Toronto Wrapup: Senh, Jen And Tim's Raves And Rants From The Festival

by | September 25, 2006 | Comments

We saw some great movies, some of them big ("Babel") and some tiny ("The Patterns Trilogy"). We saw some interesting failures ("The Banquet") and some outright bombs ("All The King’s Men"). We caught glimpses of big stars (Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon, and Sean Penn, among others) and important directors (Brian De Palma, Paul Verhoeven, Darren Aronofsky, and John Waters). (Check the photo gallery for more.)

It’s been eight days since we returned from the Toronto International Film Festival, but the films we saw are still fresh in our minds. North America’s biggest film fest definitely lived up to its reputation, and we thought we’d cap our coverage with the movies that kept us talking.

Here are the movies that struck a chord with us, both positively and negatively. (Click on the highlighted quotes for full reviews.)

Senh’s Top Five:

1. "Still Life" – Set around the Yangtze River and the Three Gorges Dam in China, this is the most beautiful film I’ve seen this year. It’s also realistically acted and filmed and charmingly edited.
2. "Exiled" – Johnny To‘s film about a group of hitmen is well written, hip, cool, and just plain fun.
3. "Election" – Thrills with efficient plotting and pacing. One of the better Triad films in recent years from Hong Kong. It’s also directed by Johnny To. I’m a fan now.
4. "Pan’s Labyrinth" – I’ve never seen a more gory film starring a kid. The character designs are very unique.
5. "The Fall" – Tarsem‘s ("The Cell") film has narrative problems, but it probably has the most realistic and best acting by a little girl (Catinca Untaru) ever.

Senh’s Least Favorite:

1. "Dong" – This is a companion piece to Jia Zhang-Ke‘s "Still Life," but it’s probably the most boring and pointless documentary I’ve ever seen.
2. "Election 2" – What the original would have been if everything went wrong. I’m still a fan of Johnny To, but let’s hope he doesn’t make "Exiled 2."
3. "The Fountain" – Don’t listen to Tim.

Jen’s Top 5 From Toronto (overall somewhat disappointing):

1. "Deliver Us From Evil:" Gripping, emotional and devastating; a documentary on clergy abuse, with intimate access to victims and the offender himself.
2. "The Patterns Trilogy:" It’s visually rich, impeccably cute, and wholly mesmerizing. Jamie Travis’ stop motion-musical duet-pop meditation on obsessive love is surreal and stylish and wonderful.
3. "Catch A Fire:" Derek Luke is amazing, Tim Robbins is a little less psycho than he was in "War of the Worlds"…overall a great anti-Apartheid, anti-government paranoia story.
4. "The Dog Problem:" Scott Caan’s second directorial effort is a comic gem about social estrangement and loneliness and pets.
5. "This Filthy World:" Any John Waters fan must see this feature-length stand-up style show, if not for his hilarious anectodes, then for his insights into sex, politics, and filmmaking.

Screened elsewhere, but enjoyed more than the above: "Volver," "Borat," "Shortbus," "Paris, Je T’Aime"

Biggest Disappointments:

"Bobby" — A monumental divide between my hopes and the (admittedly unfinished) product, excepting the last 10 minutes. But you can’t fix too many thinly drawn characters and virtually no attempt at period detail in post.

"For Your Consideration" — Considering the cast and their past films, this should have/could have been so much better. The Fred WillardJane Lynch infotainment send-up is by far the best part, most everything else is composed of easy insider jokes.

Best Toronto Film Festival PartyThe "Shortbus" Queer Lounge 11pm-4am live music extravaganza!! Burlesque dancers? Great. Awesome bands like Kids on TV and The Hidden Cameras? Great. JCM singing "Hedwig" songs? Priceless.

Tim’s Top Five:

1. "Babel:" A work of remarkable craft, a masterpiece of sensorial and emotional intensity.
2. "Pan’s Labyrinth:" This awe-inspiring mix of fantasy, horror and drama achieves something rare: it’s equally resonant visually and emotionally.
3. "Rescue Dawn:" A thrilling movie, an old-fashioned tale of survival that may be the closest Werner Herzog has come to fashioning his obsession with the struggle between man and nature into a mainstream film.
4. "Little Children:" An adult film in the best sense; it creates three-dimensional characters, sets them loose to do what they will, and trusts that we will understand.
5. "The Page Turner:" A remarkable tale of shattered dreams and revenge, this French thriller in a minor key is tense and absorbing all the way through.

Screened elsewhere, and still awesome: "Borat," "Red Road," "Lights in the Dusk," "American Hardcore"

Biggest Disappointment: "All The King’s Men:" It’s is handsomely mounted. It features a stellar cast. And it’s a misfire from the opening frames.

A movie that I really wanted to like but just couldn’t: "Bobby"

Movies I liked better than my colleagues: "The Fountain," "For Your Consideration"

Best Avant Garde/Black Comedy/Romance/Musical/Short: "The Patterns Trilogy"

Movies I saw in the hotel room: "Executive Decision," "My Voyage to Italy," "Out of Sight," "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"

We’d like to extend greetings to some of the folks with whom we partied, conversed, and screened films: James Berardinelli, Erik Childress, James Rocchi, Kim Voynar, Scott Weinberg, and Paul Zimmerman. We’d also like to extend props to the many critics and bloggers we met in Toronto: Erica Abeel, Peter Debruge, Robert Denerstein, Michael Dwyer, Greg Elwood, Martha Fischer, Phoebe Flowers, Jonathan Hickman, Stephen Holt, Peter Howell, Geoff Pevere, David Poland, Alexia Prichard, Rene Rodriguez, Anne Thompson, Lawrence Toppman, and Sameer Vasta. We’d also like to acknowlge some of the filmmakers we met, including "Stormbreaker" writer Anthony Horowitz and the film’s star Alex Pettyfer (Check out Jen’s interview), Malcolm Ingram, Ash Christian, and Michael Tucker.

Check out our reviews, photos, blog entries, and all other related content from the Toronto International Film Festival.

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