TIFF 2012: Staff lists the biggest discoveries, waste of time and their favourite film
My biggest discovery came the morning of the very last day, Sunday September 16th when I missed my screening to my most anticipated film, Michael Heneke’s Amour, because for some strange reason, Toronto is the only major metropolitan in the world whose subway stations only open at 9:00 am – the exact same time my film screened. WTF, yo?
As far as films go, I’d have to sadly say I don’t have a major discovery. Perhaps I spend too much time online following the latest news and updates from the world of cinema, but there was not one film I saw that I didn’t already know nothing of.
Biggest Waste Of Time:
What was the worst and most embarrassing aspect of TIFF 2012 was that awful excuse for a L’Oreal bumper, an advertisement so bad, so inept, so unbelievably painful, it’s almost impossible to comprehend how anyone brainstormed this idea, much less invested money into it. As someone who’s watched more bad movies than you can imagine, I’m usually quite forgiving knowing I’ll never have to sit through it again, but unfortunately I had no choice since TIFF felt it a good idea to screen this dung prior to each screening. Given audience reaction at multiple screenings, the ad may be something of a first: This is a commercial that prompts most of its viewers to want to get up and leave — before the film they’ve come to see even begins. With that said, viewed in a theatre with the midnight crowd after a few drinks will conjure up its own hilariously demented reality. And that’s the conundrum of the L’Oreal ad. It’s so very bad that it somehow became a highlight of the fest. Among the many pretenders to win the best-worst-sponsor- ever throne, L’Oreal and this odd bumper truly earn my vote. It was a real treat to see the audience, specifically the Midnight Madness crowd, dance, howl, clap and cheer to the commercial. What soon became the biggest waste of time turned into a good time!
In Ben Wheatley’s third film Sightseers, the British director, known for taking scenes of normalcy and then twisting them with extreme violence, continues to impress with is unique brand of unconventional filmmaking. The film, produced by Edgar Wright, is Wheatley’s follow-up to the well received Kill List. The writers/leads are comedians Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, playing characters they’ve developed in a stand-up act. The biggest difference compared to his two previous films, is the focus on comedy. Sightseers benefits from exquisite cinematography, beautiful locales and unusual murder. This satirical, bloody road trip comedy is strange, beautiful, charming and incredibly funny. It might just be my favourite film of 2012.
The biggest discovery I made at TIFF was the fact that some sponsors haven’t got a sausage of a clue when it comes to films. Unlike the bank commercial, which highlights its dedication to up-and-coming filmmakers by joking about their numerous obstacles to break into the industry, there’s a certain cosmetics company that knows sod all about filmmaking. It seems like they browsed the Wikipedia page on cinema, took a few key words, and recited them over B-roll of supermodels. At one point, one of them is holding a vintage handheld camera. In another, a woman puts a key in a keyhole while the voiceover is talking about key lighting. What the hell is that? And what kind of tagline is “you’re a reel beauty”? Cosmetic commercials are the most pretentious entities in the world, and their effort to contrive a relationship with their products and the festival, in they way they did, is desperate and sad. Why didn’t they just have a movie star endorse the product on screen? Would it have been that difficult? Don’t they use them anyway?
Biggest Waste Of Time:
The biggest waste of time at TIFF, for me, was the nearly 2-hour lineup to pick up my tickets at the box office. The reason I bought them online was to avoid lines, and the fact that I had to wait nonetheless kind of defeats the purpose. After that, I had to wait an additional hour for each film, standing the whole time, between pompous know-it-alls and cell phone users who talk way too loud. The reason I became a reviewer was to avoid lines and to watch movies for free, away from obnoxious dickheads. I had the exact opposite experience at TIFF.
My favourite film at this year’s festival was definitely The Sessions. The fantastic Mr. Hawkes again proves himself a sterling actor, reaching ethereal heights with his decidedly horizontal performance as a polio-stricken man looking to lose his virginity. According to Tropic Thunder, he’s bound to be nominated for an Oscar, at the very least, and he certainly deserves the recognition. Oh, and please, please, please don’t compare this to The 40 Year Old Virgin. They’re both great, and doing so would be mutual disservice.
I’ll be sticking to strictly movie-based answers here; no whining about ads. (Fest’s gotta eat, right?), though a close second to my real answer would be the revelation that one can, in fact, subsist entirely on the free refreshments kindly offered in the press lounge assuming one deploys the correct timing. Film-wise, though, my favorite discovery was probably Berberian Sound Studio, a film I wasn’t aware existed until I spotted it in my second or third crawl through the TIFF program. It’s been a rough year for film, and genre film in particular, making the funny, surreal, and beautifully rendered Berberian one hell of a treat.
Biggest Waste of Time:
Neil Jordan’s Byzantium. I was a fan of Jordan’s last film, the moody, pretty Ondine, so I had high hopes for his latest endeavor. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a rote, played-out vampire movie that totally failed to capitalize on its great cast and occasionally novel ideas, stringing out its thin backstory into infinity, and repeating its best imagery over and over. What a shame.
This happened to me the way it always seems to: I caught the best of the fest relatively early, and knew instinctively that nothing would best it. This time around, the honor goes to Michael Haneke’s Amour. Longtime readers/listeners will note that I am not Haneke’s biggest fan; while he’s clearly a brilliant formalist, I find his thesis-driven approach and misanthropic tilt to be a bit of a drag. Amour maximizes what’s best about Haneke while utterly doing away with any trace of hatefulness, leaving only a moving, beautifully rendered portrait of love and life at its most cruel and tender.
Prior to the incomparable thrill of attending TIFF 2012 I had not enjoyed familiarity with the work of Ulrich Seidl, who brought to the festival his Paradise: Love – the first in a trilogy about women seeking fundamentals they are unable to achieve in their day-to-day lives. My first film of the event and one I knew absolutely nothing about before blindly walking in to it, Love quickly grew on me with its carefully reserved visuals that unveiled a strange world of circumstantial solicitation and sex tourism framed by an increasingly dark portrait of a woman dealing with issues of body image and plaguing loneliness. The picture subtly builds its compelling world, presenting layers that persist long after the credits roll. The thematic trilogy’s second installment, Paradise: Faith, has already played at the Venice International Film Festival and its more ready availability cannot arrive soon enough.
Biggest Waste Of Time:
Though by definition I’d say my biggest disappointment – taking in to account the vast gap between my hopes and the results – is with Olivier Assayas’ limply uninspired and woefully self-involved envelope push Aprés Mai, the biggest waste of time, per se, is without a doubt Ana Piterbarg’s Everybody Has A Plan. The History of Violence lite of Piterbarg’s debut – incidentally Argentina’s first feature at TIFF – is decidedly unremarkable to the point that one might think it’d stand no chance at international light of day did it not star Viggo Mortensen (in his third Spanish-speaking part, this time in a dual role). During such a busy festival it becomes all about prioritizing, so I opted for this world premiere the afternoon of Saturday the 8th over attempting to “rush” the long sold-out encores of The Master or Seven Psychopaths. My rationalization was that those more prolific titles would see more accessible releases in but a handful of weeks anyway, yet I can now only imagine standing in line for them – even unsuccessfully – would have been more rewarding than sitting through this Plan.
It is, of course, difficult to declare a festival favorite after only having seen 15 mostly excellent films from a roster of so many excellent-looking titles. Considering those 15 I’d be remiss not to mention the technical superiority of Brian De Palma’s deliciously pulpy Passion, which tops even the challenges of perception found at the momentous North American To the Wonder premiere. Subjectively, however, I cannot deny Stuart Blumberg’s directorial debut and instant favorite Thanks for Sharing – the affecting ensemble piece about addiction and how it can hurt our lives and our relationships. With equal mainstream and indie sensibilities, Blumberg handily managed to get under my skin, revealing aspects of my own life to me through his thoroughly winning characters – his best yet. As cliché as it sounds, the movie made me laugh, it made me cry, and it has inspired personal introspection about the choices I make with myself and those close to me. A winner in all regards.
As with most large film festivals, TIFF presents such a unique learning curve in terms of adjusting to watching so many films in such a short period. To absorb the full experience, one must simply power through each day as every film presents its own set of challenging circumstances (tickets, seating, lines, etc). Tabu (Miguel Gomes) was my second film of the festival and probably my biggest discovery as well. Sure, I was smitten with Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Love, but I saw Tabu so early in the festival, making it almost impossible for the film to stand out after seeing the new Kiarostami, Korine, Haneke, and others. How does one balance each film in their respective capacities? Tabu surely would have resonated more if I had seen it later in the fest, but as of now I can’t wait to lay eyes on it again.
Biggest Waste of Time:
Maybe I had been too fatigued after watching Michael Haneke’s Amour, or maybe Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air just really wasn’t all that good. Having made it on my list of most anticipated films of the festival, Assayas’ latest was a slog to sit through for the most part, resulting in a forgettable semi-autobiographical portrait of an 18-year-old man reacting to the social changes of late 1960’s Europe. I’ll give it another look some time down the road, but no other film at TIFF had impacted me less.
Save for a few minor letdowns, TIFF 2012 had been offering up good film after good film. It wasn’t until my second to last day at the fest that I had been completely blown away by something – Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. No other screening had produced such a potent wave of awe-inspiring images and emotions. I knew I would react favorably to Korine’s latest, but nothing had quite prepared me for how much the director had matured, while still sticking to his signature aesthetic. Spring Breakers is such a fluid and subverting work, as well as overly divisive – which is no surprise coming from Korine. Not only was it my favorite film of the fest by a mile, but my favorite film of 2012 so far.
Paradise: Love (Ulrich Seidl, AUT/GER/FRA) – Belying its title, Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Love is very much a figurative handful and maybe a bit too much for casual filmgoers to take in. Gratingly drawn-out occurrences partly detract from its appeal, however incisive subject matter and lingering sense of poise laced with awkward tenderness are enough to hold in high regard as a worthwhile discovery and TIFF 2012 highlight.
Biggest Waste of Time:
Everybody Has a Plan (Ana Piterbarg, ARG/ESP/GER) – A nondescript tale of mistaken identity, first-time filmmaker Ana Piterbarg is off to a decent start, however she needs a lesson in cohesiveness and focal maintenance before tackling her sophomore effort. Focusing on Viggo Mortensen’s dual role as twin brothers Agustin and Pedro, the tale throws the former into the midst of the Winter’s Bone-esque Argentinian underworld – one hidden behind the thick-wooded facade of the seemingly idyllic Le Tigre Delta region – after he assumes the identity of deceased identical counterpart. What ensues is something not of intrigue, but of prolonged boredom as characters appear and reappear out of thin air for the sake of causing conflict, not once bringing anything substantial to the table as said individuals’ motives are as transparent as can be. Wrapping things up in a hail of unwarranted gore, Everybody Has a Plan can’t hold a candle to similar, pseudo-neo-noirish efforts thanks to the aforementioned lack of poise and involvement on behalf of us viewers.
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, USA) – A startlingly beautiful depiction of Spring Break mania at its crudest and lewdest, Harmony Korine’s struck gold with his radically subversive cautionary-cum-adult fairy tale, of which is sure to please his followers and undoubtedly garner some new ones. Aided substantially by Franco, a lush Floridian color palette, bombastic dubstep-laden score and unsubtle editing that becomes a welcome constant throughout, I promise there isn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell you can fully prepare yourselves for an experience like this.