By Shane McNeil
Everyone seems to have different approaches to how they prepare themselves for the Toronto International Film Festival. Some go for the big stars, some go for the Canadian films, some go for three-hour-plus, emotionally-crippling period dramas. Some like to balance the three!
I firmly believe that there’s no bad way to attend the fest, but I do have one major rule that I personally employ when picking what films to attend, and it goes as follows:
Don’t waste your time.
Having seen the frenzy that people got worked into last year over Burn After Reading (and, similarly, for this year’s Up In The Air and The Informant!), I remain bewildered at how folks can go to such lengths and get into such emotional fits just to see a celebrity. There are folks willing to pay north of $40 just to get a wave from George Clooney, Matt Damon or Brad Pitt, when the movie they’re actually paying to see comes out shortly after, or (in the case of Informant! and Burn) during the festival.
I myself make some exceptions. I’ll bite to try and get a few weeks head start on a film I’m really excited for, like last year’s Blindness, or by a filmmaker of whom I’m particularly fond, like Almodovar’s newest Broken Embraces. However, for the most part, I try to stick to films that will leave a lasting impression and won’t get a wide release, or at least won’t be playing many theatres when they do get released.
Here, then, are the three films I’m most excited for at this year’s fest.
(Russia, Dir: Valery Todorovsky)
The book says: “Hipsters is a lush rebel-with-a-cause musical chock full of intricately choreographed, toe-tapping numbers and plenty of none-too-subtle social commentary.”
Why you should go: Colin Geddes gets unfairly pigeon-holed as “the Midnight Madness guy,” when he’s just a programmer that loves good entertainment. This is not to say that the films he selects (like Hipsters) aren’t a little outside the traditional TIFF box (lightbox?) but it isn’t all gore and cult. He’s been responsible for some incredible films before, such as last year’s Vinyan and 2007’s disturbing Ex-Drummer, but Hipsters is the type of good-timey, audience-pleasing film that I think will generate enough post-film buzz to make people wonder how they overlooked it in their pre-fest choices. The festival is obviously anticipating this, as one of the many free Yonge-Dundas Square events for the fest is a series of swing dancing lessons in conjunction with the film. Sometimes a film just feels right, and I have a great feeling about this one.
(Germany, Dir: Fatih Akin)
The book says: “Soul Kitchen is casually cool and loads of fun to watch.”
Why you should go: Akin has quietly become one of the most consistently good filmmakers working today. His previous efforts Head-On and The Edge of Heaven were layered, well-crafted pieces of cinema. That said, the latter was something of a heavy affair, despite being one of the most original and most interesting films at the 2007 fest. Soul Kitchen has Akin reaching back to the lighter side and plying his trade in the kitchen — a limited space that has unlimited possibilities. Again, I’m not trying to say “take it easy and go for fluff” but this film has the earmarks of the type of lush, delicious filmmaking displayed by Ang Lee in Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. I’d tap it as one of my top picks, though I’d advise attendees to not go into the screening hungry.
(Ireland, Dir: Ian FitzGibbon)
The book says: “From beginning to end, Mark O’Rowe’s screenplay is a superb blend of lighthearted, offbeat comedy and crime-story thrills, with the perfect measure of warmth between its hard-luck characters.”
Why you should go: FitzGibbon’s contribution to last year’s fest, A Film With Me In It, was not only the funniest film I saw over the course of those ten days, but maybe the funniest film I saw all year. To see him now moving a bit more into the loutish, slightly darker, Flann O’Brien-esque school of Irish narrative has me very, very excited. The film is already drawing comparisons to the early catalogue of Guy Ritchie, but to throw another, slightly less tainted comparison out there, I’m expecting something a bit closer to last year’s In Bruges. That’s not to say that this film will be up to that exceptional level of achievement. But having seen FitzGibbon’s previous work, I certainly think he has it in him.
So there you have it. Three films that I’m particularly stoked about. This is by no means a limited list, and I tried to keep it light to break up the often sluggish and hard life of a film-fest devotee. If bookending Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist and Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon is your style, go nuts. I’m sure both are excellent films. But there’s only a limited amount of time to see all these films and a person only has a limited supply of energy. Films like these are necessary to maintain your momentum when seeing so many films in such a short time span. So, good luck with whatever choices you make and if any of these end up being sleepers you might otherwise have missed, then I’ll happily take any and all credit for your cinematic enjoyment.