2018 Toronto International Film Festival – TIFF

Welcome back to the blog! I’m back earlier than planned I had such a great time at TIFF that I was anxious to share it with you all. Our regularly scheduled posts will now resume on October 1st, but enjoy this “special edition” version for now!

Normally after hitting the road post Kastles season, I’d come back with a few bad quips, some photos and stories from the road, but this year is going to be a little bit different. We’ll get to all of that, but since I spent a large portion of my trip at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and this blog is mostly about film, it seemed appropriate to start with that first.

This is the third film festival I’ve been to, and by far the largest. Though Maryland International Film Festival (with the unfortunate MIFF acronym) will always have a place in my heart for showing my first-ever film Patriots and Tyrants, I absolutely loved every minute of my time at TIFF, and the Q&As with the stars and filmmakers played a large portion. I, by nature and further by my career choice, do not care about celebrity bullshit – autographs, news, star-sightings, etc – but it’s different to watch those I’ve watched for years have real conversations and discussions about their work, particularly as a filmmaker myself (that was a really terrible run-on sentence, but I’ll get over it).

Plus, I got to hear Robert Redford – The Sundance Kid himself – talk about his last-ever film, which will always be a special moment for me. More about that later on in this post.

The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres in Toronto, one of the major sites for the TIFF films, and often the location of the biggest premieres.

We’ll get to the reviews in a second, but since this is a bit of a travel piece, a few notes to those of you who hope to make the trip up north in years to come. First, join the festival as a member. You’ll get discounts on tickets, merch and the all-important shot at the ticket presale. This is more important than you might think. Then the best thing is to buy packages of tickets, which move you up another notch in the presale, above those just buying individual tickets. The packages are very flexible, and can be used to buy up to four seats for any screening. We bought three different packages – one “premium” one, which allows you into the big premieres which have the best Q&As, one regular one and one just for daytime films on weekdays.

It was a little bit of a jigsaw puzzle putting together our nine-film screening package, but in the end, I think the choices I made were pretty solid. I was hugely disapointed to miss Chris Pine and David Mackenzie’s (Hell or High Water) latest “The Outlaw King”, but we weren’t here on opening night, and I had to cut Emilio Estivez’s “The Public” in favor of “Life Itself” and blow off Keira Knightly’s “Collete” entirely, but one can’t have everything.

When you’re here, count on standing in line for periods of time, often outside, even when you have reserved seats. If you’re going to a theater without reserved seating and you want *decent* seats, you need to be in line at least 45 minutes in advance, and up to an hour. It sucks, but bring a book, a poncho and an umbrella. If you’re with someone, this is ideal – you can take shifts before you head into the theater (around 20-30 minutes in advance of the start time, usually). People are pretty cool with people coming and going in line, as long as you’re respectful (and they will be too).

One side note in talking about respect – virtually every show I saw was sold out with huge lines. For any other movie anywhere else in the world, it would just be miserable. Some assholes would talk throughout, people would be on their phones, people step over you without excusing themselves and so on. Not here – these were the most respectful movie crowds I’ve ever been around. No phones, no talking above a whisper, almost never anyone leaving during the show. I think it’s partly Canadians, but it’s partly the quality of the film-goers here as well. I loved it, not only for its face, but also because it actually makes you happy to be around that many like-minded folks and develop something of a camaraderie. I’d happily stand in line 30 minutes for every film I see to be around a TIFF crowd.

Ultimately, even though I actively disliked one of our nine films and was meh on another, I’d take this list en toto over last year’s Best Picture nominees any day of the week and twice on Sundays. I only gave out one 5/5 star twitter film review for all of last year’s films – and I did 3 for our TIFF slate. In point of fact, based purely on my ratings, “The Front Runner” (Hugh Jackman/Jason Reitman’s important political piece on Gary Hart) ranks 7th of 9 on my list, but I’d like to see it get nominated for Best Picture. The films I saw this year were THAT good. All of which makes me very excited to see the films I couldn’t see, as they filter out through various means of distribution over the coming months.

Anyway – let’s talk about the films. **These reviews and notes are as spoiler-free as I can make them, but there might be a thing or two slipped in there without thinking, so proceed with caution. Also, please forgive the poor resolution on a few of my Q&A photos – all done with the phone and no additional lenses.

Finally – shameless plug alert. If you like my quickie film reviews, follow me on Twitter – I post reviews of every film I see for the first time, no matter is it’s a World Premiere from TIFF, or if it’s been out for 100 years.

The Front Runner
#TheFrontRunner One word describes this one: kinetic. From the oner to to open to the clap and beat music, the snappy Sorkin-esque dialogue and the ever-shifting energy, this film is a heck of a ride, though it does drag in a few portions. The story is the star here. 4/5*

Filmmaker Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) stepped up on stag afterwards with the film’s co-writers and producers to field questions. I particularly enjoyed his take on the kinetic nature of the film – how his music composer agonized over the stomps and claps and how they constantly filled the frame with multiple points of action, often putting the most important ones in the back to make the audience choose what to pay attention to, much like an investigative reporter or political operative. Got a huge sense from everyone involved how important this film was to all of them in the #FakeNews era.

Out of Blue
#OutofBlue Patricia Clarkson does her best to deliver, but the story is just too muddled and unfocused to connect. The crime drama part sort of works, though is fairly slow. The psychological and cosmological components are way underbaked and don’t fit. Music distracting. 1/5*

Star Patricia Clarkson and filmmaker Carol Morley held a spirited Q&A afterwards, and it seemed like, at times, they weren’t even 100% sure what they were trying to convey on the screen (this sounds judgy, and it’s not – even though I didn’t like the film, I found it fascinating). I can’t go too far into detail without giving away the film, but it seemed like there were different takes on what each character was doing. Also Clarkson and Morley told a really funny story about how someone stole the cat who had multiple scenes in the film, but the cat turned up the next day. It seemed that what the thief actually wanted was the cat carrier, but accidentally made off with the cat in the process. Love those kinds of stories, and anyone who works in events will attest to how (1) yes, that shit happens and (2) no, you can’t make that shit up.

Filmmaker Carol Morley and Patricia Clarkson

Life Itself
#LifeItself is a masterpiece of 21st century American cinema. Yes, it’s blatantly emotionally manipulative, but so what? So is life, which is the damned point. Every performance is perfect, the twists plentiful, the photography well done and the story just fantastic. 5/5*

LeSigh, no one was available to discuss the film afterwards (though it was a 9:30am showing, so understandable). But one note – I’ve seen some of the early critical review for this film and it’s not so good. People need to stop bringing expectations to films – “Oh, it needs to be realistic”, or “It needs to be gritty”, or “I need to see this story”. Fuck that. Buy a ticket. Take the ride.

Wildlife
#Wildlife I’m struggling a bit with my reaction to this film, because parts of it hit way too close to home & are so perfectly thought out & executed that I’m not sure if I’m reacting to my own life or the film. Which I guess is the point, right? Mulligan should see a nom. 4.5/5*

Paul Dano of Little Miss Sunshine fame (and a whole host of fantastic indies) made Wildlife as his directorial debut, and it’s a stunning work of subtlety, so much so that I wasn’t sure that I liked it at first. It’s a tough, tough film to sift through in your mind if you’re the child of divorced parents, let me tell you. He had star Carey Mulligan on stage with him for the Q&A, though nothing particularly stood out about what they had to say about the film. Mulligan was over the moon about her character though – it’s lovely to see someone with that kind of enthusiasm who can hit points as subtle as she does. She’s long been one of my favorites.

Carey Mulligan and filmmaker Paul Dano

The Old Man and the Gun
#TheOldManandtheGun It’s fitting, I suppose, that Redford’s last movie is an homage to his most career defining role: The Sundance Kid. It’s like if you asked Taylor Sheridan to make a comedic solo film for Sundance. Redford has a great time, and so does the audience. 4.5/5*

This is as close as I got to fan-girling at the festival because THE SUNDANCE FUCKING KID came out for a Q&A on his new – and LAST! – film. Gotta love Redford man. Won’t lift a finger to campaign for himself as best actor for All is Lost a couple of years ago, in which he was literally the only actor and still make it a compelling film, but shows up to promote this one. Yet after the first question, he says “Okay, someone else needs to talk now”. But his chemistry with Spacek was evident throughout – he kept throwing in little asides and seemed to generally relish his one-liners, much like his character in the film. Damn if it wasn’t worth coming to TIFF just to see Redford talk about his movie, you know?

(L to R) – TIFF moderator, filmmaker David Lowery, Casey Affleck, Tika Sumpter, Danny Glover, Sissy Spacek and Robert Redford

Viper Club
#ViperClub A tour de force of acting range from Susan Sarandon, who elevated the film far above the source material. The story, while compelling, leaves a lot of questions and themes on the table in favor of slow (and often unnecessary) homelife character development. 2.5/5*

Susan Sarandon is no stranger to political activism, and had a fair amount to say about her character’s motivations and interest following the film. However, given the overall lack of balance in the forces of the film with way too much given to her “normalcy” and virtually none given to the competing points of view and motivations of those who might be deemed “the good guys”, it felt a bit empty to me. Which is a shame – this is a great story, it’s just missing some vital pieces. The Q&A was kept short – I wonder if it was deliberately. This was also a “YouTube Original” – I wonder how the YouTube audience will react to a film with this slow and deliberate.

(L to R) TIFF Moderator, filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz, Sheila Vand, Matt Bomer and Susan Sarandon

Green Book
#GreenBook is a truly special film. The chemistry between Mortensen and Ali sparkles throughout, elevating the already-terrific script. It’s the funniest serious movie I’ve seen in years – perhaps ever – hitting on some significant social issues while laughing my ass off. 5/5*

Green Book is such a special movie, and I really can’t wait for everyone else to see it. Clearly, the cast felt that way too, because the Q&A lasted over a half hour after a five minute standing ovation during the film’s credits. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali couldn’t stop complimenting each other on their performances and talking about how much they loved working together, Peter Farrelly got showered with praise for his collaborative leadership and family atmosphere and a crew of a film about two men roundly credited Linda Cardellini’s character as the heart and soul of the picture (and they were right about it too, which is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention). Much like the movie itself, those involved in the Q&A – Mortensen, Ali, Cardellini, Farrelly, Exec Producer Octavia Spencer and the writers – told stories that made them laugh, that made them tear up and that were meaningful to them…much like the film itself.

(L to R) Exec Producer Octavia Spencer, Linda Cardellini, Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali and filmmaker Peter Farrelly

Roma
#Roma is pure poetry on film. Every sight, every sound, every action aims to build and add to your experience. A true slice of life story, so expect a deliberate pace. Hard to watch at times. Cuarón has crafted himself a masterpiece. 5/5*

Alas, the wonderful Green Book Q&A was to be our last for the TIFF season, though the artistic director came out to introduce Roma, and his speech stuck with me a little bit. He spoke about how entranced he was with the film, and how important it was to have it run in the Dolby Atmos environment due to how carefully crafted the sound was. He also spoke about how Roma is as much poetry on film as anything, with each little piece so carefully thought out and crafted. I agree…so much so, I stole the poetry bit. Somewhere in the future, someone should teach a class about how to create a slice of life film, using this as the holy grail of examples.

First Man
#FirstMan Damien Chazelle has huge balls as a filmmaker; his gritty, in-your-face style could completely blow up in hands of a less-talented director, but he pulls it off. He manages to add drama to a story we all know as well as make it feel personal. Gosling amazes. 4.5/5*

Again, no Q&A, and the introduction wasn’t particular memorable. I was impressed that TIFF took the time to hold this screening in a true IMAX theater however. Not the bullshit you see at most malls, but the 7 story tall ones like you find at a museum or something. I can’t recommend finding that sort of screen enough for the moon scenes (yes, Armstrong lands on the moon. I do not consider this a spoiler, and if you do, then fuck off). I also can’t reiterate enough how Damien Chazelle has big ass balls as a filmmaker – he takes so many chances throughout this film with his unique (and dare I say signature?) photography style that could have totally backfired on him, but it totally works, giving the film a really unique look and feel. Huevos grandes, amigo…

That’s it for me and #TIFF2018, but I can not wait to come back. Hopefully next year.

Have a great fall at the cinemas!