If you’re an independent film maker, a film lover, or just a novice, The “Toronto International Film Festival” (TIFF) should strike you as a place you want to be at the close of your summer vacation. It’s broad selection of new films and beautiful landscape is second to none. And on top of that, it a quality film festival. In fact, it has become widely recognized as the most important film festival after Cannes. No doubt this year was no exception as TIFF lived up to expectations. What it lacks in yachts and beaches, it makes up for in a wide selection of quality cinema. This year TIFF has featured some big budget debuts, a plethora of literary adaptations and some standout performances that are sure to create a stir come awards season.
The hotly anticipated “Cloud Atlas” and “Anna Karenina” premiered at Toronto, both adaptations of critically acclaimed novels. They weren’t the only ones, with Mike Newell’s “Great Expectations” and the first cinematic takes on “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Midnight’s Children” were also featured.
The latest adaptation of “Great Expectations” arrived amidst a general chorus of “what, another one?” Even so, “The Independent” claimed that it is “a surprisingly worthwhile addition to the Dickens celebrations and one that lives up to expectations.” Most of this success is attributed to the casting of Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham, “the winning move of this adaptation.” Whilst it may not be ground breaking fare, “The Hollywood Reporter” observed that it is “an assured version, no less entertaining for being quite conventional.” Critics were less favorable towards the long awaited adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning “Midnight’s Children,” scripted and narrated by the author himself. “The Telegraph” called it a “sumptuously-illustrated Cliffs Notes rather than fluid cinema” and “The Independent” bemoaned its lack of depth, declaring it “never complex enough to work as an allegory of the complex relationship between India and Pakistan.” There is little to complain about in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” but most critics agree that it is categorically teen fare: “The Guardian” calls it “a whooping, leaping carnival of shouting about your difference in the faces of all those jocks and squares who never even heard of Sonic Youth.”
Ben Affleck’s “Argo” and J.A Bayona’s “The Impossible” both tackle incredible true stories; one pretty much forgotten and one that is set amidst the very much remembered 2004 “Boxing Day” tsunami. “Argo” tells the true, and now declassified story, of the CIA’s rescue of six Americans from revolutionary Iran in 1979. They did so by posing as a Canadian film crew, making a fake film called “Argo.” Affleck stars and takes the directorial helm for his third feature, responses have been resoundingly good. “The Telegraph” called it “gripping, urgent, funny and weighty” and noted the Oscar worthiness of the script by Chris Terrio. Similarly, “The Independent” observed that “Affleck deserves all the plaudits he will get for his work on both sides of the camera.”
“The Impossible” tells the true story of one family’s fight for survival in the aftermath of the tragic 2004 tsunami. “Variety” called it “a tremendous feat of physical filmmaking” that “captures the devastation wrought by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami with a raw, sickening intensity.” The central performances, by Naomi Watts, Ewan McGreggor and newcomer Tom Harding, have been much praised. “The Guardian” notes that McGregor “gives one of his best performances as the sad and desperate Henry, trying to play the hero, the provider, while knowing his cause is almost certainly lost.”
“Seven Psychopaths,” Martin McDonagh’s second film after his stirring debut In “Bruges,” premiered at Toronto this week. Also starring Colin Farrell, it tells the tale of a wacky band of misfits who end up the target of a fearsome mob boss, after dog-napping his beloved Shih Tzu. “The Guardian” called it “witty and inventive, cracklingly obscene and sheep-dunk bracing”, whilst not quite cohering. “The Hollywood “Reporter” also noted it “isn’t about much beyond its larkish spirit” but calls it “terrifically entertaining” and praises its “witty pitch-black absurdism”
“What Maisie Knew,” starring Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan, rewrites Henry James’ 1897 novel in a modern setting, telling the story of a girl trapped between equally unfit divorced parents. Critics have been unanimous in their praise of acting revelation Onata Aprile, who plays the six-year old Maisie. “Variety” calls hers “a piercing turn” in “a beautifully observed drama.”
Then there was “Something in the Air,” which is written and directed by Olivier Assaya who, by the way, this weekend, also happened to win the Venice Film Festival award for Best Screenplay.
Described as “highly autobiographical,” “Something in the Air” revisits the political-social-sexual climate surrounding a group of young art students in 1971’s suburban Paris. It’s a metaphoric mixture of the coming-of-age stories of youth as well as of a youthful country.
Sion Sono’s “The Land of Hope” addresses the Japanese government’s reluctance to fully inform its citizens about an earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster.
Much more forcefully, Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta portrays the extreme cruelty of a South Korean debt-collector, while Dibakar Banerjee’s “Shanghai” exposes crimes committed in the name of progress for a growing city in India.
In Rain Johnson’s “Looper,” the mob travels through time to “take care of” unfortunate members of (a future) society.
But this universal “discontent,” if you will, is actually the tension that great movies are made of; it is the single element that exists in all stories – no matter their country of origin – that keep us on the edge of our seats and, when done really well, keep our hearts pounding while our eyes remain glued to the screen.
Overall the Toronto Independent Film Festival was quite satisfying, whether it makes you laugh uncontrollably – like “Seven Psychopaths” (starring no less than Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, and Christopher Walken), or brings tears to your eyes right down to your cheeks – like “Frances Ha” by writer-direct Naoh Baumbach (writer-director of The Squid and the Wale, and co-writer with Wes Anderson of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”) – or makes you want to jump right out of your skin (Midnight Madness anyone?), a great film engages you fully.
Who knows for sure if this was the greatest field of movies since the festival began in 1976. This year’s movies were perhaps too many to see them every one of them. After all, there were well over 350 screenings at the TIFF and, odds are, there were perhaps bound to be some less-than-pleasant-viewings.
Nevertheless, given the quality of productions put on display, the “Toronto International Film Festival” not only lived up to expectations, it remained one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.