Monday, September 27, 2010
With a slate of 300 films over 11 days, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which successfully wrapped on Sunday September 19th, is positioned as the second most important film festival in the world (behind Cannes). Like children in a candy store, the festival attracts 3,000 industry and press representatives from around the world, all eager to see the hotly anticipated fall Oscar contenders and the newest art-house offerings. In this report, Carol Coombes looks back at some of the cinematic riches, gazes into the future to predict some Academy Award ™ front-runners, and brings you up-to-speed on some films that you should make time to see.
The moment I landed at Pearson International Airport I knew I was in TIFF territory . While a lack of sponsorship dollars and cultural budget cuts at the local and federal level have severely dented, and in some instances prompted event organizers to skip a year, or close-down their film festivals in the U.S., the Canadian economic climate for film appreciation is much rosier.
The opening of the TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 12th —the festivals permanent new home which embraces year-round programming in five state-of-the-art cinemas, coupled with exhibition space, an on-site retail store and three food/beverage sites—in the entertainment and banking district of King Street West —triggered a seismic geographic shift in operations for TIFF10. For years the festival’s industry/press screening venues had been located in the mid-town shopping district of Yorkville/Bloor. The absence of TIFF light pole banners, and lack of festival delegates in this vibrant shopping district was apparent. While designer store Holt Renfrew had colorfully dedicated a window display to fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent (see picture) the window display was clearly disconnected from the festival’s screening of L'Amour Fou,—an in-depth personal documentary about the designer and his life-long partner Pierre Bergé. Back in the heavily promoted thoroughfares of downtown Toronto, the festival was everywhere. Big thumbs up to the Hyatt Regency, the new delegate hub— a marked improvement on the claustrophobic Sutton Place Hotel. Though there were some grumblings that the grab and go healthy food choices in the immediate vicinity of the Scotiabank multiplex were poor, increased seating capacities in the theatres meant that more delegates were able to access their first-choice screenings.
Coming soon to theatres near you, Fox Searchlight unveiled Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. If you haven’t heard about these films, you soon will!
If you can imagine, The Red Shoes crossed with All About Eve mixed with Mia Farrow’s descent into madness in Rosemary’s Baby you have some of the pointers for the genius that is Black Swan. Aronofsky’s direction, skillful casting, and masterful cinematography by Matthew Libatique (who also shot Arnofsky’s Requiem for a Dream) make for compelling viewing. Though it’s likely that Natalie Portman had a body double for some of her arduous classical ballet pointe steps, it has been widely reported that she spent many hours training and strengthening her body. She plays Nina, a talented but timid ballerina who is picked to play a demanding dual role of the passive ethereal White Swan and the sensual, passionate Black Swan in a Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Portman is an assured front-runner for the Oscar for “Best Actress.” (T & T note - this film will screen at the Philadelphia Film Festival on Saturday, October 16th 7:30pm Prince Theater)
James Franco, who recently played Allen Ginsberg in Howl, is a shoe-in candidate for a “Best Actor” nomination, though he is likely to be pipped at the post by Colin Firth (see below). In his latest film 127 Hours Franco plays outdoorsman Aron Ralston who famously fell down a crevice in Blue John Canyon near Moab Utah in May 2003. Pinned against a canyon wall by a boulder that fell on his right arm, he slowly comes to the realization that he recklessly told nobody where he was going. As days pass Ralston realizes the action he must take in order to survive. Not for the faint of heart, visionary director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) knows how to build up the tension. While the premise of watching an actor confined in one place for the vast duration of a movie sounds uncinematic, Boyle cleverly and richly creates a sensory snapshot of what it was like for Ralston. The warm rays of sunlight hit the interior of the canyon walls; a bird flies overhead at the same time each day; and Ralston’s water slowly runs out. This controversial film is destined to inspire you to question what would you do in similar circumstance. (T & T note - this film will screen at the Philadelphia Film Festival on Sunday, October 24th 7:30pm Prince Theater. It's also similar in theme to soon to be released film Buried, which T & T reviewed last week, click HERE to read)
The King’s Speech, which is also slated to open domestically, stars Colin Firth in the role of King George VI as he attempts to move past his stuttering speech impediment to lead England into battle during World War II. Winner of the Cadillac People’s Choice (Audience) Award, Firth, who was nominated for a 2010 Academy Award for his performance in Tom Ford’s A Single Man, is hotly tipped to snare “Best Actor” in 2011.
Aside from being the best place to see the newest world and art-house cinema, TIFF is also a market for major and mini-major studios (Focus Features, IFC, The Weinstein Company, Sony Classics….) intent on seeking out the next big breakout film. Into this feverish mix add local and world press who pump out reviews with lightening speed (IndieWire deserves special mention for their excellent day-by-day coverage). If 2009 was singled out as a slump year, TIFF10 marked a positive turning point for film sales. Rabbit Hole, Submarine, Beginners, Dirty Girl, SUPER and Werner Herzog’s 3-D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams were just some of the hotly anticipated titles that secured a U.S distribution deal that I was fortunate enough to see.
Veering away from the overtly gay content found in his earlier films, John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus) debuted Rabbit Hole, a dramatic story about a couple. Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) navigating their relationship and taking the first steps toward reclaiming their lives a year after their son’s death in a tragic car-accident. Though Kidman commands the screen—her grief palpable in her quiet gestures and the tenseness of her every move—my bets are still on Portman to scoop the Academy for “Best Actress” in Black Swan.
Based on the novel of the same name, Submarine (Director, Richard Ayoade, Executive Producer: Ben Stiller) is a must-see sardonic, coming-of-age story told through the eyes of fifteen-year-old virgin, Oliver Tate. Though it would be an injustice to compare Submarine to Little Miss Sunshine, Submarine does have some of the same winning characteristics: cynical teens, eccentric adults, smart one-liners, and a droll humor. Ninety-four minutes sped by.
If a Welsh coming-of-age story doesn’t sound like your cup of caffeine, Beginners directed by Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) is a rich indie dramedy that cleverly juggles two chronological storylines side by side. When Oliver’s father, Hal, comes out to his son at the sprightly age of seventy-five, Oliver is blind-sided but soon adapts to his father’s plunge into a gay social life: online dating, participation in a gay men’s chorus, and subscriptions to The Advocate. With a new smart set of gay friends, a loving younger boyfriend, and a cancerous growth in his lung; the inevitable is bound to halt Hal’s new found freedom. In the guise of Sigmund Freud, Oliver meets Anna, a French actress, at a costume party. Anna has laryngitis, and thus begins an unusual flirtation through a sequence of scribbled notes. Even Oliver’s Jack Russell terrier, (inherited from his father) approves of Anna. How do we know this? You will have to see for yourself! Christopher Plummer is marvelous is his portrayal of Hal, a man given a second chance at life with a time bomb in his chest. It’s likely his sensitive portrayal will garner him a nomination for “Best Actor in a Supporting Role.” Ewan McGregor (Oliver) and Mélanie Laurent (Anna) clearly have on-screen chemistry and are convincing as two adults navigating life and love.
Dirty Girl, reportedly picked up for $3 million by The Weinstein Company, is a familiar tale of two misfit teens thrown together in a small town seeking love, family and identity. As her career gains momentum, Juno Temple (daughter of iconic filmmaker Julian Temple) needs to be mindful about typecasting. In Cracks, St Trinians and now in Dirty Girl she plays the rebellious bad girl. While her natural wild blond hair, shapely figure, long-legs and high-cheeks make her a pin-up for pubescent teens—and to be fair she is perfectly cast as Danielle, a promiscuous, skimpily dressed teen in Dirty Girl I am looking forward to seeing her take on roles with more depth. Though some of the set-ups and dialogue seemed forced and (gay) stereotypical, Dirty Girl has much to recommend. It is certain to find its own audience.
Harnessing the star power of Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon and Ellen Page, SUPER can best be described with one word, “wacky.” In short, a deadbeat, Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson), is transformed into the masked crime-fighting super-hero, “Crimson Bolt,” after the finger of God blesses his brain. If the plot sounds absurd, you might be interested to learn that SUPER was the first distribution deal announced at TIFF10.
Rounding out my report from Toronto, it seemed appropriate to mention 3-D technology. Though there has been some negative comments swirling in the media from indie filmmakers about the hype and pressure surrounding 3-D storytelling, it is difficult to imagine veteran director Werner Herzog’s enthralling documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams in anything but 3-D. Herzog, gained extraordinary permission from the French Government to film inside Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc —the oldest known caverns containing prehistoric rock art created more than thirty-thousand years ago. With a small crew, hand-held battery driven lamps, and accompanied by the scientific custodians of the caves, Herzog guides us through this never-before-seen repository of Paleolithic art. The cave’s ancient mineralized stalagmites and stalactites jump out of the screen. Most astonishing is the breath-taking chalk drawings of horses’ heads, lions, and bears. Several human handprints (apparently from one person) are found at the entrance to the cave. Animal bones, undisturbed for thousands of years, are scattered throughout the floor of the cave. Herzog’s voice-over narration adds depth, gravitas and moments of unexpected humor. A rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” on a primitive flute has to be a first. The opening up of a mausoleum of Paleolithic art for the masses to appreciate in 3-D is genius. - Carol Coombes
Carol has provided Tinsel & Tine with a terrific wrap up from TIFF!
Ms. Coombes is a professional writer and film festival producer; but please note, any readers who attend a Film Festival, big or small, US or abroad, is welcome to be a contributor to T&T. (Blogging credit only compensation)