Margaret DeRosia

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Author: Margaret DeRosia (page 1 of 4)

TIFF 2017 Picks

We change the world, one story at a time – Richard Wagamese


The Toronto International Film Festival starts this week. What a line-up. Artistic Director Cameron Bailey at this year’s press conference promised a “leaner” festival, but I only see an embarrassment of riches.

Below are my picks. These are films I look forward to, based on who’s behind or in them.  It’s an eclectic set of blockbusters, indies and crowd-pleasers from East, West, North and South.

Here they are, in alphabetical order, including my predictions for this year’s People’s Choice award prospects.


A Fantastic Woman

Close-up of a woman's face.


Chilean director Sebastián Lelio has two strong contenders in the festival: my pick, A Fantastic Woman, and Disobedience, which I look forward to as well. The latter will get a wider release,  though, so I’m advocating for the one that’s more under the radar.

A Fantastic Woman features the transgender actress and discovery Danielle Vega (seen above). Marina is a young transgender woman who struggles with her own grief and larger societal prejudices after her middle-aged male lover dies. It blends shades of Boys Don’t Cry with Almodovar and Fassbinder. I’ve wanted to see it ever since I read a review in Variety last February.


Darkest Hour


Both this trailer and Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill give me chills.  Oldman is virtually unrecognizable as Churchill, in a film that perfectly complements Christopher Nolan’ s epic Dunkirk.

I predict The Darkest Hour, if it’s as good as it looks, has a shot at this year’s coveted and hotly contested audience award. Sadly, it’s all too timely, which makes the horrors of the past not very past at all. Amid an actual, ongoing resurgence in fascism, the need to fight fiercely against it once more grows pressing. We are learning, like England and Churchill knew,  that you cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.


Don’t Talk to Irene

A close-up of a young woman with a big gulp soda in hand, standing behind a chain-link fence.


This Canadian comedy not only features dance and cheerleading in its plot (two of my fave topics onscreen). It also boasts Geena Davis as a costar cheering on the winsome, titular Irene (Michelle McLeod) – as a voice from a bedroom poster of A League of Our Own. Canadian writer-director Pat Mills has a deft comedic eye, all the more so in a plot in which Irene courts a group of elderly retirement home members for her dance troupe. For all of the above reasons, I’m hooked.


Faces Places


Who doesn’t want to on a road trip with the fantastic icon of cinema, Agnès Varda, and make art in France?  I’m ready. Can’t. Wait.


Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

A man and woman sitting in a booth by a window.


I am confident that I am one of the world’s biggest and most devoted Gloria Grahame fans. So I’m thrilled to see a film about her. Bonus: it stars the transcendent Annette Bening as Grahame. Pitch-perfect.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool sketches a tender, melancholic portrait of the eccentric, older and vulnerable Grahame, who shared a relationship with a much younger man (a grown-up Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot) near her death. Bening may get an Oscar (finally), and I hope the film incites a new generation to discover Grahame.

Check out her work in one of my favourite noirs by director Fritz Lang, The Big Heat:


Indian Horse


Earlier this year, I picked up the novel, Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese, an Indigenous author in Canada who recently died. I couldn’t put it down.

Reading Indian Horse transformed my relationship to the “Canada 150” celebrations by bringing home the horrors of Canada’s residential school system and ongoing impact of colonial violence on Canada’s Indigenous peoples. This deeply personal, tragic tale rings all too true, with crisp and moving writing. I couldn’t imagine ever loving a book about, in large part, hockey. Yet Wagamese was such a good writer, he made me, the least sporty person around, love hockey, too.

So I am excited, if apprehensive, to see this film do justice to its source. Wagamese was an executive producer, and director Stephen Campanelli is a celebrated camera operator (including on one of my other picks, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri).

And if the film drives people to buy and read this novel, more power to it.


Mudbound


Ever since I saw American director Dee Rees’ revelatory short film, Pariah (which went on to became a stunning first feature), I’ve been a fan. Mudbound, like Darkest Hour, could also not be more timely, given its attention to the foundational, structuring racism that haunts and defines the United States, past into present.

This tragic, epic saga is set in the Mississippi Delta in the aftermath of World War II. Based on award-winning Hillary Jordan’s novel, the film chronicles three main characters (seen above): a young white woman, Laura (Carey Mulligan), displaced from her home in Memphis to live on her husband’s rural cotton farm; and two soldiers who return to the same town, her white brother-in-law, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), and an African-American man,  Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), a war hero who meets harsh, racist realities in the America to which he comes home. Sundance audiences and critics raved about it. I can’t wait to see what Rees accomplishes with a much larger budget and scale. A visionary.


Sheikh Jackson


As may be obvious from my selections, I love films that challenge notions of purity. Whether purity is based on keeping races, genders, sex and sexualities, politics, nations or religions distinct, I love films that mix things up – including a mix of tones in a story.

Ever since I caught a glimpse of one still and the film title of Sheikh Jackson, I wanted to see it. The trailer suggests a hybrid of much more than East meets West, right down to its main character’s name and sense of himself. And of course, I share the film and lead’s love of Michael Jackson. Like him, I can remember exactly where I was when Jackson died. It was like running your car into a tree in disbelief that such a talent was gone. I’m looking forward to seeing this Egyptian gem bring Jackson back to life.


The Breadwinner


One of the truly exciting and commendable aspects of TIFF this year is its obvious, clear commitment to including and celebrating the work of female directors – including those making their debut as feature film directors. Unlike Venice, which has a shameful ONE (!) film made by a female film director in competition out of 21, TIFF has a full one third of its films directed by women. Bravo!

The Breadwinner is based on Canadian author Deborah Ellis’ novel, directed by Irish filmmaker Nora Twomey and executive-produced by the celebrated Angelina Jolie. It represents a festival flick that adults and children alike will love. Besides, it’s never too early to start them on attending this festival.

When her father is imprisoned and family left imperiled by his absence, a brave 11-year-old Afghan girl, Parvana, disguises herself as a boy to support her family while seeking her father’s freedom. Here, a humanitarian crisis takes human shape through an innovative mix of 2-D animation with acrylic and digitally painted environments. See it on the big screen.


The Shape of Water


The buzz about this film since its gorgeous trailer went viral appears well deserved. The Shape of Water, directed by Toronto transplant and hometown fave Guillermo del Toro is shaping up to be a strong contender for this year’s audience award.

Profound and moving, The Shape of Water traverses familiar del Toro territory: the magic of a fairy tale crosses with a repressive political allegory in a revamped, sensitive version of monster-driven horror. Like the misunderstood monsters of classical Hollywood’s Universal horror films of the 1930s, The Shape of Water explores how monsters become more human than the people who surround, curtail, study and torture them.

Sally Hawkins leads a stellar cast. As a mute cleaning woman in a Cold War-1960’s laboratory, her world transforms through the tender bond she develops with a myserious creature being held in captivity. My heart breaks when I see these images and I don’t even know how it will all play out. Bring kleenex.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Frances McDormand could walk around onscreen for two hours and I’d probably find it, and her, riveting.

I’m thrilled to see her get to once more lead a story as its protagonist in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, rather than just take a turn as a character actress supporting others.

Here, McDormand plays strong-willed grieving mother Mildred Hayes. When her daughter is murdered and the local police come up empty-handed, Mildred gets truly fed up – and has nothing left to lose. She antagonizes the local police force, especially its revered chief Officer Dixon (Woody Harrelson), by placing the titular three billboards up, which sets off a chain reaction that only In Bruges director Martin McDonagh’s imagination could create. Either it or Alexander Payne’s Downsizing could be this year’s dark horse for an audience award.


What are you excited to see this year? Tell me in the comments below.

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My Top 2015 Movies

Suggested photo caption – Cate Blanchett asks: how could the Oscars be so out of touch? How could they rob Todd and our small, perfect, tender film? I guess he should’ve made a film in which I get held captive by a sexual predator, or even better, one where I’m not there at all; it’s just white guys wrestling bears.

Cate, I hear you, Because I love best-of-the-year movie lists, and because Oscar noms have come out (ahem) with some embarrassing choices, here are some of my faves from last year.

7. Spy; Joy

Two three letter-titles. So much to enjoy.

First, Spy. We’ve seen Bond and his like before. A lot. Even parodies can’t resist the spy’s machismo, however refined. Not so with Spy the movie. Sheer giddy, irreverent delight, as I discussed here.

As for Joy, most critics said it was a mess. And it is odd. I liked it, however, because it was odd. The many tonal shifts registered empathy for stressed-out working-class people’s day-to-day lives – like working-class Wes Anderson.

Plus, J-Law knocks it outta the park. This film loves a strong, daring woman. One who stands up to naysayers with equal parts confidence and vulnerability. Every time she’s tempted to give up, she looks at her daughter. Then she tries harder to be self-sufficient rather than self-sacrificing. She wants her daughter to see and become that.

So thank you, Joy. I liked seeing an onscreen working-class mother I recognized from my own upbringing – a gal who was frazzled, smart, tender and creative who just didn’t quit. As a movie, Joy took chances, and it felt cracklingly creative as a result.

6. Brooklyn

Because I already wrote about this film, let me just emphasize this one detail: Saoirse Ronan’s eyes. This movie rests and succeeds on her face. So much remains unstated, but those eyes hold generations of immigrants in a single glance, for every frame.

5. Seymour: An Introduction

This delicate documentary introduces Seymour Bernstein, a man who’s spent his life teaching classical pianists. As a young virtuoso, Seymour debuted at Carnegie Hall, but felt too fraught by stage-fright to perform.

There is much to love in this poignant film. It chronicles the push-pull between being an artist on one’s own terms, and navigating the wider, often bruising, market-driven world.

You can tell a movie is good when not a single person stirs at the credits. My theatre’s (packed) audience stayed put until the last credit ended. Even for a few seconds after the lights went up, we sat there, wanting more.

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

How you respond to this film depends on how you feel about contemporary blockbusters – their breakneck pacing, dystopic plots and how damn tiring it is saving the universe in two hours.

I often enjoy them, especially when they’re this much fun. This time around, instead of Luke Skywalker, we get Rey. Strong, but not hard-bodied and mean. She’s slight, spritely, emotive and consistently compelling. And the movie? A perfect popcorny well-paced treat.

3. What Happened, Miss Simone?

I saw this mesmerizing documentary at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival in April, but you can find it on Netflix. It resists most music docs’ rapidly-edited montages of short musical clips. Instead, it lingers, favouring long takes and uncomfortable silences.

And oh, that gorgeous, soulful voice.

The film dances around its titular question, and never answers fully. Rather, we come to sense how much her gift cost. Thank you, Liz Garbus. Fingers crossed for you on Oscar night.

2. Inside Out

This movie: so sweet that one might miss how really good it is.

Inside Out reveals an “Imaginationland” so visually and emotionally layered that it pictures the brain, feelings and memories anew. Some read it as the first kid’s flick about depression. Yet it was more about how sadness and joy stay close, each shaping and defining the other in a dance. The result? A more emotionally intelligent story than most films being made for any age group – children or adults.

As a former midwesterner who transplanted to San Francisco (and several other places), I had to muffle weeping at seeing the internal struggle of relocating. Thank you, 3D glasses, for letting me hide behind you in the dark.

1. Carol; Spotlight

I cannot decide. I’ve tried. Really, I have. Trying left me vacillating for two weeks on this post. I love them both.

I wrote about Spotlight earlier so let me now speak about Carol. It’s the epitome of desire on film. Those looks. The slight touch of a hand. Bending closer to the phone when talking. Like Terese and Carol, I swoon, swoon, swoon.

From start to startlingly wonderful finish, I was swept up in how it embraces and celebrates being both female and queer. Here I refer to “queer” in the broader sense. Being odd and off-centre. Not fitting in boundaries, including familiar tropes of gay or straight. Favouring the push and pull of the in-between and uncertain. Liking train sets instead of dolls and being a girl. Not being afraid to hold the camera and look back.

And the nebulous world of inarticulate, intense adult desire. This film deeply respects and honours lesbian desire specifically. Phyllis Nagy’s delicate script, which Haynes understood and took to heart, never caves into mainstream pressures – which no doubt led to its Oscar snub.

Both Spotlight and Carol are perfect ensemble films that have:

  • Visionary directors: Todd Haynes and Tom McCarthy each make distinctive and heartfelt, unsentimental, independent films. The more films each makes, the better they get. These are their best thus far.
  • Powerful writing: These scripts are unafraid to show silences. They resist and redefine familiar conventions to reveal the complexity of real people’s lives in the subtlest of looks and moments. They show how people don’t always know what to think and say – especially when feeling things deeply.
  • Incredible, at times heartbreaking acting: No one needs to scream in the woods to advertise their talents here. Think of Rachel McAdams’ face when she interviews an unrepentent abusive priest. Or Cate Blanchett’s fierce, quiet speech on the edge of tears, the only woman in a lawyer’s office full of men. The leads are in their prime, but so are their more supporting and marginal counterparts. No one in these films is extraneous or disposable.
  • Cinematographically detailed worlds: These filmmakers know that while the medium of film is visual, it is nothing if not entirely connected to, and believable within, the main characters and story. Witness the scruffy banalties that belie the horror of what gets spot-lit by increasingly unsettled writers (Spotlight). Or the luscious refracted surfaces of watery colour, metaphors for longing and lust (Carol).
  • Moving sound design: Sound design in both films pulls back when necessary, then moves forward in just the right moments to evoke mood. Hear Carol’s creative uses of subjective sound and both films’ soundtracks. Carol’s music builds and yearns like Michael Nyman’s did for The Piano two decades prior. Spotlight‘s edgy piano searches for a more disturbing, painful truth to be unearthed.
  • Deeply human engagements with larger political, ethical questions: Each film’s sense of politics is not strict nor wielded by sticks and shouts. As different as each one’s subject matter is, they both reveal that, no matter how our lives take shape out of politics’ sight, the powers that be are always hovering at the door, shaping us for better and worse.

So that’s some of why I loved both films. I loved them while I watched them, but even more after. They make such a rich repository of tremendous skill, heart and layers, that they remind me why I love movies, even if increasingly I think the Oscars are meh.

Don’t make me decide between Carol and Spotlight. I love them both.

Honourable Mentions: Films I did not see (but probably would’ve liked)

  • Anomolisa (Because it’s from the wacky mind of Charlie Kauffman)
  • The Assassin (Because it’s a martial arts female assassin in action)
  • Girlhood (Because it’s a story of girls and worlds on the margins, hardly ever told)
  • Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (Because of how smart he is at bypassing repressive laws)
  • Magic Mike XXL (Because it’s so unabashedly for women’s pleasure. Plus, dancing!)
  • Mistress America (Because I adore the Nick-and-Nora pair that is Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach)
  • Timbuktu (Because anything Abderahmane Sissako makes will be great)

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