In which I join Matty Price, Kurt Halfyard, Mike Rot, and Bob Turnbull in summarizing our feelings on all things TIFF.
The last thing I do every year.
Breaking it down on 43 films in 11 days:
Twelve blog posts: A Sleeping Beauty, Film! On the March!, Snabba Cash, On Anger In Movie Theatres, No Cupcakes!, Into the Cave, My Festival Starts Now, Practical Mathematics, Membership Has Its Privileges, Dangerous Days, Nostalgia for the Light, Ab Aeterno
The memorable films: Submarine, Make Believe, Rare Exports, Stake Land, Super, Bunraku, Genpin, Julia’s Eyes, Nostalgia for the Light, 13 Assassins, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Vanishing on 7th Street, The Trip, The Edge
The best of the year: Black Swan
Here’s our final (and unfortunately somewhat buzzy) podcast from the Toronto International Film Festival 2010, with special guest star Mad Hatter! Thanks for joining us.
Just before recording last night’s Mamo!, Matty Price and I guest-starred on the Matineecast. Turned into a really solid conversation about our memories of TIFF 2010 and past.
“Good, not great” is the report card for the Toronto International Film Festival 2010. Some years at the festival are exhilarating and extraordinary; the films they showcase push the boundaries of what cinema can do. Other years neither charm nor offend: they maintain the beat. The movies are good, solid, well-crafted fare which hold course precisely with the maps of what movies have done. They keep the time. This was such a year.
In which I make a magnificent approach from the deep, deep background.
Thanks a ton to the Substream guys for a) videotaping me frequently and b) giving me a honey of a year at Midnight Madness, the first time in a decade I’ve had tickets for ‘em all.
In which I again briefly appear. They swear to me embeddable video is coming soon.
The stars above Atacama.
Between Nostalgia for the Light and Cave of Forgotten Dreams we might currently have the ability, in film, to peer into the depths of existence itself. Where Cave introduces the vertigo of time across the long breadth of human civilization and pre-civilization, Nostalgia goes off into the cosmic unknown, and obliterates the notion of “the present” under the cool starshine of the untold reaches of the a universe’s notion of time. It is a languid film, too soporific for the last Saturday of the Toronto International Film Festival, but a worthy companion piece to the earlier, more whimsical Cave nevertheless.
“All of the universe happened in the past,” one scientist admonishes us early in the film, even if it is only microseconds ago. Our entire perception is based only on signals and data from behind us in the time stream; “the present” is an idea in our heads, zero-sum game we are playing with the universal cups and balls. “That’s the trap,” this man says about our idea of the present.
Early in Nostalgia for the Light, in accelerated photography, we watch the entire night’s sky unfold above the Atacama Desert in Chile. At one point, the heavens seem to flip over on their backs, which must be an optical illusion, but unsettlingly underscores the vastness of our unknowns. In the same desert, women search for the skeletal remains of husbands and brothers who were “disappeared” under Pinochet’s regime. One elderly couple, never speaking, stares into the camera as the director tells us that they gave up their own children to Pinochet to save the life of their granddaughter, who is now an astronomer. Her parents’ bodies were never found, but she has two children. An archaeologist reminds us that at least some of the calcium in their bones - and in ours - was formed immediately after the Big Bang. Here are the bones of the universe, a map of time so vast it makes the 30,000 years in the Chauvet Cave seem like a trip to the corner store. And the map is in us.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: my guard and companion and earner of the coos of women for the past ten days.
As I went into the last/second-last night, one word: Craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaashinggggggggggg. I am into the end-of-fest haze/blues / pre-birthday melancholy/ general odd Saturday night “I have a bad feeling” bad feeling. Two more films last night, four more today; 40 down, 4 to go. I am into the pure process of it now; there is very little space left for singling out moments or even contemplating films as individual entities. They are all part of the stream now, the grand subspace stream of audio/visual nirvana. I took a one-hour layover at home, to throw open the curtains, open some windows, let some air in, and rally for the last charge.
It takes a bit of getting used to, the final Midnight Madness not being the last film. By rights, Julia’s Eyes should have been my last regular movie, and it would have been a fine one; there are plot contrivances galore - this is a “wait here while I go and check out the basement” movie, through and through - but jesus, that director can move. For my money, Guillermo Del Toro has found a more promising talent in Guillem Morales than he did in Bayona; I would certainly argue that Julia’s Eyes is a better-directed film than The Orphanage (no slouch itself). Any silliness in the storytelling is compensated for nicely by the sheer imagination of the visual design; shots are constructed for extraordinary dramatic impact and whole sequences are delightfully conceived and executed.
An early scene finds Julia wandering unnoticed into the middle of a circle of blind women who are in the change room at the community center and spilling expositional secrets. It’s a hokey setup, but it is nicely paid out as the chorus of women seems to become voices for Julia’s questions and then become menacing, and eventually fruitful, allies. Later in the film - spoilers! - Julia becomes temporarily blind, and throughout this extended portion of the movie, we never see another character’s face, just shoulders and backs. This is a surprisingly unsettling camera concept, and if the whole film is based on a kind of un-PC “seeing person’s nightmare of the life of the blind,” then at least it is effectively told, with a disproportionate quantity of care given to pushing the audience into analogous perceptual loss as we follow Julia on her journey. Julia’s Eyes boils cinema down to its most hauntedly visual, and derives a scary ride.
The dawn of time: Midnight Madness closes for 2010.
This picture isn’t blurry. They’re using their powers.
“I want to be Asian when I grow up,” one of the teen magician competitors in Make Believe quips when he sees Hiroki Hara, who I’d earmarked as my favourite of the bunch from the moment he set foot on screen. Where the other kids toil away in their Illinois basements constructing gadgets like Iron Man, Hara wanders the rivers of rural Japan and makes leaves appear from thin air. Did the other teenagers know they were competing against Gandalf? Probably not. Hara has a magnetic presence that might indeed be part sorcery; by the end of the competition, the nearest girl competitor, and likely one of the boys, clearly want to jump him. Oh, to be sixteen and handsome, and able to turn a rubber ball into an umbrella with only a Cheshire cat grin.
(Why? I’ll tell you why: Because he’s the Bugmaster, that’s why.)
Into the white heat of the final daze; I’ve overbooked myself - a very fat Saturday (six films) leading up to a very fat birthday (tomorrow), and I started it all with the only midnight-to-9 a.m. turnaround in my whole festival. I was treated to a first act - in Womb - that I thought would lead to the film being vaulted to the top of my list of films from this year. Instead, after a transcendent and frankly sensual half-hour about childhood love, the principal character makes a choice which is wholly unsupportable in any context except madness - and if she’s insane, why do I care what happens to her? Ultimately the finest single moment in the film is a five-second shot of the face of a dog - a dog who sees Truth, in my opinion. There are landscapes and wildernesses untold, and wisdom from beyond, in those dark, sad eyes.
Other than Womb, genre is alive and well at the Toronto International Film Festival. Seriously, Canada, shame the fuck on us for not making anything near as good as Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale here, given the same resources. This is the movie Guillermo Del Toro wants to be making - and should be producing. A gleefully dark retake on the Santa Claus myth, Rare Exports finds the origins of Claus in a nasty barn-sized demon buried in the Finnish countryside, who has an army of naked old men to do his bidding, and spanks the asses off children for kicks and giggles. Normal Rockwell, eat your heart out. Building to a glorious CGI-enhanced grand finale, Rare Exports is a likeable story told in a likeable way. I was ready to award it the gold star for being the most welcome surprise of my festival, when
I saw Stake Land immediately afterwards, and think I liked it more. You remember what happened to me the other night with Red Nights - where a Midnight movie succeeded in converting me from fully alert to comatose in about 20 minutes? Stake Land was the opposite. I started the film drowsy and slowly became more and more alert as my brain cottoned to just how much I was enjoying the film. It is about vampires only incidentally. It is rather a gorgeous and haunting portrait of post-apocalyptic life in the United States - a kind of American Temps Du Loup, not a comparison I use lightly. There are requisite fights and shocks and so forth. But it is the scenes of the ad hoc cabal moving through the wilderness that leave the most impact and create the strongest resonance. The score is extraordinary, and the photography is a highlight of the year.
What a quantum leap upward for director Jim Mickle. I don’t usually do the fan-wank shit after a movie screening, but I walked right up and shook that man’s hand. He has made a real standout.
I wonder if many other film fans in North America see the seeds of our post-apocalyptic society in the Tea Party and civilian militia, who indeed will be running things when the Shit Goes Down. That’s neither here nor there re: Stake Land - though “crazy Christians dropping vamps” from a helicopter sounds about right to me, one of the film’s landmark scenes - but naturally as the film went on it was on my mind.
Yesterday started pleasing enough with Detective Dee, though like Kaboom today it was also a forgettable piece of pure visual pleasure - the former with opulent period CGI, and the latter with holy fuck those people are hot and having sex.