People’s Choice Winners:
People’s Choice Award: ‘The Imitation Game‘
1st Runner Up: ‘Learning to Drive’
2nd Runner Up: ‘St. Vincent’
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see ‘St. Vincent’ at TIFF this year, but I’m counting down to its October 24th release date. I gave both ‘The Imitation Game’, and ‘Learning to Drive’ positive 3-star reviews, but was nowhere near as enthusiastic about either picture as most TIFFgoers were.
For the past seven years, every Best Picture Oscar winner premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival: ’12 Years a Slave’, ‘Argo’, The Artist’, ‘The King’s Speech’, ‘The Hurt Locker’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, and ‘No Country For Old Men’. I think our hot streak has come to an end. Of the films I saw at this year’s festival, the ones that have a good chance of receiving a Best Picture nomination are ‘Foxcatcher’, ‘The Imitation Game’, and ‘The Theory of Everything’. Of these three titles, ‘Foxcatcher’ seems the most likely to win the Best Picture Oscar, but I don’t think it will – it is a very strong film, but it is also distant and cold. ‘Boyhood’ received universal acclaim, but Academy voters rarely credit films released within the first eight months of the year. In all likelihood, we have not yet seen the movie that will win the 2014 Best Picture Oscar.
Quality of Films at TIFF14:
I saw many good pictures at TIFF this year. My selection approach (for the most part) was to go for movies that were made by directors I greatly admire. It was a good method for picking the movies I wanted to see, but I found that most of these filmmakers had better films that premiered at TIFF in previous years: (‘The Imitation Game’ < ‘Headhunters’, ‘While We’re Young’ < ‘Frances Ha’, ‘Wild’ < ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, ‘The Good Lie’ < ‘Monsieur Lazhar’, ‘The Look of Silence’ < ‘The Act of Killing‘, etc.). The exception is Xavier Dolan (whose ‘Mommy’ is his masterpiece by far).
My Top 5 Films of TIFF14:
Xavier Dolan’s ‘Mommy’ was my lone 4-star movie of TIFF14. Single mother (Anne Dorval) barely copes with her troubled teenage son (Antoine-Oliver Pilon). I was stunned to realize Dolan is only 25 years old; ‘Mommy’ feels like the world of a very accomplished and seasoned filmmaker. The 6X6 (or 1X1) framing aesthetic make the emotions pop out more. It isn’t a gimmicky practice; Dolan said he chose this ratio so we’re locked into the eyes of the characters. He gets the camera up close to his actors and lets them rip. Nothing about ‘Mommy’ is predictable; this was made clear when a character reaches out and pushes the film’s aspect ratio to fit the whole screen. Many positive adjectives can and will be used to describe ‘Mommy’, but for now, I’ll just settle on one: “beautiful”.
Dan Gilroy’s debut about the underground world of L.A. freelance crime journalism may very well be “great”. The film’s teaser, which I talked about in a previous blog post, allowed us to see how far Jake Gyllenhaal has come as an actor. Cinematographer Robert Elswit shoots Los Angeles in a way that makes it pulsating and Jake Gyllenhaal gives the performance of his career against that sensational background. Pluck this movie, and it vibrates. ‘Nightcrawler’ may be contemporary in setting, but it feels like a throwback to classics such as ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Network’, and ‘Blow Out’. The film is as much a psychological thriller as an examination of a fractured economy and the extremes people are will to go to for success. Gyllenhaal’s character is our quintessential reporter – he gets the story first, and his footage is the most detailed and graphic. He is a terrifying sociopath and his quick rise to success is deeply unsettling. But, as consumers of this sort of information, we feel the need to be informed to such a degree. What does that say about us?
Bennett Miller follows up on ‘Capote’ and ‘Moneyball’ with another biopic. Two brothers, both former Olympic wrestling champions (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) develop a fateful friendship with paranoid schizophrenic billionaire John duPont (Steve Carell. As Miller proved in ‘Capote’, and ‘Moneyball’, he is able to draw the best performances out of his cast. I find myself liking ‘Foxcatcher’ more and more as I think back to it. It is a meticulously detailed piece of work; a slow boiling study of patriotism and winner obsessions that builds and devastates, dealing with the emotional uncertainty of its characters rather than the perverse extremities less gifted filmmaker would bring to the project. Expect Oscar nominations for all three actors (yes, including Channing Tatum), as well as for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and best MakeUp and Hairstyling. I expect ‘Foxcatcher’ to be polarizing when it hits the masses; it’s arms-length approach will leave some viewers in the cold.
4) HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT
Sibling directors Josh and Benny Safdie’s film follows a young heroin addict in the streets of New York City. At the end of the screening, I approached the director and said, “Hi, my name is Jerry, and I love your movie. I will get people to see this.” It isn’t a strong film because of its anti-drug message, but rather for its immediate human experience and the texture of that experience. I never felt like I was watching characters; the people occupying the screen felt real. I wasn’t surprised to discover during the Q&A session that the movie was based on the lead actress’ experiences (she was a homeless 19-year-old in a violent relationship during the time the filmmakers discovered her), and so, she is essentially playing a version of herself. Her performance is stunning (and completely natural). Long tracking shots, intimate close-ups, and the grainy look of the picture also lend to the film’s naturalism (watching it, I was under the impression it was shot on 16mm film, but the filmmakers stated that they used a digital camera). ‘Heaven Knows What’ may at times be as messy as its main character but it is never predictable, lazy, or dull; rather, it confirms that independent cinema is alive, well, and totally flourishing.
5) CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
Olivier Assayas directs this picture about a veteran actress (Juliette Binoche) who looks to her assistant (Kristen Stewart) for help as she jousts with an arrogant younger actress (Chloe Grace Moretz). This is a career best for Stewart (finally, she has found the perfect role to distance herself from the ‘Twilight’ persona) and she holds her own opposite to Binoche, who is always outstanding. I predicted on Day One of the festival that this was going to be one of the stronger entries at TIFF this year and I was right. “A movie isn’t supposed to have answers, it’s supposed to raise questions.” said Mr. Assayas at the Q&A. His complex ideas about the movies, of art imitating life, of life imitating art, the phase of youth, the passage of time, and the need to adapt to a fast-changing world (and a quickly transforming cinematic world) fully engaged me. Opening shots within a moving train are a masterclass of technique, and the still shots of the Swiss Alps are no less powerful as they have a foretelling presence.
That’s a wrap for TIFF14, folks. It’s been a blast!