Sunday, September 20, 2009

TIFF 2009: the wrap-up

Maybe the problem was me. Maybe I was just the victim of some weird statistical clustering in that my fourteen film selections out of the several hundred available from which to choose were merely “solidly entertaining” down to “you’ve gotta be kidding me” and there are, out there across the GTA, dozens of other festival regulars with ten-packs who saw nothing but gems and are currently proclaiming in their own blogs that TIFF ’09 is the best year ever. I don’t discount that possibility out of hand. I do, however, have to be truthful and say that this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was a big letdown for me.

Part of it may be that I’m stuck in the past. It’s not a long past, to be sure: 2009 was only my seventh TIFF, only the fourth for which I purchased ticket packages and booked a week off of work and made the festival my late-summer holiday. I don’t remember TIFF when it was still called The Festival of Festivals, or when all the screenings were in Yorkville, hell, I don’t even go back far enough to remember when the Program(me) Book was published in black and white. I’ve just been going long enough to know, in ways that barely need articulating, the rhythm of the festival’s unspooling, and when something might be amiss.

In 2007, my favourite year of all my fests, the word hit the street in very short order: Juno is the breakout of the year. That was also the year of No Country For Old Men, the year the Ryerson auditorium sang “Happy Birthday” to Dario Argento on the first night of Midnight Madness, when Young People Fucking and Walk All Over Me were must-see refreshing blasts of Canadian kink following through on the promise of Shortbus, when there was an unofficial double bill of Joy Division was, in my memory, the year where there was a wonderful overlap between movie star hype and quality world cinema that spilled over onto the streets of downtown for ten days. There was joy in the air that year, quality and excitement that created an almost tangible buzz. And maybe it’s unfair of me to compare subsequent festivals to that one, but as long as the hype machines are out there trumpeting how “this year is the strongest year in memory”, they have it coming.

2007 had Juno. 2008 had Slumdog Millionaire. 2009 had...don’t say Precious, please don’t say Precious. Ungainly title aside, no film was more hyped, and no film could be more predictable as the Audience Award winner. With wins at Cannes and Sundance before this town, there’s already talk of the Oscar push. I wouldn’t count it out, but is the nation really going to embrace something so far along the misery index? What other possibilities are there? Up In the Air, I suppose, which I am really looking forward to seeing. Darwin, at this point, doesn’t even have an American distributor, and early reviews are middling. Dr. Parnassus will be a curiosity piece; since Ledger already got his posthumous Oscar, expect it to have a steep dropoff in its second weekend and to be ignored come awards season.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. Here’s my week in review:

Best of the fest
I actually did enjoy several of the movies I saw this year. I won’t be seeing them again, but I’d recommend them to anyone
An Education
Timetrip: Curse of the Viking Witch
The Loved Ones
L’Affaire Farewell

Middle-of-the road
Still worthwhile, I’m glad I saw them even if I didn’t love them.
Solitary Man
The Disappearance of Alice Creed
The Most Dangerous Man in America

Fish Tank
La Donation
Survival of the Dead
Bran Nue Dae

Films that, in retrospect, I really wish I’d either had a chance to see, or made the effort to see
Daybreakers, A Town Called Panic, Antichrist, Suck, Glorious 39, Cracks, The Joneses, Harry Brown, Leaves of Grass, Partir, Mao’s Last Dancer

Random thoughts on the festival

I didn’t see any screenings at the Cumberland this year. If the longstanding threats are followed through with, and the theatre is razed to make room for another much-needed Yorkville condo tower (eye roll) I may never enjoy TIFF shows there again.

Why did Space not sponsor Midnight Madness this year?

Are you sure we're at the right movie: Solitary Man, A Single Man and A Serious Man...hey, I didn't know Michael Douglas worked with the Coen brothers! Oh, wait a sec...

The pirate noises are a tradition that already seems to be on the wane. It was pretty funny when it started in 2007, though.

The pre-film montage of sponsors was sort of interesting this year, though as I'm sure it is for everyone who sees more than ten movies, it's pretty exasperating by day four. The excerpts of old footage showing Toronto on film actually inspired applause during several of my screenings. The Cadillac ads where the guy pitches rehashed script ideas (“This one’s about a shark that terrorizes a seaside town. It’s called...Death Shark!”) never get old for me. The NBC/Universal Volunteers one, though...thank god for the volunteers, that’s not what I’m saying, but that clip is at least three years old, and I’m always distracted by seeing the same actor who plays the spotlighted volunteer also sitting front row stage right applauding himself.

Resolutions for next year

1. TIFF 2010 is going to be all about fun for me. I’m going to see a lot fewer movies that are good for me and more movies that offer pure silly pleasure. I’m going to see fewer movies set in depressed northern Quebec towns and I’m going to make a concerted effort to fill my selection booklet with Canadian vampire comedies and movies in which Nick Cage flips out with an iguana.
2. Though I still won’t be shelling out for any Galas, I’m rescinding my rule about skipping the star-laden Special Presentations. I heard too many stories of great films and fun screenings to write them off completely. So Clooney’s movie will be out in November. I cherish the experience of a great audience too much to discount the potential joyous evening.
3. I won’t book a full week off of work any more. With the festival practically winding down by Tuesday and daytime screenings during the week being half-full with seniors’ outings, I’ll conserve my days off and fill my first weekend and evenings with films instead of sticking myself with do-nothing Thursdays.

And that’s it. Only fifty or so more weeks...

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