My schedule is mostly finalized, with just a small number of gaps to fill in after the advanced order process. We ended up in Box 27, and the lottery pulled #9 of 39, so we were at least in the first half. Including the tickets ordered for Sakina, I think I ended up getting 40 of my 47 selections, so not too bad at all!
Here’s a rundown of my confirmed films, including some of the reasons that made them stand out for me. Sometimes it’s simply because a certain director or actor is involved, others because the summary sounds intriguing. I also try to cover a wide variety of genres and programmes, and also take some ‘chances’ on films without a whole lot to go on. I do try to limit the number of films that will be definitely be getting a wide release and will be easily accessible sometime after the Festival.
As in past years, it’s broken down by programme and I’ve marked my “must see” films with a *.
Usually a well-represented programme, last year was an oddity when none made my list. Because my first couple of years yielded some gems, I always pay particular attention to what’s available from first-time Canadian directors. Luckily, this looks to be a strong year and a few films have found their way onto my schedule (plus there was a tough omission because of scheduling conflicts; but that’s a topic for another post).
- Daydream Nation: stars Kat Dennings (Defendor, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, Charlie Bartlett) in a “striking and slyly funny” coming of age story.
- Jaloux: “In this psychological thriller that was improvised during its 16-day shoot, a couple trying to mend their relationship set off for a weekend in the country. When they encounter a friendly neighbour, they are too absorbed in their marital woes to see that he is not who he appears to be.”
- The High Cost of Living: stars Isabelle Blais (Borderline [TIFF08], Sur la trace d’Igor Rizzi [TIFF06], Saints-Martyrs-des-DamnÃ©s [TIFF05] — see a pattern here? Also The Barbarian Invasions and QuÃ©bec-MontrÃ©al) and Zach Braff (!), which is enough to sell me. Doesn’t hurt that the description sounds good, too: “Deborah Chowâ€™s dark drama centres on the burgeoning relationship between an unlikely pair. Nathalie is expecting her first child and Henry is on his way to his next drug deal. Their paths fatefully collide one night in an event that will irrevocably change their lives.”
Contemporary World Cinema
- Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame: “An exiled detective is recruited to solve a series of mysterious deaths that threaten to delay the inauguration of Empress Wu.”
- The Edge: this one from Russia just sounded too unique to pass up; “Fusing steampunk aesthetics with selective fragments of Russian history, director Alexey Uchitel hurls his new love-laced war epic straight into post-apocalyptic territory.”
- Womb: speaking of strange, Eva Green (Casino Royale) is a woman whose “consuming love forces her to bear the clone of her dead beloved”. Wha?!
Billed as a “showcase for innovate new filmmakers”, there’s usually a lot of good possibilities to choose from. That was true this year, but because of scheduling only two made it onto my list.
- Autumn: “A devastating glimpse into the war-torn wasteland of Kashmir.”
- Ceremony: Uma Thurman, Lee Pace (Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies); “Along with his unwitting best friend, a young guy looks to crash the wedding of an older woman with whom heâ€™s infatuated.”
- Black Swan*: yes, this will be released later in the year, but c’mon: directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler [TIFF08], Requiem for a Dream) and staring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel, this is not to be missed. And have you seen the trailer? What a perfect way to close my festival.
- Peep World: cast includes: Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Judy Greer; “Four siblings come to terms with the publication of a novel written by the youngest sibling that exposes the familyâ€™s most intimate secrets.”
- West is West: sequel to East is East; father forces youngest son to accompany him to Pakistan, his first trip back since he deserted his first wife and young family thirty years before. (aside: not that she’s in this one, but Archie Panjabi, who played the daughter in East is East, just picked up an Emmy for her role on The Good Wife. Congrats!)
“Films made by the most influential directors living today.”
- Nostalgia for the Light: documentary; “In Chile’s Atacama Desert, astronomers peer deep into the cosmos in search for answers concerning the origins of life. Nearby, a group of women sift through the sand searching for body parts of loved ones, dumped unceremoniously by Pinochet’s regime. Master filmmaker Patricio GuzmÃ¡n contemplates the paradox of their quests.”
“Dialogues with some of the most compelling figures of working in cinema today,” often their latest film followed by a discussion. I’ve never attended one of these in the past, but this year there are two that were of interest. Unfortunately, Steve Nash’s film about Terry Fox (Into the Wind) just couldn’t be fit into the schedule. But I’m greatly looking forward to:
- Waiting for “Superman”*: “From An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim comes Waiting for â€œSuperman,â€ a provocative and cogent examination of the crisis of public education in the United States told through multiple interlocking stories â€“ from a handful of students and their families whose futures hang in the balance, to the educators and reformers trying to find real and lasting solutions within a dysfunctional system. Guggenheim reveals the invisible forces that have held back true education reform for decades. Following the Mavericks screening, audiences will be treated to an on-stage panel discussion with Guggenheim, producer Lesley Chilcott, educator Geoffrey Canada, and philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.”
It’s tough on the body (I’m getting old!) staying up for the true midnight screenings, but the relative lack of other early morning films at this year’s festival means I can at least get a decent sleep before starting my next full day of films. Plus, there’s nothing like a MM audience; I have three titles lined up so far, and probably another one to come.
- Bunraku: Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Ron Perlman, Demi Moore. “In a world with no guns, a mysterious drifter, a young samurai and a bartender plot revenge against a ruthless leader and his army of thugs, headed by nine diverse and deadly assassins.”
- SUPER*: directed by James Gunn (Slither), with Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Nathan Fillion. With a cast like that, I seriously couldn’t have cared what the plot is about. It happily looks like a winner: “After his wife leaves him for a drug dealer, a frustrated husband decides he will win her back as Crimson Bolt, a costumed vigilante armed with a monkey wrench. His actions bring him an admirer, an overeager comic store clerk who wants to be his sidekick.”
- Vanishing on 7th Street: directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist); supernatural thriller starring Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo.
Real to Reel
Some of the best films I’ve seen in past years have been documentaries, so it was strange to have none last year. This time around there’s only one from the programme, although I do have a few more docs that are from other sections.
- Inside Job: a look into the machinations that caused the global financial crisis.
Short Cuts Canada
Ahh, short films … criminally under-appreciated. If I could, I’d see all six collections — the good far outweigh the bad, but there’s no avoiding the latter — but that would just eat into too many precious slots. I do make it a point of seeing a minimum of two, though. Below is a sampling of some of the titles being shown in the selected programmes:
- Short Cuts Canada Programme 1 (see the link, this whole programme looks great):
- Old Ways: “When a judge sentences a child to the death penalty, the court mitigates a public relations crisis with an elaborate and dubious scheme.”
- How to Rid your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You!*: ever since I stumbled across Nadia Litz in Love That Boy, I’ve been a fan. Her cred was also boosted by starring with Don McKellar and Tracy Wright in Monkey Warfare (TIFF06). This film is her directing debut.
- Short Cuts Canada Programme 6:
- 127 Hours: from directory Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting) and starring James Franco; based on the true story of a hiker trapped by a boulder.
- Blue Valentine: a love story with faves Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams is a film festival jackpot.
- Buried: Ryan Reynolds, a lighter, a BlackBerry … buried in a coffin. Yes, this will get a wide release soon, but it seems a good companion to 127 Hours; and the film and Reynolds have been receiving raves since its premiere at Sundance.
- Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)*: I technically don’t have a ticket for this yet but I’ll keep trying, even if it means the rush line. From the assistant director of Monsoon Wedding, and with Indian superstar Aamir Khan. “In the teeming metropolis of Mumbai, four people separated by class and language are drawn together in compelling relationships.”
- Easy A: OK, this is even more ridiculous, because the film will be hitting theaters everywhere the SAME DAY as my screening. But we had this slot open, so I thought why not — and early buzz has been really good. Stars Emma Stone (Zombieland, Superbad) and, well, you’ve probably already seen all the commercials and billboards.
- Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie: a description would be redundant. I figure it’s my Canadian duty to see this for all the good work Mr. Suzuki has done.
- Good Neighbours*: from the director of last year’s The Trotsky, which was great and also starred Jay Baruchel (dude seems to be everywhere this year).
- Heartbeats*: from Quebecois wunderkind Xavier Dolan. After taking Cannes by storm last year, word is that this is a very respectable follow-up – all the more impressive considering the pressure to live up to I Killed My Mother.
- Incendies*: directed by Denis Villeneuve (Polytechnique [TIFF09], which cleaned up during Canadian awards season). Hearing some great buzz already.
- Let Me In*: I’m usually wary of quick remakes of foreign hits, but Let the Right One In was a fantastic and touching horror film that deserved to be seen by more people, so I’m hopeful this version does it justice. It takes just the right child actors for the main roles, and looks like they’ve cast things perfectly: ChloÃ« Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, 500 Days of Summer) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road [TIFF09]).
- Miral: another one that I don’t have a ticket for yet, but I’ll almost certainly try the rush line if I need to. I saw Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly at TIFF07 and was hugely impressed — his directing style was very artistic, but was never distracting and always supported the story. So I’m eager to see what he does in this story set in Israel and Palestine over the course of 1948 to the mid-90s. It stars Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire; she certainly has screen presence (The Hollywood Reporter reviewer of this film calls her “distractingly attractive”; ha!), but I’m curious to see how she is in a more developed role like this.
- Never Let Me Go: I’d normally wait to see a film like this, which will get a wider release and isn’t *quite* high enough on my list of things to see. But it fits nicely into the schedule and having Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightly doesn’t hurt, either.
- Submarine: honestly, I was sold when I saw that it was directed by Richard Ayoade (Moss from the UK show The IT Crowd).
- That Girl in Yellow Boots: “A portrait of a biracial woman trying to find her place in Bombay, it is exactly the brand of urgent, passionate filmmaking that is transforming how we think about Indian cinema.”
- Trigger*: can’t miss Bruce McDonald at the festival (Pontypool [TIFF08], The Tracy Fragments [TIFF07]. What’s more, it has a great Canadian cast led by Tracy Wright (in sadly her final performance) and Molly Parker, with appearances by Don McKellar and Sarah Polley. This is the perfect choice to open up the new Bell Lightbox … too bad that’s a ‘premium’ screening not covered by my pass and I’ll have to see a later screening.
- What’s Wrong With Virginia: Jennifer Connelly stars as Virginia, a charming yet mentally ill mother whose greatest love is her protector and illegitimate son. Also stars Ed Harris.
I usually catch at least a couple from this programme, where “films defy convention; twisting genres, styles and narrative structures to tell fresh and provocative stories.”
- A Horrible Way to Die: “When a serial killer escapes from prison, he pursues his ex-girlfriend, who has fled to start a new life in a small town.”
- Confessions: ” A stylized mixture of cruelty and compassion, the film spins the dark tale of vengeance of a teacher whose little daughter has been killed by two of her students.”