Zama – The Hungry – The Final Year – The Death of Stalin – Onward Lossless Follows – Razzia – Our People Will Be Healed

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People's Choice Award Winner and Runners-Up:
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, UK/USA, dir. Martin McDonagh
I, Tonya, USA, dir. Craig Gillespie
Call Me By Your Name, Italy/France/Brazil/USA, dir. Luca Guadagnino
 

 
Films I Screened in Toronto:
Ranked in order of preference

My Vote for People's Choice
Western (Contemporary World Cinema; Germany/Bulgaria/Austria, dir. Valeska Grisebach) - Genius intervention into its titular genre—narratively, spatially, and politically—but sublimely achieves its own identity.

Life and Nothing More (Contemporary World Cinema; Spain, dir. Antonio Méndez Esparza) - Quietly astonishing, beat after beat. Rich, round portraits. Non-professionals beat every other cast at TIFF.

Zama (Masters; Argentina, dir. Lucrecia Martel) - Mad midlevel bureaucrat as origin, emblem, and absurd object of vertiginous colonial nightmare. Formal mastery off the charts.

Ava (Discovery; Iran, dir. Sadaf Foroughi) - A marvel as written, cut, and shot, about a teenage girl universally misjudged but also fiercely in her own way. Release this!

Our People Will Be Healed (Masters; Canada, dir. Alanis Obomsawin) - TIFF peak so far. Buoyant but hardly naïve vision of new indigenous education and cultural preservation.

Lean on Pete (Special Presentations; UK, dir. Andrew Haigh) - Felt like Ozu, then like Mizoguchi. Warm, thrilling, sad, like an unrequited love admitting they once loved you, too.

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (TIFF Docs; USA, dir. Frederick Wiseman) - Gave me fewer new angles on its subject than most recent Wisemans; even skirts some issues. Still, a capacious overview.

Good Luck (Wavelengths; Germany/France, dir. Ben Russell) - Plunging, drilling, prying, spraying, sloshing, cranking, sifting: the tempo and strain of labor, in extra-vivid detail.

Disappearance (Discovery; Iran, dir. Ali Asgari) - Not every tactic for ratcheting suspense is new but all are effective. So attuned to framing and cutting. Great end.

The Other Side of Everything (TIFF Docs; Serbia/France/Qatar, dir. Mila Turajlić) - Turajlić's mother is a major, intrepid historical actor. Couldn't be more timely—say, for US viewers.

Razzia (Platform; Morocco, dir. Nabil Ayouch) - A robust bulwark against reducing Ayouch's city or its history to one narrative, even as so much energy is tilting one way.

mother! (Special Presentations; USA, dir. Darren Aronofsky) - Nail bomb thick with ArtBabyGodFame. Zero Dark Thirty with Aronofsky as sniper and quarry. Embarrassing, earnest, exciting.

The Judge (TIFF Docs; Palestine, dir. Erika Cohn) - Rousing tribute to the difficult, groundbreaking labor of a female Shari'a judge. Textured gloss on Shari'a law, too.

The Nothing Factory (Wavelengths; Portugal, dir. Pedro Pinho) - Rides a line between encapsulating hard truths for our era and expostulating on ideas most viewers already get.

Alanis (Contemporary World Cinema; Argentina, dir. Anahí Berneri) - Sharp, tough docudrama about sex workers forced into impossible choices. Belabors mirror, cage motifs. Good, layered end.

The Square (Special Presentations; Sweden, dir. Ruben Östlund) - I prefer Östlund's scene-building to his image-making or storytelling. Fits and starts, but flashes of wit and lucidity.

On Body and Soul (Contemporary World Cinema; Hungary, dir. Ildikó Enyedi) - Like Kaurismäki, but toastier. Inventive and precious in about equal measure but ends more strongly than it began.

Mrs. Fang (Wavelengths; France/China/Germany, dir. Wang Bing) - In a way, there's no bigger story to tell. In another, there's not quite enough here. In another, there's a bit too much.

In the Fade (Special Presentations; Germany, dir. Fatih Akin) - If it feels sterner, tighter, and less hopeful than The Edge of Heaven, so does the world. Kruger rewards Akin's trust.

Sweet Country (Platform; Australia, dir. Warwick Thornton) - Deft, sinuous play with time. Gorgeously lensed. A bit blunt, deliberately, with other visual and narrative tactics.

Ana, mon amour (Contemporary World Cinema; Romania, dir. Călin Peter Netzer) - I can't say I enjoyed this but I have to extend due credit to the intensity of the directing and characterizations.

Sheikh Jackson (Special Presentations; Egypt, dir. Amr Salama) - Moments of delicious comedy and of melancholy, as the lead tries to puzzle out his ties to MJ and to his young self.

Waru (Discovery; New Zealand, dirs. Miscellaneous) - Amazing eight-day, single-takes production process leaves its stress marks on the film but it's a striking collective gesture.

The Final Year (TIFF Docs; USA, dir. Greg Barker) - Amazing access to Kerry, Power, Rhodes, Obama. A moving though tenaciously televisual tribute to hard, hopeful work.

Occidental (Wavelengths; France, dir. Neïl Beloufa) - Imagine Anna Biller spoofing racialized surveillance—same wit, same doting tableaus, same habit of running out of fumes.

Wavelengths 1: Appetite for Destruction (Wavelengths; USA/UK/Germany/Denmark, dirs. Miscellaneous) - After a day of substantial but stylistically modest films, it was a special treat to spend time with shorts seizing the medium's potentials.

The Legend of the Ugly King (TIFF Docs; Germany/Austria, dir. Huseyin Tabak) - Potent tribute, intimate yet distant, which appears deliberate. Organization is at times hard to track.

Disobedience (Special Presentations; UK, dir. Sebastián Lelio) - Can't make big claims for intricacy or originality but Lelio and cast create a subtly plausible world. Terrific score.

Mudbound (Gala Presentations; USA, dir. Dee Rees) - Ambition, theme, logic all clear—maybe too clear? Lensing, acting can be thin, structure episodic. Still worth your time.

The Summit (Contemporary World Cinema; Argentina, dir. Santiago Mitre) - Feels episodic and surface-bound at first but this may be strategic for a film about deep, still waters. Still, TV-ish.

Wajib (Contemporary World Cinema; Palestine, dir. Annemarie Jacir) - Uneven devices; needlessly underlines subtler points. Still, brings some dimension to pretty polarized regional discourses.

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Contemporary World Cinema; Indonesia, dir. Mouly Surya) - Neither as fun nor as nervy as the setup allows. Has ideas but hews mostly to imitative surface.

Luk'Luk'I (Discovery; Canada, dir. Wayne Wapeemukwa) - Takes self-conscious risks, aesthetically and politically; not nimble or careful enough in either area to pull them off.

To be clear, I'd recommend buying tickets to all movies above this line.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Special Presentations; Ireland/UK, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) - Combo of dread and weird humor takes chops to sustain, but to what end? First Lanthimos I find hollow.

Dark River (Platform; UK, dir. Clio Barnard) - Big disappointment. Goldman shoots it well but story gets mired early in blunt portents and archetypes. Messy last reel.

The Hungry (Special Presentations; India, dir. Bornila Chatterjee) - Some memorably nasty images along the way but perhaps too eager to hit them, thus rushing and reducing a complex story.

The Day After (Masters; South Korea, dir. Hong Sang-soo) - Right then, wrong now. Most Hongs are similar and many are good but, Kim Min-hee aside, I got very little from this.

Happy End (Masters; Austria, dir. Michael Haneke) - Haneke's Broken Embraces or Boarding Gate, a palpably half-inspired work, recycling old tropes, stalling a major career.

Festival titles I saw before CIFF: BPM (Beats Per Minute)

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