Donovan's Toronto Film Fest 2004 ReportSubmitted by ryandonovan at 2004-10-12 23:11:46 EDT
Rating: 1.77 on 33 ratings (33 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
DONOVAN’S TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2004 REPORT
I hate my roommate. Sure, he’s a nice guy, good conversationalist, and has rescued me from a burning building on two separate occasions. But the past is the past. And now I hate him. He ruined my trip to this year’s Toronto Film Festival. By tagging along with my usual crew for the first time, he turned the trip into the least impressive festival I have attended. The events could be construed as bad luck (delayed flight, weak slate of films, lack of celebrity sightings), but I know karma when I see it.
Typically the Toronto International Film Festival (Sept 9 – 18, 2004) can be counted on for top-notch prestige films and hidden indie gems. After attending six consecutive years, I should know. Choosing between all the fest’s outstanding films is like choosing between the Olsen Twins – Do you prefer Mary-Kate, or the fat one? Either way, you’re a winner. But this year, slim pickings. Most films turned out to be better than expected, but on the whole I couldn’t help but feel less than sated.
Even the celebrities, who were rumored to be back in full regalia after shying away for a few years in the shadows of 9/11, seemed to be hiding from me. The biggest deal in the media was Jamie Foxx: the newspapers painted him as the man about town, racking up a $13,000 bar tab, cleaning the town out of Cris, and pimping in a limited-edition multiple-hundred-thousand-dollar orange Lamborghini. Foxx was one celebrity I did in fact see, the night of the world premiere of Ray, which should have been the biggest night of his life. I was being seated at Sassafraz (which wasn’t hip until I started dining there a few years ago; now ask Dustin Hoffman where he hangs out in Toronto), and I noticed a certain orange sports car parked directly in front. Foxx appeared, exiting the restaurant alone, and waited by the entrance, next to me. He looked so lonely that I almost asked him if he needed a hug. His handler sized up the less-than-glitterati situation, and quickly passed out 8x10s from Ray to passersby, ushering them toward Foxx. A crowd quickly gathered and a mildly frenzied scene was successfully staged. The orange Lamborghini, incidentally, wasn’t his. The rest of my celebrity sightings were fairly unimpressive: Orlando Bloom, Taye Diggs, Jeremy Irons, Bill Paxton, Josh Lucas, Joseph Fiennes, Dermot Mulroney, Shiri Appleby, Zoe Saldana, and that guy from the late-90s TV show “The Pretender” (better known to some as the 80s-era Mike Horton on “Days Of Our Lives”… or, uh, so I’ve been told).
What Toronto had no shortage of, however, was films stumping for award publicity. After listening to me trumpet the fest as the commencement of Oscar season for years, Entertainment Weakly finally caught on and proclaimed the same thing this year. It’s easy to see why: many of last year’s Oscar and Golden Globe nominees were Toronto grads, including Lost In Translation, City Of God, Whale Rider, In America, 21 Grams, Pieces Of April, The Cooler, The Barbarian Invasions, Dirty Pretty Things, The Fog Of War, The Triplets Of Belleville, School Of Rock, Veronica Guerin, Girl With A Pearl Earring, Bend It Like Beckham, Love Actually, and Shattered Glass.
So once again, take a gander at my overly-long reviews of each film I saw (plus a couple I didn’t see), the films that will play in Peoria, the performers that will play in the Kodak Theater, the newcomers that will play in Hollywood, and the winners that played in Canada.
REVIEWS (IN ORDER FROM BEST TO WORST)
I <HEART> HUCKABEES – Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Dustin Hoffman, Naomi Watts; Directed By: David O. Russell; Written By: Jeff Baena, David O. Russell
Out of respect for, devotion to, and obedience to (not to mention intimidation by) my girlfriend, I am choosing not to talk about Naomi Watts’ breasts. Her lovely, nummy-nummy breasts. There were, however, no rules instituted about Naomi Watts’ ass. It is certainly easy on the eyes and hard on the crotch. While there was no nudity in the film, she spent a bit of time in a bikini, bending over and exhibiting the caboose. Goodness. Of course, there was the requisite scene where she was supposed to look ugly, and she was still way hotter than anybody you’ve ever dated (I mean to say anybody YOU, the reader, have ever dated; my girlfriend is a knockout). While I could probably get past it, Naomi does have a distracting flaw – the puffy bulges of flesh under the corners of her mouth. Not a show-stopper, but something for her to work on.
So, the remarkable thing is that she wasn’t even what made this movie awesome. The film was… well, I don’t really know… goofy, off-beat, awkward, random, and thought-provoking. All the marks of a movie that I love that fails at the box office. Put it this way: If you like Charlie Kaufman movies (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind), you’ll like this one. I’d like to say, ‘if you like David O. Russell movies, you’ll like this one (because it’s his movie)’, but I can’t, because I didn’t like Three Kings and I didn’t see Flirting With Disaster (blasphemy perhaps, but fuck you). The film’s greatest accomplishment might have been fostering Mark Wahlberg’s first likeable role ever – he’s scoring big points with me this year, coupling this film with the co-production of the best show on television, Entourage.
Not surprisingly, the best movie I saw at the festival was also the least marketable: How do you sell a quirky comedy about existential detectives? You don’t, I’m afraid. You suck up the losses in the name of art. And you pray for an Oscar nomination for best screenplay (but Eternal Sunshine will likely – and rightfully – snag the “quirky comedy” nomination).
UNDERTOW – Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney; Directed By: David Gordon Green; Written By: Joe Conway, David Gordon Green
This curiously intriguing and magnetic movie would be best described as a coming-of-age thriller. Really? Yes. It also represents the best thing about the film festival: the movies are indescribable, and you never know what you’re going to get. I thought I was going to see a tinny adolescent Hardy-Boys-mystery yarn. Nope, not this movie, not at this festival, and certainly not in the hands of David Gordon Green. This is one of the key films that helped me feel like the trip turned from let-down to success. Does this mean I recommend this movie? Well, no… at least not to everyone. Audiences were pretty split, with very few falling on the fence. I really liked it, but you, the foolish drones who recently made Resident Evil: Apocalypse the number one movie, might not. But one thing’s for sure – I now have to see Green’s freshman effort, George Washington.
While the story was the big draw for me, the acting is what really sold it. Experienced-beyond-his-years Jamie Bell turned in an expectedly excellent performance, nailing his emotions and his southern accent (which could have easily been a distraction). But the real eye-opener was Dermot Mulroney – it was the first real acting I’ve ever seen him do in his life. Somewhere under the sneer and the stubble and the dunce cap is a damn fine actor.
HAVEN – Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Bill Paxton, Agnes Bruckner; Directed By: Frank E. Flowers; Written By: Frank E. Flowers
I’d like to think I’m not out of touch with teenagers (I’m down with the Terror Squad), but goddam, what is the big flipping deal about Orlando Bloom? He was essentially an extra in The Lord Of The Rings, he sucked in Pirates Of The Caribbean, and he was a pussy in Troy. Up until two months ago, I thought he was Justin Timberlake. But at the premiere of Haven, he was the biggest thing in Canada since Avril’s necktie. The screaming crowd put to shame anything that’s been seen on TRL. That fucker held up the screening for a half hour to gab about his curly tresses to fawning reporters, giddy girls, and middle-aged fops. But I’ll admit, the swooning mob scene was an interesting study in psychology. There’s nothing more intriguing than the easily-manipulated naivete of a teenage girl (especially one that decorates her t-shirt with marker saying “Orlando Kiss Me” and an arrow that inadvertently points to her crotch). Man, to do junior high over again… It’s probably a good thing I’m not famous; otherwise, I’d be in jail.
In a very sad but fitting paradoxical industry metaphor, Bloom’s red carpet worship was juxtaposed with the plight of writer/director Frank E. Flowers, standing only ten feet away, who was being informed on the phone by his petrified sister that the roof directly above her at their Cayman Island home had just been torn off by Hurricane Ivan. Bloom seemed very concerned, swapping amusing eyebrow-waxing stories with E!’s Steve Kmetko.
As for the movie, it was pretty darn good. It boasted a very alluring method of storytelling and put a new spin familiar genre tales, all woven together into an ensemble movie that begged not to be defined. Flowers has plenty of style and shows considerable promise. The downside of the film, of course, was Bloom, who was horrible as expected. But in his defense, he brought me great joy in a scene where his face got doused with acid.
DRUM – Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Taye Diggs, Jason Flemyng, Moshidi Motshegwa; Directed By: Zola Maseko; Written By: Jason Filardi
This was a very solid, inspiring (if occasionally preachy), true story of a newspaper man who truly made a difference. For those in need of a comparison: If you liked Cry Freedom, you’ll like this. It gave the audience the unique perspective of a different world inside a different world: Sophiatown, a carefree and hedonistic harbor inside the apartheid madness of 1950s Johannesburg; the Vegas of South Africa, if you will. The film, while unlikely to get any kind of wide distribution, also showcased Taye Diggs’ underrated leading-man talent. The actor impressively conspired with the writer and director to give us a peek at the complexity and flaws of a man touted by others as a hero; the man himself certainly never thought of himself that way. He was at once a puppet for the man and a totem for the people, a purely honest person and a two-faced liar, a sober soul and a hard drinker.
Diggs himself, though, at the film’s premiere, was hardly impressive. Typically stylish, classy, and debonair, he looked like a damn hobo – and not even in that I’m-in-Hollywood-and-I-don’t-care way, either (which actually translates to I-really-do-care-but-that’s-our-little-secret). Either his stylist was playing a prank (I looked for Ashton in the lobby), or he severely underestimated the sensibility (and eyesight) of educated Canadians.
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE – Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes; Directed By: Michael Radford; Written By: Michael Radford, Billy Shakespeare
With Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, and William Shakespeare, this film had easily the best pedigree of all the films I saw in Toronto. Then again, “Pedigree” is also a kind of dog food. The Merchant Of Venice is one of those movies that you know darn well you should appreciate and be in awe of, but I just didn’t and wasn’t. The acting was good, the story was fine, but it just didn’t draw me in (and there was even female nudity). It wasn’t even the anti-Semitism that turned me off – I generally don’t have a problem with harboring hatred for a group of people for no good reason. Maybe I just got too hung up on the huge lapses of logic and judgment in the story, like Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) failing to notice that the lawyer was actually his fiancee, not a man, baby! Fiennes has now been pigeon-holed as the Guy In Shakespeare Movies That Can’t Tell When A Woman Is Dressed Like A Man. Granted, it’s a niche, but he owns it.
The Big Scene, of course, was Pacino delivering Shylock’s “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” speech. It got the biggest mid-movie ovation that I’ve ever witnessed. The scene was curiously staged outside a brothel, and the impact of the words was somewhat lessened by the bare breasts in the background. I applauded the scene, too – they were great tits. In summation, it was a flashy film that I knew I should have passed on at the fest (because I wouldn’t have paid to see it in an ordinary theater), but I saw it anyway. And I nearly paid for it with a pound of my flesh.
AUTOMNE (AUTUMN) – Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Laurent Lucas, Irene Jacob, Michel Aumont; Directed By: Ra’up McGee; Written By: Ra’up McGee
Ra’up McGee doesn’t speak French, but he directed a movie in France that was entirely in French. Why did he do that? I’m guessing because he’s pretentious and his fucking name is “Ra’up”. But he’ll tell you that he was raised on French cinema (we can assume this was a form of punishment when spankings were insufficient), and longed to make a pure “blue and cold” sixties-feeling French noir. Did he succeed? Well, yes, he made a movie in French. But was it good? Well, it was in French. While it certainly wasn’t a disaster, it was a bit of a mess, and sagged as much as it sped. For a thriller, it was relatively lacking in thrills. And I don’t even think he got the homage correct… I’ve seen French movies, and there is nudity in French movies.
And we wonder why the French hate us.
FIVE CHILDREN AND IT – Rating: 1.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, Freddie Highmore; Directed By: John Stephenson; Written By: David Solomons
Despite my self-proclaimed righteousness, I am actually a sell-out: I am not above agreeing to see a cutesy kids’ movie in order to be forgiven by my girlfriend for gushing about Naomi Watts’ ass. Her delectable, eat-spaghetti-off-it ass. Considering my girlfriend’s brimstone wrath and surprising brute strength, seeing this movie was worth it… barely. This was another case of the English seeing Americans make an English movie very well, then trying to make an English movie themselves and failing miserably. Like Austin Powers versus Johnny English, for example. In this case, the subject of duplication was Harry Potter. The elements were there – magic, CGI fantasy creatures, fairy-tale adventures, goofy half-wit adults, and Kenneth Branagh – but the soul was not. I suppose if you’re English, if you have misguided expectations (like your expectations of your colonies not revolting), and if you have daft children, you might enjoy this film. And I hate to nit-pick the Brit-pricks, but there were in fact six children, not five.
There were a couple other movies that I had tickets for, but didn’t end up seeing…
BEYOND THE SEA (Starring / Directed By: Kevin Spacey) – I was excited to see it… But then I saw the preview. So I slept in instead. It looked like every bad cliched biopic on TV you’ve ever turned off. No lie, this was an excerpt of dialogue: SOME GUY: “Bobby, you’ve made ten films, won two Grammys, sold over two million records, got nominated for an Academy Award. What the hell more do you want?” BOBBY DARIN: “I want it all!” My buddy went to see it with his girlfriend (he must have been in the doghouse, too), and confirmed that it indeed sucked.
WHEN WILL I BE LOVED (Starring: Neve Campbell) – Due to the ineptitude and tardiness of United Airlines (that’s UNITED AIRLINES), I was late getting to Toronto, and missed this movie. From what I heard, I blew a great opportunity to watch Neve Campbell in a nude shower scene. Thank god for Netflix.
BEST BETS FOR DISTRIBUTION
Even in an “off” year, there were plenty of films that will be coming to a theater near you…
The Assassination Of Richard Nixon – Sean Penn, Naomi Watts
Bad Education – Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez
Being Julia – Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons
Beyond The Sea – Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth
Crash – Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle
A Dirty Shame – Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville
Going Upriver: The Long War Of John Kerry – Documentary
A Good Woman – Helen Hunt, Scarlett Johansson
Haven – Orlando Bloom, Bill Paxton
Head In The Clouds – Charlize Theron, Stuart Townsend
Hotel Rwanda – Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo
House Of Flying Daggers – Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi
I <HEART> Huckabees – Jason Schwartzman, Dustin Hoffman
Jiminy Glick In Lalawood – Martin Short, Jan Hooks
Kinsey – Liam Neeson, Laura Linney
The Libertine – Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton
The Machinist – Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh
The Merchant Of Venice – Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons
The Motorcycle Diaries – Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna
Primer – Shane Carruth, David Sullivan
P.S. – Laura Linney, Topher Grace
Ray – Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington
Saw – Cary Elwes, Danny Glover
Shark Tale – Will Smith, Robert DeNiro
Sideways – Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church
Silver City – Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss
Stage Beauty – Billy Crudup, Claire Danes
Undertow – Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas
When Will I Be Loved – Neve Campbell, Fred Weller
The Woodsman – Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick
As a former employee of the firm that audits the Academy Awards, I might precipitate the biggest scandal in Hollywood history by divulging my list of potential nominees from the fest. I’ll do it just for you, because I think you’re special. Remember that when I call you for bail money…
Kevin Bacon – The Woodsman
Javier Bardem – Mar Adentro
Jamie Bell – Undertow
Annette Bening – Being Julia
Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda
Petra Epperlein (Co-Director) – Gunner Palace
Jamie Foxx – Ray
Paul Giamatti – Sideways
Laura Linney – P.S.
Dermot Mulroney – Undertow
Liam Neeson – Kinsey
Al Pacino – The Merchant Of Venice
Alexander Payne (Writer/Director) – Sideways
Sean Penn – The Assassination Of Richard Nixon
David O. Russell (Writer/Director) – I <HEART> Huckabees
Michael Tucker (Co-Director) – Gunner Palace
Here are the fresh faces that made their marks in Toronto. Now they can stop sleeping with producers (yes, some of them are children; hate the game)…
Devon Alan – Undertow
Emily Blunt – My Summer Of Love
Lynn Collins – The Merchant Of Venice
Frank E. Flowers (Writer/Director) – Haven
Freddie Highmore – Five Children And It
Ki-duk Kim (Writer/Director) – 3-Iron
Nathalie Press – My Summer Of Love
Victor Rasuk – Haven
Zoe Soldana – Haven
Pete Travis (Director) – Omagh
Kerry Washington – Ray
Here’s another reason that I hate my roommate: I wanted to see Hotel Rwanda, and he wanted to see Haven. We saw Haven. Guess which one took home the People’s Choice Award…
People’s Choice Award:
Winner: Hotel Rwanda – Terry George
Winner: Omagh – Pete Travis
FIPRESCI World Premiere Prize:
Winner: In My Father’s Den – Brad McGann
Best Canadian Feature Film:
Winner: It’s All Gone Pete Tong – Michael Dowse
Special Jury Citation: ScaredScared – Velcrow Ripper