiagnosed as pervasive mental illness.  Imagine being left in an institution labeled as schizophrenic, or worse in a catatonic state, for life when you could have been treated and led a normal life.  Very scary thought.

We can thank Charlize Theron, the film’s producer, for bringing this story to Gerard Barrett. Hesitant at first, he’s very glad to be part of the project. This film has many to thank including Dr. Najjar for uncovering the diagnosis, Susannah Cahalan for sharing her story and most of all to her family for failing to give up until they found a diagnosis that made sense.  Mental illness is a tricky thing to diagnose and Susannah is very fortunate her family sensed something was amiss to pursue a definitive diagnosis.

A worthwhile film all around.


The Journey – Dir Nick Hamm

Cast: Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, John Hurt, Toby Stephens, Freddie Highmore

My mother is from Northern Ireland and her mother, my grandmother, was Protestant and her father, my grandfather, was Catholic.  My grandmother loved Ian Paisley, and didn’t like Catholics very much at one point.  She did soften as time went on.  But when you are from a troubled country like Northern Ireland, it’s rather complicated.

When I heard that Timothy Spall would be playing the barn storming giant, Ian Paisley, I was a bit surprised.  Paisley is over a foot taller than Spall.  But Spall can do pretty much anything so why not.

Colm Meaney and Timothy Spall are perfect in this grudge match peace negotiation.  The film is  a tribute to what these two leaders accomplished.  Fierce adversaries, Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley eventually became friends who were referred to as the “chuckle brothers”. I travelled to Northern Ireland very recently and it’s a whole different place than it was when I was last there in the mid 80s.  Gone are the borders between the north and the south and the scary British military check points.  The Belfast nightlife rivals Dublin’s and patrons are free to enter bars previously designated as “IRA hangouts” without question.  There are still rivalling flags waiving just to remind you where you are.  The Orangemen still parade on July 12th. There are still some nattering on in the privacy of pubs and houses about heritage and the old days. People will not forget, and a few will not forgive, but the leaders shall set an example for the young and that matters a great deal.

I do hope this film goes viral and shows the world how to reach a compromise without sacrificing dignity and pride, how humour and friendship can build bridges stronger than concrete.  Northern Ireland should be very proud of the St. Andrews Agreement and the example they have set for the rest of the world.

And because Timothy Spall is such an incredible actor, I thought you could all benefit from some of his process. Here is a little clip from the Q&A.

The Journey is the Destination – dir Bronwen Hughes

I didn’t know what to expect from this film, but the topic seemed compelling.  Plus it was directed by a woman and I was specifically looking for good films directed by women. Am I ever glad I picked this one, as I was very moved by the story and really enjoyed how the the film was constructed.

At 22, Dan Eldon had accomplished more than most of have in a lifetime. Fearless, compassionate and creative, he has left a legacy for his family to treasure.  The film is largely leveraged from the incredibly detailed and artistic journals he kept. I loved the way his pieces were woven into the film.

His mother stood with the director at the premiere.  I have to think that his family had a lot to do with bringing this film to the screen.

Highly recommend seeing this film, especially if you are a parent of a spirited young person!


LBJ – dir Rob Reiner

This was a history lesson with a very engaging character performance from Woody Harrelson.  My mother loved it, but she remembers the time well so enjoy the historical details.  Me, I enjoyed it, especially the one-liners.  Lyndon B Johnston was a character that like to joke around and use profanity shamelessly.  This makes for some eye raising dialogue for a President.  And Woody, who is Texan, was absolutely perfect.  The only thing I found a little distracting was the prosthetic make up.  Ladybird was played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. She was great, but it wasn’t as big a role as I was expecting.

The film focused on LBJ’s early days as JFKs Vice President and then his early term as President focused on the passing of the civil rights bill.  There is a whole part 2 to be told around the Vietnam war, and if it happens, Woody will definitely have to come back to play this part again.

Expect to see Woody in the awards discussion. He is that good, despite the make up.

Salt and Fire – Dir Werner Herzog

Cast:Michael Shannon, Veronica Ferres, Gael García Bernal, Volker Michalowski, Lawrence Krauss and Anita Briem

I saw this film accidentally.  I meant to buy Herzog’s documentary Into the Inferno. Most directors don’t have any volcano movies never mind two at the same festival.

This was an odd film all around. Jumpy plot and poor performances were a bit disappointing.  Beautifully shot though. Salar de Uyuni, the salt flat where the bulk of the film takes place, is over 4,000 square feet and void of vegetation and wildlife.  It’s a popular tourist destination where people go there to take quirky and unusual nature photographs.

I’m not clear on the merits of the story, i.e. the link between an environmental disaster and spreading of salt flats that could be detrimental to the earth.

Eventually I would like to see the documentary I was supposed to see.

Veronica Ferres and Werner Herzog