Donovan's Toronto Film Fest 2005 ReportSubmitted by ryandonovan at 2005-09-28 23:40:33 EDT
Rating: 1.26 on 21 ratings (21 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
DONOVAN’S TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2005 REPORT
The Fest is back. A year after declaring a slump in the festival’s quality, I experienced one of the best years ever north of the border. I’m not alone – Roger Ebert, after returning from the Toronto International Film Festival (Sept 8 – 17, 2005), declared that this fall’s slate of films was possibly the best he’s ever seen. The celebrities certainly seem to be coming back (they had been scarce ever since 9/11). Nearly all the stars from the films showed up at screenings, and I bumped into a few of them out and about (of course, in Canada, that’s “oot ‘n’ aboot”). My brushes with fame: Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, Eva Longoria, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Elijah Wood, Ed Harris, Guy Ritchie, Aaron Eckhart, Liev Scheiber, Matthew Modine, Jason Schwartzman, Zooey Deschanel, Alan Cumming, and Freddy Rodriguez.
While there has never been a slump in the number of movies vying for Oscar’s attention, I think this year’s films will rack up more nominations than usual. Last year’s Academy Award and Golden Globe nominees included Ray, Sideways, Hotel Rwanda, Kinsey, The Motorcycle Diaries, Mar Adentro, Beyond The Sea, and Les Choristes. This year, I think the list will be twice as long (see the Top Performances section).
All in all, there were big changes in my festival experience this year. First, I attended with a group of nine people, the biggest group I’ve gone with by far (the group included Bart, for those of you who know him). Second, we went for five days, but only saw eight movies (I backed out of a chance to see Pride And Prejudice, thank you very much). After seeing as many as five movies in one day previously, averaging 1.6 movies per day did not consume much of my time. Turns out there are things to do in Toronto outside of the movie houses… like napping. Another change: for the first time ever, there were absolutely no explicit lesbian sex scenes in the films. In fact, no lesbians period… wait, did I say the slump was over? There was also a shocking lack of nudity. The only nudity was on Ward’s Island (a ferry ride from downtown Toronto), at the Clothing-Optional Beach (honest to god). But you’ll have to ask Bart about that. And why he was so adamant about going. And whether it was 100% men.
But the biggest change for me was that this was the first time I attended with my fiancée, after recently getting engaged – yes, hearts are breaking all over the prison tonight. The impact of this is the fact that our wedding is planned for the SAME WEEKEND as the Fest in 2006. That means that after attending for seven consecutive years, my streak may come to end. I have a tough decision to make, and so I’d like to ask you, dear reader, to give me some advice.
In my first ever Ubersite Poll, I’d like to get your opinion on what I should do. Please submit your response by posting a rating/comment to this article.
QUESTION: What should I do next year?
A. Skip the Festival. This is your wedding, for crying out loud.
B. After the wedding, attend the Festival for two days, then take your honeymoon somewhere else. The honeymoon is too important to focus on anything but your lovely bride.
C. Spend your honeymoon at the Festival. Since it is important to both of you, you can share the experience with your gorgeous bride and make it special.
D. Postpone the wedding by one week, and attend the Festival. If your beautiful and compassionate bride has put up with your crap for five years, she can put up with it for another week.
E. Call off the wedding altogether. She will probably leave you anyway.
Without further adieu, here are the reviews of the films I saw, which once again ramble on too long.
REVIEWS (IN ORDER FROM BEST TO WORST)
THANK YOU FOR SMOKING – Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, William H. Macy, Katie Holmes; Directed By: Jason Reitman; Written By: Jason Reitman; Release Date: TBD
This is the reason for going to a film festival: finding the gem. Here was an independent film from a first-time writer/director. It came to Toronto without distribution. Nobody had ever heard of it, let alone seen it. It left as one of the year’s best films, with glowing reviews, a brutal bidding war for distribution rights, and enough buzz to drown out a small aircraft. And it was discovered by me.
This satire, about the moral dilemmas of a cigarette company spokesman, has precisely the right mix of humor and weight, and drives like a perfect movie should. It leaves you with a satisfied, happy buzz, regardless of your politics and stance on smoking. I haven’t seen a funnier movie in a long time, including Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year Old Virgin. Aaron Eckhart, as the cigarette spin doctor, gave possibly the top performance of the year, in any movie. This sort of satirical comedy is never considered for Oscars, but if Eckhart gets passed over for a Golden Globe nod, then everyone on the planet is an idiot.
Adding to the fun is the behind-the-scenes industry mayhem it’s caused. Based on the audience raves, Paramount Classics and Fox Searchlight both bid fervently for the worldwide distribution rights. Paramount Classics seemed to reach a handshake deal late one evening. Then the next morning, Fox Searchlight claimed to have inked a deal for $7 million. The film’s legal team announced that the rights had indeed been purchased by Fox Searchlight, which Paramount Classics angrily disputes. While the soap opera continues, two things are certain: No film has ever fetched a higher price in Toronto, and as most pundits agree, the way deals are made at festivals will never be the same.
NEVERWAS – Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Ian McKellen, Brittany Murphy; Directed By: Joshua Michael Stern; Written By: Joshua Michael Stern; Release Date: TBD
This film was very good, especially for a first-time director, but I don’t think you’ll buy it based on my description. Here goes anyway: An over-qualified psychiatrist takes a dismal job at mental institution in the town where he grew up. While employed there, he learns important things about the patients, a local girl, his father, the fairytale land that his father wrote about in a children’s book, and the connections between all of them. The bottom line: Can fairytales really come true? See, I told you. The movie I just described sounds absolutely horrible. And had it been told poorly, it probably would have been. But the main key to the film’s success was how writer/director Joshua Michael Stern kept the story drive motoring, filling each scene with intrigue and unfolding the events like a mystery. Your appreciation of the film probably hinges on your interpretation of the ending and whether it was cheezy. I, not surprisingly, interpreted it a bit more pessimistically than the average person might.
The other big key to success was the top-notch acting. Did you notice that Aaron Eckhart starred in my two favorite films? No coincidence. He is a remarkable actor and an underrated talent (although I suspect that his relative anonymity will soon evaporate). While this wasn’t the same caliber performance as in Thank You For Smoking, he was a strong lead. The real genius in the film, though, was Ian McKellen. I would pay to see him play a mailbox. This role of a delusional patient probably would have been laughable in the hands of anyone other than Sir Ian, chewing every scene like a big ol’ rare steak.
Other performances were solid: William Hurt, Jessica Lange, and Alan Cumming were all dependable in small supporting roles. Nick Nolte, as Eckhart’s father, played a grizzled, haggard, drunk manic-depressant. A real stretch for him. And Brittany Murphy, never accused of being a great actress (but also never an unpleasant sight), provided a breath of fresh air without providing any real substance. Not essential to the foundation, but a welcome screen ornament.
EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED – Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin; Directed By: Liev Schreiber; Written By: Liev Schreiber; Release Date: 9/16/05
Since this film was released immediately following the Festival, you have probably heard reviews, or even seen the movie by now. The reviews seem to teeter on whether the reviewer approves of the adaptation of the book. Since I don’t read, that was not a consideration for me. This is an easy movie to like. If you really hate it, there’s a good chance you’re a Nazi (literally). If you’re looking for a nice ride, then you should enjoy the mostly-whimsical road trip through the Ukrainian countryside with natty tourist Elijah Wood, riotous guide Eugene Hutz, and blind chauffer Boris Leskin. If you want something deeper, it’s certainly there; you’ll savor the nearly-wordless half-hour finale.
Almost as great as the movie was the Q&A afterwards, with the cast and first-time writer/director Liev Schreiber (a well-known actor in his own right). Schreiber, visibly nervous showing off his newborn baby, gushed about his cast, and described Wood as a “generous soul”. Wood then proceeded to interrupt and insult a viewer asking about similarities between his roles in Sin City and Illuminated. After the viewer clarified that he was asking specifically about the actor’s uncanny ability to act with seemingly limited facial expressions, the actor apologized for “shitting on the question”. “Generous soul” was probably not the phrase I would have used. Schreiber also told the story of how he found Hutz, a native Ukrainian, to play the role of the almost-English-speaking guide. After scouring Europe and coming up empty, Schreiber saw a poster for the Ukrainian-punk-gypsy band Gogol Bordello in New York, which featured a picture of a nude female centaur, being ridden by a shirtless, kilt-wearing, “insane cossack,” and decided that he had to meet that man. That man was Hutz.
HARSH TIMES – Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, Eva Longoria; Directed By: David Ayer; Written By: David Ayer; Release Date: TBD
Having spent my college years at the University of Illinois, I was excited to see this film after reading that writer/director was from Champaign, Illinois. With similar backgrounds, I was certainly going to be able to relate to the Midwestern sensibility of a fellow Illinilander, holding it down for the 217. Turns out Ayer moved South Central Los Angeles as a teenager, and “walked over brains on the sidewalk on the way to school everyday.” We didn’t have as much in common as I thought.
However, I still liked his movie. His directorial debut (he also wrote several hard-boiled L.A./cop movies, including Training Day and S.W.A.T.) followed a few days in the life of a shiftless Gulf War vet, played by Christian Bale, as he looked for work and caused general mayhem with his equally unemployable buddy, played by Freddy Rodriguez. If you think this was one of those slapstick-comedy post-war-trauma movies, I’m afraid you’re wrong. If it ever finds distribution, it will likely infuriate as many Americans as it thrills.
After the screening, the crowd was buzzing about Bale’s performance. Worthy of an Oscar nomination, some said. I disagree. While a rangy and emotional performance, I thought his South Central accent and swagger were stiff and inauthentic (I seem to be in the minority on that). However, I really liked his character’s ability to shift between homeboy-speak and whiteboy-speak depending on his audience, which made you doubt that he was EVER telling the truth. The real winning performance, in my mind, belonged to Rodriguez. I’ve never seen Six Feet Under, so his ability sincerely impressed me. I’m dubbing him the “Latino Giovanni Ribisi”, but it hasn’t caught on yet. His only flaw in the movie: It wasn’t the actor’s fault, but his character lost credibility when he stopped IN THE MIDDLE OF HAVING SEX WITH EVA LONGORIA to drive to Mexico with Bale. On the list of Things You Don’t Do, that ranks right up there with tugging on Superman’s cape and spitting in the wind. Unfortunately, Longoria didn’t wear her MTV VMA bathing suit dress to the screening, but she still looked ridiculously gorgeous. A lad mag recently ranked her the #1 hottest woman in the world, and after seeing her in person in a stunning, clinging evening dress, I’m here to confirm… that she’s a solid #2 (I just got engaged, remember).
REVOLVER – Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Andre Benjamin; Directed By: Guy Ritchie; Written By: Guy Ritchie; Release Date: 1/26/06
As scathing reviews come pouring out of Toronto on the heels of the Revlover screening, it seems possible, even probable, that I am the only person on the planet that liked this film. Just to save myself from embarrassment, I nearly changed my review to mirror everyone else’s. But knowing that I lost the respect of you, the reading audience, years ago, I have decided to stick to my guns.
Guy Ritchie also stuck to his guns, by returning to his comfortable genre, the British gangster/heist/double-cross thriller (incidentally, he’s been usurped in that niche by his former producer, Matthew Vaughn, who directed Layer Cake). The difference with Revolver is that it was extremely psychological, a Russian nesting doll of a con (inside a con inside a con, etc.). Moreover, the audience had to figure out when the con was on the audience itself, if at all. It required more thinking than any movie does these days, which is a lot to ask for. So a lot of people dismissed it, including hordes of critics. Personally, I enjoyed the ride, and was held at attention for every single scene. Did I follow exactly what was going on, and have all the answers at the end? Of course not. But I like that. I like having to think about it afterwards, talk to some other people, and draw some conclusions. Unfortunately, conversations with peers unraveled quickly, and few conclusions were drawn. It’s probably a lot more interesting if you watch it several times. But the key is that I don’t want to watch it several times.
I expected Ritchie the man to be a self-righteous jackass. And he was… but not enough of one to make him unlikable. He gave one of the longest and most informative post-film Q&As that I’ve ever seen, and seemed very comfortable discussing aspects of the film at length. He even praised the viewers before the film, declaring that Toronto audiences were the most intelligent in the world. A nice compliment, but in hindsight, probably fruitless buttering in an attempt to make us doubt our assessments of the film and to stave off buzz-killing word of mouth. Interestingly, he refused to comment on whether his movies glorified gun violence. All that said, I liked the movie. But I’m warning you, I may be the only one that doesn’t see through the emperor’s new clothes.
WINTER PASSING – Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Zooey Deschanel, Ed Harris, Will Ferrell; Directed By: Adam Rapp; Written By: Adam Rapp; Release Date: 10/28/05 (limited)
The last time Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel made a movie together, I spent a month answering my phone, “Ryan the Elf. What’s your favorite color?” This time, the results weren’t quite so chipper. Deschanel is the star, as a budding theater actress who returns home to visit (and maybe reconnect with) her odd, reclusive-genius author father, Ed Harris. Ferrell, in probably his most dramatic role to date, played one of Harris’s live-in caretakers. While the film overall was a cold drama, Ferrell provided a few of the lightly comic highlights. You can take the man out of the comedy, but you can’t take the comedy out of the man.
Deschanel received the majority of the mild praise for the film. While she certainly sustained the film, I was not overly impressed. She no longer needs to prove to me that she can play the misanthropic, vaguely-detached, monotonous “troubled girl”. Harris was predictably solid, but this performance will not make his career highlight reel.
First-time filmmaker Adam Rapp, renown in the theater world, said this film was originally conceived as a play. Maybe it should have stayed that way. I’m not saying it was bad, but I wouldn’t recommend it. And if you pride yourself on seeing every single Will Ferrell movie (even The Suburbans), you will be disappointed.
THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA – Rating: 1.5 out of 5.0
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, January Jones; Directed By: Tommy Lee Jones; Written By: Guillermo Arriaga; Release Date: 11/11/05 (limited), 12/23/05 (wide)
Of all the films at the Festival, I was looking forward to this one the most. It had already won awards at Cannes, it was considered a strong contender for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, and it was fittingly the last film I was going to see on my trip. But after living so many years on this earth, I should have seen it coming: It was an extreme disappointment. The plot followed rancher Tommy Lee Jones toting the corpse of his recently-deceased friend (the titular Melquiades Estrada) across the border, to be buried in his hometown in Mexico. Perhaps giving it a 1.5 is a little harsh, but I can’t help feeling personally slighted, like the filmmakers just sold me a used car with more miles on it than advertised, grinning all the while.
Certainly, Jones was not targeting suckers when making his passion project. You can tell that he cared, and that he tried. His acting did not come into question; it was actually quite strong, and may still grab an Oscar nomination. But the story was strange and often ridiculous (writer Guillermo Arriaga delivers his first misfire after Amores Perros and 21 Grams), and Jones’s direction probably could have reigned in a film with a better sense of self either on-set or during the editing process (and maybe direction should be left to directors). I am particularly surprised that he didn’t curtail the goofy comedy in Barry Pepper’s role, which overshadowed the saturation of moral ambiguity.
The shortcomings didn’t stop me from rooting for it until the very end. About halfway through the film (which could have been called Weekend At Bernie’s III: Livin’ La Vida Loca), I remember thinking, “This better get awesome in a hurry, or else it’s going to be a relatively poor movie.” It was like I was hoping for my team to score three second-half touchdowns in order to pull off a comeback victory. Maybe it would have been better off with Tommy Lee instead of Tommy Lee Jones. The Three Reunions of Motley Crue. Fuck yeah!
ELIZABETHTOWN – Rating: 1.0 out of 5.0
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon; Directed By: Cameron Crowe; Written By: Cameron Crowe; Release Date: 10/14/05
I’ll level with you: I am risking my career as a film critic by writing this review. And not just because I pathetically sold out and decided to see this studio dreck. Before the screening, a Festival representative informed us that the film was a work-in-progress, and strongly urged critics not to submit reviews of this rough cut (I am fortunately exempt from the edict because I have no scruples). Filmmaker Cameron Crowe would have presumably warned us himself, had he not hightailed out of town after the film’s first screening bombed like the end of World War II. I won’t bother with a description of the muddled plot; this string of scenes is too much of a knotted mess to try to untangle. I’ll just say that at 2 hours and 20 minutes, it runs long. Crowe agrees; he’s said that he’s planning a lot of editing before its release. I have an earnest suggestion: Cut out 2 hours and 20 minutes, and start over with John Cusack and Ione Skye.
Crowe didn’t do himself any favors with the cast. Kirsten Dunst (who is normally easy to like) is no longer convincing to me in many roles (tennis pro, 1920s socialite, Watergate expositor, prep school intellectual, Marie-Antionette), but I absolutely buy her as a dippy stewardess. Even if I could get past her fangs (she hasn’t gotten braces yet?) and occasional Southern accent, I still wouldn’t be wooed by any part of her performance in this movie. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s the bad script. But it’s probably her.
Orlando Bloom (who is always easy to hate) has never been convincing to me in any role (crap, crap, crap, crap, crap), and I still don’t buy him as a supposedly American, formerly successful gym shoe designer/philosopher (but cast him in a movie where he plays a pussy getting the limey bollocks beaten out of him by Ryan Donovan, and I’d believe it in a heartbeat). Even if I could get past his assholishness and his suckitude, he would still lack the charisma to headline any movie other than a snuff film. He couldn’t charm the pants off a stripper.
Never one to know when to end a movie, Crowe has precious little time to rescue this jalopy. But are there even parts that can be salvaged to rebuild with? I guess you might be able to relate to portions if you’ve ever lost your father, have family in the South, or have had sex with Dunst (and no, Mr. Gyllenhaal, an outside-the-pants hand job doesn’t count). But for the rest of us, we’re better off simply reading the venomous reviews, which promise to be more entertaining than the film itself. Here’s a taste: In the film, Bloom’s character is responsible for a multi-million-dollar “fiasco”, which ruins his career. I’ll leave the life-imitates-art comparisons between Crowe and the character to wittier critics.
BEST BETS FOR DISTRIBUTION
Brokeback Mountain – Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger
Bee Season – Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche
Capote – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener
Corpse Bride – Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter
Dreamer – Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning
Edison – Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman
Elizabethtown – Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst
Everything Is Illuminated – Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz
A History Of Violence – Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello
In Her Shoes – Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang – Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer
The Matador – Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear
Mrs. Harris – Annette Bening, Ben Kingsley
Mrs. Henderson Presents – Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins
Neverwas – Aaron Eckhart, Ian McKellen
North Country – Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand
Oliver Twist – Ben Kingsley, Barney Clark
Pride And Prejudice – Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfayden
Proof – Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins
Revolver – Jason Statham, Ray Liotta
Romance & Cigarettes – James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon
Shopgirl – Steve Martin, Claire Danes
The Squid And The Whale – Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney
Thank You For Smoking – Aaron Eckhart, William H. Macy
The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada – Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper
Thumbsucker – Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton
Transamerica – Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers
Trust The Man – Julianne Moore, David Duchovny
Walk The Line – Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon
Winter Passing – Zooey Deschanel, Ed Harris
Kevin Bacon – Where The Truth Lies
Maria Bello – A History Of Violence
Cate Blanchett – Little Fish
Brenda Blethyn – Pride And Prejudice
Niki Caro (Director) – North Country
Judi Dench – Mrs. Henderson Presents
Aaron Eckhart – Thank You For Smoking
Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote
Felicity Huffman – Transamerica
Tommy Lee Jones – The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada
Keira Knightley – Pride And Prejudice
Heather Ledger – Brokeback Mountain
Ang Lee (Director) – Brokeback Mountain
James Mangold (Writer/Director) – Walk The Line
Ian McKellan – Neverwas
Viggo Mortensen – A History Of Violence
Cillian Murphy – Breakfast On Pluto
Gwyneth Paltrow – Proof
Joaquin Phoenix – Walk The Line
Charlize Theron – North Country
Reese Witherspoon – Walk The Line
Cameron Bright – Thank You For Smoking
Eugene Hutz (Actor/Musician) – Everything Is Illuminated
January Jones – The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada
Bennett Miller (Director) – Capote
Lou Pucci – Thumbsucker
Jason Reitman (Writer/Director) – Thank You For Smoking
Freddy Rodriguez – Harsh Times
Amelia Warner – Winter Passing
People’s Choice Award:
Winner: Tsotsi – Gavin Hood
Winner: Look Both Ways – Sarah Watt
FIPRESCI World Premiere Prize:
Winner: Sa-kwa – Kang Yi-kwan
Best Canadian Feature Film:
Winner: C.R.A.Z.Y – Jean-Marc Vallee