Here’s a ranking of all of the feature films (40+ min.) I have seen that played in TIFF 2012. Many of them I saw during TIFF (Sept. 6-16), and many more I saw at pre-festival press screenings, on Festival Scope, or somewhere else.
– Saw at TIFF Proper (between Sept. 6-16)
– Saw at Cannes
– Saw at TIFF pre-festival press screening
– Saw a screener of some kind
Tier 0 (A & A+)
Tier 1 (A-)
►Leviathan – Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Véréna Paravel
For all the talk about consciousness, environment, and labour that is getting tossed around with this one – all of which, don’t get me wrong, are among the major themes here – the project seems to be first and foremost an attempt at recalibrating viewers’ sense of gravity. Functioning as a quasi-sequel to Michael Snow’s landmark (pun kind of intended) La région centrale, Leviathan thrashes the camera erratically in any and every which direction; space is spun, flipped, and exploded to often vertiginous effect, to the point where I felt like I was going to fall out of my seat on a few occasions (oh how I would kill for an IMAX screening). One could even say that Castaing-Taylor and Paravel one-up Snow by allowing the apparatus to puncture the surface below (the ocean), revealing an entirely new, mirrored space to be whisked through. The connection between the two films is underlined when the camera sits inside the boat at night time, the moon visible through a small window, ping-ponging off the perimeter of the frame-within-the-frame, virtually dwarfing Snow’s film by relegating it to a tiny region of its own composition. There’s also a stark difference in how we perceive mobility in the two films. Snow creates motion despite stasis (the camera is anchored to the desert ground); in Leviathan, successive shots take place potentially tens or hundreds of miles from where the previous one was taken, yet we still feel uncannily fixed for the entire 85 minutes, essentially locked in the single location that is ‘at sea.’ Even the shot of the man watching TV for five straight minutes has its own sense of instability thanks to the soundscape of thrashing waves and whistling wind, creating yet another scenario of moving and not moving simultaneously. There will be decades-worth of imitators.
►Like Someone in Love – Abbas Kiarostami
From Cannes: “When the screening first ended, I went out on a limb and called that this would be the most divisive film at Cannes this year, having heard no reactions yet. I was right! Playing off of Certified Copy’s interests in what makes us love another person, and the way the behaviours of loving someone are ingrained in our DNA, this is a minimal, sorrowful and absurdist package that contains dozens of breathtakingly serene car rides and blissfully drawn-out conversations. One I keep coming back to is what could be called the film’s second scene – ‘could be’ because the first one is so fractured, and reveals itself so mysteriously, that it feels like an entire Act in retrospect – where Akiko is chauffeured through downtown Tokyo at night and scans through voicemail after voicemail from her grandmother and the look on her face, as well as the following superfluous replay trek around a roundabout,
means nothing but implies so much. Kiarostami is practically confrontational in his challenge for us to add it all up to something, only refusing to easily define it for us ( in contrast to the new Carlos Reygadas film, it is apparent that further digging will actually yield substance). I thought of Chantal Akerman’s News From Home on occasion while watching [*edit - in retrospect, I should have been thinking of her Les rendez-vous d'Anna instead, specifically the final scene, though I think the emotions are more in line with News], but really it’s unlike anything I’ve seen or experienced in quite some time – a truly weird film. I’ll need another look, or twenty, before I can make perfect sense of this, but it refuses to exit my mind.”
Second viewing: Pretty much the same, though I’d change the last line about needing twenty more looks; I think I’ve got it all now. And the trek around the round-about is different now because I honestly had no idea the first time that the person in the center of it was Akiko’s grandmother (I thought it was just some random old man, actually). I’ll blame it on the fact I was soaked and sitting in the nosebleed section of the Debussy. The ending was baffling the first time, and now it’s just right.
Tier 2 (B+)
►Beyond the Hills – Cristian Mungiu
From Cannes: “I was no lover of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, but this all but cleaned the floor with me; had it had a less Romanian ending (think Aurora), I’d have probably needed to ask for tissues when it ended. It details the tragic rejection of compromise between three parties that is so intense I often could not believe what I was seeing. The second half of the film in particular is just crescendo after crescendo of pure emotion that’s as visceral as in any recent film I can recall. Many intelligent persons are calling this film boring, and I do not know what film they were watching.”
Second viewing: Not as emotionally devastating this time, mostly because I knew where it was going, and I think the film would’ve been more effective if everyone had spoilersurvivedspoiler (there’s nothing more anticlimactic than setting up a conflict and then spoilerkilling off a key player before things work themselves outspoiler; feels like a cop out). Still unbelievably intense, if not “as visceral as [any recent film] I can recall.”
►Viola – Matías Piñeiro
Need to rewatch ASAP (have a screener so should be soon, at which point I’ll update this post), but basically I didn’t catch on to what Piñeiro was doing (layering multiple Shakespeare comedies on top of each other) until there were 30 minutes left (it’s only a little over an hour). Beautiful and lovely and dizzying from that point on. Outlook promising for this one.
Second viewing: TK
►To the Wonder – Terrence Malick
I’m not going to pretend that there isn’t a lot to cringe at in this one. What I will pretend is that there is an entire facet of Malick’s heavily-scorned new film that is being ignored by the critic-verse that seems to be the key to appreciating it, and that facet is a scathing indictment of American suburbia. For some reason, people think that Malick is presenting these airy, personality-vacant figures for the sake of creating a rhapsodic and universal romance picture. But those images of cubic, cookie-cutter suburban neighbourhoods, fluorescent grocery stores, Sunday worship services, and dinners at Sonic aren’t just there because this is Malick’s first film set entirely in present-day America; they’re direct links into understanding the soullessness of Neil (Ben Affleck) and why his life has been entirely bleached of idiosyncrasy and genuine emotion.
►Frances Ha – Noah Baumbach
I have been on Team Lena Dunham ever since I watched the first episode of her HBO show Girls; I intended to watch only that single half-hour pilot, yet I immediately downloaded the entire season upon its completion and then watched the other nine episodes straight through. This is relevant because Girls and Frances Ha have a lot in common (not least of which is the presence of Adam Driver), and I think that Baumbach’s film, while great, is a bit inferior in most aspects to Dunham’s series. They both deal with a central female character stuck in post collegiate, barely-employed purgatory; both portray the nomadic NYC lifestyle that sees individuals changing addresses left and right, settled without ever really settling; and both sympathize with an increasingly ubiquitous brand of guilt found in twenty-somethings who leave their hometowns and never return. I’m not entirely sure if my preference for Girls is attributable to there being more of it – which allowed for more fully fleshed-out scenarios and characters – or if Dunham is just more in tune with how people that age feel than Baumbach is (makes sense, given her age). Which is all to say I wasn’t as blown away by Frances Ha as I wanted to be, or should have been; still a great film, though, not least thanks to Greta Gerwig’s singular and alive portrayal of Frances, probably my favourite character of the year so far.
►Amour – Michael Haneke
From Cannes: “Turns out I already saw the new Haneke film a year ago in the Director’s Fortnight; an unfortunate coincidence, it’s almost identical to the Icelandic film, Volcano. Moment-to-moment it’s incredibly straightforward considering its maker, and starkly ‘what it is’. We wait for each progressed stage of deterioration in order to arrive at the same defeating and inevitable exit that we know – and are told in the very first scene – will come. For the first time, it felt to me like Haneke has made a film for his own cathartic therapy; no scolding or lessons to teach the audience. Getting old sucks, and that is primarily true because you have to watch loved ones do it, too. A devastating film, in its own modest, not-earth-shattering way.”
Tier 3 (B)
►Laurence Anyways – Xavier Dolan
From Cannes: “OK, fine. I still think Dolan is light on ideas, and he’s far too young to hold steadfast to a fixed theme (that being ‘impossible love’; I mean, this guy wants so hard to be taken seriously as a wunderkind auteur that he risks suffocating himself, which he did in his previous film, Heartbeats), but the filmmaking is really superb for most of this, and for the first time, it feels more ‘Dolan’ than anyone else (Wong, Almodovar, Allen….). Not sure what’s changed since his last film actually, but it’s just more genuine and honestly exuberant in its youthfulness and naïveté.”
►Spring Breakers – Harmony Korine
As much as I wanted to give up on Harmony Korine after Trash Humpers, he’s too in-tune with the cultural zeitgeist to ignore his work, and Spring Breakers underlines this claim. Essentially the same film as Humpers, Korine improves on that film here by correcting one essential trait: what was grotesquely hideous, grating, and ostentatiously low-grade is now euphoric and drenched in a gorgeous, neon HD glow. The central trio of girls form a Feuilladian gang of misfits who cheat, steal, and kill in order to attain their aspired state of permanent orgasm and bling. There’s also James Franco, whose auto-critical performance pretty much steals the show as a Riff Raff-esque character named Alien, who is by all turns embarrassing, riotous, and strangely poignant. More than anything, though, the film works because of Korine’s ability to convey his general (albeit unsubtle) sentiment that Generation X is a defiled lot of violence and pop-obsessed hedonists.
►Eat Sleep Die – Gabriela Pichler
I got a bit nervous at the beginning with Pichler set this up as the year’s nth Dardennes knockoff, but settled when I realized that she’s putting her film is direct conversation with Rosetta for the sake of showing that a character need not be miserable and dispirited when wading through this scenario. As strong as it is, it felt kind of minor until the last ten-fifteen minutes, at which point Pichler created a truly bittersweet farewell, using whirling carnival rides and sad clown faces to infuse the realism with an almost subversive attempt at abstraction.
►Tower – Kazik Radwanski
Works so well for mainly (perhaps only) two reasons: Derek Bogart and Serani’s ‘No Games.’ I actually have a bit of trouble articulating what it is that’s so affecting about Bogart’s character (also named Derek), partially because I can relate to him so well (the scene where he shows his parents’ friends his 14-second video is easily the best, both hilarious and plangent), but also I think because Radwanksi doesn’t really know what to do with him (thus the film’s primary flaw: the unsatisfactory non-ending). There’s certainly much to do with a particular feeling of stasis and complacency that becomes palpable right after college; Derek – being about 10 years passed that point – exhibits a sense of doom from having sat on that indeterminacy for a decade, allowing it to turn rancid and discolour his entire lifestyle. He’s clearly intelligent, yet he’s too cynical to properly function in any sort of social circle or working environment. A mighty impressive debut, in any case.
►Room 237 – Rodney Ascher
From Cannes: “Practically a comedy, offering up a string of straight-faced observations, theories, exposés, and analyses by OCD cinephiles who latch on to what they perceive to be subliminal messages hidden in The Shining. Because Kubrick’s a genius, of course he slyly inserted all of this devastating and subversive conspiracy theory nonsense on purpose, right?! Most of what these guys propose is so insane/absurd – but genuine – that I felt ashamed of the fact that, as a passionate cinephile myself, I often do the very same thing all the time. Films are playgrounds for us to insert ourselves and our experiences into, and we manufacture statements that reflect us so that we can understand a film just as much as we wish to be understood by others. Many will see this film as a curio that introduces interesting ideas on what The Shining is about, but what it actually accomplishes is more ambitious: showing exactly how cinephilia has been transformed by the home video era of movie-(re)(re)(re)(re)watching.”
►In Another Country – Hong Sang-soo
From Cannes: “Since this was ‘only’ my seventh Hong film, it still felt fresh to me. Huppert had me giggling the entire time, even when I didn’t know what I was laughing at. Those familiar enough with Hong (i.e. if you’ve seen more than two) will note that this is yet another auto-critique, this one regarding the fact that pretty much all of his films have the same script and casting aesthetic. The 1st act is the funniest, but for the rest I was coasting on the subtle differences in each Anne (Huppert plays three different characters, all with the same name, naturally), and the treatment toward her by others.”
Second Third viewing: I’ve seen this three times now, and I think that’s probably enough. Very funny.
►A Hijacking – Tobias Lindholm
One of my wild card picks this year, pretty much just because it played in the Venice Film Festival. There’s not too much that should be, or needs to be, said about it. It details the corporate negotiations that take place after a freighter is hijacked by some Somali pirates, who demand a $15M ransom or else they’ll kill the crew. Despite the fact that the bargaining of this ransom is thrilling and tense and takes up about 90% percent of the running time, it almost feels like a MacGuffin when a single action that takes place five minutes before the end of the film re-routes the film’s destination toward a profoundly moving portrayal of insurmountable guilt; a lightning-quick turn on par with the mid-film rift in last year’s The Loneliest Planet.
►Tabu – Miguel Gomes
From Cannes: “How anyone claims to have properly digested this on a single viewing is a mystery to me, but its second half sure lived up to the vague memory of hype I seem to recall it having, which is to say: I was floored by its singularity and the fact I cared so much. Bifurcation is like so ‘in’ right now and I guess now that I see the hints of connections between the halves I can start to appreciate it next time, but in the act of watching this I wished that the first hour would up and disappear altogether.”
►Sightseers – Ben Wheatley
From Cannes: “A pretty solid mix of Mike Leigh’s naturalism and Edgar Wright’s absurdly casual genre injections; humor works about half the time – mostly because you can see many jokes coming from a mile away – but its simple yet accurate observations of a couple who’ve reached a romantic plateau in their relationship and must invent new ways of staying interested in each other is often piercing despite the laughter.”
►Augustine – Alice Winocour
Slowly builds to a climax that may or may not confirm a suspicion I’d had for the entire film. In the end, though, it’s not so important to discern whether or not Augustine is putting on a show, but sensing out the wallop buried in her final gesture, essentially saving a career and ending a romance in a single, spastic performance.
►Looper – Rian Johnson
Want to see it again, but basically, love it when it’s a time travel movie, not so much when it’s The Omen.
►No – Pablo Larraín
From Cannes: “Aesthetically, conceptually, and thematically bold, not to mention that I laughed more at this film than anything else other than the new Hong. I just wish its political purpose resonated as much as the ironies and kitsch do.”
►Barbara – Christian Petzold
More elliptical than I was expecting it to be, masterfully retaining a particular mood and rhythm that gripped me even when I was losing interest in the narrative.
►Bestiaire – Denis Côté
Saw this last February and only remember the images, rather than ideas. The images are spectacular.
►Berberian Sound Studio – Peter Strickland
Figured I was losing interest in this while watching it, zoning out here and there, to the detriment of the film. What I think it’s doing though, by repeating itself over and again and developing a certain monotony, is developing a distance between the viewer and the material so that certain crucial changes in behaviour and plot aren’t immediately recognizable.
►Gebo and the Shadow – Manoel de Oliveira
Minor, but still a treat. Loved the ending – sacrificial gesture, freeze frame, roll credits – which sucked the wind out of me as only the best Iranian directors are prone to.
►When Night Falls – Ying Liang
So freakin’ sad. (Seriously)
Tier 4 (B-)
►The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson
Couldn’t stop thinking of A Clockwork Orange, even if I hate the ‘which film/director is PTA making/being this time?’ tradition. The best compliment I can give it right now is that I felt the exact same way about it when it ended as I did when I first saw There Will Be Blood (As my friend said, “I knew it was a masterpiece, and I knew I was disappointed”). I had the impression that Anderson really was burdened by having to follow up a film so immediately canonized; even the last scene with Hoffman and Phoenix together is essentially TWBB’s between Plainview and H.W.: the two of them seated in a grand office, the father-figure swearing the son-figure off as his sworn enemy from here on out. Dern confirmed as my favourite living actress.
►Post Tenebras Lux – Carlos Reygadas
From Cannes: “One of the most pretentious films I have seen in a very long time. In the interviews I’ve read since the film premiered, Reygadas’ one defense is basically ‘all you guys want your movies spoon-fed to you! my movie is challenging and doesn’t give answers! you have to think for yourself!’, which basically confirms what the film indicates: the guy doesn’t know what his movie is saying, but he desperately wants it to say something profound. On its surface – and this is making it sound far more interesting than it is – one could almost call this Satan’s telling of The Tree of Life. The difference is that Malick actually knew what he wanted to do with his film. Example of head-smacking, go-for-broke grasps at profundity: the two main characters are at a swingers bath house where there is copious anus-pounding happening all around them; they walk into a room and ask the four or five naked patrons inside “is this the Duchamp room?” One of them replies “No, sorry, this is the Hegel room.” Puh-lease. However, if a film that has this kind of nonsense (<--clickable) going on around the edges of the frame for more than half the running time looks like your idea of a stunningly visionary breakthrough in how we see the world, perhaps you can disregard everything else in this capsule."
Second viewing: Despite the fact that all of the above complaints more or less still stand, this revisitation was somewhat of a breakthrough where much of it fell into place – everything suffocatingly obtuse became obvious, if not heavy-handed. Part of my path to enlightenment is thanks to Michael Sicinski’s take on the film as “a rather conservative film about the need to defend the family against all potential threats, foreign and domestic,” which is certainly a big part of it. Further, it’s evident that PTL is primarily concerned with the huge classist and racist divides in Mexico, the wealthy whites and the poor dark-skinneds, and how this particular family’s wealth both offers them a form of protection and makes them more vulnerable to theft and violence. To underline this theme, Reygadas inserted what I’d like to think are a couple of nods to Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman, a film that is essentially about the same thing. Starting about fifteen minutes before the end, Seven (the man who chops down [family] trees), is riding in the back of a pickup. The truck races down a dirt road, hits a dog, and continues; Seven looks back apathetically for a moment, then resumes thinking about whatever it was he was thinking about before, pointedly lacking the remorse and guilt of Martel’s heroine, Vero. Then there’s Seven’s fate, which makes the Martel connection pretty damn literal if you ask me. So, in light of having something to grab on to, suddenly every scene became more meaningful and cohesive to the whole. Even the Duchamp/Hegel thing became more attributable to the central couple’s yuppie pretentions than Reygadas’ own. Still unnecessarily butt ugly and too willfully obscure, in my opinion.
►The Last Time I Saw Macao – João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata
A hybrid of several genres – essay film, city symphony, queer noir – and has varying degrees of success with the lot of them. The worst – and unfortunately most prominent – would be the noir – a diaristic search for a transvestite-in-trouble named Candy by her Portuguese friend (played and narrated by Guerra da Mata). The acting and rhythm in these parts feels undercooked and doesn’t adequately tie in to the rest of the film’s concerns with Portuguese-occupied Macao and the present-day state of the Chinese region. The best thing here is the photography, which is HD video that appears at first to be repellently murky and muddy, until I realized that all of the medium-toned greys and browns where supplemented by slivers and panels of shimmering neon and sparkling hot spots from nearby cars, commercial buildings, and other electronic devices littered throughout the city. In a film about the disappearance of history and culture (Macao was a Portuguese colony for 4 centuries, ending in 1999, so the filmmakers are playing with their own genuine and personal nostalgia from its past), these little bursts of light were moving respites from the off-putting narrative.
►differently, Molussia – Nicolas Rey
A rigorous, shag carpet confrontation with tyranny, technique, and machines. For one thing, it is at least noteworthy for its bold formalist stroke that ensures that every audience will have a unique experience with it: comprised of nine 16mm reels, the order in which the reels are projected is randomly chosen by the projectionist using a kind of lottery system. As if to underline the non-narrativity of it, that the film could still work in the 362,000+ possible configurations is an indication of what you’re in for (a few in the audience at my AGO Jackman Hall screening were clearly frustrated, perhaps even provoked by the 9 different title sequences that popped up). Not even Benning’s RR or 13 Lakes/Ten Skies would be quite as stunning if the shots were randomized. I’d kill to be in the screening of this film that assigns the ‘Interlude’ to the beginning of the film, for the sheer WTF absurdity of it. Part of my problem, though, is that I can’t find anything to really hang on to. Rey introduced the film by telling us that it was really a very simple film, yet what I saw felt too complex to parse it on a single look.
►Reality – Matteo Garrone
From Cannes: “An inversion of The Truman Show, but more like a remake of Sara Goldfarb’s cracked-out descent in Requiem for a Dream. Garrone’s significant addition to these premises, though, is an (perhaps unsubtle and single-note) analogy of Catholic hypocrisy. It’s scathing & visually dizzying, but also feels familiar. I thought it got a little too goofy in its second half. Anyone who tells you that this is just a movie about television obsession is missing the point.”
►West of Memphis – Amy Berg
I won’t feel comfortable tackling this one until I’ve seen the Paradise Lost trilogy, solely because I don’t know if the things I found amazing here were already covered in those. I went into this knowing nothing about the case except that they were all freed a year ago, so holy cow in that regard.
►Much Ado About Nothing – Joss Whedon
Like Resnais and the Tavianis’ films this year (and in retrospect, the Piñeiro), this is another solid, experimental theatre adaptation. Funnier and more entertaining than Caesar Must Die, but not as complex and original as You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet!
►The Hunt – Thomas Vinterberg
From Cannes: “Well-made, compelling but unsurprising in its view of how something out of our control can reshape our lives for the worse (this being a Vinterberg film and all). The Best Actor Prize was earned (even if this performance doesn’t hold a candle to Lavant’s all-time great turn in Holy Motors). Probably his best film since The Celebration.
►The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology – Sophie Fiennes
Liked it well enough from anecdote to anecdote, but didn’t grab on to any cumulative thread, so it just seemed to end arbitrarily.
►Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell
As fresh and funny as any Russell film (and the best People’s Choice winner in years), but it just got a little too standard rom-commy by the end. Jennifer Lawrence brilliant in her role as Juliette Lewis.
►Jayne Mansfield’s Car – Billy Bob Thornton
Individual scenes are killers (not least of which the last one, I mean damn), but it deflates as quickly as it inflates.
►Paradise: Love – Ulrich Seidl
From Cannes: “One, two, three strikes and she still gets tricked by those pesky Kenyans! Seidl could direct a film with his eyes closed and it’d be deeply felt and sharply observed, but this feels padded out (the third scammer is entirely superfluous), and the statement it’s making is too simplistic and obvious to justify the two-hour running time. I still look forward to the other two of this trilogy, Faith and Hope.”
►The Central Park Five – Ken Burns, David McMahon & Sarah Burns
Watched this pretty soon after West of Memphis, so it unfortunately got a ‘been there, done that’ reaction from me. Pretty staggering material (yet again), in any case.
►3 – Pablo Stoll Ward
I might’ve just been impressed by what this is compared to my expectations (I saw the poster, and it’s clearly being sold as a rollicking family comedy). Doesn’t add up to much (powerful final image aside), but the characters are all real humans, and it evolved naturally, so what the hell, B-.
►Just the Wind – Bence Fliegauf
Refreshingly not the film it should be, considering that a film with this premise is always the film it should be. Never not brooding and pretty to look at, just seemed like it wasn’t interested in leaving any sort of lasting impression.
►Student – Darezhan Omirbaev
From Cannes: “So Omirbayev is a Bresson fan. Pretty much every decision is either inspired by or, more often, a replica of his cinema: the protagonist’s walk is a direct pull of Jacques’ slacked strut in Four Nights of a Dreamer; the ending is a reshoot of Pickpocket’s ending; elsewhere, it’s L’Argent galore. Calling attention to the Poet of Precision doesn’t mean your movie is good, though. I didn’t think a ‘Crime & Punishment’ adaptation could be this comatose, and even the very De Oliveirian modernism couldn’t liven the mood. Many will praise – and by now, have praised – this for the Bressonian-ness of it, but I still think I’d prefer to see Omirbayev make an Omirbayev film.”
Second viewing: Wasn’t bored to tears this time, and the Bresson references now feel more tongue-in-cheek than cheap homages, especially the bit with the donkey, which made me laugh out loud to my surprise.
►Night Across the Street – Raúl Ruiz
From Cannes: “I’m happy that Ruiz went out in a bit of a whimsical mode, since on paper this looked like Mysteries of Lisbon: The Epilogue. It doesn’t have the impact I think it should, likely because it feels too long (I know, the more Ruiz the better!, but not really, here) and its stream-of-consciousness is intentionally mind-numbing in large doses. Mostly delightful, though, & its use of DV is unlike any Ive seen.”
►Gone Fishing – Carlos Sorin
From Cinema Scope Online: “Carlos Sorin has made a career out of departing and returning to Patagonia. Setting essentially every other one of his films there for the last decade, he’s laid out a trajectory that, in retrospect, is probably less motivated by a self-designated auteurist narrative and more due to an ambivalence he has toward the kind of films he wants to be making. Sorin’s recent films set in the shared Argentinean-Chilean region, which includes his new Gone Fishing, are steeped in a melancholic sentimentality and tend to be critically lauded as “small” and “beautiful”; his films made elsewhere (The Road to San Diego , The Cat Vanishes ) garner adjectives like “abstract,” “stylish,” and “bizarre,” and are ultimately deemed as failures.
Gone Fishing, a lulling drama that episodically chronicles a 50-year-old man’s return to Patagonia, is a continuation of Sorin’s artistic stasis, but could also register as a despairing critique on his back-and-forth pattern. There isn’t a mean-spirited or offensive bone in its body, yet there are several Sorinian interludes that occasionally drop in to clear the air: a pause on a female boxer’s gruesomely swollen face after a brutal match; a show-stopping aria performed live at the dinner table with a swelling, non-diegetic orchestral accompaniment that stands off enough so that it still somehow registers as a cappella; and a boating trip that turns rocky and causes a man to vomit up something resembling custard. Singular as these moments are, there isn’t enough of them to balance out the overall placidity of it all; worse, there is hardly any suggestion that Sorin is fed up enough with this movie to ensure that he’ll never make it again.”
Tier 5 (C+)
I Declare War – Jason Lapeyre & Robert Wilson
Liked how dedicated these guys were to this idea, which is basically a feature-length movie about some kids playing capture the flag. The game is typical enough (with some pre-pubescent angst thrown in there), yet it’s filmed as if it were an R-rated war epic. I wish it didn’t become so fixed on the chubby bully kid’s ‘why won’t you be my friend?!?!’ issues; made the whole thing lame.
►Fly With the Crane – Li Ruijun
If I told you there is a film in TIFF about two ~six year-old children who bury their grandfather alive, you might immediately think Midnight Madness. However, this is a sweet little Chinese film in which the actual burial is an endearing gesture and meant to be incredibly sentimental, which is kind of awesome.
►A Liar’s Autobiography – The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman – Ben Timlett, Bill Jones, & Jeff Simpson
I might have liked this more than I should considering it was 3D and the characters were sometimes paper dolls. Too many penis jokes, not enough flatulence.
►Museum Hours – Jem Cohen
Perfectly pleasant, nicely shot, etc., just doesn’t have any life to it. Felt like a Guérin film, only without his knack for engaging the hell out of me. The whole aunt subplot was unnecessary.
►The Gatekeepers – Dror Moreh
I think it’d be a good idea – since digital has officially taken the torch and set celluloid ablaze with it – if filmmakers could learn what ‘aspect ratio’ means, because it’s much easier to fuck that up now than it was on film. This doc is mostly archival footage (when it isn’t talking heads), and most, if not all, of that footage is shown stretched to fill the screen. Zoom in, letterbox, pillarbox, or gtfo.
►All That You Possess – Bernard Émond
If you’re going to overlay voiceover readings of a character’s poetry for a good chunk of your film, please make sure the poetry isn’t the poetry that this guy writes.
►Jackie – Antoinette Beumer
From Cinema Scope Online: “Jackie is a hammy and altogether unlikable film that gets by on some charming, probably unintentional absurdities. The narrative involves Dutch twins Sofie and Daan (played by real-life sisters Carice and Jelka Van Houten) who venture all the way over to New Mexico so that they can reunite with their estranged mother (Holly Hunter) and drive her to rehab (those familiar with Hunter’s particular brand of stinkface will be relieved to know that this movie is essentially 100 minutes of it; if not literally, then at least tonally). Once the sisters have the crippled and cranky Jackie loaded up in a run-down mobile home, the film becomes a variation on the Alexander Payne travelogue, where geographically-specific misfortunes and kitschy Americana initiate a range of dramatic and comedic hijinks (Daan’s affinity for bluegrass would certainly count as the latter). As the trio treks ever so slowly across the state, Beumer underlines the ways communication and distance (physical and emotional) impact each other; the twins interchangeably speak Dutch and English depending on their desired level of privacy from their mother, while Sofie’s Skype calls to her colleagues back home cut out at the worst possible times (a complication that arises as they stray too far from the network signal). Though intended as a testament to the human capacity for reconnection and familial reconciliation, the characters’ emotional transitions are ultimately too rushed and their motivations too disingenuous for Jackie to be more than a weird and mildly amusing Holly Hunter showcase.”
►The Act of Killing – Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, & Anonymous
I’m trying to understand the near-unanimous gushing over this, since I had, and still have, a hard time seeing it as anything other than an elaborate ploy to allow this man to cry and upchuck his sins away in front of a wide audience. He even watches ‘the crucial scene’ twice; since it didn’t do the trick the first time, we have to see him view it again, now with two kids on his lap watching with him so that he really feels the burn. It’s readymade catharsis for a man I don’t think deserves it (He’s not vomiting for himself, but for us). Intriguing idea, but turned out as I feared; also, no thank you on the kitschy musical interludes.
►Clip – Maja Milos
Don’t remember why I found this decent. Kind of awful thinking about it now.
►Anna Karenina – Joe Wright
In which her fate functions as audience wish-fulfillment. Aaron Johnson as Count Vronsky is one of the worst casting decisions of the year; Jude Law as Alexei Karenin one of my favourite.
►The Iceman – Ariel Vromen
Ray Liotta is in everything this year, isn’t he.
►Ernest & Celestine – Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar, & Stéphane Aubier
Less over-the-top than A Town Called Panic, yet more obnoxious and less charming. Not sure how that happened.
►Blackbird – Jason Buxton
A little too derivative of the Dardennes (good God) and Campos to ever have a chance at greatness, but I liked that it didn’t go where it looked like it was going to go, and was at least competent in most areas. For the most part it’s West of Memphis: The Movie.
►Blancanieves – Pablo Berger
The Artist, but with bullfighting. A silent film revival looks to officially be a thing, but I don’t see how it can ever be more than pastiche if guys keep being so earnest about it (see Maddin as someone who builds from silent film language instead of just hoisting it up as a beacon of ‘a better time.’). The epilogue was the only inspired thing here, a film otherwise only commendable for being a pretty good representation.
►Ginger and Rosa – Sally Potter
►Miss Lovely – Ashim Ahluwalia
From Cannes: “Love the look of the movie, which is close to a vintage giallo film when it’s really on, but the narrative is wack and mostly a chore.”
►The We and the I – Michel Gondry
From Cannes: “Like a Spike Lee take on The Breakfast Club; sporadically enthralling, but seriously lopsided – since the film starts with the full cast on the bus and then whittles its focus as characters depart the bus over the 90-minute running time, Gondry should have been more careful so that he didn’t leave the least interesting characters left at the end. A late scene in particular, with the only good acting in the movie, feels far too weighty to be included.”
►Dormant Beauty – Marco Bellocchio
My first Bellocchio, not sure what the big deal is.
►Once Upon a Time Was I, Verônica – Marcelo Gomes
Best part about this is that it’s apparent that Karim Aïnouz was involved with the production, so I got to think back fondly to The Silver Cliff for a good chunk of the running time.
►Ship of Theseus – Anand Gandhi
Promising in its first act until it became an Indian Babel.
►Fill the Void – Rama Burshtein
►Lore – Cate Shortland
Pronounced ‘Laura,’ kind of.
►Passion – Brian De Palma
The most recent De Palma film I’ve seen is Snake Eyes, which pretty much means I’m without the necessary vocabulary that would allow me to see how this film is good, let alone a masterpiece. I had a great time watching it, laughed a lot, but if I hadn’t I’d probably have trouble not putting it at the bottom of this page.
►In the Fog – Sergei Loznitsa
From Cannes: “More like ‘Slog in the Fog,’ amirite? I thought this was a step down from My Joy, which was intermittently brilliant. Time is distended passed its breaking point here, and I just did not think this Catch 22 narrative needed to be this boldly anti-kinetic.”
►The Lebanese Rocket Society – Joana Hadji Thomas & Khalil Joreige
Pretty middle-of-the-road formally, and as interesting as its subject matter is, the homogeneity of the history of the titular society doesn’t lend itself well to the feature-length format; it’s all too same-y and becomes a muddle. Great animated epilogue, though.
►Nights with Theodore – Sébastien Betbeder
Too undercooked to leave any impression. The comparisons to Four Nights of a Dreamer (my favourite Bresson) don’t it any favours, either.
►Three Worlds – Catherine Corsini
From Cinema Scope Online: “Three years after Leaving, Catherine Corsini’s hit melodrama from the 2009 festival circuit, it appears as though she has yet to return. Already dissolving from memory as the credits roll, Trois mondes’ worst offence is that its basic premise is too much in conversation with Lucrecia Martel’s masterful and elusive The Headless Woman. Both films are centred upon a hit-and-run accident, after which the driver loses grip on reality and unveils a suppressed classism and nationalism. In Corsini’s film, however, it’s never a question whether the roadkill is man or canine; Alan, the driver and protagonist, is explicitly shown hitting a man, who we later learn is an immigrant construction worker.
Trois mondes is a film where all of the subtext resides squarely on its surface. Early scenes tell us that Alan is the son of a maid; she cleans the house of a car salesman, Testard, who completes the circle by being Alan’s employer (not to be outdone, the woman Alan plans to marry is Testard’s daughter). Once the immigrant comes into the picture, we have before us every rung of the socio-economic ladder, wobbling and swaying in precise motions. Flat and broad as its attempt at humanism is, it’s Trois mondes’ carefully convoluted and contrived narrative that’s most off-putting; Alan behaves irrationally for the sake of setting up the next twist, like he knows this can’t go anywhere good if he does what he should. So when the resolution finally comes, it isn’t nearly as cathartic or satisfying as Corsini hopes because she ensures that Alan—and we—are never unaware of the stakes he’s up against and how he came to be up against them. It’s a dependence on tangibility that Martel wisely resisted.”
►On The Road – Walter Salles
From Cannes: “Better than I was expecting but still mostly useless.”
Tier 6 (C)
►The Paperboy – Lee Daniels
From Cannes: “Often ridiculously bad, yet still a step up from Precious, if only because so much of it works as camp that I kind of had a lot of fun with it. Highlight is Efron getting his face pissed on by a ferocious Nicole Kidman.”
►Something in the Air – Olivier Assayas
I have no idea why this movie needed to be made; just completely lifeless, which is stunning, considering the material. Revolution-obsessed hip kids acting all revolutionary; couldn’t wait to get away from them.
►The Company You Keep – Robert Redford
Entirely forgettable, thus forgotten. I didn’t even remember that Lebeouf is in this until I searched for a synopsis just now.
►Blondie – Jesper Ganslandt
Disappointingly Deborah Harry-less.
►La Sirga – William Vega
I’m beginning to think that it’s impossible to make a good film about sleepwalking, unless there’s an obvious title I’m blanking on.
►In the House – François Ozon
A film about a high school kid who is pretty good at creative writing for his age, until his ideas become a convoluted and cliched mess. Unfortunately, his writing is also the film itself, so as his story takes a turn for the worse, the film must go down with it, even if it is a cute idea. The critique of the upper-middle class isn’t particularly keen, either.
►Rust and Bone – Jacques Audiard
From Cannes: “Feels like watching an Adult Contemporary radio station for 2 hours. Given the fetishistically charged developments in the plot (a woman loses both of her legs, gets prosthetic ones, struggles to regain confidence in her sexual life) I kept hoping it would evolve into a Cronenbergian mania, if only so it would detour the proceedings away from the ultra-schematic premise. Alas, it stays on the straight & narrow, heal-each-other path the whole way through. Some have argued that the film is interesting because it is actually more focused on the malfunctional personality who hasn’t lost his limbs (coincidentally, a kickboxer!), but I still see this film as having a dual focus, healing one, and then the other. On the bright side, it certainly had the best CGI of the festival.”
►Motorway – Soi Cheang
Was hoping for something a little more Drive, a little less The Karate Kid.
►Capital – Costa-Gavras
Capitalism means rich people rob from the poor and give to the rich.
►Imagine – Andrzej Jakimowski
From Cinema Scope Online: “In a year in which an ostensible documentary about a fishing boat can reinforce our faith in cinema’s phenomenological potential, it’s disconcerting to find a contemporaneous film—one that grapples very literally with our reliance on sensorial experience—that is so indifferent to the way images (or lack thereof) make us think and feel. Andrzej Jakimowski’s Imagine, about a Brit named Ian (Edward Hogg) arrives to be an instructor at a Lisbon clinic for the visually impaired, starts off with a moody and impressionistic out-of-focus shot, but the formal risks end there. The majority of the film is a high-contrast, golden-hued depiction of institutionalism as authorial handcuffing. Ian, blind himself, faces an oppressive resistance in his attempt to introduce the clinic’s curriculum to echolocation (a biosonar technique common in the animal kingdom, accomplished by humans via tongue clicks). The film’s central scene plays like the extended stalking segment in In the City of Sylvia (2007), yet here the soundscape of the city is so two-dimensional, and the mapping of the trek so spatially matter-of-fact, that we have no investment in what we’re watching except on a plot point-by-plot point level. Imagine says something about the human desire to blend in with the world around us, but it’s a theme that is stated and never felt. Its imperative title, not the least bit concerned with Mr. Lennon or living life in peace, is picked from the candied rhetoric Ian uses to motivate his young students. “You can’t see it, but you can try to imagine it.” We’d love to.”
►The Secret Disco Revolution – Jamie Kastner
Disco happened and then ended.
►Children of Sarajevo – Aida Begic
From Cannes: “More heavy-handed miserablism hiding under a veil of exotic topicality. Pity porn with eye-roll-worthy ‘uplift.’ A step down from Snow.”
►Pieta – Kim Ki-duk
From Cinema Scope Online: “There’s something undeniably à propos about Kim Ki-duk shooting a significant portion of his Golden Lion-winning Pieta (let’s say, oh, about a quarter of it) on a camera that had a dead pixel in its sensor. Let’s entertain for a moment the possibility that he intentionally didn’t remove it, which would have been a fairly simple process with modern technology. Stuck in the lower-left quadrant of the frame lies a magenta smudge (the crisp dot likely blurred due to heavy compression), periodically stealing our gaze from the goings-on. Offering more of a respite than vexation, it watches us watch it watch us, and almost certainly stands as some kind of harbinger for the death of cinema; first Kim’s, then everyone else’s.
I’d love to go into Kim’s dramaturgical singularities, his editing rhythms, the synopsis, et al to set up a more all-encompassing idea of what Pieta does right and (more often) wrong, but the truth is I couldn’t stop staring at that fucking pixel—or at least the zone of the pixel in its absence, each cut promising its Christ-like re-emergence from the murk of his mise en scène—long enough to follow whatever the hell motivated this incest. It begs consideration with regards to how attuned Kim is to his aesthetics—a question on everyone’s mind since we were optically and aurally assaulted by last year’s Un Certain Regard-winning Arirang. Regarding this new aesthetic shift, he enters into dialogue with the school of pixel painters like T. Marie, whose images democratically designate pixels with individual value, thereby making them all important and idiosyncratic. Which is all to suggest that, in setting up a scenario that activates viewer-awareness of the apparatus as well as specific pixels in the frame, Kim might have made the most structural and materialist film of the year.”
►Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang – Laurent Cantet
Someone needs to be in charge of making sure that Laurent Cantet only makes movies in Europe. There isn’t a single recognizable trait in the film to suggest he made it instead of some random, for-hire Canadian hack.
►The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
Noxiously twee and cloying, like a Garden State for an even younger audience, yet still irritatingly moving in the end.
►Three Sisters – Wang Bing
It took me almost two hours to finally get on Bing’s wavelength, which meant I could stop peeling my skin off and kind of enjoy the last thirty minutes, in which the three young girls (who I only knew were girls because of the title) continue to live out their daily lives of rice-eating and hill-roaming.
►The Cremator – Peng Tao
I decided 45 minutes in, ‘Okay, I’m going to pay really close attention to this next scene to see if I can finally tell what these people are doing, and what they’re trying to communicate to each other, and why.’ Didn’t work. Something finally worth paying attention to showed up about twenty minutes later when the characters discuss a plot to marry their dead siblings’ ghosts to each other, but even that quickly fizzled.
►Pusher – Luis Prieto
Bad Guy Ritchie.
►Antiviral – Brandon Cronenberg
From Cannes: “A straight-to-video terrible horror film, yet sans any fun whatsoever (i.e. the only thing that this type of film is good for). And I do not get why a director would ever want to do the exact same thing his/her parent does. Brandon’s contribution to the apparently hereditary brand of body horror is clinicality, & that (+ general amateurishness) does not do well here.”
Tier 7 (C-)
►The End of Time – Peter Mettler
Would be better served by the title Intro to Time given it’s rudimentary and positively naive inquisition into the grand question of “What. Is. Time?” Since the theme is so large and broad, the film aspires to same, and therefore – more often than – focuses on subjects that really have little to do with Time (sidetracks include LSD, circles, the Hadron Collider, and a rave). The footage is TV grade polish and sparkle, ripe for an evening air on the Discovery HD channel (where many of Mettler’s films belong, to be honest); the exception, naturally, is a climactic descent into avant-garde trippiness, harkening back to 2001: A Space Odyssey to spark a most unflattering comparison of ambition vs. accomplishment. The film closes with a borderline non-sequitur in which Mettler’s mother, upon being asked ‘What time is it?”, says, “May 9, 2010, Mother’s Day in fact,” thus finally concluding the film’s endless sequence of epilogues.
►Lines of Wellington – Valeria Sarmiento
This is not a Raúl Ruiz film.
►Yellow – Nick Cassavetes
Television. This is what happens when you tell someone with no original ideas in their head, ‘Be creative.’ (I did love the opera ‘Fuck you!’ though)
►Hyde Park on Hudson – Roger Michell
Give Bill Murray the Oscar. Please.
►After the Battle – Yousry Nasrallah
From Cannes: “Nasrallah exposes how artificial and flaccid his vision of the revolution is when, towards the end, he flips quickly from an actual viral video of the riots to his fictional reenactment of the same event; one is enthralling, the other plastic. Also problematic is the construction of the universe as strictly ‘politically aware,’ meaning that politics are all anyone speaks about, anywhere, ever. In reality, even when we are in the throes of major events, we retain our abilities to be interested in, and have discussions about, other aspects of our lives that aren’t related to said major event.”
►Dangerous Liaisons – Hur Jin-ho
From Cannes: “More like Im’s The Housemaid remake than Wong’s In the Mood for Love, though it thinks it’s in line with the latter. I was in a stupor for pretty much the entirety.”
Tier 8 (D+)
►London — The Modern Babylon – Julien Temple
In the last century, things have happened in London, a city that exists. This film corroborates that fact.
►The Place Beyond the Pines – Derek Cianfrance
An epic disappointment. From the very first shot, it’s clear that Cianfrance is putting his film in conversation with the Dardennes brothers (who isn’t, this year?), mirroring the famous opening long take from Rosetta. The rest of the film, though, plays more in the territory of The Son than any of the French brothers’ other films, going through great strains to set up an operatic tragedy among fathers and sons. The film is filled with twists and turns (only the first hour is anything like what I had expected), but all of it feels off – false, even. Emory Cohen’s character (his Long Island accent, and overall persona) is but one example of someone who doesn’t make a lick of sense in the film’s universe other than as a plot device. Character’s behave irrationally (stupidly might be the best adjective) so that every dramatic conflict that arises (and there are many) elicits a face palm. I should add that the ultimate theme of the film is forgiveness, which is perhaps my favourite theme in all of cinema (the only one that can get me close to the point of tears, anyway), so the fact that Cianfrance fumbles his attempt at it in such a go-for-broke fashion likely has much to do with the immediate, vitriolic reaction I had.
►At Any Price – Ramin Bahrani
I think I’m underrating this ever-so-slightly, because for all of the inanity on display, it did start to work something on me towards the end. I doubt I’ll ever know for sure.
►Mekong Hotel – Apichatpong Weerasethakul
From Cannes: “As Arirang showed us all last year, there are some things that a director just doesn’t need the public to see. Not as grating as Kim’s film was, but this really does feel ‘casual’ as Apichatpong put it when he introduced the film, almost like a parody of his work.” [Giving this another chance when it’s released in Canada next year, since I’m beginning to sense that this is merely a forgettable film rather than an outright terrible one [*Edit on Oct. 12, 2012 - Saw it again at Views from the Avant-garde in New York, and nope, it's terrible]]
►Jump – Kieron J. Walsh
Too dumb for words.
►Kinshasa Kids – Marc-Henri Wajnberg
In its first ten minutes, the tired question ‘fact or fiction?’ arises when a mother from the highly impoverished city of Kinshasa argues with the cameraman, yelling “the white man is filming us!” she then proceeds to argue and scream as usual as if the camera weren’t present. Certain scenes feel more acted out than others, but the ambiguity becomes increasingly problematic as the stakes are raised for the eponymous children. How do you justify, for instance, a scene where a young girl is captured by a group of men and dragged away (presumably to be raped), and the ‘white filmmaker’ stands and films it happening without intervening? ‘Filmmakers’ Distance’ etc., sure, but if the best interests were truly in mind for these kids, Marc-Henri Wajnberg wouldn’t have laid back for the pitiful cut to the after-burn, a raped girl sitting, moping pensively by herself. Then there’s the music, which is supposedly the mode of escape for these kids, yet it gets edited over with showy cutting, such as a scene that remixes one of their jam sessions so that it transforms into a music video for Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’. Poverty porn only scratches the surface of the offenses on display here.
Tier 9 (D, D-, F)
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