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Donovan's Toronto Film Fest 2001 Report

Submitted by ryandonovan at 2001-10-23 23:14:41 EDT
Rating: -0.4 on 7 ratings (7 reviews) (Review this item) (V)


There I was. Stranded in Canada. A foreign land. A strange land. Trapped with nothing but the shirt on my back, the rest of the shirts in my suitcase, some other clothes in my suitcase, plenty of money, and more food than I could eat. But trapped nonetheless, forced to roam the streets of Toronto, from theater to theater, watching movies incessantly. It was like something out of ‘Brokedown Palace’. Except I was in the downtown Hilton, not a Taiwanese prison.

Okay, so Toronto isn’t the worst place in the world to get stuck, especially during the world-class Toronto International Film Festival (Sept 6 – 16, 2001). Due to the devastating events in the United States, I was unable to return home, and had stay in Toronto and – the horror! – watch more movies. This year’s festival was dampened by the terrorist attacks, but after only a brief delay, the festival continued. Even in a sub-par year, it’s still the best fest for the common movie-goer, like myself. It offers a big city, a huge number and wide variety of films, and accessibility to everything from red carpet Galas to bargain-basement foreign-language Discoveries. The Unsanctioned Preamble To The Unofficial Beginning Of Oscar Season, Toronto unveils many films hoping to get noticed by the Academy (last year’s nominees included Toronto alumni ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, ‘Almost Famous’, ‘Billy Elliot’, ‘You Can Count On Me’, and ‘Pollock’, to name a few). It’s also a chance to claim that you found the Next Big Movie long before anyone else did (of course, I’ve been taking credit for having discovered ‘Memento’ for a year now). And it’s an opportunity to gape at movie stars and then pretend not to be impressed (I was officially “not impressed” with William H. Macy, Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley, Debra Winger, Morris Chestnut, David Paymer, Arliss Howard, and Meat Loaf – yes, Meat Loaf).

Sadly, the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington shook the whole world, including the Toronto Film Festival. I got the news after seeing the film ‘From Hell’ (the title seemed disturbingly appropriate for the situation). The festival was temporarily cancelled. When the festival resumed the next day, it was only a skeleton of itself. Many films were cancelled, primarily because the film prints couldn’t physically get to Toronto. Celebrity appearances, red-carpet extravaganzas, premiere parties, award ceremonies, and Question & Answer sessions were cancelled. To their credit, most Canadians whole-heartedly supported Americans in the ordeal (keep in mind, we’re talking about Canada, where the phrase “degenerates south of the border” refers to Americans). Canadians and Americans hadn’t been so united in horror since the theatrical release of ‘Dudley Do-Right’.

Unfortunately, not all Torontonians were so sympathetic. While waiting for a film to begin, I overheard an elder Canadian couple discussing how the U.S. had it coming, and that Americans should learn a lesson from the attack. A university publication opined that the punishment of America was appropriate. A young adult I spoke with “didn’t like the Twin Towers much anyway.” And in a display of Canuck bad taste worse than Alanis Morissette’s naked body in her ‘Thank You’ video, the local radio stations were playing ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ with audio bits of tragedy commentary and George W. Bush dialogue interspersed (a-la Bruce Springsteen’s gimmicky Jerry-Maguire-version of ‘Secret Garden’).

The other big news at the Film Festival was when Matthew McConaughey (at the showing of his film ‘Thirteen Conversations About One Thing’) reportedly saved a female’s life by giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. What the newspapers oddly left out was that the female was 14 years old, and that she was perfectly healthy before McConaughey began sucking on her lips. Ever the medic, Bongo Boy then proceeded to give a mammogram to a university co-ed, provided preventative hemorrhoidal care to a high school girl by giving her an anal examination with his tongue, came to the rescue of an elderly woman who was coughing by unzipping his pants and offering a “throat lozenge”, then finished rounds by prescribing to a group of pre-teenage girls “a little dose of Double A – Double V”. Surprisingly, I was not able to find “Double A – Double V” at the pharmacy or in any medical journals.

Amid the tumult, I would have to call the Festival (my third consecutive year attending) a success. Nothing blew me away like last year’s ‘Memento’, but the disparate ‘Manic’ and ‘Kissing Jessica Stein’ came closest. In all, I attended 20 films over 7 days, a celluloid smorgasbord, if you will. Even if you won’t, it was a lot of movie-watching, by any standard. For 16 hours a day, I was either watching a movie, waiting in line for a movie, walking to a theater for a movie, or eating “street meat” (I mean the Canadian version of “street meat” mind you, which is a hot dog from a street vendor; not the American version, which is a hot cock from a male prostitute). Needless to say, I was in heaven. So, here’s my take on all the films I saw, a list of the movies that I believe will be distributed to national audiences, lists of the best Toronto performances and top new talent, and a recap of the official prize winners. Why listen to me? Just check out my report from last year’s fest and gasp at how freaking RIGHT I was about everything.


MANIC – Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Don Cheadle, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Danschanel; Directed By: Jordan Melamed; Written By: Michael Bacall, Blayne Weaver
This incredible character study set in a hospital for troubled teens boasted some of the best youth portrayals on screen in recent memory. The high schoolers in ‘American Beauty’ (and all other young actors out there) would do well to take note. Great performances around the horn. I expected as much from Don Cheadle (one of the finest actors working today, hands down) as the emotionally-tortured counselor. But I was shocked by the brilliant performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose only other notable gig was playing fifth fiddle to French Stewart on ‘3rd Rock From The Sun’. ‘Manic’ had, dare I blaspheme, more intense and better characterization than the patriarch of all mental ward films, ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. It was superbly understated. Some important elements remained bottled, left up to the viewer to pick up and sort out, which worked in a powerful way. The less it spoke, the more it told. The film has a scheduled release date (January 18, 2002), but it likely will not get wide distribution, as it has no mass appeal. How do you pitch a story about a bunch of depressed and suicidal kids in a psych ward? I fear that it will be doomed to a life on the Independent Film Channel.

KISSING JESSICA STEIN – Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Jennifer Westfeldt, Heather Juergensen; Directed By: Charles Herman-Wurmfield; Written By: Heather Juergensen, Jennifer Westfeldt
Extremely funny and thoroughly enjoyable. This film was on par with ‘Manic’, but at the other pole. It tells the escapades of high-maintenance, conservative, unmarried, almost-thirty, fed-up-with-men, city gal Jessica Stein, who has her first lesbian relationship. It could have simply strung together cliché after cliché, but thankfully resisted the urge. I expected it to be cattily Sex-And-The-City-ish, but it was not, to my relief. Compared to the Sarah Jessica Parker weekly stay-at-home event for the I-keep-telling-myself-I-don’t-have-man-because-I-choose-not-to-have-a-man contingent, it was much less “hip” (thank christ), much more neurotic, much more endearing, and much more, well, lesbianic. Nor was it told from a ‘misunderstood niche’ indie-film point of view. The style and perspective were very 5th Avenue. The lead actress, Jennifer Westfeldt, was a fresh breath, but also had a comfortable, recognizable quality to her. She was 80% Lisa Kudrow, 15% Jennifer Aniston, and 5% Courtney Cox, but as a whole became her very own unique Friend. Heather Juergensen, who played the girlfriend, was equal parts Illeana Douglas, Janeane Garofalo, and Sasha Alexander. While this film was well-received, it will get art-house distribution at best, due to its not-even-vaguely-familiar cast (it is scheduled for a Spring 2002 release). The only downer during the movie was that it screened the day after the terrorist attacks, and there were many NYC skyline shots with the World Trade Center. In particular, a shot in the opening scene elicited uneasy groans from the crowd. Each shot was painful, but fortunately didn’t dampen the mood drastically; the sadness and discomfort gave way to laughter and comedy. Hopefully it was a sign of things to come.

THE BANK – Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, David Wenham, Sibylla Budd; Directed By: Robert Connolly; Written By: Robert Connolly
Of all the crime/thriller films I saw, this unknown from Australia was surprisingly tops. Already a big hit in the land where Olivia Newton-John still packs stadiums, this film follows mathematician David Wenham on his quest to accurately predict the stock market. On his journey, he goes to work for Anthony LaPaglia at an evil and powerful bank, and meets characters that are out to either befriend or betray him. One of these characters is, of course, a love interest, played by Sibylla Budd, a female version of Gabrielle Reese. LaPaglia sadly hasn’t become the star I thought he would. He has done some good rangy work, and he still has plenty of great stuff in him. But I fear he has missed his window to household-namedom. A master of accents, he is Australian, and this film was set in Melbourne, but LaPaglia oddly used an American accent (explained by writer-director Robert Connolly after the film – merely one of the reasons why Q&A sessions are so extraordinary). My only minor quibble was that the 3-D moving graphics and fractals were a bit too flowery to represent complex mathematics and chaos theory; however, they were necessary for the audience (also discussed at length, to my satisfaction, in the Q&A). Aside from the welcome presence of LaPaglia and the solid display from newcomer Wenham, it contained one of the coolest opening credit sequences I have ever seen.

LIFE AS A HOUSE – Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Kevin Kline, Kristen Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen; Directed By: Irwin Winkler; Written By: Mark Andrus
Not a bad family dysfunction film, one that will surely be asking for your consideration during Oscar season. Kevin Kline put on one of his top performance as a father who re-evaluates his life and tries to fix the fissures in his family while building a house. Kristen Scott Thomas held her own as Kline’s ex-wife, and director Irwin Winkler did a fine job bringing everything together. The story could have gotten ridiculous, as it unapologetically drew bold comparisons between Kline’s life and the home he was constructing. But writer Mark Andrus, who was rewarded with an Oscar nomination in his last effort, ‘As Good As It Gets’, tempered the sap pretty well. The big disappointment of the film was Hayden “The Man Who Would Be Anakin Skywalker” Christensen. He was a blue-haired, makeup-wearing, whoring, crying little punk-ass bitch. He tongued scrotum for money. And he is going to be Darth Vader? God help the Empire. Christensen should join the rest of young Hollywood and get institutionalized in the ‘Manic’ ward, to learn how to act “tormented”. His “troubled youth” bit was overdone – tattoos, piercings, Marilyn Manson posters, loud and outdated Manson and Limp Bizkit songs, a “rebellious” Che Guevara t-shirt… yeah, yeah, the whole Columbine thing, I get it. On the bright side, Christensen’s freaky-sex antics proved that INXS frontman Michael Hutchence didn’t die in vain. His death brought auto-erotic asphyxiation into the mainstream.

THE KILLING YARD – Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Alan Alda, Morris Chestnut, Rose McGowan; Directed By: Euzhan Palcy; Written By: Benita Garvin
Considering this was a made-for-cable movie, it was pretty darn good. It recreates the trial that followed the infamous Attica prison uprising, a story that has been more or less forgotten since the 70’s. Morris Chestnut (as one of the prisoners on trial) and Alan Alda (as Chestnut’s legendary but aging lawyer) were at the top of their respective games. Rose McGowan, barely coherent enough to read off of the cue cards, was the only weak spot in the cast. While it felt like a cable movie (with the visibly low budget, dime-store afro wigs, and occasional boom in the frame), the story was surprisingly compelling. It was a pretty solid history lesson. The film represents one of Showtime’s best Emmy bets, along with the high-brow art film ‘My Wife Is A Dirty Slut’.

THE GREY ZONE – Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Havey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, David Arquette; Directed By: Tim Blake Nelson; Written By: Tim Blake Nelson
Given the events of the week (and the 9AM start time), this concentration camp drama was a bit sour for most palettes. While it was intriguing and morally challenging, it was hard to fall in love with this story about Jews in Auschwitz who assisted the Nazis in exterminating fellow Jews in exchange for special treatment. As a very respectable gesture, producer and star Harvey Keitel asked the audience for a minute of silence before the screening, for the victims of the terrorist attacks. Aside from Keitel and Steve Buscemi, the film included some odd casting. Occupational bonehead / marital mastermind David Arquette sold out his CALL-ATT fans with a dramatic turn that was almost credible. And Mira Sorvino successfully proved that sans hair (and regretfully I’m not talking “shaved”), she is not very attractive.

FROM HELL – Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham; Directed By: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes; Written By: Terry Hayes, Rafael Yglesias
This period thriller felt a little too much like ‘Sleepy Hollow’, especially with the unjustly talented Johnny Depp as another wavy-haired, ambitious, and accented detective. Fortunately, the Hughes Brothers surpassed Tim Burton’s tale by making a more compelling Whodunnit, adding graphic violence and cold performances to add to the chill. Heather Graham also starred, impressing most with a shockingly respectable Irish accent. Overall, the film wasn’t bad, but frankly, I expected more.

MR. IN-BETWEEN – Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Andrew Howard, Geraldine O’Rawe, Andrew Tiernan; Directed By: Paul Sarossy; Written By: Peter Waddington
This was a surprisingly good film considering it was made by a gaggle of unknowns. A professional assassin lets his personal life interfere with his professional life when he gets reacquainted with a high school chum. And no, it’s not a Grosse Point Blank remake. It’s not even a comedy. It’s a serious thriller, with some light jokes, far-out existentialism, and bizarre rituals mixed in for good measure.

HEIST – Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Gene Hackman, Delroy Lindo, Danny DeVito; Directed By: David Mamet; Written By: David Mamet
I was extremely excited to see David Mamet’s latest, considering he is a wizard screenwriter/playwright, and his films have a unique flavor that is inexplicably alluring. And I thought his plot curves would make for a comedic and unpredictable experience. Unfortunately, the twists got so repetitive that even Chubby Checker would have gotten tired of them. Overall, it was watchable, but compared to expectations, it was a bust. Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito were good, but not stellar. Delroy Lindo, perhaps the most underrated actor in the biz, was not particularly impressive. And Rebecca Pigeon, the Mamet Muse, is normally likeable, but she was bland at best in this film. The most exciting part of the film was actually before the film. On the way to the rush line, I gave a friendly “Watch it, dickhead” to Ben Kingsley, as he knocked into me on the sidewalk. I was going to get all up in his grill, but I decided it was best not to fuck with Gandhi.

FOCUS – Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0
Starring: William H. Macy, Laura Dern, Meat Loaf; Directed By: Neal Slavin; Written By: Kendrew Lascelles
This portrait of World War II anti-Semitism in suburban America was slow and somewhat muddy, but I give it respectable marks based on the performances. The story wasn’t bad, but the ambiguous ending left me a bit unsatisfied. It was written for an older generation that remembers those painful times and still ache from them. The film boasted solid acting, especially by Meat Loaf (at the request of his publicist, refer to him as Meat Loaf Aday, please; he is, after all, a professional). Seriously, Meat had one of the best performances that I saw in Toronto this year. He also pitched in on the soundtrack, contributing the surefire Top 10 hit “Persecution of My Jewish Neighbor By The Dashboard Light”. And to his credit, Meat didn’t seem to take himself too seriously at the screening. While co-stars William H. Macy and David Paymer were stiff during the film’s introduction, Loaf was clowning around and cracking jokes. It’s refreshing to see that “Bitch-Tits” hasn’t let his ego get the best of him. Acting-wise, Mr. Loaf actually bested Macy, who also turned in a good performance. But Macy’s similar roles (the meek guy trying to overcome) are growing tired. He needs a change. Let’s badassify him. Cast him as the next Batman.

WHO IS CLETIS TOUT? – Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Christian Slater, Tim Allen, Portia DiRossi; Directed By: Chris Ver Wiel; Written By: Chris Ver Weil
This film had the best line of dialogue of the year, but I can’t tell you because I don’t want to spoil it. Other than that, there’s no real compelling reason to see this action-comedy. It was good for a few chuckles, but it’s not worth seeing in theaters. Tim Allen stars as a paid killer who captures his mark, Christian Slater, while Slater tries to explain the semi-extraordinary circumstances of his entanglement with the mafia. Allen was not believable as a hit-man, but he was believable as an aloof, corny, movie-quoting hit-man. Beware of the ‘Pulp Fiction’ homage at the beginning; it was painful at best. Walking corpse Richard Dreyfuss was also in the film, but his presence was so slight, you’ll barely notice it. Just like you’ll barely notice when his new TV show, ‘The Education of Max Bickford’, gets cancelled after three episodes.

SERENDIPITY – Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0
Starring: John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, Jeremy Piven; Directed By: Peter Chelsom; Written By: Marc Klein
The film’s publicist told me that John Cusack is legally changing his name to John Q. Sack. Due to his recent string of bust romantic comedies, he feels it better reflects how common and pathetic he has become (his new surname, of course, is an acronym for Sadly Another Calamitous Kissyfest). No surprises with this flick (the plot doesn’t extend beyond the title): Kate Beckinsale and John Q. meet by chance one day, and spend the next few years trying to meet by chance again, precipitating a series of intricate near-misses, aided by respective best friends Molly Shannon and Jeremy Piven. Beckinsale is quite a tart, and is much cuter here with her authentic British accent; she’s much more appealing than she was in ‘Pearl Harbor’, ‘Brokedown Palace’, or ‘The Last Days Of Disco’. Piven, who is always hilarious and always underrated (and would be always unemployed but for his life-long friendship with Mr. Sack) was a savior for the film. Actually, I’m being a little harsh on this movie. It was no ‘Keeping The Faith’, but as far as romantic comedies go, it wasn’t horrific. And, I’m honestly a pretty big Q. Sack fan, and would sit through any of his movies. My biggest gripe is that it was just so damn cute and sugary. So just beware: If you’re going to take your girlfriend to see this, she’ll love you for it; but when you’re having sex afterwards, she’s going to be picturing John Q. Sack instead of you.

JOY RIDE – Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, Leelee Sobieski; Directed By: John Dahl; Written By: Jeffrey Jur
Typical summertime-popcorn-thriller fare. Too bad it’s being released in the fall. If you’re expecting cheeseball scares and hi-jinks going into it, it’s not that bad. If you’re expecting master thespian Paul Walker to exude some sort of emotion or character or even warmth in his body, you’re in for a disappointment. Walker defies science once again and proves that he is devoid of a soul. To make the film worse, it was excessive in male nudity. The only thing elevating the film was Steve Zahn as Walker’s older brother. He was pretty excellent and funny enough to make the film watchable. Without him, the film would have given me nightmares… about how much time I wasted watching it.

LOVELY AND AMAZING – Rating: 1.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Catherine Keener, Brenda Blethyn, Emily Mortimer; Directed By: Nicole Holofcener; Written By: Nicole Holofcener
This film about a mother, her grown daughters, and their myriad of problems could have been a lot better. It was going along well enough, but then it ended abruptly. It was simply a snippet of these women’s lives; there was no resolution. The characters didn’t evolve. I guess I was looking for more of a sense of closure. But maybe that’s life, after all. What I did appreciate about the film was how it downplayed sentimentality. It could have easily become a ‘Stepmom’ or some such wretch, but it stayed away from that temptation, risking commercial failure in the process (actually, there’s no risk; this is a guaranteed financial disaster). Even more disappointing was that the story couldn’t fully utilize the top-notch cast, including Catherine Keener and Brenda Blethyn. Keener plays, surprise, a bitch deft at infidelity. She’s got that down pat; I’d like to see her in a fresh role. Blethyn and Emily Mortimer are British, but took on American accents quite flawlessly (especially Blethyn, who is fairly renown for her unique and often unintelligible English accent). Overall, it’s a woman’s movie about family, self-esteem, and relationships. So your mother and sister might enjoy seeing it together. Fortunately, as soon as it seems to be getting ridiculously estrogized, along comes the scene where Brit beaut Mortimer stands completely nude in front of Dermot Mulroney, asking him to critique her body. “Your bush could use a trim,” he advises. Viva, testosterone.

WAKING LIFE – Rating: 1.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy; Directed By: Richard Linklater; Written By: Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater’s digi-cartoon could have easily worked as a half-hour short film, rather than a dragged-out 1-hour-45-minute feature. But then, of course, I never would have seen it. It was a victim of a self-imposed Catch-22. It was visually intriguing (it was the first animated feature shot on digital film), but the thrill was not enough to carry a movie comprised 100% of existence/reality theory and dialogue. Certainly, people will be quick to call it “profound”, but I don’t see that. It shared some great philosophies, but I’d rather read them in a book or discuss them in a class, not have them preached to me in a movie. I suppose I am blaspheming by taking shots at one of the pioneer indie filmmakers, but I’m afraid I can’t wholeheartedly support this film. I’ll applaud the directing, but not the writing. Kudos for what it tried to accomplish, but the finished product, while beautiful, was not extraordinary.

SEX AND LUCIA – Rating: 1.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Paz Vega, Tristan Ulloa; Directed By: Julio Medem; Written By: Julio Medem
Julio Medem’s other works are well-respected (‘Lovers of the Arctic Circle’, for example), so I was expecting a nutty yet intriguing film about relationships in Spain. Instead, I got a Spanish porn flick. I guess looking at the title would have helped. There was plenty of sex, and there was plenty of Lucia. And there were plenty of images I didn’t think you could see outside of a smut house (which I suppose explains why Pee-Wee Herman was at the theater). Fortunately for unsuspecting festival-goers like myself, foreign-language porn officially qualifies as “artistic” and “thought-provoking”. The plot goes something like this: Lucia lands a man through restraining-order-caliber stalking (finally, a movie that proves what I’ve been trying to explain to the police for years – that stalking actually works), but after thinking her boyfriend was killed, she goes on vacation and befriends a woman who, unbeknownst to Lucia, had a fling and a child with Lucia’s boyfriend years ago. As the film progresses, it gets much stickier (in more than one sense of the word). Don’t worry, it will never get American distribution.

PULSE – Rating: 0.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Haruhiko Kato, Kumiko Aso; Directed By: Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Written By: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Inexplicably, this film was compared praisingly to the last Freddy Kruger flick, ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’. But acclaimed Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa tried to take the idea and transform it into an existential piece on humanity and the afterlife, while retaining its horror roots. I understand the jackass also plans to re-make ‘Friday The 13th Part IX: Jason Goes To Hell’, but tell it as a social commentary on the woes of the oppressed in urban Tokyo. The only thing that saved ‘Pulse’ from being the worst film of the Fest was that it was at times legitimately frightening. And the most frightening part? The threat of a sequel.

BIG BAD LOVE – Rating: 0.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Arliss Howard, Debra Winger, Rosanna Arquette; Directed By: Arliss Howard; Written By: Arliss Howard, James Howard
It turns out you should not fall asleep at a screening while sitting directly in front of the director and his wife. In Canada, it is considered rude. ‘Big Bad Love’. “Bad” is the operative word here. Lop off the first and last words of the title, and you’ve got a pretty accurate description. Basically, it was the story of a redneck who keeps thinking his life can’t get any more depressing, but fails to realize that his droll existence is defined by Murphy’s Law. There was great character development, sure, but who gives a flipping maple leaf, if the story doesn’t go anywhere? And to further my irritation, the film insisted on utilizing Ally McBeal-esque visions of imagination and symbolism played out on screen. It was a close call between this and ‘Hotel’ for the worst film of the Fest. Since ‘Big Bad Love’ did not stoop to pornography for cheap thrills, and instead went the respectable route of character study, I give it slightly more props. Wait, don’t I have that backwards…?

HOTEL – Rating: 0.5 out of 5.0
Starring: David Schwimmer, Saffron Burrows, Salma Hayek; Directed By: Mike Figgis; Written By: Mike Figgis
It’s safe to say that I didn’t get it. This was a highly improvised and highly bad flick about the filming of a movie in a Venice hotel where cannibalism is secretly practiced. Yeah. I’ll have to admit it was original though: it was the first time that I’ve ever seen graphic sex with a comatose patient in a film. Director Mike Figgis is capable of doing good work (like ‘Leaving Las Vegas’), but not in this film. For ‘Hotel’, Figgis used a style similar to the one he employed in ‘Timecode’. But ‘Timecode’ was innovative and interesting, where this hand-held, grainy, shaky, digital approach looked poor and simply amateur. And that’s to speak nothing of the storyline, which was worse than most ‘USA Up All Night’ flicks. The majority of the folks in the theater walked out in the middle, and while they salvaged some sanity, they missed out on the big yuks when Burt Reynolds entered the film as a Flamenco Dance Troupe Manager. In a feat of bravado and perseverance greater than those of any David Blaine publicity stunt, I stayed for the ENTIRE movie. There was absolutely no applause at the ending, not even one clap, which was unheralded for a festival screening. While it was the worst film of this year’s festival, the absence of Huey Lewis singing karaoke saves it from meriting a zero rating, like last year’s ‘Duets’.

In addition to the films above, I saw a restored version of Peter Fonda’s ‘Hired Hand’. I don’t know what they did to restore it, but they must have failed, because it still sucked. The terrorist attacks and subsequent airport shutdowns prevented some film prints from arriving in Toronto, including two I had tickets for, ‘Rare Birds’ and ‘The Believer’. I was extremely disappointed about missing the latter. It was one of the most anticipated films of the Fest, due to its unsettling and controversial subject matter (an young Orthodox Jew who’s also a Nazi) and its strong performance by Ryan Gosling. After touring the festivals, ‘The Believer’ will actually air on Showtime, since no other distributor would buy it. I don’t get it. In Marketing 201 we learned that nothing says “commercial viability” like Jewish Nazis.

One of the beautiful things about the Toronto Film Fest is that with so many movies (326 films from 38 countries), you have no idea which ones will make it big. Sure, some come with distributors, but others become a buzz bank due to their screenings in Toronto. So, which ones will go on to bigger and better things this year? Read on, and I’ll tell you (in alphabetical order)...

Buffalo Soldiers – Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris
Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amelie Poulain (Amelie) – Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz
Focus – William H. Macy, Laura Dern
From Hell – Johnny Depp, Heather Graham
The Grey Zone – Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi
Hearts In Atlantis – Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin
Heist – Gene Hackman, Delroy Lindo
In The Bedroom – Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson
Joy Ride – Steve Zahn, Paul Walker
Life As A House – Kevin Kline, Kristen Scott Thomas
Mainc – Don Cheadle, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Monsoon Wedding – Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey
Mulholland Drive – Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts
Novocaine – Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter
Pinero – Benjamin Bratt, Talisa Soto
Prozac Nation – Christina Ricci, Michelle Williams
The Safety of Objects – Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney
Serendipity – John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale
Sidewalks of New York – Edward Burns, Heather Graham
Training Day – Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke
Who Is Cletis Tout? – Christian Slater, Tim Allen

Last year, a bevy of Oscar nominations sprung from Toronto entrants. And I predicted nearly every damn one of them. So, look for these potential award nominees at this year’s Oscars, next year’s Oscars, and the Emmys:

Alan Alda – The Killing Yard (Emmy)
Alan Arkin – Thirteen Conversations About One Thing
Don Cheadle – Manic
Glenn Close – The Safety of Objects
Scott Glenn – Buffalo Soldiers
Ian Holm – From Hell
Anthony Hopkins – Hearts In Atlantis
Kevin Kline – Life As A House
Richard Linklater (Director) – Waking Life
David Lynch (Director) – Mulholland Drive
Meat Loaf – Focus
Mira Nair (Director) – Monsoon Wedding
Tim Blake Nelson (Writer/Director) – The Grey Zone
Joaquin Phoenix – Buffalo Soldiers
Sissy Spacek – In The Bedroom
Kristen Scott Thomas – Life As A House
Irwin Winkler (Director) – Life As A House

Looking to cast next year’s hot young actor or actress? Toronto’s participants can give you a jump on the competition…

Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Manic
Andrew Howard – Mr. In-Between
Tim Blake Nelson (Writer/Director) – The Grey Zone
Audrey Tautou – Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amelie Poulain (Amelie)
David Wenham – The Bank
Jennifer Westfeldt – Kissing Jessica Stein

If you made it this far in the article, I commend you and I apologize for its length. Because of me, somebody up there is regretting the ratification of the First Amendment. Don’t worry, it’s almost over. If you’re looking to impress your friends with some quality foreign films, just drop the names of the festival’s major award winners…

Discovery Award:
Winner: Chicken Rice War - CheeK

People’s Choice Award:
1st Place: Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amelie Poulain (Amelie) – Jean-Pierre Jeunet
2nd Place: Maya – Digvijay Singh
3rd Place: Monsoon Wedding – Mira Nair

World Premiere Award:
Winner: Inch’allah Dimanche – Yamina Benguigui
Honorable Mention: Be My Star – Valeska Grisebach
Honorable Mention: Khaled – Asghar Massombagi

Best Canadian Feature Film:
Winner: Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) – Zacharias Kunuk

Let me wrap up by getting serious for a minute. I want to extend my gratitude to all the Canadians I met in Toronto this year. They were extremely kind and helpful, especially in light of the week’s horrific events (with the exception of my hotel, which gouged me on the “emergency” rate). Everyone treated the attacks as if they occurred in their own country; I haven’t seen that many pissed-off Canadians since ‘You Can’t Do That On Television’ left the air. Most importantly, in a time of disaster, Torontonians treated me as one of their own. I was truly impressed, considering most Americans (including myself) generally regard Canada as merely a punch line.

Review This Item




Submitted by ghola at 2007-10-08 23:35:21 EDT (#)
Rating: 0

i thought waking life was amazing.

Submitted by sosjtb1999 at 2004-08-01 18:20:16 EDT (#)
Rating: 0

Homer:I'm tired of watching this Tarzan movie.
Lisa:Dad! This is a documentary about the homeless.

Submitted by TonyMontana at 2004-08-01 18:03:44 EDT (#)
Rating: -2

you spend so much time writing this bullshit and it gets you nowhere. it's fucking long winded and sucks ass. you will not get hired as a film critic for anything higher than a local newspaper because you're probably an unphotogenic ugly ass piece of shit. go kill yourself, bitch.

Submitted by dreadnaught_X at 2004-08-01 18:00:10 EDT (#)
Rating: 2

Lots of writing, but done well. +2 because I live in Toronto

Submitted by Christ at 2004-07-23 19:31:39 EDT (#)
Rating: -2

Great post! +2

Submitted by Random Joe at 2003-05-17 18:30:48 EDT (#)
Rating: 2

holy crap you wrote so much.

Asleep at the switch! I wasn't asleep! I was drunk!

-- Homer Simpson
Homer the Vigilante

Submitted by Random Joe at 2002-01-29 15:54:30 EST (#)
Rating: 2


We'll see 'aboot' your predictions Mr. Magronovan. We will see.

Listen, you big, stupid space-creature. Nobody, but nobody, eats the

-- Homer Simpson
Treehouse of Horror