I’ve just returned from my final flick at this year’s (35th!!) Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF); it’s been an exhilarating yet draining week, in part due to some late nights (sorry, liver) but also as a result of the subject matter of some of my selections: loss (sanity, life, a relationship). Is it me, or has TIFF always been a magnet for gloom and doom movies?
Similar to last year, when I was blown away by Mo’Nique’s performance at the gala screening of Precious (she’d later pick up a truck load of supporting actress awards, including the Oscar), I was really impressed with Natalie Portman’s performance in Black Swan, a dark film set in the world of ballet, and directed by Darren Aronofsky (whose Requiem for a Dream garnered Ellen Burstyn and Oscar nom, as did The Wrestler for Mickey Rourke). I’d be very surprised if Portman doesn’t get an Academy Award nomination for Lead Actress in Black Swan. She is that good.
Equally good (meaning also deserving of some Oscar attention) is Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole. I had forgotten how much I like Kidman as an actress and in this film, based on the 2006 play starring Cynthia Nixon (in a Tony award-winning performance), Kidman is given a role that she can really sink her teeth into without it resulting in scenery chewing: that of a mother coping with the tragic loss of her 4 year old son. Aaron Eckhart, as her husband, and Dianne Wiest, as Kidman’s mother are almost as good and I was really impressed with director John Cameron Mitchell, too. (He also directed the fantastic Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the slightly over-rated Shortbus.)
Another film I saw, Beautiful Boy, starring Michael Sheen and Maria Bello also deals with parents coping with the death of a child, but with a bit of a twist. The child in question is a young man who goes on a shooting spree at his school, killing 17 people before taking his own life. It’s an extremely well-done film, which actually won TIFF’s International Critics for Discovery Programme award, and therefore could make it a contender for other awards. And by the way, am I the only one who finds Michael Sheen sexy?
TIFF’s People’s Choice Award this year went to the film, The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. I didn’t have an opportunity to screen it but with TIFF’s People’s Choice winners track record, look for The King’s Speech to be up for some major hardware during awards season; especially for Firth, who has received some serious acclaim for his portrayal of King George VI. (Runner-up for this year’s People’s Choice award was the film, The First Grader, an inspirational story of an 80 year-old Kenyan man attending school for the first time. I saw the film, and while I thought it was okay, I certainly would never have predicted it to be the runner up in the People’s Choice category.)
Other worthwhile films I saw at TIFF include Julia’s Eyes (an entertaining Spanish thriller), Blue Valentine (with the wonderful Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams), and Tamara Drewe (directed by Stephen Frears, who just so happens to be the director of one of my all-time favorite films, Dangerous Liaisons).
Alas, with my final TIFF film it wasn’t a case of saving the best until last. Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, with an incredible, accomplished cast including yummy James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline and Tom Wilkinson felt uneven, very staged, just plain boring in parts and with some dialogue that had me simultaneously rolling my eyes while checking the time on my watch.
It was an exceptional year for films at TIFF; although I wished I had laughed more and cried less.