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Donovan's Toronto Film Fest 2002 Report

Submitted by ryandonovan at 2002-10-09 00:23:31 EDT
Rating: 1.0 on 3 ratings (3 reviews) (Review this item) (V)


It's fall again, which means that the "serious" film season is beginning. The roar of the summer blockbusters has quieted down, and the Oscar blitzkrieg is not far away. It's a quiet time in Hollywood, but not in Toronto. About 6 months before the Academy Awards are doled out, the Toronto International Film Festival ushers in the Award Season. It's the Cinematic Equinox, if you will.

This year's festival (Sept 5 - 14, 2002) once again met all of the season's expectations. The fest showcased hundreds of quality films, large and small, gritty and polished, long and short, foreign and domestic. Some films were fighting for distribution. Others were fighting for pre-release buzz. But many were just fighting for an audience, an audience that would be there simply for the love of film.

Of course, for all the true cinematic heart, there was plenty of showy celluloid glamour. The Toronto Film Festival is, after all, THE place to make an early plea for Oscar recognition (last year's Academy Award nominees included Toronto alumni In The Bedroom, Training Day, Amelie, Mulholland Drive, and of course, the film I introduced to the world, Memento). It was also THE place be seen that week. And since I frequented the Four Seasons lobby (even after the restraining order was issued), I was seen plenty. Those celebrities fortunate enough to see me included Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, Kiefer Sutherland, Matt Dillon, Wes Bentley, Gus Van Sant, Terry Gilliam, Leelee Sobieski, Stellan Skarsgard, Jennifer Esposito, cinematic encyclopedia Leonard Maltin, Sam Rockwell, and everybody's favorite foppish film fanatic, Rex Reed.

The common theme in festival films this year seemed to be nude lesbian sex scenes, orchestrated by female directors (for example, Julie Taymor's Frida, Lynn Ramsay's Morvern Callar, Lisa Cholodenko's Laurel Canyon). It's quite a coup that the men in Old Hollywood have brainwashed all young filmmakers so thoroughly that up-and-coming female auteurs believe it is empowering to portray gratuitous female nudity and soft-core lesbian sex. While originally designed to objectify women and fill theaters with breadwinning men, the tactic has become so ingrained that is currently seen as cinematic status quo. Female directors now take it a step further, creating scenes that are more provocative and less relevant, and they congratulate themselves for being bold. Sure, you're bold. Now can you make boldly issue your film on DVD so I can use my Pause and Zoom buttons on the dyked-out tittie-fuck scene?

Lesbians notwithstanding, the festival delivered everything I could have hoped for. This year, my fourth consecutive year attending, I managed to see 15 films over 5 days. And lucky for you, I'm going to tell you all about my experience. So sit back and soak it up. Here are my opinions on each movie I saw, a list of films that I think will get wide distribution, lists of the festival's best performances and most promising new talent, and a recap of the prizewinners.


HABLE CON ELLA (TALK TO HER) - Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti, Leonor Watling; Directed By: Pedro Almodovar; Written By: Pedro Almodovar
As this film began, it seemed like Pedro Almodovar had finally made a nice, quiet movie about people who care about one another. Things were sweet and simple; characters were likeable and admirable. All was normal. But just when we got comfortable, Almodovar removed the rose-colored lens from the camera. Things got gloriously weird and perverse, in a way that they only could in Almodovar's world. In the film, two men become friends while visiting their respective comatose girlfriends in the hospital. Where the film goes from there is hysterical, charming, disturbing, and original as sin. And the film begs the question: If you know a naked woman in coma is, in reality, a conscious actress just laying there, is it still wrong for me to get aroused? Let's hope not.

LOST IN LA MANCHA - Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Johnny Depp, Terry Gilliam, Jean Rochefort; Directed By: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe; Written By: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe
This film is an excellent example of why this festival is so incredible. When else would I ever voluntarily pay money to see a documentary? Extraordinary films like this one are the surprises that I cherish in Toronto, and get me excited to come back the next year. This film is actually making the rounds on the festival circuit, so keep an eye out to see if it makes it to your town. It chronicled the misadventures of director Terry Gilliam as he tried to make a big-budget indie movie about Johnny Depp in a Don Quixote adaptation. Gilliam's project failed. Not only did it fail, it failed miserably. It failed tragically. Which is why it made for such a compelling documentary. It portrayed the dark realities of filmmaking - that everything can (and probably will, to some extent) go horribly wrong. It was like Project Greenlight in a cocaine nightmare. This documentary spanned the entire spectrum of emotion; no film at the fest made me laugh harder or broke my heart more viciously. The buzz on the film was white hot, drawing celebrities to the screening that had no connection to the project (for example, Dustin Hoffman passed me in the aisle... more accurately, shorty walked through my legs in the aisle). It is a must-see for anyone interested in filmmaking.

REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES - Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
Starring: America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros, George Lopez; Directed By: Patricia Cardoso; Written By: George LaVoo, Josefina Lopez
Here's some inside information for you: the title was changed from the more daring, less politically-correct Most Women Have Big Asses. This festival-circuit darling got a bit preachy at times, but overall it was compelling and uplifting. The film achieved a satisfying balance by being very positive without having every problem neatly solved. The teenage protagonist (America Ferrera) focused on improving her own life, but there was little she could do about other problems that she saw around her. She was doing the best she could, despite the pressures put on her by her domineering mother, unassertive father, financially flailing sister, horny classmate, and well-meaning teacher. While the acting sometimes wore thin, Ferrera was enormously charming (pun intended) and easy to root for. While equally charming, Lupe Ontiveros was just as easy to root against. As you watched them spar, you knew that America would be just fine, and the family would remain intact. Look for the upcoming sequel ...That's Because Real Women Are Lazy.

THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS - Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, Denis Leary; Directed By: Alan Rudolph; Written By: Craig Lucas
What do dentists do away from the office? If you're talking about the masochist that is MY dentist, then he likely commits heinous felonies and kicks puppies. But if you're talking about husband-and-wife dental partners Campbell Scott and Hope Davis, then things are normal. Until they get complicated. There is a wholesome home life. Until there is an affair. There is good health. Until the entire family catches the flu. There is sanity. Until a hallucinogenic Jiminy Cricket appears in the form of priceless Denis Leary (when it comes to sage wisdom, Leary is not exactly the Dalai Lama). On your next visit, you may want to ask your dentist how his home life is before he sticks a drill in your mouth.

MOONLIGHT MILE - Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Jake Gyllenhaal; Directed By: Brad Silberling; Written By: Brad Silberling
This will surely be an Oscar contender. I was expecting a weepy flick about family loss, with cheeky Susan Sarandon to give it a little bite. And essentially, it was. However, the story goes in an unexpected direction, which gives the characters an opportunity to face original dilemmas. And to the film's credit, they don't dwell on the girl's death or beg for sympathy. Instead, the film is principally about how to get better, not how to grieve. I just hope my future spouse waits for my corpse to get cold before moving on to the next lay.

FRIDA - Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush; Directed By: Julie Taymor; Written By: Diane Lake, Gregory Nava, Clancy Sigal, Anna Thomas
What was so interesting about Frida Kahlo? Well, she had lesbian liaisons. And she allowed her husband to sleep around. And she couldn't have children. And she was confined to her bed. If she had plucked her unibrow, she just might have been the perfect woman. Aside from that, I think she was an artist or something. The movie was worth watching just for Salma's tetas sabrosas, and her gratuitously graphic lesbian scenes. For those of you who aren't pigs like me, there are other reasons to see this film. The Oscar buzz for Salma Hayek began a while ago. And fans of director Julie Taymor won't be disappointed; look for this film to get her an Academy Award nomination and make her a major Hollywood player.

WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD - Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0
Starring: William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell, Jennifer Esposito; Directed By: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo; Written By: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
This heist comedy about a gaggle of bumbling low-rent criminals in a seedy Cleveland neighborhood was dubbed "the anti-Ocean's Eleven" by the filmmakers. Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney would have sued the hell out of them, had they not produced Welcome To Collinwood. It was reasonably funny, but got a little too slapstick at times. It was reasonably slick, but got a little too cheesy at times. It should get fairly wide theatrical distribution, but you're better off waiting for video.

BLUE CAR - Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Agnes Bruckner, David Strathairn, Margaret Colin; Directed By: Karen Moncrieff; Written By: Karen Moncrieff
The film wasn't bad, but the performances were the real victors here. Newcomer Agnes Bruckner was particularly striking. Of all the young talent at the Fest, she has perhaps the most potential. This film poses the moral dilemma: When you are a teacher, and you share a mutual spiritual and physical attraction with a 17-year-old student, how far is too far? It's a trick question, of course. Why? Because there's no such thing as too far! Go all the way, man! Seriously, how often to you have a chance to have awkward sex with a tight 17-year-old piece of ass? She's not going to tell anyone. They all want it. Go ahead! Think of what a celebrity you'll be with your friends on bowling night! The movie has a different take on the dilemma, though, which kind of ruined it for me. It unjustly gives pedophiles a bad name. While we're on the subject, I think it is completely unconstitutional that they make pederasts publish their address when we... I mean... when they move into a new neighborhood. It's downright un-American.

LAUREL CANYON - Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale; Directed By: Lisa Cholodenko; Written By: Lisa Cholodenko
This film began as a relationship story about a stuffy, conservative med student (Christian Bale) trying to accept the eccentricities of his rock-n'-roll-producing, dope-smoking, philandering mother (Frances McDormand), after he and his girlfriend (Kate Beckinsale) are forced to move in with her. But it evolved into a story of a bizarre love trapezoid (it's definitely not a love triangle, or even a square). The film didn't have much of a point aside from the maturation (or immaturation) of the characters, and it dragged a bit in several places. But every time I was about to lose interest, Beckinsale stripped down into something skimpy, and I got sucked back in. When all is said and done, the film begs the age-old question, 'What do you do when your girlfriend cheats on you... with your MOTHER?' It's enough to make Sigmund Freud blush.

THE FOUR FEATHERS - Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson; Directed By: Shekhar Kapur; Written By: Hossein Amini, Michael Schiffer
I feel like a film fest sellout for seeing this movie. The story follows Heath Ledger, who deserts the army when his unit is sent to battle; his best friends send him white feathers, symbolic of cowardice. The film opens theatrically in the U.S. merely days after the Toronto debut, and it will be in every movie house in every city. It's a big studio film that I probably wouldn't see in theaters anyway. Why didn't I take advantage of my time at the fest and see films that I couldn't see elsewhere? Films that needed festival audiences for survival? Films that might actually be good? Someone should send ME four feathers of cowardice.

FLOWER & GARNET - Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Colin Roberts, Callum Keith Rennie, Jane McGregor; Directed By: Keith Behrman; Written By: Keith Behrman
Life isn't good. You've never gotten over the death of your wife. You're poor. Your style of home-decorating is Molson Chic. Your 8-year-old (Colin Roberts) son plays carelessly with your handgun and pilfers your daughter's panties. And your 16-year-old daughter just got knocked up by an irresponsible boyfriend and has run away from home. Could it get any worse? Yes it can - you're also Canadian. Not exactly an uplifting film, but it wasn't bad. It boasted very impressive performances from the young Canadian actors, McGregor and Roberts (Flower and Garnet, respectively). I expect that McGregor will be making a name for herself in the States before long.

BLACK AND WHITE - Rating: 1.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Robert Carlyle, Charles Dance, Kerry Fox; Directed By: Craig Lahiff; Written By: Louis Nowra
I didn't know what to expect from this Australian courtroom drama about a small-time lawyer who defends an Aborigine in a murder trial in the 1950s. At the very least, I expected a solid performance from the usually reliable Robert Carlyle, who, in my opinion, is one of the top British actors today. But he was a bust. Bland and undeveloped at best. And the first half of the film was pretty weak as well. It was turning out to be a big waste of time. But then something very intriguing happened in the movie. It was subtle, but it gave the narrative a jump-start. Essentially, the film stopped following one character's story, and began to follow another's. And the second person was far more interesting than the first. So the film finished with a bit of a bang. Overall, it wasn't a knockout, but it saved the film from being a completely regrettable experience. Still probably not worth spending money on, though.

MORVERN CALLAR - Rating: 1.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott; Directed By: Lynn Ramsay; Written By: Liana Dognini, Lynn Ramsay
The film began with a hook that was intriguing as hell: a young woman (Samantha Morton) comes home on Christmas to find her boyfriend dead on the floor, and a suicide note advising her what to do with his unpublished novel. But there was nothing really driving the story onward, so it kept wandering until it finally had to be resolved. I guess the stream-of-consciousness storyline was the whole point for "maverick independent" director Lynn Ramsay, but I saw it as lazy. That being said, some of Ramsay's story solutions were fine by me: when in doubt, throw in some bare boobs and thinly veiled lesbianism. Morton had no problem playing a trashy Scottish supermarket stock-girl. She had a chance to be more feminine than she was in Minority Report, where I thought she was actually Ewan McGregor (recycling the Trainspotting look) until the final credits rolled.

L'IDOLE - Rating: 1.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Leelee Sobieski, James Hong; Directed By: Samantha Lang; Written By: Gerard Brach, Samantha Lang
This is a French movie made by people who are decidedly not French (the writer/director is English, the lead actress is American, and the lead actor is Asian). People will recognize this fact right away because nobody in the film is rude. And the characters seemed to bathe on a regular basis. But they did get one thing right: everybody in the movie is a pervert. The highlight of the film was looking down Leelee Sobieski's cleavage from the balcony during the screening. It may come as a surprise, but she has a rock-star body, which she shows off a bit in the film. Good luck trying to catch it in theaters, though. This is strictly an art-house movie, and a lousy foreign-language one at that. Your best bet is to find video clips of Sobieski on the Internet.

GERRY - Rating: 0.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Matt Damon, Casey Affleck; Directed By: Gus Van Sant; Written By: Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Gus Van Sant
This was perhaps the most boring film I've EVER seen. The film stars Matt Damon and Casey Affleck (yes, CASEY Affleck - don't get duped into thinking this is a re-teaming of the Good Will Hunting crusaders), and follows them as they walk around in the desert. And that's it. Seriously. There was barely any dialogue. And the movie was 90 minutes long. So there were literally continuous shots of the actors walking side-by-side in silence that lasted for 7 minutes. Throw in the most worthless use of a maguffin I've ever seen and an inexplicable ending, and you've got one dull-ass movie. Gus Van Sant was going for some art piece that brilliantly emulated some of the Masters of cinema, like Andrei Tarkovsky. This is the same guy that tried to make a compelling shot-by-shot re-make of Psycho. He failed on both accounts. Even with Damon's name on the bill (and Affleck's last name on the bill), this may be the most unmarketable film of the year. If it makes it to multiplexes, I promise to eat sand. Believe it or not, this film was a Runner-Up for the Visions Award (Visions Of A Steaming Pile of Poop, maybe). I'll give it a half point, giving it the benefit of possibly being "misunderstood".

One of the great things about the Toronto Film Festival is that it gives every film a chance. It is a showcase for Davids as well as Goliaths. The fate of the movies after the fest is, unfortunately, up to the distributors. Just because a film gets distributed, doesn't necessarily mean it's good. It just means the studios want you to see it. Here are my predictions for the films that studios will want you to see, in alphabetical order...

8 Mile - Eminem, Brittany Murphy
Antwone Fisher - Derek Luke, Denzel Washington
Auto Focus - Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe
Blue Car - Agnes Bruckner, David Strathairn
Bowling For Columbine - Michael Moore
The Emperor's Club - Kevin Kline, Steven Culp
Far From Heaven - Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid
Femme Fatale - Antonio Banderas, Rebecca Romjin-Stamos
The Four Feathers - Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley
Frida - Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina
The Good Thief - Nick Nolte, Ralph Fiennes
Hable Con Ella (Talk To Her) - Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti
Heaven - Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi
Laurel Canyon - Frances McDormand, Christian Bale
Max - John Cusack, Noah Taylor
Moonlight Mile - Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon
Phone Booth - Colin Farrell, Katie Holmes
Punch-Drunk Love - Adam Sandler, Emily Watson
Roger Dodger - Campbell Scott, Isabella Rossellini
Secretary - James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal,
Spider - Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson
Try Seventeen - Elijah Wood, Franka Potente
Tuck Everlasting - Ben Kingsley, Sissy Spacek
Welcome To Collinwood - William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell
White Oleander - Michelle Pfeiffer, Alison Lohman

The festival is the premiere place to get a jump on seeing Oscar contenders. The best performances in the fest often wind up walking down the Kodak Theater's red carpet in the spring. If you want to impress everyone with your inside scoop on the races, check out these performances from Toronto...

Pedro Almodovar (Writer/Director) - Hable Con Ella (Talk To Her)
Robert Duvall - Assassination Tango
Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (Directors) - Lost In La Mancha
Salma Hayek - Frida
Todd Haynes (Writer/Director) - Far From Heaven
Dustin Hoffman - Moonlight Mile
Greg Kinnear - Auto Focus
Kevin Kline - The Emperor's Club
Julianne Moore - Far From Heaven
Michael Moore (Director) - Bowling For Columbine
Lupe Ontiveros - Real Women Have Curves
Michelle Pfeiffer - White Oleander
Dennis Quaid - Far From Heaven
Susan Sarandon - Moonlight Mile
Campbell Scott - Roger Dodger
Julie Taymor (Director) - Frida
Denzel Washington (Director) - Antwone Fisher

This was certainly the year of the young conflicted actress in Toronto. These were the relative newcomers vying to be "It" at the festival...

Gael Garcia Bernal - The Crime of Father Amaro
Agnes Bruckner - Blue Car
America Ferrera - Real Women Have Curves
Jake Gyllenhaal - Moonlight Mile
Maggie Gyllenhaal - Secretary
Alison Lohman - White Oleander
Derek Luke - Antwone Fisher
Jane McGregor - Flower and Garnet
Alessandro Nivola - Laurel Canyon
Sam Rockwell - Welcome To Collinwood

Here's a bunch of movies you'll never see. Somehow, the festival awards films that aren't necessarily any good. They're usually small, foreign, and difficult to comprehend. Rather than dismiss the films for being confounding (and run the risk of being called 'ignorant'), award committees view these films as "breakthroughs". As for the People's Choice Award... remember, the "people" are Canadian... take their choices with a grain of salt...

People's Choice Award:
Winner: Whale Rider - Niki Caro
Runner Up: Bowling For Columbine - Michael Moore
Runner Up: Bend It Like Beckham - Gurinder Chadha

Discovery Award:
Winner: The Magdelene Sisters - Peter Mullan

World Premiere Award:
Winner: Les Chemins De L'Oued - Gael Morel
Honorable Mention: Open Hearts (Dogme) - Sussane Bier

Best Canadian Feature Film:
Winner: Spider - David Cronenberg

Fest's Best Breasts*
Winner: Salma Hayek - Frida

Visions Award:
Winner: Russian Ark - Alexandr Sokurov
Honorable Mention: City of God - Fernando Meirelles
Honorable Mention: Gerry - Gus Van Sant

* Unofficial Award

Review This Item




Submitted by streetpunk at 2002-11-15 16:30:20 EST (#)
Rating: 0

Did anyone happen to see "Punch Drunk Love" or "Igby Goes Down" I thought they were both wildley entertaining, with phenomenal performances, and huge audience impact, but what do I know, I am just a lowely streetpunk

Submitted by ryandonovan at 2002-10-14 00:13:33 EDT (#)
Rating: 0

Razor - Yeah, disappointingly Oldman hasn't done anything in a while. According to IMDB, Oldman has a few films in the works. I've heard good things about Sin, which co-stars consummate badass Ving Rhames. Plus, there's Tiptoes, where Oldman plays a dwarf. Once again, re-inventing himself. In Tiptoes, I think he gets his learn on with Kate Beckinsale (stealing her from his brother, Matthew McConaughey), which only escalates my respect for him even higher.

PS - Thanks for the props. Keep postin'.

Submitted by Razor at 2002-10-09 11:39:09 EDT (#)
Rating: 2

Hey Ryan, do you know if Gary Oldman has anything coming up?

Despite the fact that he's my favorite actor, I couldn't bring myself to rent the movie where he plays a criminal on the lam who winds up with a baby in tow.

All right, let's not panic. I'll make the money back by selling one
of my livers. I can get by with one.

-- Homer Simpson
Homer vs. Patty and Selma