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TIFF

Another Toronto Film Festival has come and whooshed by!
I’ve been asked what my favourite films from this year’s fest are. And what a coincidence – I made a running video about them. Another coincidence? Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award was my top film too. Frances McDormand needs to win all the awards for her role in it, where she plays a grieving mother who takes up a drastic move to solve the mystery of her daughter’s brutal death. Sam Rockwell, too, shines, in this film from director Martin Mcdonaugh, who brought us In Bruges and Seven Pyschopaths.

The excitement of opening day was tempered by the news of Joan Rivers’ death. I, like many festival-goers, emerged from the a darkened cinema to discover that the 81-year old comedian and actress had died. The news came a week after she suffered cardiac arrest and had been in a serious condition in hospital in New York.

As word spread through the festival, so too were memories shared of her acerbic wit and sharp tongue. May her feisty soul rest in peace.

I consider Day 1 to be a success, as I managed to make it to all four of the films I had planned to see, as well as fit in two interviews and a drink at the TIFF Opening Night party. Three out of four of the films were ones I had missed at Cannes earlier this year, and even as I settled into my seat for the 9:30pm screening of the last one, exhausted and hungry, I was so glad to have seen them all because each one was thoroughly worthy of the the praise I’d heard.

My day started with Mommy, 25-year-old celebrated Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s feature that won the Jury Prize at Cannes. From the music (Sarah Mclachlan, Celine Dion, Lana Del Rey) to the suffocating framing, the fantasy sequences and the cast (especially the actress who plays the lead Mommy, Anne Dorval), it’s not hard to see why the film has had so many people gushing over it. I appreciated it for what it showed about the bond between mother and child, and also the one between hope and hopelessness.

Straight from Mommy, I went to see Timbuktu, a film that is such a powerful example of the value cinema holds for helping us learn more about the world around us, and elicit empathy for people in other countries. Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako from Mauritania, it looks at the occupation of the Malian city by militant Islamic rebels. We read about the stories of musicians being punished and persecuted for their love of song during the occupation, but seeing this film, especially in a place like Toronto that celebrates the arts so vibrantly, was shell-shocking.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I went to The Judge premiere, the festival’s opening film. I love Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr as actors, and they are a powerhouse together, playing off their familiar roles as mean-but-wise-cracking son versus mean-but-upstanding dad, but I did feel like I was being told how to feel at every point in the film, which also felt quite long too.

The final screening of the day, Girlhood, ended my Day 1 superbly. With Boyhood opening in South Africa today – a movie that is an acute study of a young man growing up filmed over 12 years, my hope is that this one reaches a wide audience too. The film is a full-bodied look at all the complexities of being a young woman growing up – trying to fit in and stand out at the same time, as seen through the experience of a French teenager. Truly superbly done.

Now, for Bill Murray Day!

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Howzit T.Dot!

So happy to be back in Toronto for a third time, covering the film festival. It’s the only time I get to visit Canada, which is a shame really, as I always enjoy being here and would like to experience the place without the rush of having to get myself to a darkened cinema on time.

But that is the aim for the next few days. The festival runs until the 14th but I will be leaving just before that to go to LA for another set of interviews. So, today begins the frenetic pace of fitting in film-watching, moviestar-interviewing, press-conference-hopping and of course, since I’m training for the Chicago Marathon, mile-running too.

Last night the Toronto Film Critics Association welcomed all the other critics and film journalists who’re in town with a cocktail party, which featured “Telluride Throwdown Margaritas”, playing on the hyped-up tension between the two festivals. Now that Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has made it a rule that those films premiering at Telluride the weekend before can’t show during the first week of TIFF, there’s been a lot written about the perceived rivalry between the two fests. I just am happy that it means a few more of the films are spread out as opposed to being screened entirely during the first weekend, as has been the case in the past.

It’s always nice to see familar faces, so the welcome party was such a great way to ease into the fest, seeing some of the friends I’ve made during time spent standing in line or waiting for interviews. Talk was all about which films are on who’s schedules, the changes being made to the line-up, and those margaritas!

Over 300 films will screen here during the fest. I’ll aim to see a small percentage of those – among them, The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch, Jon Stewart’s Rosewater, Wild (the adaptation of one of my favourite books) and The Judge, which stars Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall.

I’ve seen a few on the list already at Cannes – Whiplash at Sundance, and Foxcatcher and Mr Turner, all praiseworthy. I also want to try catch up on those films I missed during Cannes, like the much-talked about Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, the French-Mauritanian drama, Timbuktu and Girlhood by French filmmaker Celine Sciamma, which opened the Director’s Fortnight. South Africa has one film in official selection at TIFF, Impunity, by Jyoti Mistry, so that’s on my list too.

I’m also looking forward to Bill Murray Day, a chance for the festival – and festival-goers – to pay tribute to the inimitable actor, who is premiering his latest film, St Vincent here. Last year, I remember walking past a sign outside a bar that was addressed to Murray, known for dropping in on random parties, inviting him inside for karaoke. Maybe this year, that same sign will be up again, and maybe this year he might just pop on in.

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Hello! Thanks to Slate, I’m making my way through the best of the New Yorker mag, before its new paywall goes up in 3 months. You can too.

* The Toronto International Film Festival – TIFF – announced the first slate of films its bagged to premiere in September. They include two featuring Reese Witherspoon, one of which is Wild, which I cannot wait to see. A lot of the line-up seems to be filled with meaty roles for men –  the likes of Richard Gere, Michael Douglas, Chris Rock, and Adam Sander, who’ll be offering something a little different in playing a porn-addicted father.

* “You know I got your back, just like a turtle shell…” The upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie now has a theme song, courtesy Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J and Ty Dolla $ign. A video for Shell Shocked is due to be released next week, while the movie comes out in August. It’s no Vanilla Ice, but then again nothing will ever etch itself in my mind quite like the theme song from the cartoon. “Heroes in a half shell! Turtle power!”

* Another Broadway musical is having to close early, this time Bullets over Broadway, Woody Allen’s first venture into the Great White Way. It’ll close on August 24th. Saul Williams makes a few interesting points about why his musical, Holler if Ya Hear Me had to close early too, in an interview with Rolling Stone, and while they may be different subject matters, it seems both suffered from theatre-goers thinking the show is still going to be there in September and October, so they put off seeing it until then.

* When he’s not covering Jay Z’s 99 Problems or Lorde’s Royals, Jack White is putting his weight behind a new venture, Third Man Books, following on from Third Man Records, which he started in 2001. The first book out next month is a 321-page hardcover book of poetry and art called Language Lessons: Volume I, accompanied, naturally, by an LP compilation. 

* There are many things I fault BuzzFeed for, but in giving us Ethan Hawke‘s Black Album of purposefully and carefully-arranged solo songs from the Beatles, as seen in the movie Boyhood, they have won my eternal gratitude.

[Pic: TIFF]

MissNTIFF2

I cried a lot during this year’s Toronto Film Festival. Between 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and the Mandela movie, I was affected by almost everything I saw. Luckily, not all of the films – as I don’t think my heart could have stood it, but the quality of filmmaking and story-telling was the kind that made me appreciate movies as an art form all over again. Of course, the word ‘Oscar’ was bandied about quite a bit, and for many a good reason. But beyond that, it was the experience of being moved – often times, physically so – that will stay with me for a long time after this year’s festival.

The emotional ride started on the 4th with the incredibly-paced, suspense-driven Prisoners, and ended on the 12th with an exploration into the ‘his’ and ‘her’ sides of love in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. And in between, so many incredible moments – of buzz, anticipation, delight.

I saw 15 films in the 9 days I was at TIFF. They were:

Prisoners
Of Good Report
Fifth Estate
Dallas Buyers Club
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
August: Osage County
iNumber Number
Half of a Yellow Sun
12 Years a Slave
Gravity
Rush
Kill Your Darlings
Great Beauty
Can a Song Save Your Life?
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Out of those, my top 3:

Even better than seeing the films is getting to interview the people behind them – the filmmakers and the actors themselves.

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A ‘selfie’ with Idris Elba, at his suggestion.

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Talking with Jared Leto about his stellar performance in Dallas Buyers Club – and his love for South Africa.

20130916-085713.jpgDiscussing the 3D concert film with a difference that is Metallica’s Through the Never. 

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Being charmed by Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal after their solid turns in Denis Villenueve’s Prisoners.

I had many stand-out moments – from being at the Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom premiere, to witnessing remarkable performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. I need a whole post on its own to describe the power McQueen has in moving us, as an audience, to understanding and compassion, and the want to do better by our fellow man.

But I do want to share one of the moments I had during TIFF that really sums up the power of film, for me.

As the credits started to roll after Gravity, I felt an invigoration that coursed through every part of me – it was such a visceral reaction to the film. I bounded out of the cinema with a giant smile on my face and the desire to go sky-diving, skinny-dipping, run a marathon (what a coincidence!), anything to take advantage of the fact that I’m alive. I found the film – and the way it was shot – not to be breathtaking, but breath-giving: long deep breaths, short, shallow ones, ‘Thank God I’m alive’ breaths! One of the best films I’ve ever seen!! (Yes, it even deserves two exclamation marks)

Aside from the movies, it was the conversations – with friends and strangers waiting together in lines – that only made the experience all the more memorable. So, look forward to the next few months, there are some stellar, worth-watching-twice films coming out!