Looking at this year’s Toronto tea leaves

19 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

10 Best Things We Saw at 2015 Toronto Film Festival.

Every year at this time the film industry looks to Toronto to read the tea leaves of the upcoming awards season. We came, we saw, we saw some more: Having sifted through the big fall-movie Oscar-courting releases, the foreign-language flicks, the wooly-and-wild midnight films, the music-related docs and everything else in between at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, we’ve emerged with a Top 10 list of favorites from our week of cinema-sampling-in-Canada bliss.You’ve seen the kind of movie where all seems lost unless some larger-than-life miracle worker sweeps in and makes the saga end in feel-good triumph.He brought “Goon” to the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011 and drew throngs of young women and others to a 2013 romcom, later released as “What If,” starring Daniel Radcliffe.

The first time that a red carpet was rolled out may have been in “The Oresteia” when Clytemnestra orders her handmaidens to lay down crimson tapestries for the return of her long-absent husband, Agamemnon. At the sales and industry office of the TIFF, Kristen Stewart is looking very much like the saviour who can deliver a happy ending to what was looking like a very bleak story. Is it any wonder that for two weeks every September, for the last 40 years, Hogtown wiggles into its shiniest rental tuxedo, slicks back its hair, and flashes its toothiest George Clooney grin for the rest of the world? The color evokes the blood that was spilled at Troy and signals the blood that will pour from Agamemnon when he’s killed by Clytemnestra, who holds him responsible the death of their daughter, Iphigenia. It’s a long road to the red carpet outside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and Oscar night, but “Room” has drawn awards chatter, what Variety described as a “rapturous standing ovation” earlier in the week and acclaim for actress Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, an 8-year-old Vancouver boy who plays her son.

In the oral history of TIFF by Barry Hertz that kicked off The Globe’s festival coverage this year, co-founder Henk Van der Kolk sums up TIFF’s original mission statement, back when it was known as the Festival of Festivals. “We thought that by starting a film festival, we would get the world to recognize us,” he recounts. “To say, we’re here!” Mr. Last year at Toronto, Tom McCarthy was hit hard by critics who didn’t appreciate the director’s high-concept fable “The Cobbler,” starring Adam Sandler.

When Toronto added a TV section this year, joining Berlin and Sundance, it tipped the balance among the Big Five festivals, leaving Cannes and Venice as the only ones without sidebars dedicated to the medium. But the word from the Hollywood Reporter is that bidding has reached a record-shattering $16 million for Equals, a U.S. independent film with a futuristic setting and the theme of stumbling blocks on the way to finding love. Television productions have been programmed at festivals for a long time; examples abound, including Marco Tullio Giordano’s “Best of Youth” (2003) and Olivier Assayas’s “Carlos,” both shown at Cannes.

Certainly, audiences here are stumbling out of Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” overwhelmed by a transcendent experience, one that sounds off-putting on paper yet is intensely beautiful in the playing. McCarthy had one of the breakouts of the festival with “Spotlight,” a story of how Boston Globe reporters uncovered the Catholic Church scandals of the early 2000s that was both thrilling and important.

The bare-bones description — she’s a kidnap victim who gave birth to a son and they’re held captive in a soundproof garden shed by her abductor — makes it sound like a horror movie when it’s a richly acted, suspenseful, emotional drama with coincidental echoes of real news stories. In a city that often struggles to distinguish itself, TIFF has become our thing. (Well, okay, that and the Blue Jays, of late.) Of course, it’s easy to hate on TIFF. What’s new is that they’re being identified as television shows, rather than long films, and given their own space. (As recently as 2010, there was such resistance to television at Cannes that “Carlos” had to be shown out of competition.) Caroline Benjo, a producer of “The Returned,” a French zombie series, recalled that she discovered Jane Campion’s 1990 mini-series “An Angel at My Table” at Toronto. “But no one was talking about television,” she said. “It was a Jane Campion film, period. Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her 2010 novel, the movie is told from the point of view of a 5-year-old named Jack (the remarkable Jacob Tremblay) who lives with his Ma (Brie Larson) in a cramped, windowless room lit only by a skylight. If a deal gets done at that price, it will go a long way to shrugging off whining that has been going on for days about the lack of action, buzz and excitement in the annual game in which armies of film buyers descend on TIFF, chequebooks ready, hoping to scoop up product represented by the counter-army of sales agents trying to find future audiences and soothing revenue guarantees for their risky untested movies. “We had a record number of buyers come to Toronto this year.

Now what they are selling is TV series.” Michael Lerman, who programmed Toronto’s TV lineup, called Primetime, said: “We as a festival were saying that everything is moving image to us. Over 2,000 of them from all over the world came to the festival looking to buy movies and the deals are now starting to be announced,” assures TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey. “The marketplace is changing and distributors have to be cautious, but we’re glad to see them chasing everything from comedies to crazed genre movies to challenging arthouse fare. We tend to roll our eyes at things – TIFF, our transit system, our sports clubs, our elected officials, our rap superstars – precisely because they’re ours. This year, it showed “Anomalisa,” “Beasts of No Nation,” “He Named Me Malala,” “Room,” “Black Mass,” “Spotlight,” “45 Years” and “Heart of a Dog.” All were at the far-larger Toronto festival, which also showed “The Event,” a terrific documentary about an attempted 1991 coup in Russia from the Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa. “The Event,” along with the other less industrial fare, will trickle into the slipstream. But his new movie, “The Martian,” about a man (Matt Damon) stranded on the Red Planet, found the director back at the top of his pop-entertainment game. “The Martian” garnered glowing reviews for its scope, plot and intriguing puzzles. “Gotta keep ’em guessing, dude,” the “Alien” and “Prometheus” director told The Times when asked about the shift to a different kind of interstellar tale. “Gotta keep myself guessing.” Confinement.

We thought it was a little ridiculous not everyone had already jumped on this bandwagon.” This inaugural Primetime program was modest, encompassing five series and a Netflix documentary about Keith Richards. Slowly we come to comprehend the actual nature of their situation, and it’s far from pretty; the achievement of director Abrahamson (“Frank”) is to create a child’s translucent garden of wonders even as we shrink in horror from the reality that Ma knows. Speaking of “The Martian” — which followed Damon as he was stuck in a small shelter on Mars dubbed “The Hab” — the film turned out to be one of several fest hits set mainly in a confined space.

And it was the perfect reminder that when all is said and done, sometimes you need a big-name, big-studio film to deliver that old-time hooray-for-Hollywood thrill — and sometimes you just want to see a skinhead get blasted with a shotgun in the guts. 2015 may not bring everything that Back to the Future II promised it would: flying cars, self-lacing shoes, we don’t see ’em happening over the next 12 months. (Then again, don’t bet against Nike.) But this year will definitely pack plenty of punch when it comes to cultural happenings. Screen International, an influential and widely read trade paper, declared in its front-page banner on Wednesday: “TIFF Market off pace after sluggish start.” Variety was even more caustic, calling 2015 TIFF’s year of “Let’s Not Make a Deal,” quoting buyers complaining about “slow, cold, sludge” and dismissing various films on offer as weird, bad and slow. Midway through, after a sequence that’s as nerve-racking as any I’ve seen recently, the two reenter the larger world, and “Room” becomes a different movie, in some ways a lesser one and in other ways more powerful. Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again.

Sitting at the bar of the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel and sipping a Coke (with only a wedge of lime added), the Shady Side Academy and Colgate University grad talked about the exhausting, exhilarating whirl. “It’s been so much fun being here. There was one flashy, mainstream American show, NBC’s new “Heroes Reborn,” and four less familiar choices: “Casual,” a Hulu comedy directed by the filmmaker Jason Reitman; “Cromo,” an Argentine ecothriller; “Trapped,” an Icelandic mystery created by Baltasar Kormakur, whose feature “Everest” had opened the Venice festival; and “The Returned,” about to begin its second season. Early critical favorites tend to be ready-made targets for later takedowns; I’m already placing bets on who’s sharpening knives for Todd Haynes’s euphorically received “Carol,” which began its festival run at Cannes, popped by Telluride and will soon swan into the New York Film Festival. It’s still an emotional killer and without question the boost to greater prominence that the talented Larson (“Short Term 12”) has deserved for quite some time. A coincidence perhaps, but also notable — long a genre convention, the confined space is now being discovered by clever (and in the case of two of them, at least, budget-conscious) prestige directors.

True, Bleecker Street paid more than $2 million for the drone thriller Eye In the Sky, and Momentum Pictures bought Lance Armstrong drama The Program and western Forsaken. After decorated New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, she requests that her domestic partner, Stacie (Ellen Page), reap her pension. The directors and producers who came to present their shows nearly all had extensive experience promoting feature films at festivals, including Toronto. Mostly, though, the escalating awards chatter isn’t good for those titles that will never be in any race and, like Chantal Akerman’s “No Home Movie,” struggle for attention both at crowded festivals like Toronto and (if they’re lucky) in the oversaturated theatrical market. At this year’s festival, audiences are falling for “The Martian,” the sort of big-budget commercial juggernaut that usually gets crowds here but little respect.

Aretha Franklin’s long-lost concert film, “Amazing Grace,” wasn’t here — producers pulled it from the Toronto slate under the threat of legal action at the eleventh hour. The couple’s groundbreaking battle for equality rivets, while their genuine displays of affection under duress tugs hard at the heart. (In theaters Oct. 2) Don’t be put off by the bleak premise.

One year the bidding war was so fierce, and went on so late at night, that two Hollywood companies sent out press releases the next day saying each of them had acquired the same movie. Journalistic heroes: Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton could be back in the Oscar race for “Spotlight,” in which he, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James portray the real-life members of a Boston Globe team that unearthed the truth about the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child molestation. Based on the best seller, the powerful drama focuses on a kidnapped woman (, Trainwreck) trying to keep her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) safe and emotionally sound while living in captivity in a locked shed. They included Barbara Kopple’s “Miss Sharon Jones!” about the dramatic journey of the eponymous R&B and soul singer, “Little Girl Blue,” the prolific Amy Berg’s look at Janis Joplin, and Morgan Neville’s “Keith Richards: Under the Influence,” which vibrated with casual wisdom. A wind-whipped blaze near the mountain town of Twisp, Washington — a “hell storm,” to quote a local sheriff — claimed the lives of three Forest Service fire scouts.

It shows them knocking on doors, searching through dusty books and once-sealed court records, and shunning quick hits for more comprehensive and meaningful reports. That means attendees never actually fully experience Toronto — they just sample it, which is all you can do when a couple dozen movies are starting before noon on any given day. (By comparison, Cannes had 19 features in its main 2015 competition, though many more screen in other sections and in its market, where titles are bought and sold for global consumption.) Toronto has its share of premieres, but it also shows a lot of movies that have been at other festivals.

It’s instructive to compare “Spotlight” with “Truth,” a well-made but much more conventional festival entry about other real-life journalists, in this case “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes and anchorman Dan Rather, both sidelined after a 2004 segment on President George W. The year before, Harvey Weinstein shelled out $7 million for a sweet Irish musical called Can A Song Save Your Life (and released it later under a different title, Begin Again). They are at home.” Attendance at the Toronto television screenings varied, from the sold-out “Heroes” premiere at the large Winter Garden Theater with a line stretching several blocks to houses that were half to two-thirds full for the European series. That makes it invaluable both for its enthusiastic public audience, which gives Toronto its hometown feel, and for journalists and critics playing catch up. The experiences for the audiences were basically the same as at any other festival offering — a couple of hours in a dark theater, a bag of popcorn — with one crucial difference: If they liked what they saw, they knew that there was more of it.

The actress delivers a knockout punch in Andrew Haigh’s “45 Years,” which follows a retired, childless couple, Kate (Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay), a few days before a huge celebration for their 45th wedding anniversary. Another is that some buyers with big pockets have become cautious after movies they acquired for big prices at previous festivals failed to do well enough commercially to recoup. But the film also glosses over the haste with which the “60 Minutes” team rushed the segment to air, prodded by a front office obsessed with more profitable reality programming. Mapes’ memoir, “Truth and Duty” and stars Robert Redford as the longtime newsman, played with a slight Texas accent, courtly air and stiffness of the neck.

And they noted that with TV, it’s easier to apply the lessons than it is with films, which are less likely to be reworked after festival screenings. “That’s a chance that we usually don’t have in the feature-film world,” Mr. By contrast, “Spotlight” emphasizes a long-term commitment to ferreting out facts that includes doubling back, finding more sources, getting it right.

Companies like Netflix may present tempting offers, but if, say, Michael Moore is the director, he wants to make sure his movie is shown on the big screen before it reaches the small screen. Few of the movies she’s made since are as familiar outside of cinephile circles; Americans, for one, don’t have an appetite for narrative experimentation, especially with subtitles and no stars. Jay Inslee calling the blazes an “unprecedented cataclysm,” Washington even deputized citizen volunteers to fight the fires, where they joined professional crews from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. Robinson, opposite Bryan Cranston’s “Trumbo.” He also watched films and off-screen footage in addition to the coffee ads you can find on YouTube. Their work is chronicled in a hyper-intelligent procedural that has all the pacing and suspense of a crackling thriller. (And the ace ensemble includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, and Rachel McAdams).

They wanted to produce that in Toronto.” If anything, the anxiety around TIFF getting ever more glitzy and prestigious – the fear that it’s increasingly serving as a launchpad for the year’s boring Oscar bait – is tempered by a corresponding escalation in its art-house bonafides. Directed by Yaelle Kayam, making a confident feature debut, the movie takes place on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where Tzvia (Shani Klein) lives in a gloomy stone house with her husband and four young children. The Wiseman, “In Jackson Heights,” is the 40th film from the Cambridge-based filmmaking legend, and it deposits us in the Queens neighborhood of the title. It’s a Best Picture nomination shoo-in. (In theaters Nov. 6) Put aside that worn-out Beaches DVD, friends — this shamelessly sappy weepfest is the fresh wind beneath your wings. Left alone for long stretches, Tzvia spends much of her time cooking and cleaning or just wandering amid the blindingly white graves in the adjacent cemetery.

There we watch through the director’s patented fly-on-the-wall lens as a diverse community of immigrants — 167 languages are spoken on the streets and in the shops — contend with becoming part of America even as a tsunami of gentrification can be glimpsed in the distance. What I loved about Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” was the way it celebrated — often with cheeky humor — the pride that Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut takes in the power of knowledge. This is happening even in the soggy Pacific Northwest, which has been hard-hit by what’s been dubbed a “wet drought.” Despite near-normal precipitation, warm winter temperatures brought rain instead of snow to the region’s mountains. For the cynics, haters and grumps (and I count myself among them, for sure), TIFF offers the best of both worlds: big-ticket gala premieres to mock, and the space for exciting, inventive, affecting cinema.

Timely transgender movies: Elle Fanning stars in “About Ray” as a 16-year-old who was born Ramona but is living as a boy and wants to begin hormone therapy and transfer to a new school and fresh start as Ray. Even for those of us not prone to those flashbulb-friendly, Hollywood-handsome grins, TIFF’s an annual opportunity to announce, however begrudgingly, mumbled through gritted teeth, “We’re here.” The national data is as clear as it is troubling: “Climate change has led to fire seasons that are now on average 78 days longer than in 1970,” according to a Forest Service report published in August.

But none of his other movies have featured explicit puppet sex or Italian cover versions of Cyndi Lauper songs, and the reactions of Toronto audiences have been awfully amusing to behold. “Anomalisa” was picked up for distribution by Paramount on Wednesday, which means the world outside the festival circuit will soon have a chance to be both baffled by this movie’s strangeness and gratified by its deep and troubled soul. In the past three decades, the annual area claimed by fire has doubled, and the agency’s scientists predict that fires will likely “double again by midcentury.” The human imprint on the bone-dry conditions that lead to fire is real — and now measurable.

Titles like “Mountain” can alas get lost at Toronto, where the likes of “Anomalisa,” a wonderfully entertaining stop-motion animation from Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson set in the key of bleak (and featuring the voices of David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh), suck up media attention alongside the likes of “High-Rise,” Ben Wheatley’s rollicking, nastily funny adaptation of the J.G. The reigning Best Actor is a wonder playing tortured painter Einar Wegener — who, in 1930, became the first man to undergo a sex change operation. (It Girl of 2015 Alicia Vikander is his supportive, if confounded, wife). An apocalyptic romp, it stars Tom Hiddleston as a doctor who moves into a luxurious high-rise in which the wealthy occupy the upper floors while the less-moneyed live on the lower levels. It stars Eddie Redmayne as a successful landscape painter who, after six years of marriage to a portrait artist played by Alicia Vikander, decides he is a woman and undergoes pioneering surgery. Stuffed with names (an excellent Jeremy Irons plays the building’s godlike architect), the film begins as a very fine Stanley Kubrick copy that eventually devolves into a rather less successful Terry Gilliam free-for-all.

The study’s lead author, Columbia scientist Park Williams, tells Rolling Stone, “There’s the same effect in the Pacific Northwest.” Standing near fire lines in late August, Inslee vowed to extinguish the blazes in his state. But it’s also a brilliant sublimely funny work of art from writer Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Rendered in total stop-motion animation, this is the story of a motivational speaker (voiced by David Thewlis) who finds love one night in a Cincinnati hotel. A movie like “Parched,” from India, has a tougher time getting noticed, even though this one centers on three beautiful women in various states of undress.

With storyboard sketches, he cleverly provided some background on himself — he grew up in New York with his younger brother and their Korean parents who ran a grocery — before introducing “The Good Dinosaur” footage, some finished, some not. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience on many levels. (In theaters Dec. 30 in NYC and L.A.; nationwide in early 2016) Jake Gyllenhaal’s versatility of late has been downright remarkable. Directed by Leena Yadav, “Parched” is set in a remote village where men still call the shots while women do much of the work and suffer blows and hardships partly as a consequence. Pervasive drought and record temperatures — July was the warmest month ever physically recorded on planet Earth — have turned forests from Fresno to Fairbanks into tinderboxes. This time he’s a hotshot investment banker who, after, the sudden death of his wife, takes his anger and sadness to disconcerting extremes. (See: The title of this movie).

The movie’s three main characters are all somewhat cartoons, though no less so than those ambling through the decimated corridors of “High-Rise.” Recognizable stars are partly what differentiate the two features, as are the prevailing ideas of what constitutes an auteur and what kind of violence (dystopian vs. domestic) gets critics excited. With months left in the fire season, the blazes of 2015 have already scorched more than 8 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center — a record pace, likely to top the 9.8 million acres that burned in 2006. “Some of these fires that are in these forested areas could burn until it snows,” said NIFC spokeswoman Jessica Gardetto. With a streak of black comedy and a terrifying view on human nature, the film features knockout performances by Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans and Jeremy Irons in its depiction of a world gone very mad.

The film will soon play Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, and is, as of now, without U.S distribution, a situation that will hopefully be remedied soon enough. With our nation’s firefighting resources tapped out by the fires of the present, America finds itself woefully unprepared for the blazes to come, much less the worst-case scenario: a Katrina by fire.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ romantic allegory, “The Lobster,” and Joachim Trier’s drama of family and grief, “Louder Than Bombs,” both English-language debuts from acclaimed international filmmakers, received decidedly mixed responses out of Cannes. For a glimpse of the future, look north, to Alaska and the Arctic — which President Obama, during a visit to Anchorage this summer, highlighted as “the leading edge of climate change.” Soaring temperatures and an early-melting snowpack have brought raging wildfires to landscapes that have not been kissed by flame for millennia. “Climate change is no longer some far-off problem,” Obama declared. “It is happening here. And the state’s average fire season has increased by more than a month — 35 days — since the 1950s. “We can detect the climate-change influence on fire,” says Glenn Juday, a forest ecologist at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, who points to three indicators all on the upswing: “the area burned, the severity of the burning and then the frequency.” The tragedy of climate-driven megafire is that the fires themselves worsen global warming by pumping megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The fire burned more than 400 square miles, not only charring a pristine landscape, but setting off a greenhouse bomb, igniting organic matter in the soil that had lain dormant for centuries. It’s astounding.” What’s worse: Tundra fire also thins the soil layer that insulates permafrost, further destabilizing this terrifying reserve of greenhouse gases. This summer, Alaska was set to burn due to an unusually warm winter combined with a pitiful snowfall. (Anchorage recorded barely two feet of snow — shattering a record that had held up for 60 years.) With spring came soaring temperatures: more than seven degrees above average statewide. The city of Eagle, Alaska, 200 miles east of Fairbanks, hit 91 degrees in May — a higher temperature than had been recorded to that date in either Houston or Dallas. When lightning struck, Alaska blazed. “At one point this summer,” Obama noted, “more than 300 wildfires were burning at once.” Blazing largely out of control, the fires consumed 5.1 million acres — the second-worst fire season on record.

Under typical conditions, deep mountain snowpacks and late spring stream runoff give protection from wildfire by keeping trees and vegetation moist far into summers that can run hot and dry — particularly east of the Cascade Mountains. This winter, temperatures soared 5.6 degrees above normal in the region, leading to record-low snowpack, and to stream runoff that peaked, in many places, in the dead of February. By June, the snowpack was just . . . gone. “This drought is unlike any we’ve ever experienced,” Maia Bellon, the director of Washington state’s Department of Ecology, said in May. Man-made higher temperatures increase the atmosphere’s appetite for moisture; Williams, the Columbia climate scientist, jokes that the effect is like a Mafia shakedown, with the air constantly demanding more water from the land.

If fire is inevitable, there’s a glint of good news: America can get much smarter about how it fights wildfire, by making simple changes to the funding of the Forest Service. “We all agree that the way wildfire management has been funded is broken,” Alaska Sen. But the agency has been saddled with ever-increasing, and increasingly costly, megafire. “The six worst fire seasons since 1960,” the agency reported in August, “have all occurred since 2000.” With the Northwest ablaze, Congress is responding. America has seen previews of this catastrophe: In 1991, a wildfire swept into the hills and canyons above Oakland, overwhelming firefighters, claiming 25 lives, injuring 150 other people and causing more than $1.5 billion in property damage.

But in the big picture, America was lucky that wildfire hadn’t struck the parched hills of Silicon Valley, or swept down through Colorado’s Front Range into the suburbs west of Denver. Jerry Brown has recently been calling out the Republican presidential candidates who refuse to even acknowledge that climate change exists. “Longer fire seasons, extreme weather and severe droughts aren’t on the horizon,” he wrote in an open letter to GOP candidates. “They’re all here — and here to stay.” With a lightning strike or an arsonist’s match, the fire next time could threaten San Jose, San Diego or the L.A. At its most dangerous, warming-driven wildfire poses an existential threat. “The climate is unstable,” Brown told reporters in August. “If the drought was to continue for a year or several years, California could literally burn up.”

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