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
 

 
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Mixed Bags

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.

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.

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.

Mixed Bags

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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