Eleven days of fabulous films, family, friends and festival frenzy. Of course it is mostly about the extraordinary choice of films to see at the festival and this year we were very spoiled for choice. Save for very few dogs, all of the films I saw were pretty brilliant, and even the dogs were memorable. But TIFF is also very much about the people. The people you attend screenings with, the new people you meet and of course, the volunteers. I was concerned that with reserved seating at many of the theatres I’d miss meeting people in line and sitting with friends. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Less time in line meant more time to get a bite to eat with friends, grab a coffee, get to your next screening or use the bathroom. The festival volunteers also seemed very relaxed this year, perhaps the festival goers were more relaxed knowing they didn’t need to rush for the best seat. I am amazed that with all the people you come across at the festival there is often someone new you meet that you bump into again and again throughout the festival. This year it was lovely lady from Denver. I also managed to meet up for drinks with some new people I had connected with through Letterboxd and now I have their friendly faces to go with their names and great reviews.
There was definitely a theme running through the films I saw at TIFF this year, identity and belonging. Teen Spirit, Widows, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Shadow, Giant Little Ones, Boy Erased, Float Like a Butterfly, Angelo, Wildlife, Shoplifters and Where Hands Touch were all stories based on characters who were struggling to be who they are when others see them differently. That these stories of discrimination and prejudice based on gender, race, sexuality and social status are so prevalent gives these important issues a bigger voice and medium for discussion.
There were some surprises for me this festival. For instance, I had not planned to see Green Book until many friends advised me to see it. I had perceived it as a mainstream film that I could see it when it was released. I hadn’t expected it to be earth shattering. When a fourth screening was announced I traded in what I had planned to see and I was so glad I did. This was a total charmer with a very strong positive message. And yes it’s as formulaic as Hollywood film scripts go, but that is not always a bad thing. It’s the trifecta of great script, flawless performances and all the feels. While it may not have the same critical recognition of some of the other more ambitious festival films, it was certainly the audience favourite and destined for the awards circuit.
I was also not expecting to enjoy First Man as much as I did. I loved it. My one caveat is that it will need to be seen in an IMAX theatre. The shakey-cam rocket scenes will not be as effective on a small screen. I’d like to see it again at the Cinesphere.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma is a total stunner, an absolute work of art. Filmed in black and white, with no background musical score, it’s poetic and majestic. From the opening credits to the closing scene and everything in between, you will remember the details. This one must be scene in a theatre with a robust surround sound system. Yes a movie with no soundtrack needs the great sound system, for it is the real life noises that complete the experience, the sound of the dishes, planes flying overhead, children playing, the marching band in the street, the dog barking and so much more. Real life needs surround sound. TIFF played the film in the Lightbox cinema 2 which has just been refurbished with a new state of the art Dolby Atmos sound system. I highly recommend seeing it there.
I was surprised that Widows was not a runner-up for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. This was a very clever heist film, meticulously directed by Steve McQueen with some powerhouse female performances. I have not come across a single person who didn’t love the film. I personally loved Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, and cinematically I would rate it much higher, but I came across many who thought what I appreciated as Barry’s signature poetic style as “slow”. It had more screenings than Widows, so perhaps that is what got it over the line.
I was also surprised that The Elephant Queen did not receive any awards recognition because this was truly a phenomenal and very moving film about these sentient beings and their smaller neighbours. It is unlike any other nature film I have ever seen and I cannot wait to see it again.
My top favourites were, in no particular order, Roma, First Man, The Elephant Queen, Shoplifters, Widows, Never Look Away, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Shadow, Giant Little Ones, Burning, Beautiful Boy, and Black 47.
I also really enjoyed Float Like a Butterfly, which won the Discovery prize, Jacques Audiard’s adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, for which John C. Reilly deserves an Oscar nod, the poignant Boy Erased starring the brilliant Lucas Hedges, Amma Asante’s Where Hands Touch which I think was one of the best female directed films screened at the festival, Christian Petzold’s Transit and Markus Schleinzer’s Angelo.
Outlaw King with its gorgeous cinematography and epic battle scenes, Quincy biography directed by his daughter Rashida Jones, Max Minghella’s musical directorial debut Teen Spirit, lighthearted dramedy Papi Chulo and the tragic story of the Kursk, which is a contender for musical score in my book, were all decent films you can probably wait and see on Netflix.
There were a few disappointments. Perhaps there was too much hype for these coming out of other festivals or perhaps they were rushed to get to TIFF. I’ll not dwell on them here. I will leave you to make your own assessment. I have no regrets. Really. And I have a long list of films yet to see based on the recommendations from friends. I only saw 29 of the 250 plus films after all.
Toronto really does sparkle during TIFF, but this year, the energy was fierce. Maybe it was the incredible weather but I think more people attended this year. I was surprised at how packed all the screenings were up to and including the very last day. All of the 29 screenings I attended were sold out and not one lacked a rush line.
I cannot wait to see how some of the films I loved are received by a wider audience. I am fully expecting Roma, First Man, Widows, Green Book and If Beale Street Could Talk to be courted for Best Picture this Oscar season. A Star Is Born will likely be courted too, which will drive me insane, but I will keep a cool head about it. I am much more interested in how the smaller films do. Where and when they’ll be released. Whether a dark horse will emerge.
All around it was another fabulous festival. Time to start counting down to TIFF19!
29 Films Ranked on Letterboxd