If Beale Street Could Talk – ANIARA – In Fabric – ROMA – Erased,__Ascent of the Invisible – Falls Around Her – The Grand Bizarre

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People's Choice Award Winner and Runners-Up:
Green Book, USA, dir. Peter Farrelly
If Beale Street Could Talk, USA, dir. Barry Jenkins
ROMA, Mexico, dir. Alfonso Cuarón
 

Click here for my full overview of this year's Toronto Film Festival at Film Comment Magazine.
 
Films I Screened in Toronto:
Ranked in loose order of preference

My Vote for People's Choice

If Beale Street Could Talk (Special Presentations; USA, dir. Barry Jenkins) - Jenkins' incisive and eclectic style amplifies what's best in Baldwin while complicating his own voice.

Extremely Strong

Graves without a Name (TIFF Docs; Cambodia, dir. Rithy Panh) - Less overtly distinctive in its technique than The Missing Picture but just as poetic, pained, and poignant.

Donbass (Contemporary World Cinema; Ukraine/Germany, dir. Sergei Loznitsa) - Imagine Wild Tales, in and about a nation in fuller, more violent free fall. Loznitsa's nonfiction gifts totally serve it.

ROMA (Special Presentations; Mexico, dir. Alfonso Cuarón) - Cuarón's a prodigy of world-building. Strains a bit more at characterization. All holds true in this textured memory-play.

What You Gonna Do When the World's on Fire? (Wavelengths; Italy/USA, dir. Roberto Minervini) - Painful, beautiful study of leadership in many forms: formal, fraternal, peer-to-peer.

Angelo (Platform; Austria/Luxembourg, dir. Markus Schleinzer) - Imagine Barry Lyndon fused to Black Venus. Devastating, meticulously built story of a black man who was nominally free.

High Life (Gala Presentations; Germany/France/USA/UK, dir. Claire Denis) - Starts as a lament for the radically alone; grows into a weird, sad epic poem about trying and failing to stay isolated.

Highly Recommended

Capernaum (Special Presentations; Lebanon, dir. Nadine Labaki) - I get why this splits folks but it's quite a feat of shooting, editing, and production. What's fake is worth what isn't.

Manta Ray (Discovery; Thailand, dir. Phuttiphong Aroonpheng) - Impressively singular sound and image regimes. Tender rapport takes ominous turns; dark but earnest reflection on exile.

Erased,__Ascent of the Invisible (Wavelengths; Lebanon, dir. Ghassan Halwani) - How to represent a disappeared person? Formal questions in rich, humble service to ethical ones.

ANIARA (Discovery; Sweden, dirs. Pella Kågerman, Hugo Lilja) - Creates a plausible world with evolving textures. Impressive spectacle and editing. New ways of evoking metaphysical dread.

A Star Is Born (Gala Presentations; USA, dir. Bradley Cooper) - Savory artpop. Takes trouble to complicate rise/fall dichotomy. Solid to strong across the board. Cooper's perfect.

Vox Lux (Special Presentations; USA, dir. Brady Corbet) - Artpop². Unafraid. Tries to think historically about an era that repudiates history—without making pop something it's not.

Ash Is Purest White (Masters; China/France, dir. Jia Zhang-ke) - I dug the knotting-together of personal and national melodrama, even amid blunter moments. Zhao is remarkable.

3 Faces (Masters; Iran, dir. Jafar Panahi) - Panahi's interests in exile, immobility, and ingenuity move centripetally to rural Iran, embodying metacinema in new ways.

Monsters and Men (Special Presentations; USA, dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green) - Technically strong, potently acted drama sparked by police violence. Shaded moral arguments, but sees the truth.

The Image Book (Masters; Switzerland/France, dir. Jean-Luc Godard) - Godard underground, lit by 1000 bulbs, sifts through the world's million onyx shards. Poetic, choleric, insistent.

Border (Contemporary World Cinema; Sweden, dir. Ali Abbasi) - I'm surprised at my own enthusiasm? It's a textbook case of committing to the bizarro story you're telling. I was so moved!

Monrovia, Indiana (TIFF Docs; USA, dir. Frederick Wiseman) - Wiseman's gaze always engrosses but his best films reframe your perceptions of the subject. This doesn't, quite.

Recommended

The Wild Pear Tree (Masters; Turkey/France/Germany/Bulgaria, dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan) - Dialogue is its centerpiece and weak spot. Meanwhile, a rich, sad communal and generational portrait emulsifies.

Angels Are Made of Light (TIFF Docs; USA/Denmark/Norway, dir. James Longley) - Warm, sad, personalizing look at modern Afghanistan. More pathos-driven than I expected, for good reason.

Burning (Special Presentations; South Korea, dir. Lee Chang-dong) - Rural-inchoate man circles city-slick man, in elliptical pursuit of female will-o'-the-wisp. Engrossing but suspicious.

Widows (Gala Presentations; USA/UK, dir. Steve McQueen) - Propulsive Chicago crime thriller; action climax goes off like an IED. Unevenly completes its passes at social critique.

Vision (Special Presentations; Japan/France, dir. Naomi Kawase) - Hour one is mysterious, nuanced, sexy, surprising—a festival highlight, and the best I've liked Kawase. Hour two falls down.

Long Day's Journey into Night (Wavelengths; China/France, dir. Bi Gan) - I both admired and felt browbeaten into admiration. Formally jaw-dropping, but I'm mixed on payoffs.

I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians (Contemporary World Cinema; Romania/Czech Republic/France/Bulgaria/Germany, dir. Radu Jude) - Smart, but prone to repetition. Climax is tougher and trickier than I guessed.

Cold War (Special Presentations; Poland, dir. Pawel Pawlikowski) - About art and money, East and West, earnest love and performative gamesmanship. It's chic but I didn't care all that much.

Falls Around Her (Contemporary World Cinema; Canada, dir. Darlene Naponse) - Graceful character and communal study. A clean narrative line but also a series of fascinating offramps and loops.

Screwdriver (Discovery; Palestine/USA/Qatar, dir. Bassam Jarbawi) - Enriched but also diffused by its rangy interests and sympathies. Can't quite keep psychology and politics balanced.

Destroyer (Platform; USA, dir. Karyn Kusama) - Generates some tragic force, though less than it seems to have hoped and via an uneven path. Tighter edits would help.

Gloria Bell (Special Presentations; USA/Chile, dir. Sebastián Lelio) - I felt more worried for Moore's lonelier Gloria than for García's, giving this very close remake its own arc and tone.

Touch Me Not (Discovery; Romania/Bulgaria/Czech Republic/Germany/France, dir. Adina Pintilie) - Shortbus ideas, THX-1138 aesthetics. And an Interrotron! Honest insights, at times reached via conceits or clichés.

Mixed Bags

EXT. Night (Contemporary World Cinema; Egypt/UAE, dir. Ahmad Abdalla) - Presents as a slight, circuitous metafilmic comedy but finds just enough ways to layer and ironize a simplistic surface.

Cities of Last Things (Platform; Taiwan/China/USA/France, dir. Ho Wi Ding) - Totally fine, half-futuristic thriller. Brutality's over the top. Episodes could resonate more than they do.

The Grand Bizarre (Wavelengths; USA, dir. Jodie Mack) - A Baraka of knits and purls, a Koyaanisqatsi of threadcount. I respected its projects and wanted to cry Uncle.

Transit (Masters; Germany, dir. Christian Petzold) - Experiments with deadpan surrealism, historical dislocation start strong but peter out. I've grown impatient with Petzold.

Rafiki (Discovery; Kenya/South Africa/France/Lebanon/Norway/Netherlands/Germany/USA, dir. Wanuri Kahiu) - Lesbian love story has an aesthetic and does important cultural work. Some aspects newer, more sophisticated than others.

Diamantino (Midnight Madness; Portugal/France/Brazil, dirs. Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt) - Like its protagonist, goofily cheerful and eager to please but pretty dumb. I appreciate the creativity and confidence.

Wavelengths #1: Earth, Wind, and Fire (Wavelengths; USA/Canada/France/Colombia/Argentina/Chile/Thailand, dirs. Miscellaneous) - My imagination stayed mostly unfired though Jodie Mack's time lapse gems and Malena Szlam's soundscapes will linger.

Edge of the Knife (Discovery; Canada, dirs. Gwaai Edenshaw, Helen Haig-Brown) - Avoids idealist ethnography but its interesting mix of the old and modern grows crasser in imagery and style.

Climax (Midnight Madness; France, dir. Gaspar Noé) - Like Paula Abdul's "Cold Hearted" video lit by Kenneth Anger, where every dancer is serving Adjani-in-Possession Realness.

Look at Me (Contemporary World Cinema; Tunisia/France/Qatar, dir. Nejib Belkhadi) - Works hard and often succeeds at central relationship but simplifies and abstracts every other conflict surrounding it.

Sew the Winter to My Skin (Contemporary World Cinema; South Africa/Germany, dir. Jahmil X.T. Qubeka) - Impressively enraged and unreliant on dialogue but indulges bombast in other ways. Bizarrely structured.

Girls of the Sun (Special Presentations; France, dir. Eva Husson) - More piecemeal than artistically fragmented. More nobly intentioned than confidently executed. Ambitious, though.

Not Recommended

Maya (Special Presentations; France, dir. Mia Hansen-Løve) - Depiction is not endorsement, but both the character and the film use India, personified by a young woman, in easy, lazy ways.

In Fabric (Midnight Madness; UK, dir. Peter Strickland) - Strickland has such good sonic and optical tricks up his demon-sleeve but puts them to arbitrary and mostly asinine use.

Divine Wind (Masters; Algeria/France/Qatar/Lebanon, dir. Merzak Allouache) - Alliance of two young, unevenly committed radicals never assumes much texture or insight. Slickly but blankly lensed.

Our Time (Masters; Mexico/France/Germany/Denmark/Sweden, dir. Carlos Reygadas) - Oh, sweetie. Imagine making Silent Light but deciding what you really need to do is cultivate your inner Vincent Gallo.

Girl (Discovery; Belgium, dir. Lukas Dhont) - Strenuously exudes compassion for its protagonist but the style is voyeuristically unilluminating, the finale hard to forgive.


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