TIFF heads tackles transition by playing it safe

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

It was an off-year for the Toronto International Film Festival. The 43rd edition was the last one with executive director Piers Handling at the helm (next year, the current artistic director Cameron Bailey is taking over). The transition was felt: no risks were taken and the big ticket items — First Man, A Star Is Born — weren’t even world premieres. Heck, the supposedly edgy Midnight Madness featured tentpole studio flicks like Halloween and The Predator. Way to push the envelope.

The one “chance” the fest took was to effusively jump aboard the #metoo movement, involving female filmmakers and journalists with TIFF via the program Share Her Journey. I use quotation marks because unless you’re Jordan Peterson or one of his creepy fans, how could you not support #metoo?

The circumstances also weren’t ideal for scoring notable interviews. In the past I was able to sit down with the likes of Marion Cotillard, Ralph Fiennes and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This year the Canadian press didn’t get nearly as much access and all my “gets” were for the same movie (Armie Hammer and the delightful Jason Isaacs for Hotel Mumbai). In fact, I had to do a red carpet to score a couple of minutes with Julianne Moore for my Chilean outlet. Next to me, a reporter was asking “what do you do for fun in the Fall?”

Venturing into the land of “what are you wearing” gave me the most Seinfeldian moment of the festival: Moore is a delightful and warm presence, but she doesn’t shake hands (can’t blame her, journos hands are all-germs). I didn’t know this, so Julianne left me hanging.

I very nearly lost a number of interviews — including Moore’s — when my phone died during an Aqua concert (don’t ask). Nothing says desperation like waiting for a Genius Bar to open on a Sunday at 9 a.m.

But nobody needs to know how the sausage is made, so here’s the best and worst of TIFF 2018. One disclaimer: Of the 300-plus film, I watched 41 (YOU try to cram four movies and interviews a day). That said, I saw the ones that mattered. Suck it, Godard, Koreda, and Cuarón.

BEST OF THE FEST: GREEN BOOK For once, audiences and I agree: this dramedy about a world-class black pianist and his Italian-American valet won this year’s People’s Choice Award. Directed by one-half of the Farrelly brothers (There’s Something About Mary), Green Book hits all the right notes: fun, soulful and timely. Sure, the exploration of racial divides doesn’t dig too deep, but the film’s aware of its limitations and hits all the marks. The movie is further elevated by an excellent Mahershala Ali and a never-better Viggo Mortensen. HONORABLE MENTIONS: The unflinching Islandic drama Let Me Fall (which we’ll get to see in Saskatchewan), Dogman (Italian neorealism for a new century), and the fierce Hotel Mumbai.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: HALLOWEEN This may sound like a blasphemy but Michael Myers’ knife-thin story doesn’t justify all the sequels, reboots, and remakes (Season of the Witch and Rob Zombie’s Halloween II excepted). This one in particular is supposed to erase everything between John Carpenter’s original and present day, and give the franchise a #metoo spin. The result is awfully dull, outside some winks to the original. The script’s dark sense of humor is all right, not so the direction by David Gordon Green, who should just give up on making genre movies (Your Highness comes to mind). RUNNER-UP: 22 JULY One would assume the filmmaker who fried our nerves with United 93 could stage a recreation of the horrific events in Norway in 2011, when a right-wing extremist killed 77 people. Instead, Paul Greengrass bored me to tears with the most basic of family dramas and courtroom intrigue barely worthy of Law & Order: SVU.

BEST CANADIAN FILM: ANTHROPOCENE The super-team of Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky and Nicolas de Pencier (individually responsible for the likes of Manufactured Landscapes, Watermark, and Black Code) delivers a devastating documentary about our planet’s decline, only this time, it’s more accessible than their previous efforts. Unlike most docs dealing with our impending doom, Baichwal, Burtynsky and De Pencier find fresh, enthralling imagery to make their case. RUNNER UP: THE FIREFLIES ARE GONE A Quebec-made coming-of-age drama, Fireflies distinguish itself by making the protagonist more acerbic and mature than her peers, which presents a whole different set of problems. A crackerjack performance by Karelle Tremblay (The Loved Ones) is the icing on a very solid entry. Here is hoping the Fireflies head west.

BEST TREND: FREE-RANGE PARENTING IS A RECIPE FOR DISASTER Think the kids are all right? Lack of parental guidance may lead to drug addiction (Let Me Fall), unbridled anger (Giant Little Ones, The Fireflies Are Gone), and murder (El Angel). Don’t have time for kids? Don’t have them.

WORST TREND: AUTHORIAL SELF-INDULGENCE This isn’t a new one, but it was on full display at TIFF: Claire Denis’ dull sci-fi venture (High Life), Alex Ross Perry’s spectacularly clichéd punk rock biopic (Her Smell), Werner Herzog’s weirdly obsequious interview with Mikhail Gorbachev (Meeting Gorbachev), and Sebastian Lelio’s beat-by-beat remake of Gloria (Gloria Bell). They’ve all done better (maybe not Ross Perry) and need to get back on track before these detours stick.

RANDOM SIGHTINGS: Monica Bellucci at the Entertainment One suite. She says sweetly “Good morning, I’m Monica.” Me: “I… am…. Jorge? I think.” Aaron and Sam Taylor-Johnson, blocking the hallway on my way to an interview. Aaron notices and graciously lets me go through… Pablo Schreiber hoping nobody would recognize him at the premiere of First Man. I blew his cover… Laetitia Casta at the lobby of the Intercontinental, dressed to the nines, absolutely gorgeous… her husband Louis Garrel taking selfies with everybody while a beleaguered programmer tries to rescue him.