TIFF 2010: Ricky D’s Blog Entry #4 – Counting Down The Best Films of The Year So Far

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On the train to Toronto and not happy about the internet service.

People have this misconception that I hate Toronto. I don’t hate Toronto, I just don’t particularity love it. I have had way too many horrible experiences travelling to the city throughout the years to say I love it. This may be my 20th trip to the city and again this trip is turning out to be problematic. Not only could I not check in my luggage on the train but the internet doesn’t work. And what sort of train doesn’t come with a tray attached to your seat, to place your laptop on. The bus I took last year had a tray. I’m actually debating choose the Telluride film festival next year over TIFF. It’s in Colorado, it’s a nice five days long, set in the Rockies, low key, chill and void of paparazzi, rec carpets and that Toronto attitude.

Anyhow Montreal I will miss you even if I am only gone for a week but enough of that. As promised, here is my five favourite films of the year (so far) to complete my top ten list.

#5 – Exit Through The Gift Shop

An amusing, engrossing look at underground art, Exit through the Gift Shop entertains as it deflates the myths and hype surrounding its subjects.

Listen to our review from Sound On Sight Radio Episode 202

listen now

#4 – Somos lo que hay (We Are What We Are)

“Despite its minor flaws We Are What We Are is without question, one of the finest genre films of the year.”

listen to our review from the Sordid Cinema podcast Episode #11

listen now

# 3- Fish Tank / Une Prophete

(I chose a tie since technically they were both released in 2009, but only made it to Montreal in 2010)

“less politically inclined than Ken Loach or theatrically mannered than Mike Leigh – the film operates in a realm well-trod in UK cinema and serves as a welcome antidote to the adrenaline-fueled demands of the summer season.”

Listen to our review from Sound On Sight Radio Episode #189

listen now

“Un Prophète is a grueling experience that will keep you utterly gripped throughout its epic 155-minute runtime”.

Listen to our review from Sound On Sight Radio Episode #185

listen now

#2 – Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

“Visually stunning, technically astounding and emotionally resonant, Scott Pilgrim is like a nursery rhyme to slackers of the past, present and especially the future.”

Listen to our review from Sound On Sight Radio Episode #219

listen now

#1 – Castaway On The Moon

“Castaway On The Moon is a masterful piece of filmmaking – compelling, smart, and truly original …”

Listen to our review from Sound On Sight Radio Episode #220

listen now

You can  also read my review below. I will try to post as much as I can while I am here in Toronto. Free internet is hard to find downtown. Thankfully co host and friend Al Kratina is nice enough to let me stay at his place for the week, so when I am here I can take advantage of his internet. Until next time.

Ricky D – out

“Castaway On The Moon is a masterful piece of filmmaking – compelling, smart, and truly original …”

Castaway On The Moon

Directed by Hae-jun Lee

Being as it is a deserted island picture, you would think Castaway On The Moon would seem derivative of previous work – and while picking up on some influences from Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away and Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe, Castaway On The Moon offers something decidedly original: a deserted island story about a man who isn’t really deserted at all.

Lee Hae-jun’s loopy rom-com begins with a failed suicide. Seung-keun Kim (Jae-yeong Jeong) jumps off the ledge of an overpass above the Han River. Due to his own misfortune (or good fortune), he ends up stranded on Bam Island, a tiny piece of land in the middle of the Han river. Unable to swim to the opposite shore, he is left with no choice but to stay on the island and await a rescue. Eventually, he discovers that life on the island isn’t so bad, so he abandons his attempts at leaving and begins his attempts at living. Amidst one of Asia’s largest cities, in the one place nobody can see him, Ms. Kim (Jung Rye-won), a young recluse living in a nearby high-rise, accidentally catches a glimpse of him via her camera’s telephoto lens, and becomes obsessed with observing his every action. Thus begins one of most bizarre and heartwarming friendship in recent film history.

Castaway on the Moon delivers good old-fashioned storytelling from an unusual vantage point. Because of the distance between the main characters, the pair never have the opportunity to meet and so they manage to find other ways to communicate. – Mr. Kim by writing large messages on the sandy beach for Ms Kim to see via her telescope, and Mrs. Kim by communicating through messages in a bottle thrown over the bridge, onto the island. The pen pal-style relationship allows the film’s director Lee to integrate several charming vignettes depicting both Mr. Kim’s plight as a castaway and Ms. Kim’s plight as another type of castaway. Mr. Kim may be stranded on the island, but Mrs. Kim lives her whole life in the confines of her darkened bedroom, completely isolated from the rest of society. She works through her computer and seemingly lives her life online. Like Mr. Kim, she is seemingly caught in the middle of a bustling urban society but easily goes unnoticed. The reluctance to interact is so strong that she chooses to communicate with her mother via text messages rather then simply speaking directly to her.

Ultimately, Castaway on the Moon boils down to a two-person show and the movie’s success can rightfully be attributed to the fantastic performances by the two leads, who mostly occupy the screen in solo scenes. Lee wisely directs the actors into contrasting performances, with Jung Jae-Young leaning towards overacting and Jeong Ryeo-Won delivering a more introverted performance. Lee also takes his time slowly leading the audience into the core of his story through odd but touching moments, such as the running joke where a bowl of black bean noodles becomes Mr. Kim’s motivation for existence. These moments make Castaway a brave, surprisingly absorbing film that takes considerable risks but ultimately succeeds.

Even more interesting is how the two become isolated from society in very different means. Mr. Kim is faced with forced separation from society while Ms Kim who is in the midst of society chooses to hide away. The virtual distance of Ms Kim is therefore quite akin to Mr. Kim’s physical distance and his separation from the surrounding city. Watching each of them overcome their hardships, faults and fears makes for one of the most exciting and unique character developments in cinematic history. Those themes of loneliness are especially poignant, as it taps into primal fears and emotions, making the character’s journey one that is equally emotionally, psychologically and physically taxing.

Its hard to deny the film’s valid and poignant critique of urban society and contemporary modes, given an ironic twist at the end, wherein the city of Seoul is hit with a rare emergency drill, shutting down the city and possibly allowing for a fateful meeting. I won’t spoil the ending. It’s a somewhat cryptic ending highly reminiscent of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate – both of which coincidentally end on a bus.

Lee makes some instinctive directing choices and employs clever editing. The emphasis on voiceovers to deliver the characters’ thoughts and emotions could have watered down the impact of the story, but like Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, the excess of voiceover ends up helping the film tremendously, lending a great hand in terms of its pacing. The tone of the movie is often whimsical and playful, but there is a sense of genuine longing and loneliness that must be remedied. Lee’s script strikes a fine tonal balance between comedy, despair and absurdity by successfully including brilliantly timed visual and thematic gags that keep the quasi-rom-com engaging. In addiction, we are treated with breezy camerawork, stunning cinematography and short fantasy sequences that help build the momentum for its surprisingly emotional conclusion.

Castaway On The Moon is a masterful piece of filmmaking – compelling, smart, and truly original but more importantly it manages to entertain while supplying observations on society, nature, determination, choice, isolation, friendships, ability and more.

– Ricky D

Our column “Hidden Gems” is dedicated to those great films that many people have overlooked and or have found trouble finding distribution across the globe.

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