The Toronto International Film Festival is one of the first stops on the journey through film awards season. This year, Andrew was fortunate enough to be in attendance and is now recapping the films and events he attended while at TIFF.
TIFF Day 6
With bright and early screenings now a thing of the past for my festival experience, I had the great pleasure of sleeping in on this day. I dreamed of what might occur if I was to meet my idol who just so happened to be the star of the next film on my docket.
David Gordon Green’s Joe
Nicolas Cage. What else needs to be said? Some love him and some hate him, but the haters always seem to forget that not only does he have an Academy Award bearing his name, but when on he remains one of the most talented actors in the biz. Now I get it, his recent string of endless sub-par action films leaves a lot to be desired, but every once in awhile he chooses a role that truly lets his artistry shine. Thankfully, Joe just so happens to be the latest. Playing the titular ex-con with an underlying mean streak, Cage gives a nuanced and (for the most part) subdued performance. Youngster Tye Sheridan is every bit his equal as Gary, a kid new in town who is looking for work and who Joe takes under his wing. Gary’s father (Gary Poulter) is abusive and is constantly taking money from Gary to fuel his rampant alcoholism. Under the helm of David Gordon Green, who has already released one great film this year in Prince Avalanche, the film is visually stunning with his signature brand of cinematography. While the film loses its focus at times and certainly has its fair share of disturbing moments, Green and his actors make sure to ground the film in a dark reality that seems true to life in this small Texas town. Whether you love him or you hate him it’s hard to argue that this isn’t another great Cage performance, and while us fans would certainly love for him to keep choosing these interesting off the beaten path roles, somebody’s gotta pay those taxes. Long live The Cage.
Ti West’s The Sacrament
One of my favorite horror filmmakers currently working in the genre is Ti West. His films are anything but typical horror flicks, favoring methodical pacing and a unique brand of underlying dread that I find incredibly effective. His latest film, The Sacrament, is yet another triumph. It tells the story of a group of journalists from VICE magazine who travel to a religious commune to return one of their sister’s home, only to learn that the commune’s motives may not exactly be as noble as previously thought. The great success of The Sacrament is not only the way it uses the found footage gimmick to great effect, but also the performances it sports. Most notable of them all is Gene Jones’ portrayal of the cult leader known simply as Father. It’s as awards worthy as any other performance I saw at the festival, but due to it coming in a genre not typically recognized for such awards I have no doubt it will be overlooked come year’s end. If you’d like to hear my expanded thoughts on the film, you can check out my full review via this link: http://www.morbidlyamusing.com/tiff-2013-review-ti-wests-the-sacrament/
TIFF Day 7
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon
Don Jon is a confident and honest directorial debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, don’t let anyone tell you differently. Sure, the subject matter of pornography may turn some people off before they even give it a chance, but those individuals would be missing out on an incredibly entertaining tale of love through the eyes of a Jersey-born meathead. Jon (Gordon-Levitt) may not have any problems taking women home from the club every night, but he does have a problem with his own satisfaction after sleeping with said women. For Jon, real sex just doesn’t compare to the porn he watches every day online. One night at the club, Jon meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and is immediately excited by the prospect that she may finally be the one to satisfy him like no one has been able to. What follows is a briskly-edited, fun meditation on love from all different sides of a relationship. Barbara wants love to be like what she sees on the big-screen and Jon wants sex to be like what he sees on the small-screen. Gordon-Levitt clearly has been studying film throughout his career as an actor and it certainly shows here. A smart script and solid performances all around, from the likes of Julianne Moore and Tony Danza, Don Jon is a great piece of entertainment that I strongly urge you to check out when it hits theaters next week.
Joe Begos’ Almost Human
Indie horror always has a place at TIFF thanks to Colin Geddes and his Midnight Madness program and unquestionably one of the standouts of that program this year was Joe Begos’ Almost Human. Locally made in my great state of Rhode Island, Almost Human focuses on a small town in Maine where one night Mark Fisher (Josh Ethier) disappears in a blue flash of light and leaves his friend Seth (Graham Skipper) and girlfriend Jen (Vanessa Leigh) reeling with many unanswered questions. Set in the 1980s and clearly paying homage to everything that made that decade great for the horror genre, Begos has crafted an entertaining horror flick with fun low-budget effects and a fittingly eerie sound design. The performances set the film apart from most other low-budget horror offerings and its great sense of what makes alien invasion flicks appealing makes sure those in the audience are enjoying the ride. If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on the film, you can check out my full review via this link: http://www.morbidlyamusing.com/tiff-2013-review-joe-begos-almost-human/
TIFF Day 8
I took a day off from the festival on this Thursday to write some movie reviews and to give a guest screenwriting lecture at the local Trebas Institute film school. It was a lot of fun and when my good pal Kal wasn’t attempting to encourage students to come to the school by telling them ‘we do a bit of partying here’, we did educate them on some of the basic points of what makes a good film screenplay.
TIFF Day 9
Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners
Competing atop my leaderboard for best film of the festival with 12 Years a Slave is Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners. A tense, compelling, and terrifying look at individuals driven to the edge, the film couldn’t work without the two fantastic performances by its leads Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. Jackman plays Keller Dover, a father whose daughter is abducted and who is intent on his mission to find out who took her by any means necessary. Gyllenhaal plays Detective Loki, the police officer in charge of the case who is tortured by his own, unseen demons. There is nothing I love quite like a dark criminal investigation drama and Prisoners is very much of that genre, with a little something extra to boot. It’s beautifully shot by master cinematographer Roger Deakins and sports an undercurrent of religious symbolism that only adds to the incredible depth of the lost souls who populate this world. This was the second of two Villeneuve/Gyllenhaal collaborations at TIFF this year, as they also made the film Enemy together in which Gyllenhaal plays both leads. Well if Prisoners is any indication, Enemy may wind up being yet another intelligent turn from the two. I honestly couldn’t recommend Prisoners any more highly and strong urge you to check it out in theaters today! What timing I have.
Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto
The granddaughter of Francis Ford and niece of Sofia and Roman, we can add yet another Coppola to the film director ranks with Palo Alto, Gia Coppola’s directorial debut. An adaptation of a book of short stories by James Franco which I just so happen to be a fan of, Palo Alto focuses on a group of teenagers coming of age in the titular California town. April (Emma Roberts) and Teddy (Jack Kilmer) are two of the group who are drawn to each other but don’t quite yet know how to express their feelings. April spends her time babysitting for her soccer coach (James Franco) whose intentions in having April at his home may not be so noble. Teddy is busy getting into trouble with best pal Fred (Nat Wolff) who leads him him down on a dark path that he must find an escape from. Palo Alto is an intimate and honest portrayal of teenagers that absolutely captures the dark and disconnected feeling of being a lonely high schooler. Jack Kilmer, son of Val (who makes a humorous cameo), is the true standout in his acting debut. There’s a sense beneath his Teddy that things in life haven’t gone the way he’s wanted, and the way Kilmer expresses this in lashing out at those around him is incredibly powerful. Roberts is also great as the heartbroken April and the scenes she shares with Kilmer are amazingly tender and effective. The film also has a great visual flair to it and the way Gia Coppola introduces the film’s title is a stroke of genius. An assured debut from someone who has clearly had her fair share of tutors, I greatly look forward to Gia Coppola’s next film.
That’s A Wrap
And thusly my TIFF journey came to an end. The next morning I embarked on my nine and a half hour drive back home with the full intention of not letting this be my last experience with the festival. It was a dream come true from a film lover such as myself to not only see these hotly-anticipated films well ahead of their releases, but to also occupy the same space of filmmakers who clearly love what they do. Of the fifteen total events I attended, only two films left me with a sense of disappointment. It’s safe to say that a good number of the rest of the bunch will end up on my year-end ‘Best Films’ list. Bring on TIFF 2014!