The 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) concluded on Sunday. Overall, it was a mixed bag. I enjoyed scouring the program, chatting in lineups, watching the movies and listening to Q&As. Yet the films did not transport me.
Maybe it’s because I couldn’t see Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, Charlie Kaufman’s Anamolisa (here’s the post-screening Q&A ) and Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses. And Todd Haynes’ Carol wasn’t there. If I’d seen those, it could have been a different story.
Overall, this year was good, not great, like a three-star film. Even surprise audience award winner Room didn’t leave a consensus of reviewers gushing and arguing like Slumdog Millionaire or Precious recently did. So with this mood in mind, I offer three highlights:
London Road (dir. Rufus Norris, UK)
This “verbatim musical” offered a powerful tapestry of working-class voices. Through repetition, the film creates a unique experience that was more rhythmic and unnerving than melodic.
Allegiances and identification keep shifting. The film does not focus on either the killer or the victims, and never reveals the killer’s exact identity. He isn’t the point. Instead, the community’s not always charitable reactions are.
Early on, two schoolgirls sing “You automatically think it could be him.” They look and skitter nervously about, their female reaction juxtaposing the men’s, especially men of colour’s, who are the target of their suspicions. This captures how London Road was as morally and cinematographically great as it was gray. Like the characters, we too keep trying to parse the good from the bad, not always with success.
Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley, UK/Ireland/Canada)
Saorise Ronan has been receiving accolades for her performance, and rightly so. She plays Eilis, who emigrates from Ireland to Brooklyn in the 1950s and must decide whether to embrace her new world.
Like Kenneth Turan’s blurb indicates, Brooklyn is great old-school filmmaking, albeit not the typical (male) immigrant’s journey. It focuses more on Eilis’ psychological struggles, not only the loss, but also the heady pleasures of liberating herself from hometown assumptions and remaking herself anew.
Here, Nick Hornby (An Education, Wild) scripts another tender yet unsentimental female coming of age. Ronan breathes such life into it, morphing from timid to tragic to confident. Judging from audience reactions, it’s truly moving. It will be interesting to see if it resonates with the Academy.
Mr. Right (dir. Paco Cabezas, USA)
My biggest surprise was this free-wheeling, genre-resisting flick. Kudos to TIFF for choosing romantic comedy to close the festival.
Nine nights of drama can leave one feeling terribly bleak. Not this film, which marries its meet-cute romance to the tone and carnage of In Bruges. Here, when hitman Francis (Sam Rockwell) spots Martha (Anna Kendrick), their chemistry is palpable and fun.
At first, I saw this movie as primarily for those under 25. Yet its celebration of unconventionality as a strength, not liability, grew on me. Francis, like the film, truly fosters Martha to be manic, not manic pixie. There’s nothing to be gained by her toning down to fit in. Hardly just arm candy, Martha grows and gets in touch with her own body’s skills in delightful ways. I loved seeing Kendrick, usually reserved and ironic, really let loose.
Certain films seem amazing at first and they stay so after. Others inspire love but fade. Then there are films like Mr. Right — slight at first glance, they charm you in retrospect as their full originality takes shape.
Maybe film festivals are like that, too. Even less-than-stellar years bring insights and experiences unavailable elsewhere. So share your highlights reel below, and don’t forget the popcorn.