One of the first stops on the path to film awards season is the Toronto International Film Festival. Boasting one of the largest and most eclectic selections of films from all over the world, it’s safe to say that a visit to the festival has been on my film nerd wish-list for quite some time. This year, that wish became a reality.
The festival ran this year from September 5th to the 15th and I arrived in Toronto on the eve of 5th with plans to post a series of blog entries running through my various experiences at TIFF as they happened. It’s safe to say that it wasn’t meant to be as I severely overestimated the amount of time I would actually have to sit down and produce actual quality writing. Not discussing one of the greatest experiences of my life at all however, would be a mistake and that brings us to this very blog entry.
Over the course of the festival I attended fifteen events in total; thirteen film screenings, one Q & A, and a live read of a previously produced screenplay. The films I had the opportunity to check out were an interesting bunch, some of which will almost certainly factor in to the Academy Awards next year. With this the first of numerous entries, I plan to discuss everything I had the opportunity to see at the festival, along with random experiences I had during my time in the great white north. Toronto, I hardly knew you.
TIFF Day 2
My experience at TIFF began officially on Day 2 of the festival when I ventured to downtown Toronto to pick up my tickets from the box office. Often I’ve found the big city atmosphere to be quite intimidating, but Toronto is an entirely different story. It’s so well structured and the people are so friendly that it’s quite hard to be overwhelmed. The festival itself is an event to behold, so well-organized and thought out that it’s quite baffling. For the most part, the venues that hold the festival’s events are all within a few blocks of each other, the notable exception the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema that is easily accessed by way of the metro. Each of these venues are staffed with TIFF volunteers, this year clad in orange tees to make sure they stand out among the crowds. All of them are hard workers and extremely helpful if you have any questions or concerns. To say they deserve all the credit in the world would be an understatement.
Jason Reitman’s Boogie Nights Live Read
The first event I was fortunate enough to attend at TIFF was a live read of the screenplay of none other than my favorite film of all-time, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. Jason Reitman is clearly a film nerd and he lets this flag fly in the form of these live reads, which he started in conjunction with film critic Elvis Mitchell. Last year at TIFF, he did a reading of Sam Mendes’ American Beauty which took TIFF by storm back in 1999. Boogie Nights debuted at the festival back in ’97 and this live read served as a reminder of just how poignant, affecting, and hilarious the film is to this day. Amassing a cast including the likes of Jesse Eisenberg as Dirk Diggler, Josh Brolin as Jack Horner, Olivia Wilde as Amber Waves, and Dane Cook as Reed Rothchild among many others, Reitman clearly knew what he was doing. Using the film screen behind him as a way to orient the audience by using stills from the film to correspond with the location of each scene, the live read went seamlessly. The stand-out performance came courtesy of Olivia Wilde, who captured Julianne Moore’s inflection to a tee. The theater was absolutely packed for the live read and in spite of the fact that I showed up two hours early, I still couldn’t see the beginning of the line. Thankfully, the long wait was well worth it. It was a great time being nostalgic about a film that has brought so many of us joy over the years. Well played Reitman, well played.
TIFF Day 3
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave
Easily my most anticipated film of the festival, 12 Years a Slave ended up being the first film on my schedule. Well, the first film also proved to be the best. Sporting a collection of fantastic performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o, McQueen has unquestionably crafted the finest portrait of slavery ever-committed to film. No, that’s not hyperbole, it’s fact. While just last year Tarantino’s Django Unchained hit cineplexes everywhere and proved to be a great piece of entertainment, 12 Years a Slave goes in the opposite direction, choosing to focus on the utterly brutality and emotional toll slavery had on black men and women as a whole. Ejiofor’s performance is a thing of beauty, favoring emotion and physicality over actual dialogue. For me, he’s the frontrunner for Best Actor at this point although admittedly I have yet to see most of his competition. Fassbender gives another great performance in this his third collaboration with McQueen. Although 12 Years a Slave may not be my favorite of McQueen’s films to date, it’s undoubtably a work of art of the highest order and if god is willing, McQueen will finally garner much-deserved attention from the academy as well as mainstream audiences later this year.
Jason Bateman’s Bad Words
Being a big fan of actor Jason Bateman, I couldn’t resist the temptation of checking out his directorial debut Bad Words, which made it’s world premiere this year at TIFF. It centers on a middle-aged man (Bateman) who through a loophole joins a children’s spelling bee with the intentions of winning the competition. What follows the basic premise is a fun, darkly-twinged tale of fucked-up self discovery. The best aspect of Bad Words is that it doesn’t talk down to the audience and actually takes chances, some of which are sure to keep the parents in the audience cringing. Bateman is great as the foul-mouthed competitor but it is Rohan Chand who delivers the performance of the film as his pint-sized competitor who turns out to be as much a friend as an adversary. Bateman the director has a great hold on the material and tows the line between raunchy comedy and adult coming of age tale perfectly. After its premiere, Bad Words incited a bidding war and it’s not hard to see why. Toward the end of the film, we learn that this man had an ulterior motive for joining the competition and Bad Words becomes something else entirely. I definitely urge you to check it out whenever it hits your local theater.
Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno
One of the most popular sections of TIFF is the Midnight Madness program, a selection of films of which one debuts each night of the festival at midnight. The majority of the films are often horror or action-based and this year Midnight Madness just so happened to celebrate its 25th year anniversary. With this celebration came the debut of Eli Roth’s latest film The Green Inferno, an homage to the cannibal films of yore. While I didn’t particularly like the film itself, I had a great time experiencing the insane energy of the Midnight Madness crowd. Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait made an appearance before the film and proceeded to smash a phone with a hammer as a way of discouraging phone use during the screening, and that was just the beginning. Eli Roth appeared on stage both before and after the film, and the audience ended up singing happy birthday to his father via face time on Eli’s phone. If you are ever planning on taking the journey to TIFF yourself, I highly recommend attending at least one of the many Midnight Madness screenings; I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Also, if you’d like to know more on my thoughts of Eli Roth’s latest, you can check out my full review via this link: http://www.morbidlyamusing.com/tiff-2013-review-eli-roths-the-green-inferno/
To Be Continued…