Howzit from Toronto!
I’ve been in a TIFF bubble – the Toronto International Film Festival wraps up this weekend. I tried to see as many films as I could, in between doing interviews, attending press conferences and sleeping. I managed about 20, which isn’t too shabby. There wasn’t a stand-out film for me overall, and no TIFF has topped the year I saw Prisoners, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom in 2012. Here then, the ones that impressed me the most this time around…
Room and Beasts of No Nation
United by the feat of both starring two young male actors whose performances anchor the films, Room and Beasts of No Nation left solid impressions on me and gave me two new names to remember. 9 year-old Jacob Tremblay, who stars alongside Brie Larson, who is excellent as a mother who is trapped with her 5 year-old son in a story based on the best-selling novel by Emma Donaghue. I asked young Jacob what being at a film festival was like and he adorably answered it was like Disneyland because there were a lot of people and he liked that.
14 year-old Abraham Attah, who appears alongside Idris Elba in Beasts, is a tour de force in the film, playing a child soldier. I have a few issues with the film – it feels as if it’s generalizing Africa by not giving us a location for the country going through the war that is the film’s setting, but it is a powerful movie. For those beyond the continent who don’t know much about child soldiers, it will definitely be an eye-opener. A conversation with friends from the U.S and Australia after the screening confirmed that, and it will do much in the way of education. Attah won the best actor prize at the Venice Film Festival and it’s easy to see why.
Eye in the Sky, Trumbo, Spotlight: Films based on true-life experiences.
Helen Mirren is the common link between Eye and Trumbo and with good reason, both of these films have attracted positive reviews. South African-born director Gavin Hood tells a compelling story of drone warfare in Eye, a very much contemporary tale, and Jay Roach takes us back in time for the period story about screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who was blacklisted during the Cold War for being a Communist. Bryan Cranston is superb as Trumbo, and the words he utters are so eloquent and descriptive. I lapped it all up. And then Spotlight – a true darling of the fest. This one has been top of many critics’ lists. An ensemble cast of Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schrieber, Michael Keaton and Brian d’Arcy James as the Boston Globe reporting team that uncovered the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal story. It’s meticulous story-telling makes it a must-watch.
Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa
The buzz around this film travelled from Europe through to North America via the Venice Film Festival, where it won that fest’s Golden Lion prize. Using stop-motion animation, Kaufman tells a seemingly simple story of a best-selling salesman author who meets a woman while on a business trip. It’s witty and whimsical, and definitely stayed with me long after the credits rolled.
Special mention – Hardcore.
I’m not a big Midnight Madness fan (the section of TIFF where horror films are shown), but I had been wanting to see Sharlto Copley in this POV movie by Russian director Ilya Naishuller ever since I read that would be his next project. He plays a number of characters in this insane ride of a film that plays out like a video game. It is highly entertaining and deserving of the People’s Choice prize it won for the section. Glad to see Copley flexing his acting muscle in a role like this – it’s like it was written for him.
My route was based on the cinemas dotted around downtown Toronto, which is where I spent most of my time during TIFF. Starting out at the Toronto sign on Queen and Bay Streets, head West towards the TIFF Lightbox, and on the way you’ll pass the Roy Thompson Hall and the Princess of Wales theatre. Swing a right up John Street and you’ll get to Scotiabank Cinema, where I saw 80% of the films I watched at TIFF. And, pro-tip, around the corner is the wonderfully cosy Little Nicky’s where you can fill up on coffee and the best little doughnuts in town. Head East on Queen and you’ll reach Yonge, which is where the historic Elgin Theatre/Winter Garden is situated. Enjoy!