TIFF 2017 Wrap Up 

What a crazy eleven days it has been. 30 movies later! The TIFF Gods were kind to us. The weather was stellar. I think it tried to rain once over the entire week and failed.  The elevators at Scotiabank held up under the strain. I am very proud of my city being able to pull off such an enormous festival fairly flawlessly. People genuinely seemed to enjoy being in Toronto for the festival. Idris said it best this week when he said TIFF stands for “Toronto is fucking fantastic!”, especially in September.

Here is the ranking of my 30 Films in the order in which they impressed me.  While I didn’t see any terrible films, I do have an excellent top 6 this year. The next 16 were great. And the last 8 were alright.

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
  2. Call Me By Your Name
  3. The Shape of Water
  4. First They Killed My Father
  5. Darkest Hour
  6. mother!
  7. Who We Are Now
  8. C’est La Vie
  9. Custody
  10. Angels Wear White
  11. Lady Bird
  12. Beast
  13. Unicorn Store
  14. Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami
  15. Death of Stalin
  16. The Rider
  17. Tulipani, Love, Honour and a Bicycle
  18. Woman Walks Ahead
  19. In The Fade
  20. Mary Shelley
  21. Kissing Candice
  22. Marrowbone
  23. Three Christs
  24. Mademoiselle Paradis
  25. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
  26. Good Favour
  27. The Lodgers
  28. A Season in France
  29. Kings
  30. On Chesil Beach

What didn’t I see that I have added to my list based on what others loved?

      • Molly’s Game
      • I, Tonya
      • Battle of the Sexes
      • Foxtrot
      • Faces Places
      • The Florida Project
      • Sweet Country
      • 55 Steps
      • The Wife
      • The Leisure Seeker
      • The Disaster Artist
      • Killing of a Sacred Deer
      • Professor Marston & The Wonder Women
      • Loveless
      • The Current War
      • First Reformed
      • Les Affames
      • Bodied
      • Just Andre

      I spoke to Thom Powers on the street after my last film and commended him and the other programmers for an amazing selection of films. It was quality over quantity this year and this was a good thing. There is an audience for every film, and never is this more apparent than at the Toronto International Film Festival.

      Congratulations to the winners of this year’s awards!  

      IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film: Pre-Drink, directed by Marc-Antoine Lemire

      IWC Short Cuts Award for ​Best International Short Film: Min Börda (The Burden), directed by Niki Lindroth von Bahr

      City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film: Luk’ Luk’l, directed by Wayne Wapeemukwa

      Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film: Les Affamés, directed by Robin Aubert

      The International Federation of Film Critics — Discovery prize: Ava, directed by Sadaf Foroughi

      The International Federation of Film Critics — Special Presentations: The Motive (El Autor), directed by Manuel Martín Cuenca

      NETPAC Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere: The Great Buddha+, directed by Huang Hsin-Yao

      Toronto Platform Prize: Sweet Country, directed by Warwick Thornton

      Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award: Bodied, directed by Joseph Kahn

      Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award: Faces Places, directed by Agnès Varda

      Grolsch People’s Choice Award: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh (Runner’s up Call Me By Your Name and I, Tonya) 

      Will be posting brief reviews over the next few days. Might take some time but I will get them all done.

      Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

      Directed by Martin McDonagh, starring Francis McDormand, Woody Harrilson, Sam Rockwell and Lucas Hedges

      Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri was probably one of my most anticipated films and it exceeded my expectations. It blew the bloody doors off, which is what I tweeted shortly after the screening. I had the good fortune of seeing the premiere screening at the Ryerson Theatre where it received a very exhubarant and well deserved standing ovation.

      The sharp script, with all the feels, is definitely McDonagh’s best. Sam Rockwell said during the Q&A that he often has to talk himself into taking a role, but in reading the script, with something happening on every page, it was what they refer to in the business as a “no brainer”. Francis McDormand joked ” You’re no Shakespeare, Martin” and he happily replied “Not yet” after which she started to stroke his arm.

      I actually think he is a Shakespeare for our time. This is a modern day tragedy, bold and brash with a huge heart. There is lots of humour, compassion, plenty of violence and lots and lots of anger, and swearing, lots of swearing.  Do I believe Shakespeare would have dropped F bombs in his dialogue if he was writing today? Abso-f-ing-lutely!

      In a nutshell, without spoilers, this is the tale of Mildred, a mother who has lost her daughter to a brutal rape and murder.  Many months later, the crime has no leads and the local police seemed to have filed the case away. Mildred has no patience for their apparent laziness and determined to shake things up, she shames the police department with three obnoxious billboards just outside the town. Lots follows, no spoilers here.

      The characters are layered, and while many are brash, they have a sense of humanity and vulnerability that evolves throughout the story. Francis McDormand’s Mildred is really angry and above all heart broken. She conveys a rawness that any parent can identify with, although we would hope to never want to find ourselves in her shoes.  Her performance is flawless and it might be her very best. Sam Rockwell plays the Sheriff’s unhinged racist deputy in what is absolutely his best performance to date.  If this doesn’t earn the man an Oscar, I am not sure what will. Woody Harreslon is his solid self as the no nonsense, charismatic Sherrif.

      I am very pleased that it won the People’s Choice Award in Toronto and is now destined to awards season for nominations in all major categories including screenplay, acting, cinematography, musical score and best picture.

      I look forward to watching this again when it is released in theatres.

      On Chesil Beach

      Directed by Dominic Cooke, starring Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle

      In 1962, particularly in England, sex was not something many people talked about openly. Hell today some people still don’t  want to talk about it.  But in 1962, around the onset of the sexual revolution, most people were not speaking openly about sex.

      This film, based on Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name, takes us to the seaside resort where Florence and Edward have arrived for their honeymoon. We initially find them walking on the beach.  They are not so easy together, and at this point you know nothing about them so you would almost wonder if this was an arranged marriage.  But no, as we learn from flashbacks, they were genuinely in love. They are from different socio-economic backgrounds. Florence’s family is wealthy, poised and focused on keeping up appearances, while Edward’s father is a school teacher and his family struggles a bit given his mother suffered brain damage after a head injury.  Edward likes rock and roll music, while Florence, a violinist, prefers classical concertos.  They say opposites attract, but their differences will prove otherwise.

      A large part of the film centres on their wedding night, a most awkward attempt at intimacy and the heartbreaking result of their inability to share how they truly feel.  The film flips back to moments in their relationship before their wedding so that we can see they truly care for each other.  The frustration we feel as we watch and imagine how many couples would have gone through something like this, is what this film does so very well.

      The first 2/3rds of the film were incredible. Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle deliver spectacularly with this very delicate subject, doing justice to the very uncomfortable disappointment and heartbreak that ensues.

      Unfortunately the filmmaker Dominic Cooke, and screenwriter, Ian McEwan, decided to add material to the screenplay not originally in the novel. Fastforward to the future where older versions of Florence and Edward, who look like burn victims, enact a very tacky Hollywood ending that didn’t suit the first part of the film. If you watch the film, you can stop watching at the point where Edward tells his friends the story then fast forward to the final flashback on the beach.  You will know what I mean. Yes, there are parts where he looks like his been out in the sun too long, but this part of the film is ok for an ending.  Do not go any further. Thank me later.

      TIFF 2017 – The Planning Begins 

      There are only 31 days until the 42nd annual Toronto International Film Festival officially kicks off. For me, much of the fun has already begun, reviewing all of the titles to see what might make my list. A lot depends on the schedule, but need to see what the possibilities can be.  After cataloging and reviewing the 90 odd feature length films announced so far, I’m happy to share my early musings.  There are still more programs to be announced with lots of films, but  I need to be even more organized and informed because I have less time to commit to the week of film this year. Whittling down 300 plus films to the 15-20 films I will be able to manage will take some effort.

      High on my list :

      C’est la vie!, Darkest Hour, Kings, Mary Shelley, Woman Walks Ahead, Call Me By Your Name, A Fantastic Woman, First They Killed My Father, mother!, A Season in France, The Shape if Water, The Square, Suburbicon, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Razzia, The Death of Stalin, Mom and Dad, The Ritual, Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bambi, Jane, Lots of Kids a Monkey and a Castle, Makala, and The Other Side of Everything.

      Almost as high on the list :

      Borg McEnroe, The Catcher Was A Spy, Film Stars don’t Die in Liverpool, Long Time Running, Mudbound, Stronger, The Wife, BPM (Beats Per Minute), Catch the Wind, The Children Act, Disobediance, The Guardians, The Hungry, Lady Bird, Plonger, The Price of Success, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, The Rider, Sheikh Jackson, Submergence, Thelma, Victoria and Abdul, Beast, Brad’s Status, Dark River, If You Saw His Heart, Mademoiselle Paradis, Sweet Country, The Seen and Unseen, What Will People Say, Bodied, Revenge, Azmaish:A Journey Through the Subcontinent, Boom For Real, The China Hustle, Cocaine Prison, Ex Librium, The Gospel According to Andre, Jim & Andy, The Judge, The Legend of the Ugly King, One of Us, Sammy Davis, Jr: I’ve Gotta Be Me, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, and Silas

      And these I need to know more about before considering :

      Breathe, The Mountain Between Us, The Upside, Battle of the Sexes, The Brawler, The Breadwinner, The Current War, Downsizing, Hostiles, I Tonya, Novitiate, Omerta, Custody, Euphoria, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Downrange, Great Choice, Let the Corpses Tan, The Crescent, The Disaster Artist, Vampire Clay, The Final Year, Love Means Zero, Of Sheep and Men, and Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!

      Lots to get excited about. Always a fat middle of the list. So much can change between now and ticket purchase day. And so much depends on the scheduling.

      More to come on the game plan!

      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.