March 17 – Film Sunday – 1990 TIFF Program

March 17 - Film Sunday

Today I’m giving away the 1990 program from The Festival of Festivals (TIFF).  Another good year, although, I have to admit that my memory is not as strong as later years.  Funny, what I do remember is less the movie itself, more how I reacted to it.  That old adage, people don’t remember what you said, they remember how you made them feel, is true here.

So, here are my pics…

Cyrano de Bergerac – Not the Steve Martin version, the beautiful french film with Gerard Depardieu (before he lost the plot).  The director introduced the movie and told us that the subtitles had been written by Anthony Burgess. It would have been an incredibly difficult thing to do because the original dialogue was all in verse.  I remember being frustrated that my French wasn’t good enough to understand the original, but I loved the movie anyway, and thought he did an amazing job.  GD won best actor at Cannes for it.

Trust – The second installment in my devotion to Hal Hartley – I don’t have the program for 1989, my discovery year with The Unbelievable Truth, so I will fawn here.  He is a real festival circuit, indie kind of film maker.  His movies are low budget, intimate and specific.  He develops layered characters who communicate in deadpan, staccato and odd dialogue that can only come from one of his movies.  His earlier films had more conventional narratives, and Trust is in that camp.  He casts great combinations of people too.  Trust featured Adrienne Shelly, Martin Donovan, and Edie Falco – that’s a typical representation of a Hartley ensemble.  Every TIFF year, I look for something from him.  I know a lot of people who feel the same.

Metropolitan – Another great indie director, Whit Stillman.  This was his first feature.  More deadpan, funny, story telling from a really unique voice.  He later directed The Last Days of Disco and Barcelona, also favourites for me.  This is a movie about the people you thought you wanted to be until you were old enough to know better.

Eight Taels of Gold – I picked this one mainly because I love Sylvia Chang, a fantastic Taiwanese actress, director and writer.  She was in a number of movies in the festival that year, but I chose to see this one.  I remember being struck by her, and by another story of China trying to reconcile its traditions with its future.

And my favourites (a tie)

The Grifters – This might be a top 10 movie for me.  I loved everything about it, the story was gutting, Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening, and John Cusack gave the best performances of their lives, and Stephen Frears made it flawlessly.  This is about as good as it gets.

An Angle At My Table – Directed by Jane Campion, this is the story of Janet Frame, an Australian writer and the most unusual, quirky, confounding and human character.  This was the first time I saw Kerry Fox, who played the lead.  She went on to star in Shallow Grave among other things, Danny Boyle’s first and awesome movie.  She does a lot of Australian TV now so we don’t see much of her anymore, too bad.  Jane Campion went on to direct The Piano and later, Bright Star.  Two more favourites.

To have two movies of this caliber in the festival was what struck me looking back.  I was really wowed by both of them.

March 8 – Film Friday – TIFF Programme 2006

Film Friday March 8

Today I’m giving away the 2006 TIFF Programme.  Another excellent year for the festival and a couple of great discoveries for me.  I have a slightly longer list than previous years because it was so good.

Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing – directed by Barbara Kopple who already had a big name in documentaries.  She was at the screening and did one of the best, most enthusiastic Q&A’s I’ve ever attended.  She told us that when they  started this project they thought they were going to make a movie about the Dixie Chicks’ worldwide tour, to show an insider’s view of the machinery that makes a huge star juggernaut act happen. Then, on the first or second night of the tour, Natalie Maines said to a UK audience they were ashamed that George W. Bush came from Texas.  Their world exploded and the movie follows them over the next 12 months through all of the protests, and the making of their follow up album.  I loved the music, but even if you can’t get into it, it’s a great movie and an amazing story about the right wing machinery that makes a different kind of juggernaut act happen.

After the Wedding – This was the film and the year that Mads Mikkelsen entered my life.  It’s a great movie in any case but, if you have only ever seen Mads as the poker player who sheds blood tears in Casino Royale, you have no idea what this man can do.  Denmark has an amazing film community, they are at least half of the guys who gave us Dogma, but more importantly they gave us Mads.  See anything he is in, especially in Danish.  He will grip you from the first frame to the last.  FYI – especially true of this year’s The Hunt

Fay Grim – Another instalment in my fangirl appreciation of writer and director Hal Hartley.  I think Jeff Goldblum was miscast, he’s acts too big, but Parker Posey carries the movie.  She’s the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

The Postmodern Life of My Aunt - This was a winding story about a woman of a certain age trying to live in and embrace the new China but she gets duped and swindled and ends up back in her old impoverished and small life.  At the time I thought it was too long and her naive decisions frustrated me, but it was a haunting story and a really moving performance.  It stayed with me and became a parable for the transformation that is happening in that country.  It also stars Chow Yun-fat in a great turn as a sneaky Lothario.

The Last King of Scotland – directed by Kevin Macdonald.  Yowsa, that scene in the airport towards the end of the movie is still vivid in my memory after 6 years.  What a cast, Forest Whitaker was Idi Amin and won the Oscar, but it also included James McAvoy, Kerry Washington and Gillian Anderson.  BTW – Kevin Macdonald also directed one of my favourite docs, Touching the Void – it  will keep you on the edge of your seat too.

Pan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo del Toro had already made a few really good movies but this was my introduction to him.   He’s done a lot of weird stuff since (Hellboy II and The Incredible Hulk TV show??) so I don’t know, maybe this was his peak for me.  I thought the mysterious and dangerous world he created underground and the pressing, claustrophic sense of personal threat above ground were incredible.  The movie made me squirm and I loved it.  I also gave big trees a wide berth for a while afterwards.

Jindabyne – This story killed me.  It’s about a bunch of guys in Australia who go on a fishing trip.  As they head up river on their first day, they discover a corpse but make a decision to leave it agreeing to deal with it on the way back.  The corpse, however, is a young, naked, aboriginal woman.  The way the movie handles the fallout and aftermath got a little melodramatic in parts but the rest of it was fantastic. Gabriel Byrne is amazing and the story itself is confounding and will stay with you.

Red Road – To be honest, I saw this movie in London a few weeks after the festival but it was so great, I want to include it.  It was written and directed by Andrea Arnold who went on to make another amazing movie Fishtank, a few years later (she also directed Wuthering Heights but I didn’t see it).  This woman tells really tough stories and has written some of the most complicated and interesting female characters of the last several years.  I don’t want to tell you anything about the story of Red Road because I don’t want to give anything away, but see it if you get a chance, it’s gritty, emotional and surprising.  So is Fishtank.  See either.

And my favourite…

The Lives of Others – Also one of the best Q&A’s I’ve ever attended.  It was a first feature written and directed by Florian Heckel von Donnersmarck (!), and told a gripping, edge of your seat, crackling story. We follow a Stasi agent who, for personal reasons, targets a young attractive couple in the arts, bugs their home, infiltrates their lives and starts listening in to everything.  It’s a thriller, an intimate and complex character study, an examination of loyalty, and a frightening look inside the operations of East German intelligence gathering in the early ’80s.  The lead actor, Ulrich Muhe, was a famous actor in Germany with some influence and was very instrumental in getting the film financed. It turns out that he had been the subject of some harrowing Stasi investigations himself years earlier so he wanted the story told.  It ended up winning the best Foreign Language Oscar. If it had been made in English it would have been a top grosser that year.  See it.  It’s a great movie.

March 1 – Film Friday TIFF Programme 1992

Today I’m giving away the 1992 Program Guide for the Toronto International Film Festival of Festivals (that’s what it was called then).

It was an incredible year.  So many great discoveries for me.  I can’t actually include all the movies that stand out in my mind and I still remember vividly.  The ones that I think would stand up 20 years later or who’s participants have gone on to do interesting things

Bob Roberts The satirical political semi-musical engaging story that was Tim Robbins directing debut.  He also wrote the script.  He’s not prolific but I think he was a good director.  He’s been directing TV for the last ten years.  This was a funny movie, and he got all his big actor friends to play walk-on roles which was a fun part of watching the movie.

Glengarry Glen Ross What a wicked good cast.  My clearest memory is of Alec Baldwin eviscerating Jack Lemon.  I know everyone else was terrific, but that’s what has stuck with me.

The Crying Game This was a huge discovery for me and everyone else.  In those days, you didn’t have to choose your movies in advance, you’d just listen to the chatter and pick up the buzz movies in the lineups.  You’d keep changing your schedule to accommodate the movies you were hearing about.  By the end of the week my calendar looked like a pen had exploded on it.  That year, all anyone talked about was The Crying Game.  Amazingly, no one gave away the ending.  I loved that old festival-going community, they would never allow spoilers.

Strictly Ballroom We all found out what a whacky exaggerated sense of style, affection, and environment Baz Luhrmann brings to his story telling.  He just kept getting better (well, until Australia, what??).

Les Amants du Pont-Neuf An incredibly difficult story about young drifters who fall in love and live on the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris.  It was the first time I saw Juliette Binoche in a movie and I’ve tried to see most of what she’s done since.  Paris is beautiful in this movie, especially that old bridge, and I think of that story whenever I’m lucky enough to be there.

Reservoir Dogs  I didn’t see this in the festival but I’d be leaving a gaping hole if I didn’t mention it for 1992.  Every guy I know with even has a passing interest in film has this movie on their top ten list.  Sorry, it’s not on mine but I’ve loved other things that Tarantino has done.

Simple Men I may be Toronto’s biggest Hal Hartley fan.  Every year, the first thing I do when I get the program is look up the director index to see if Hal is there (I call him Hal, we’ve never met). His first movie, The Unbelievable Truth, bowled me over.  I loved his second movie Trust.  Simple Men was his third and I loved it too.  Sadly, he hasn’t had a film in the festival for a long time.  He is a bit twisted and about as dry and deadpan as it’s possible to be, I love his dialogue.  Also, he casts incredibly good looking guys in his movies.

And my favourite

Orlando This was like 4 movies in an hour and a half with the chameleon Tilda Swinton playing a soul who is reincarnated through the ages, changing gender, gaining and losing love, moving through war, royal houses, and across continents.  The program said it was based on Virginia Wolf’s novel of the same name but I haven’t read it.  When I look back now, it was a precursor to Cloud Atlas.  Though, less makeup and a quieter approach made this epic story feel much more intimate.  Sally Potter directed it and Billy Zane was beautiful (making him likeable again after the frightening creepfest Dead Calm) but for me, the big aha was Swinton.



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