If the world does indeed come to an end in a couple months–provided there isn’t a rapture between now and December, that is–at least the Toronto International Film Festival will have gone out on top. I’ve been going to TIFF for seven years, and this would hafta be the first time that I didn’t see one film I truly disliked. I sure know how to pick ‘em, I guess. That said, there were three other films on my hit list that completely sold out before I could get tickets through the much-improved online order system, so I’ll be marking at least a couple potential release dates on my calendar next year. (Note to self: Spring Breakers, the new Harmony Korine film with a buncha Disney princesses doing very unprincessly things, is set to open March 5th.) But of the seven movies I did see, here’s how I would rank them:
1. Disconnect (USA, directed by Henry Alex Rubin): Rubin was nominated for an Oscar in 2006–albeit in the documentary film category for Murderball. That said, I would not be surprised to see this one up for Best Picture in 2014, based on artistic merit, anyways. What 2006 Oscar-winner Crash did for racism, Disconnect does for the internet, and while some of the former’s scenes seemed a little over-dramatized (the burning car on the freeway, for instance), the latter feels very real. I overheard several people muttering about how they were going to go home and change their passwords as they dropped their tickets in the People’s Choice ballot box. Disconnect may lack the starpower of People’s Choice winner Silver Linings Playbook (starring a certain Mr. De Niro), but the ensemble cast does an excellent job here. It likely won’t be a blockbuster, but I’d definitely suggest you see this movie.
2. West of Memphis (USA, directed by Amy Berg): Speaking of blockbusters, this one is set to hit theatres on Christmas Day. But while people paid 40 bucks a pop to catch a glimpse of Johnny Depp, he only appears on screen for about a minute in this extensive documentary about the ongoing West Memphis Three murder case. Berg, herself an Oscar-nominated documentarian (Deliver Us from Evil, 2007), followed the case for several years, capturing footage from outside the courtroom when the wrongfully-accused were set free–along with the three men’s separate reunions with their loved ones. It’s pretty powerful stuff. Alas, as the Three copped an Alford plea, they’re still considered guilty by the state of Arkansas, and the fight for a full exoneration continues. Depp was just doing his part to help the cause by drawing so many people to this screening.
3. Liverpool (Canada, directed by Manon Briand): This is one you won’t get to see in theatres–even if you live in Quebec, where its theatrical run is probably over, having been released August 3rd. Though the Quebec press seemed pretty lukewarm on Liverpool, it received generally positive feedback from regular folks, and I’d have to side with them. The story seems a little far-fetched at times, but it’s certainly an original tale blending romance and action with some charming young stars like the très cute Stéphanie Lapointe. Overall, it’s an original take on an epic crime story, much like personal favourite Bon Cop, Bad Cop–though it doesn’t really have much in common with said film, aside from a slight scent of Canadiana. On that note, I’ll definitely hafta rewatch Bon Cop a couple times over the NHL lockout, rewinding that scene where they lock Commissioner “Harry Buttman” in the trunk of a car a few times, at least…
4. 9.79* (UK, directed by Daniel Gordon): For a film loaded with Canadiana, look no further than this doc. While directed by a Brit, the latest installment in ESPN’s 30 at 30 series focuses on one of our countries greatest athletic achievements–albeit one that’s forever tainted. Usain Bolt may have shaved two-tenths of a second off Ben Johnson’s time at the ’88 Olympics, but Johnson was still incredibly fast. Of course, he was also on drugs–but so were most of his competition. While catching up with Johnson and all the other finalists from that race in Seoul, the film also sheds a new light on Golden Boy Carl Lewis, and it’s perhaps here that this doc benefits from a British–or at least, non-American–perspective. If you walk away from 9.79* believing that Lewis never used PEDs, well, chances are you probably believe there were WMDs in Iraq, too.
5. Underground (Australia, directed by Robert Connolly): Albeit not a straight-up documentary film, Underground is certainly based on real-life events. Following WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from his years as a teenage hacker up to his arrest by Australian police, the film seems to romanticize the actions of Assange while poking fun at the bumbling cops who tried to keep up with him. It’s hard to believe now, but back in 1989 there were plenty of grown men who had never seen a computer before, whereas the 17-year-old hacker was already uncovering U.S. military targets through a dial-up modem. On the other hand, it doesn’t paint Assange as a very good teenaged father; he knocked up his girlfriend (apparently on their first roll in the hay), and clearly put family second to being a shit-disturber. Yeah, I suppose that doesn’t surprise me…
6. A Liar’s Autobiography — The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (UK, directed by Ben Timlett, Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson): This film being so low on my list shows that it was a bit of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, the animation was awfully impressive, as they employed a dozen different studios and about as many different styles–albeit without making full use of the 3D technology. (Neither do most 3D movies, mind you.) However, the pervasive emotion here was sadness, not silliness, despite a few bursts of cheeky Python humour here and there. Not only was this film a bit of a drag, it also seemed to drag on a bit, and I was starting to lose interest by the end of it. Although it’s an ambitious effort to capture Chapman’s mockubiography on film, I think this might be another case where the book is better than the movie.
7. Wasteland (UK, directed by Roman Athale): Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a terrible film by any stretch–though it was hardly a ground-breaking cinematic effort, either. Festival curator Cameron Bailey might have oversold it a bit as Ocean’s Eleven meets The Usual Suspects, though. To me, it was more of a low-budget, less-action Guy Ritchie-type film; a less bloody Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels meets a less ambitious RocknRolla. (For what it’s worth, I actually saw the latter at TIFF ’08, and didn’t find it particularly memorable.) Though the young cast tackles the dark subject matter admirably–and, I gotta say, love interest Vanessa Kirby is a total knockout–the storyline seemed vaguely familiar, and I was able to foresee the dramatic twist a few minutes before it unfolded. Not a bad directorial debut, but I’m not sure Athale is the next Guy Ritchie, either.
And there you have it, folks. I’m already looking forward to TIFF 2013, as long as we’re not all underwater by then.