#TIFF18 Top Ten to look for at a theatre near you

Movies: #TIFF18, Toronto International Film Festival

On his 25th anniversary of covering the Toronto film festival, a critic decides he is ready for the quieter side of cinema.

The Toronto International Film Festival

September 6-16

By Jay Stone

(September 5, 2018) – I’ve been going to the Toronto film festival for 25 years, which means I’ve seen maybe 1,000 movies there, interviewed almost as many celebrities, and enjoyed so many all-you-eat shrimp buffets that I believe my liver is now breaded. I’ve sat in hundreds of darkened cinemas and endured millions of feet of film — back when film had feet; hell, back when there was film at all — filtered through modern sound systems that seem to assault your eardrums directly through your eyeholes. When people ask me what I’m looking forward to this year, I tell them I would be grateful to return with the shreds of my hearing intact.

I think it’s a pretty good answer too, given that most of the time I didn’t hear the question.

But you want to know about the films. Here’s what looks good to me, presented with the caveat that there are some highly touted films about families dealing with teenage sons who are battling drug addictions, a much-anticipated remake of A Star Is Born starring Lady Gaga, and a new twist on the horror classic Halloween, all subjects that don’t grip me in the way they might have back in 1994, when I was a fresh-faced novice of 47 and just embarking on this whirligig.

These days, I’m much more interested in movies about old people, or based on books that I read and understood, or that promise to keep the percussive, Dolby-enhanced explosions to a minimum.

#TIFF18 Best Bets:

The Old Man & The Gun: Now here’s a perfect place to start. Robert Redford stars as a real-life bank robber named Forrest Tucker — not to be confused with the actor who co-starred in the old TV show F Troop — whose career ran far past the usual retirement age (Tucker escaped from San Quentin when he was 70.) Sissy Spacek is the love interest, which is also excellent. Redford, who’s 82, says this will be his last movie role. We’ll see how long he can survive without the shrimp buffets.

Quincy: Co-directed by Alan Hicks (whose bona fides in old guy cinema were cemented by his Clark Terry documentary Keep On Keepin’ On), and Rashida Jones, this is the story of Quincy Jones, the legendary musician and record producer who has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to Frank Sinatra. In recent interviews, “Q” has said that Jackson stole his songs; that Marlon Brando had sex with Richard Pryor, James Baldwin, and Marvin Gaye; and that he once dated Ivanka Trump. He has since apologized for being so outrageous. Jones is 85.

These days, I’m much more interested in movies about old people, or based on books that I read and understood, or that promise to keep the percussive, Dolby-enhanced explosions to a minimum.

First Man: Here’s something more contemporary, even though it’s about the 1969 moon landing. Ryan Gosling, who used to be the It Boy of acting, stars as astronaut Neil Armstrong and Damien Chazelle — who used to be the It Boy of filmmaking, at least until La La Land didn’t win the Oscar after all — directs, all of which sounds interesting. The movie has already screened at the Venice and Telluride festivals and has been well received, but there’s some controversy because it doesn’t show a scene of Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon, even though the flag is seen there later. This is the sort of thing that could result in presidential tweets, making it a must-see.

Transit: This German film, being touted as an Oscar contender, sounds like a slightly altered version of Casablanca, which is about as far back as you can go in cinema without an oxygen tank. Directed by Christian Pezold (the Cold War thriller Barbara, which you really should see), it’s a Second World War story about a man fleeing the Nazis in Paris who poses as a dead author and makes his way to Marseilles. There he meets a woman trying to find her missing husband, who happens to be, ahem, a dead author. Here’s looking at you, kid.

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan: At last, something Canadian! And also pretty young. This English-language debut of Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan — despite all his successes, he’s still only 29 — is the story of an actor remembering the dead TV star who inspired him. It features an impressive international cast (Natalie Portman, Kit Harrington, Emily Hampshire, Susan Sarandon) but not, significantly, Jessica Chastain, who was in the movie until her character was eliminated because it didn’t mesh with the rest of the plot.

The Sisters Brothers: Based on Patrick DeWitt’s entertaining novel, this Western stars John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as assassins who are working for the mysterious “Commodore” to chase down a prospector during the 1850s gold rush. It’s directed by French filmmaker Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone, A Prophet) and early reviews make it sound as if it finds unexpected — though often violent — colours in the characters of the cowboys of the Old West.

Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly star in Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers. Courtesy of TIFF.

Widows: The British auteur Steve McQueen — not to be confused with you-know-who — returns with this heist drama (based on an English TV series) about a failed robbery in which the thieves are all killed, and the aftermath when their widows try to finish the job. Liam Neeson and Viola Davis headline the cast, but the real interest is in the vision of McQueen, whose previous movies include the disturbing dramas Hunger, Shame and especially 12 Years A Slave.

Roma: Inspired by his own life, the director Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Children of Men) tells the story of a woman working as a maid for a upper-middle-class family in Mexico City in the 1970s (“Colonia Roma” is a district in the city.) Everyone is in some kind of trouble and so is the country; the drama includes scenes of the Corpus Christi massacre, when 120 people were killed by the military during a student demonstration. People who saw this at the Venice film festival are rapturous.

Sharkwater Extinction: Did you know people kill 100 million sharks a year — a year! — mostly to get the ingredients for shark fin soup? Canadian documentary filmmaker Rob Stewart follows up his 2006 Sharkwater, which looked at the unfounded fear of these beautiful fish, with this movie that sounds a warning about their coming demise. Stewart died during the filming. He was 38.

High Life: Here’s a sci-fi film with an auteurist pedigree, which means it’s either going to be fascinating or incomprehensible, but hey, that’s why we go to film festivals. The English-language debut of legendary French director Claire Denis (Beau travail, Let The Sun Shine In), it stars Robert Pattinson — who is on a very interesting career path in his post-Twilight years — Mia Goth and Juliette Binoche in a story of criminals who are tricked into going on a rocket ship to a black hole, and being sexually experimented on during the voyage. This actually sounds a lot like the Toronto film festival itself, come to think of it.


Keep checking in with The Ex-Press for full festival coverage and reviews over the course of the festival, which runs September 6-16. For more details on each film, please visit the official TIFF site

THE EX-PRESS, September 5, 2018

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