TIFF 2011 – Twelve Days In: Ricky D’s final blog entry plus twenty two more reviews to digest

The Toronto International Film Festival ended yesterday and I have to say, it is the most exhausting film festival I have ever attended. Even compared to Fantasia, which runs nearly four weeks long, TIFF manages to suck all my energy. Perhaps the main reason why I find it so tiring is because screenings start as early as 9:00 AM and go until midnight, and somewhere in between you have to find time to write about the festival. This year’s Cadillac People Choice Award winner was a bit of a surprise, awarded to a film that no one I know saw, Nadine Labaki’s Where do We Go Now, a film TIFF describes as: “heartwarming tale of a group of women’s determination to protect their isolated, mine-encircled community from the pervasive and divisive outside forces that threaten to destroy it from within”. Our crew posted thier list of their personal favorites which you can find here.

In total, our staff posted roughly 50 reviews and over 100 articles in total, and while this is my final blog entry, I can tell you that we have at least six (if not more) reviews left to publish. My two highlights of the fest included the gala screening of Shame, my personal favourite of the year, with director Steve McQeen and star Michael Fassbender present for a Q&A, as well as many celebrities present and seated a row away from us including, James Franco and Gus Van Sant. But my biggest highlight of the festival was meeting a 95 year old lady who sat next to me for the screening of Sion Sono’s latest, Himizu. At first I was taken aback that this sweet old lady chose a film by a director known for pushing the boundaries of onscreen sex and violence and was sure that she had no clue what she was in for. As it turns out, she was a huge fan of the filmmaker and so the two of us discussed his work for 30 minutes prior to the start of the film.

The Sound On Sight staff will be sure to return to Toronto again next year, but before we sign off for 2011, I felt it would be a good idea to post capsules of some of the reviews published this week from our staff. Enjoy!

Find the first blog entry here with 18 reviews.

Find the second blog entry here with 9 reviews.

Albert Nobbs

Directed by Rodrigo Garcia

Written by Glen Close and John Banville

Glenn Close’s intimate but reserved performance truly deserves accolades. The titular Nobbs, a woman who disguises herself as a man in order to work as a butler in patriarchal 19th century Ireland, is a pitch-perfect turn for Close, who also co-wrote the screenplay.

2011, Ireland / UK

Carré Blanc

Directed by Jean-Baptiste Leonetti

Written by Jean-Baptiste Leonetti

France, 2011

Jean-Baptiste Leonetti’s Carre Blanc marks the arrival of someone who promises to be an emerging new talent in genre filmmaking in France. With that said, his directorial debut comes off as a somewhat jejune undergraduate rhetoric about consumerism and corporate supremacy… (read the full review)

The Deep Blue Sea

Directed by Terence Davies

2011, UK, 98 minutes

Fans of Terence Rattigan’s original play certainly shouldn’t fear a garish adaptation. The original is sensational, and Davies leaves it largely intact. Rattigan’s words are wonderful and any director would be lucky to have them. The dialogue he weaves into his plays is complex, at times subtle, and puts everything just so delicately. That’s all made it into the film. Davies version isn’t dumbed down for export, either—if you don’t understand what is meant by a “milk-in-first sort of person,” that’s a shame… (read the full review)

Footnote

Directed by Joseph Cedar

Written by Joseph Cedar

Israel, 2011

Joseph Cedar’s latest work is brilliant. A power struggle between father and son is such a archetypal story, and Cedar’s characters (who are Talmud scholars) make the story quintessentially Jewish. It is a wry and unusual look at intellectual rivalry, and unsurprisingly won the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes.

Himizu

Directed by Shion Sono

Written by Shion Sono

2011, Japan

With Himizu, Sono’s brilliance is to take the onslaught of all the high-pitched comedy and hyperbolic fury and shape it into a narrative that’s surprisingly touching. The title translates as “mole,” and Sono uses this to convey his message: Like a mole, his protagonist overcomes, no matter how muddy the outlook may be: “never give up.”… (read the full review)

Killer Joe

Directed by William Friedkin

Screenplay by Tracy Letts

2011, USA

Freidkin delivers a sleazy and insanely dark pic, but one that is also damned hilarious and which features one of the memorable onscreen maniacs since Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth: Killer Joe, a detective with the Dallas Police Department, who also moonlights as a hired gun… (read the full review)

Kill List

Directed by Ben Wheatley

Written by Ben Wheatley

UK, 2011

Apart from all else, Kill List features the best buddy-assassin duo since Quentin Tarantino treated cinephiles to the legendary Pulp Fiction pairing of Jules Winfield and Vincent Vega. But where Jules and Vince traded QT’s signature, pop-culture repartee, Kill List‘s Jay (Niel Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley) share the uncannily naturalistic banter of genuine, lifelong best mates. How director Ben Wheatley manages to balance elements of social realism – TIFF’s synopsis invokes Mike Leigh with good reason – with caustic humour, extreme, graphic violence, and plenty of frantic WTF-ery, is a mystery nearly as indecipherable as the one that propels the film forward like a speeding, high-calibre slug. But balance those elements he does, and with a deftness that belies his stature as only a second-time filmmaker. (His debut was 2009′s dark crime comedy, Down Terrace.) On the evidence of Kill List’s late film insanity, a deal with the devil can’t be ruled out. Indeed, Satanic inspiration almost seems likely, given an ending that will live in infamy, topping perhaps even Se7en’s anguished “What’s in the baaaahx?” conclusion.

The Last Gladiators

Directed by Alex Gibney

2011, USA, 94 minutes

This documentary is for hockey fans only, and by God, will hockey fans love it. The enforcer is a controversial role in hockey, beloved by fans but derided by the evening news. “Gretzky never punches anyone,” they cluck. They forget. For Gretzky to score goals, guys like Dave “Cementhead” Semenko needed to watch his back. Park biography, part history, part psychological profile, and part love letter, The Last Gladiators is the documentary NHL enforcers have been waiting for… (read the full review)

Martha Marcy May Marlene (review #1)

Directed by Sean Durkin

Written by Sean Durkin

2011, USA

A hauntingly beautiful, artfully structured, pitch-perfect psychological thriller, Martha Marcy May Marlene is easily among the best of this year’s festival offerings. The film is an achievement that any director ought to be proud of, but the fact that it’s Sean Durkin’s debut feature is frankly staggering. Also surprising is the performance of Elizabeth Olsen (as a character née Martha, later labeled Marcy May and Marlene), younger sister to the better-known Mary-Kate and Ashley, who, on this evidence, could yet become her family’s brightest star. Here she holds her own even against another excellent performance from John Hawkes, who is both fearsome and tender as Patrick, the charismatic head of a commune-come-cult that, like its leader, is at once seductive and terrifying. Supporting turns from Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy, meanwhile, as Martha’s well-meaning sister and brother-in-law, respectively, contribute to a subtle but pointed critique of bourgeois banality. Durkin mines his material for optimum suspense, as well as an acute metaphor for post-adolescent uncertainty.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (review #2)

Directed by Sean Durkin

Written by Sean Durking

USA, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene subverts all tropes of melodrama. It does not over-emphasize the emotional states of the characters, nor the injustice. We are pulled through the same kind of numbness as Martha seems to be experiencing, broken up by intense moments of awakening and trauma. The film also has an impressive and divisive ending, one of the best of the year… (read the full review)

Melancholia

Directed by Lars Von Trier

Written by Lars Von Trier

Denmark, 2011

A wedding, a sister and an apocalypse: These are the essential narrative pieces of Lars Von Trier’s newest film Melancholia. The film combines a high level psychological-surrealism and Dogme-esque hand-held cinematography as means of creating a very funny, misanthropic portrait of the last few days on earth… (read the full review)

Monsieur Lazhar

Directed by Philippe Falardeau

Written by Philippe Falardeau

Canada, 2011

Monsieur Lazhar arrives at TIFF within the Special Presentations programme from festival darling Phillippe Falardreau  (La Moitié gauche du frigo, Congorama, C’est pas moi, je le jure!) in astutedly breathtaking and heartfelt fashion.  Blending the sometimes complex relationships between teachers and students in a delicate character study- the screenplay was expanded from a one-character play by Evelyne de la Cheneliere- reveals an almost fable-like tale of loss and light seen through the globalized lens of contemporary Montreal school culture… (read the full review)

Samsara

Directed by Ron Fricke

Written by Ron Fricke & Mark Magidson

USA, 2011

Covering TIFF has been a privilege for many reasons, but particularly for the opportunity to screen Ron Fricke’s awe-inspiring Samsara. The follow-up to 1992′s breathtaking Baraka, Fricke surpasses even that great film with an effort that can only be described in superlatives, and with what sounds like hyperbole, but isn’t. Like Baraka before it, Samasra is something akin to a human-centric, arthouse Planet Earth, surveying the globe in a series of astonishing, dialogue-free, 70mm vistas, and underscored by a mixture of traditional instrumental and choral music. Fricke further demonstrates his mastery of time-lapse imagery, a technique that invests even familiar sights – say a helicopter shot of an L.A. freeway – with a hypnotic, organic rhythm. That Samsara is instantly one of the most visually-stunning films in the history of cinema is reason enough to cherish it, but Fricke and co-editor Mark Magidson achieve truly profound juxtapositions, brimming with meaning and emotion. It sounds preposterous, but it’s true: In 99 minutes, Samsara achieves something approaching a comprehensive portrait of the totality of human experience. If you’re even remotely fond of being alive, Samsara is not to be missed.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Directed by Lasse Hallström

2011, UK, 112 minutes

If you aren’t familiar with the book by Paul Torday, a title like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen sounds a bit odd. What is it? Nihilistic art film? Maladapted play? The world’s most confused documentary? None of the above, thankfully. As it turns out, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the festival’s biggest crowd-pleaser; a comedy with enough drama to be grounded and enough romance to be charming. It is clever, engaging, and above all, hopeful… (read the full review)

Shame

Written by Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen

Directed by Steve McQueen

2011, UK

Shame is many things: daunting, powerful, disturbing, provocative, enthralling and visually arresting. It is also quite simply the best film of 2011. Unwilling to diagnose his problem, Brandon finds his way yet again on the subway with an attractive woman. “Actions count, not words,” as he advises his sister earlier on… (read the full review)

Snowtown

Directed by Justin Kurzel

Written by Shaun Grant

Australia, 2011

Just as in 2010, a first-time Australian filmmaker has delivered an uncommonly accomplished debut crime drama, about an innocent teen corrupted by the poisonous, sociopathic tutelage of a deranged father figure. The principle difference, though, between David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom and Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown is that the latter film is based on a horrific true story. In fact, the real distinction isn’t merely that Snowtown is based on a true story, but that, thanks to hugely authentic, partly improvised performances from a cast of non-professionals, it feels like a true story, both tragic and terrifying. In a convenient piece of symmetry, the notable exception is Daniel Henshall, who plays John Bunting, known as “Australia’s worst serial killer.” Henshall gives one of the festival’s standout performances as the charismatic Bunting, his magnetism enhanced by the fact that many of the cast – drawn from the depressed area where the crimes occurred and the film was shot – knew him from his work on Australian TV. It’s a bleak, disturbing film, but as much as the murders themselves – which mainly occur off-screen – it’s Kurzel’s portrait of the prevailing, festering deprivation that devastates.

Take Shelter

Directed by Jeff Nichols

Written by Jeff Nichols

2011, USA

Michael Shannon captivates as a portrait of paternal paranoia in Take Shelter, the terrifically affecting sophomore effort from Jeff Nichols, an apparent master in the making. When rural Ohio everyman Curtis LaForche (the typically indelible Shannon) is wracked by tempestuous dreams of his family’s annihilation, his maternal history of schizophrenia makes the potential implications doubly ominous. Aware that he’s predisposed to delusion, his visions are nonetheless so vivid and violent that he’s compelled to act. Unbeknownst to his wife (Jessica Chastain, in the midst of a deservedly meteoric rise), he invests in costly renovations to a derelict backyard storm cellar, despite the impending expense of surgery to restore his daughter’s hearing. That his frighteningly-realised hallucinations also begin to tax his workplace relations adds to the film’s charged, foreboding air. Purely on the level of psycho-familial drama, award-worthy performances from Shannon and Chastain justify the price of admission. But it’s Nichols’ powerful allegory for contemporary economic and political uncertainty – punctuated by awesome evocations of natural fury – that girds Take Shelter with a timely, unsettling resonance.

Tyrannosaur

Directed by Paddy Considine

Written by Paddy Considine

UK, 2011

U.K. character actor and first time director Paddy Considine brings his personal experiences to bear in a film that is about the scarring journey back to redemption involving people living on the fringe of their own lives.  Peter Mullan is brilliant as a man who rediscovers his own human dignity and Olivia Colman’s portrayal of a battered wife pushed to the edge is the most haunted and haunting performance I have seen all year.

Urbanized

Directed by Gary Hustwit

2011, USA

This doc brings closure to Gary Hustwit’s design trilogy in breathtaking fashion.  Moving from the methodic to the reductive, national to international, personal to impersonal- Hustwit provides a truly human face to the ever-demanding challenges of urban planning in today’s modern metropolises – a must-see.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Written by Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

UK, 2011

On camera every minute, Tilda Swinton gives a tour-de-force performance, effortlessly conveying every thought racing through her character’s mind. Its a true work of art; regardless of its mass reception, it’s Ramsay’s best yet… (read the full review)

You’re Next

Directed by Adam Wingard

Written by Simon Barrett

2011, USA, 96 minutes

It’s hard to really nail a slasher. It’s hard to make it visceral, to make a well-worn formula exciting, and to make it make sense, all while knowing that your audience has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre and will gleefully tear apart plot holes with a reckless hatred most other people reserve for tin-pot dictators. Well, Adam Wingard nailed it; cue carnage… (read the full review)

Your Sister’s Sister

Directed by Lynn Shelton

Written by Lynn Shelton

USA, 2011

Your Sister’s Sister tends to probe a bit deeper on a psychological level when compared to Shelton’s earlier work as the stakes are upped by a greater array of short and long term consequences faced by the characters that help to keep the narrative thoroughline on track.  Interestingly enough as well, Shelton uses natural landscape and score to greater effect in this film, slightly shedding her mumblecore beginnings to find a nice middle ground in terms of character and cinematic engagement… (read the full review)



By Ricky

Ricky D is the editor-in-chief of Sound on Sight and one of the hosts of the Sound On Sight podcast and the Sordid Cinema podcast. He is Sound On Sight's expert on Horror and contributes written reviews when time permits.

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One Response to TIFF 2011 – Twelve Days In: Ricky D’s final blog entry plus twenty two more reviews to digest

  1. tmack September 19, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Helluva job, Ricky! These reviews are terrific, although it’ll take me a couple days to read them all. This site is a goldmine for the cinephile.

    Reply

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