The Toronto International Film Festival is sadly done for the 2015 season, and the 40th anniversary of the event was a success. To lead into the awards months and into 2016, we have a few bite sized reviews of films that made quite a bit of buzz from yours truly (plus a mini review by my fellow Live in Limbo editor Dakota Arsenault). Here are six films that LiL caught at TIFF, in order of lowest rated to highest. Expect there to be full reviews of the following: Stonewall (which is already on the site), A Tale of Love and Darkness, Room and Anomalisa.
Final Rating: 5.3/10
In short, Love is a Gaspar Noé film. Plain and simple. If you like the director, you will probably like this. If you hate him, you’ll hate this. If you’re somewhere in the middle, Love will win you over in some ways and lose you in others. It is a graciously shot 3D film with gorgeous visuals and music. This is easily Noé’s prettiest film, but that isn’t to say that it is his easiest. While it may try to play off as his most humanistic film, it pains me to say that something much more excruciating like the life and death aspects of his film Enter the Void feel much more real than the actual intimacy here. It tries to make a statement on love via its graphic non-simulated sex scenes, and it ends up being self indulgent at times. Some of these sex shots feel like living classic paintings, with the characters muscles popping out through shadows and light. Some will feel like an unwanted commercial that has popped up during your internet cruising. Sex is a human need, but so much focus on it made it go from an interesting concept to being a drinking game one would very easily lose. With a decent lead (Karl Glusman), and some less-than-stellar work from his co-stars, the shoddy dialogue will make the scattered beauty of this film stutter, especially with the uneasy delivery the characters give. I am aware that a lot of this was improvised (apparently, the script was only a few pages), but not everyone can pass off scatterbrained offshoot dialogue as a performance with ease. With some better coaching, these lines could have had some better deliver and a better sense of purpose, and purpose is something you need in a film that will already shoo away many people due to its taboo premise. Like the lead character Murphy, Love wants to know what Love is all about, but it tries too hard to stimulate rather than breath and live it.
Final Rating: 7.0/10
Stonewall centers around a fictionalized version of how the Stonewall Riots came to be, both in the lead up and subsequently aftermath of the landmark event. The film tells the story of a young man named Danny (Jeremy Irvine) from Kansas, who after being kicked out of his home makes his way to Greenwich Village. The film, for better or worse makes the lead as nonthreatening and all American looking as possible, in hopes that the average viewer won’t be grossed out by the seedy world he is entering. While there has been a bevy of criticism about the film’s lack of diversity, I can categorically put that to rest. Outside the handsome white male lead, you have plenty of people of colour not to mention transgendered and lesbian characters as well. While at times some of the characters may seem a little too much like a bad stereotype, when stepping back and seeing the forest you realize how varied the portrayals of the gay community actually are. The film is mostly about friendship living in a world where people thought you were a deviant, perverted and had a mental disease. What the film fails to do at a better level is show that being gay isn’t gross. There are shades of Spike Lee’s seminal film about race relations Do The Right Thing as both movies excel at letting tensions and anger simmer until the boiling point of no return, but where Lee succeeds in having the riot the most impactful scenes in the film, director Roland Emmerich fails as when the riots finally occur they are shot more like an action film than a protest. The performances of Irvine, Jonny Beauchamp, Otoja Abit and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers are all standouts in a stellar ensemble cast from this marginalized section of society that take their lumps and grow stronger each day.
Final Rating: 7.3/10
Julie Delpy has already won America’s heart again and again with her contributions to the Before series (where she collaborated with director Richard Linklater and co-star/co-writer Ethan Hawke). Her latest effort takes her back to her native France and features the great French comic actor Dany Boon. Lolo is directed by, co-written by and starring Delpy herself, and her control on the film is definite. You see her subtle American humor get tangled into the French comedy web within the film with the occasional dark joke getting mixed within a ton of middle aged sex jabs. Delpy’s character Violette is getting up there in age, and she is paired up with the wonky Jean-René (Boon). They hit it off so quickly that the film skips the build up between the two characters. It focusses more on the devil spawn teenaged son of Violette named Lolo, played by Vincent Lacoste. Lolo is so adamant on ruining this new relationship of his mothers that he borderline makes it a difficult time for us, too. Not to worry, as both Delpy and Boon save the film with their comedic timing and goofy hijinks. Lolo is a bit of a cynical flick that does have heart within it. If will get many laughs out of you, so it can definitely be classified as a comedy success. Don’t look too deeply into some of the story’s shortcomings (the lack of a legitimate backstory as to why Lolo is the way he is or how things will eventually turn up), and you will have a fluffy and enjoyable time laughing at the things one’s heart desires (and, in Lolo’s case, absolutely despises).
A Tale of Love and Darkness
Final Rating: 7.7/10
Natalie Portman’s first film as a director is a very interesting one, because it is a clear example of an actor going above and beyond to let the viewer know that this is also a piece from behind the camera. Like Joel Edgerton’s great film The Gift that came out earlier this year, Portman’s film is heavily guided by her will to feature as many things she learned as an actor working with directors as possible. The shots in A Tale of Love and Darkness are breathtaking, and her creativity with pans, angles and colours is nothing to be ignored. This is a project Portman is proud of, clearly. Based on the autobiographical book written by Amos Oz, the film takes place in Jerusalem during the initial years of the state of Israel. Portman, always having been passionate about her birthplace, was clearly moved by the novel when she devoted her every whim into making this a worthy film. Not just her aesthetics show this, but so does her directing of the acting as well. Portman herself, who plays Oz’s mother, gives one of her best performances yet. She is a strong tree that can support anything that sits on her branches, until the day she is cut down. When Portman falls, we fall with her. The only collective gripe people have had with this film is the fact that it relies on its poetic rhythm more than it does on making a story driven narrative, and this leads the film to being imbalanced quite often. Moments that should stick out more don’t, and scenes that shouldn’t be as dramatic as they are don’t keep it down. Nonetheless, you will either be bothered by this or you will take the love letter to Israel and family as what it is. I, myself, was deeply moved, even with the present flaws.
Final Rating: 8.5/10
Lenny Abrahamson has captured my attention before with his indie music dramedy Frank last year. If I was told he would be directing the adaptation of the earth shattering best seller Room by Emma Donoghue, I would be pleased with his creativity but curious about his attention to the story’s gruesome wounds. Room does not disappoint, partially because of the harrowing moments Abrahamson directs with a sense of realism but mostly because of the bravura performances by starlet Brie Larson and rising star Jacob Tremblay. Larson and Tremblay play a mother and her son respectively, and they take on the tiniest world when they are locked up in a room. They were kidnapped some seven years before and have had to rely on each other to survive. The mother is eager to live freely, but her son is living in a room with virtually all that he knows about the world. Room goes above and beyond a typical survival story because of how much it focuses on the epilogue. It shows that it, too, can be as important as the main obstacle. While Abrahamson’s film dodges a few questions slyly (where do we go from here in relation to William H. Macy’s character?), it is a triumph because of Larson and Tremblay alone. Larson, worthy of an academy award (or at the very least a nomination, even to make up for the fact that she was snubbed for Short Term 12) is catastrophically pained. She could read a book and you can see the anguish in her eyes. For such a young actor, Tremblay is not far behind with his bravery within this performance. Abrahamson made Donoghue’s story into a very good gilm, but Larson and Tremblay are what make Room a terrific one.
Final Rating: 10/10
This is it. Film of the year. I don’t care what comes out within the next few months when it comes to topping my list, because nothing will rip my emotions, all of them large and small, out of my system like Anomalisa did. Charlie Kaufman’s animated project started out as an audio play he created back in 2005. Ten years later, after a kickstarter funded miracle sent this film into a higher gear, both Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson have recreated this audio play with new life. What started out as a mumbling brain full of anxiety and dread has now turned into a visual representation of the mask we all put on. Anomalisa is the tale of hurt, depression and societal fear. Do we lose all compassion for everyone around us, even those we love? That’s how Michael Stone (played by David Thewlis) feels. He can only see the people around him as the same blank faced marionette, while they all give the same monotone voice (played by Tom Noonan), no matter what race, age or gender they are. He lives a life of confusing monotony, and we find these moments hilarious at times (when a couple argues and they both have Noonan’s neutral voice, it is hysterical). We find joy within this man’s misery, and it is misery we ourselves face on a different level. In this very day, where Stone is trapped in a boring hotel room, he will find something that will finally spark some life within his stiff corpse once again. The beauty of Anomalisa is the sensational animation being combined with what Kaufman has to say about the human need for nurturing. Each figure has cracks within their face showing clearly that their mugs are separated by different parts used to animate emotions and lips mouthing words. We know very well that these are puppets, and we are still moved. You will laugh harder here than any film of 2015. You will be tossed across the room with pouring emotion unlike any moment this year. Expect more to come in a full review that will most likely contain spoilers, but this film demands a full on analysis. Take my word for it: Anomalisa is unlike anything you would have expected to see this year, and it is an animated gem full of magic.