TIFF 2012 Wrap-Up, or: how I learned to stop worrying and just use basic blog entry titles

Where to begin but with this cliché? There is so much to cover from just a week's worth of travel, mirth and moviegoing at what was my first major film festival, and despite a loose goal of keeping things brief, my tendency for long-windedness is sure to see me getting to most of it. Or! What if I resort to list formatting...

too long; don't want to read: just take me to the reviews, thanks.

What I Learned at TIFF

  • Filmmakers are real people! Well, duh. But really, when it comes to the more recognizable names, having the directors and stars present for introductions and post-show Q&As really enhances one's perception of the work at hand - after writing about them as mere names with filmographies attached for so long, they become tangible entities, bringing a whole new view to their process. It's a simple concept that perhaps some find themselves beyond from the start, but it without a doubt impacted me. Plus, hmm, I have a curiosity about what I just saw... oh, there's the guy who made it, I think I'll just ask him. "Mr. De Palma, I was wondering..."
  • 'Rushing' is really easy! I locked down ten shows during my pre-ordered, randomly-assigned ticketing window, but probably only attended half of them. Certain sold-out shows proved worth standing in line for despite my holding for a concurrent show. In many cases this practice saw me simply attending world (or at least continental) premieres as opposed to my booked encores, then hawking the encore tickets at the next day's rush line before heading to see something different. Thanks to some sheer luck and a little determination, I came close to breaking even. I will keep rushing close in mind when booking in the future.
  • Sitting close to the screen is perfectly acceptable, and in some cases preferable. I'm a stickler for dead center, but sometimes at the end of a rush line you have to take what you can get. Myself and a friend were literally the last two allowed in to "The Place Beyond the Pines" so we sat back row balcony, all the way to the right, and it was great (similar story for "To the Wonder"). When I could, though, I'd enjoy sitting much closer than is typically comfortable, because it meant I'd be closer to the filmmakers during intro and Q&A. Either way, unless you're in the Lightbox or perhaps another theater I didn't have the pleasure of experiencing, you're damn lucky to find a comfortable seat. These mostly lovely venues boast high seat counts, but it's clear they achieved such counts by cramming seats as close to one another as possible. Leg room is nonexistent.
  • Even traveling half a globe to a place temporarily dedicated to showcasing great artist's newest works, one simply cannot escape poor audience behavior. Dare I say the amount of loud speaking and barnyard-appropriate popcorn chomping was even worse than I've grown unfortunately accustomed to.
  • Saturday nights in downtown Toronto are like a gay version of "Eyes Wide Shut". I half-expected a harrier Leelee Sobieski to beckon me in to a costume shop on the way back to my hotel. Note to self: walk past more costume shops.
  • Know-it-alls are everywhere. Stereotypical festival types, I guess. Hell, for all I know I'm one of them.
  • Actually having an agenda in an unfamiliar city causes you to hemorrhage money. Every time I've been to a city before, I may have had a few relaxed objectives but I mostly just like to wander about, taking in the aura of the architecture around me. In Boston I love to ride the T until I don't feel like riding it anymore, then getting off wherever it may be to semi-aimlessly find my way back. There is, however, no down time during TIFF. Sure, this meant I barely had time to eat and that sure shootin' cut down on my food bill (diet for the week: gorge on hotel breakfast croissants mid-morning, eat shawarma and coffee mid-afternoon, maybe a beer at night) but even trying to walk everywhere couldn't save my cash. Advice for next time: learn the convenient subway system.
  • Speaking of cash, ha! Canadian money, until I quickly realized how much of it was leaving my wallet, made little ol' American me feel like I wasn't actually spending anything at all. "Oh, you want this unfamiliarly textured and somewhat shiny piece of purple paper with hockey players drawn on it? Be my guest, cab driver."
  • WiFi ain't easy to come by. Slow connections in coffee joints (no patronage required, but I'd've felt awkward otherwise...), slightly better connection in one of the more distant film venues (the TIFF Bell Lightbox itself), and best connection all the way back at the hotel. We'd often cruise back to our hotel lobby to catch up on things and get to writing, but every time realized not long after, "Crap, we'd better go stand in line for our next film!" Eventually most of the writing got done in line, with the uploading occurring, well, whenever we could manage.
  • Canadians en masse really are disarmingly friendly, but don't think they say "ou" any different than Americans do. "It's more of a Newfie dialect." Right, right, of course it is...
  • The solicitation laws must be way lax compared to the States, even for metropolitan areas. Every two seconds I'd have someone asking for money, whether they be clearly destitute or clean-shaven and wearing a Ralph Lauren polo. The demonstrators don't hold back, either - it was practically cartoonish to see some of the protests and religious zealotry.
  • Stag shops and strip joints are on every other block, and they don't hold back their advertising. Not a block away from Yonge-Dundas Square (what everyone calls "The Times Square of Toronto") is perhaps the largest stag shop in town with a big poster of a girl holding a curved vibrator designed to stimulate multiple zones while concealed. Maybe some of the people I passed were in fact concealing, having been compelled by that poster. Maybe others were enjoying the "back-to-school" lap dance specials at the club that loudly exclaimed with its sign, "Always hiring naked men!"
  • With the exception of coffee shops and convenience stores, everything is so niche it can be difficult to find basic foods or gifts. This is how I wound up eating shawarma and bringing home Hello Kitty chopsticks to my daughter. I mean, there's an entire store that's just throw pillows.

...Okay, so list format didn't shut me up much but it did alleviate the need for most structure and segue woes. On to the films. First is a list of the main titles I was most interested in seeing at TIFF, in descending order of interest (note: stress on "at TIFF" - some titles, like "Argo" and "Looper", were easily passed up as for reasons hopefully obvious by now they'd seem like wastes of time to go out of the way for during such an event). To say the least, it would be a promising festival no matter which selection from the following I'd've ended up with. Asterisks denote films I managed to pre-book tickets for, several of which were ultimately "swapped" - encores for premieres, or lower priorities for a chance at rushing sold-out shows (IE "Dredd" for "The Place Beyond the Pines").

  • The Fifth Season (Brosens, Woodworth)
  • The Master (P.T. Anderson)
  • To the Wonder (Malick) *Encore
  • The Lords of Salem (Zombie) *Midnight Madness/World Premiere
  • The Place Beyond the Pines (Cianfrance)
  • Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas)
  • Spring Breakers (Korine) *Encore
  • Seven Psychopaths (McDonagh)
  • Mekong Hotel (Weerasethakul)
  • Aprés Mai (Assayas) *North American Premiere
  • Passion (De Palma) *North American Premiere
  • Frances Ha (Baumbach) *World Premiere
  • Krivina (Drljača)
  • Cloud Atlas (Wachowski, Wachowski, Tykwer)
  • Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami) *North American Premiere
  • Antiviral (B. Cronenberg) *World Premiere
  • No (Larraín)
  • The Iceman (Vroman)
  • The Company You Keep (Redford)
  • Byzantium (Jordan) *Encore
  • The Paperboy (Daniels)
  • Anna Karenina (Wright)
  • Dredd (Travis) *Encore
  • End of Watch (Ayer)
  • Aftershock (López)
  • Everybody Has A Plan (Piterbarg)
  • Disconnect (Rubin)
  • The Sessions (Lewin)
  • On the Road (Salles)

Next up is a list of the 15 I managed to see, in descending order of preference (with blurbs and links to Sound on Sight reviews where applicable). Some List 1 films were just too inconveniently scheduled to work. The gentlemen I spent most my time with assuredly tired of my constant declarations of, "I can't believe the Brosens, the Reygadas and the Joe are showing after I leave!!" I would have tried to rush "The Master" or "Seven Psychopaths" (the encores of which took place simultaneously), but that was but my second day of the fest, and I hardly knew what I was doing yet. I figured there'd be no chance of getting in to either film, and rationalized with the knowledge that each would be readily available in theaters nationwide in several weeks anyway. I blab too much. Onward!

Thanks for Sharing (Blumberg; Encore)
[Thanks for Sharing] combines elements of artistically successful independent vision with more accessible production values and pacing to create a film conceivably for anyone and everyone. It is a new millennium Billy Wilder in the sense that it so effortlessly and captivatingly makes you laugh and cry – occasionally at the same time. Blumberg’s documented talent continues to rise as the man enlightens, entertains, and encourages us to realize and address our own addictions of any kind – how they affect our lives and the lives of those around us. Read the full review.

Passion (De Palma; North American Premiere)
The operatic Passion is pulpy perfection. By now Brian De Palma could probably sleepwalk his way through such material, but to his credit he appears to still be giving it his tireless all. Read the full review.

To the Wonder (Malick; North American Premiere)
To aptly respond when questioned on one’s response to To the Wonder is to first spend a brief eternity in silence, jaw agape in attempt to conjure wordless phrases. For better or for worse – perhaps for neither – the experience exists outside the fashions by which many of us perceive film, whether in more traditional senses or no. Read the full review.

Paradise: Love (Seidl; North American Premiere)
Though several shots throughout seem meticulously arranged – and all the more classically lovely for it – co-writer/director Ulrich Seidl’s often widely composed exhibition of his central tourist allows her longing for attention and more quietly developed hang-ups with body image to command the piece amongst complimentarily competing themes of objectification, cultural hierarchy and mutual exploitation. The carefully set-back camera watches mature lead actress Margarete Tiesel’s sexuality naturally blossom as her character allows the illusion of acceptance to lead her down a repetitious yet progressively dark path. Read the full review.

Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami; North American Premiere)
Essentially a companion piece to Certified Copy, this follow-up seems to play on notions possibly conceived by its educated audience though appearing almost bafflingly straight-forward. This mere observation only prefaces the technical prowess at hand, as with his latest film Kiarostami displays absolute mastery of composition and blocking. About the first half of the picture - presented in real time - is a crash course in cinematic storytelling genius.

Spring Breakers (Korine; Encore)
Though surprising in its sensibly high production value, Spring Breakers does fit well in Korine’s filmography of beautifully raw and enlighteningly disturbing observational pieces, even if it does rapidly grow more and more preposterous as its characters move from aspirations of assimilation to ones of new, if manipulated, individualism. Read the full review.

The Lords of Salem (Zombie; Midnight Madness World Premiere)
Reaching the ultra-obscure side of the spectrum to illustrate just how far out Zombie has gone here, the design and meticulously symmetrical tableau vivant composition at hand is structurally evocative of films such as Sergei Parajanov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (to name just one essential example). Considering this stylish choice’s brief appearance in Halloween 2, it seems safe to say this is a new trend for Zombie, and something we can fortunately anticipate in future works. Read the full review.

Krivina (Drljača, Encore)
As if Jon Jost visited Bosnia, Krivina itself is an inspired and sentimental road trip – a truly personal undertaking with a gentle narrative built around it, seamlessly integrating even a certain headline event from the time of the shooting. Read the full review.

The Place Beyond the Pines (Cianfrance, Encore)
Though it features a somewhat worrying build-up, there is much to be said for the classic excellence found in the first act of The Place Beyond the Pines, from riveting and original heist scenes and another stellar supporting turn from Ben Mendelsohn to startlingly abrupt violence and a generous moment of hilarity involving Bruce Springsteen and a dog. Cianfrance has vastly overreached, however, as in subsequent acts the picture slowly loses steam. The director's ambition is admirable, and the strength of act one carries the remainder of the piece, but Pines does not leave us with much more than a memory of how well it began.

Here Comes the Devil (Bogliano, Encore)
The piece thrives on Catholic fear, with recurring instances of immoral sexual awakening proving catalytic for many a demonic deed. Commencement of menstruation, non-consensual loss of virginity, homosexual experimentation and the recounting of early sexual encounters being used to arouse against one’s conscious will coincide with the unleashing of Santeria-like evils – evils only cracking the ice of this chilly rabbit hole. Read the full review.

Frances Ha (Baumbach, World Premiere)
An apparent passion project for Baumbach, the quaint Frances Ha has little to say for itself beyond homage to the French New Wave, but it is sufficiently amusing with at least one swoon-worthy sequence. It was odd to view this film in an auditorium filled with 1,200 laughing people, as I feel the proceedings would play more effectively on a home theater system with the benefit of silence awarded its plethora of purposefully awkward moments.

Aftershock (López, Midnight Madness World Premiere)
With few punches pulled and nearly every aspect accomplished through refreshingly practical effects, the film provides a 90-minute thrill party at efficiency rates. There is hardly a pinch of salt or slather of butter, but if it’s meat and potatoes you’re craving it’s tough to go wrong with this menu. Read the full review.

Byzantium (Jordan, World Premiere)
Despite occasionally interesting imagery, Jordan's return to vampires flounders beneath its utterly uninspired approach that heralds little narrative significance whatsoever. Solid performances, though, including the first I've seen from Arterton that I can positively critique and an appropriately ethereal showing from Ronan.

Aprés Mai (Assayas, North American Premiere)
We have seen this all before. At times the piece feels as though a pale copy of past work geared solely to grant the filmmaker opportunity to revisit scenes for merely slight reinterpretation, or to at times hubristically communicate with them. The gorgeously exemplary Summer Hours house party, for example, is practically transplanted here with only a differing conclusion and downgraded visuals to set it apart. Read the full review.

Everybody Has A Plan (Piterbarg, World Premiere)
Default optimism indicates there may be brighter, more stylistically assured horizons ahead for Piterbarg, but this wholly unremarkable and thoroughly disengaging reversal of Mortensen’s arc in A History of Violence does not travel far in the way of inspiring such hope. Read the full review.

For further thoughts on the bests, worsts and pieces of interest at TIFF 2012, check out the Sound on Sight staff wrap-up.

For more pictures from TIFF 2012, visit my Facebook album.