BEST of TIFF 2019. Films. Awards.

by Gilbert Seah

 The results are in:

In general this year had a super crop of films at both Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival.

The movement of increased women in films is working. I noticed than close to 50% of all the films I had seen at TIFF had a female protagonist, female director or strong feminine content.

At this year’s TIFF, I have seen a total of 70 feature films, and I have picked out the best of the 70 though I had not seen PARASITE or THE TRAITOR which wee on most critics top films list.

These are listed below in order of my picks.

1. Les Miserables

2. Sorry We Missed You

3. The Whistlers

4. So Long My Son

5. Beanpole

6. There’s Something in the Water

7. The Twentieth Century (also won the Canadian First Feature Award)

8. JoJo Rabbit (also won the People’s Choice Award)

9. Marriage Story

10. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Below are the TIFF Awards (and the paragraph preceding describing the jury).

The short-film awards below were selected by a jury comprised of Chelsea McMullan, Léo Soesanto, and Andrea Roa.

IWC SHORT CUTS AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN SHORT FILM The IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film goes to Chloé Robichaud for Delphine. The jury remarked, “By presenting its main character’s unique point of view through another character’s perspective, Robichaud’s Delphine boldly utilizes an original narrative device to offer a refreshing twist on the coming-of-age genre. This evocative, mysterious, yet sensitive short film brings up powerful feelings of nostalgia and memory, leaving an impact that lingers with the viewer long after its all-too-short run time comes to a close.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize, made possible by IWC Schaffhausen. The jury awarded an honourable mention to Theodore Ushev’s The Physics of Sorrow for its impressive filmmaking and detailed craftsmanship.

IWC SHORT CUTS AWARD FOR BEST SHORT FILM The IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Short Film goes to Lasse Linder for All Cats Are Grey in the Dark. The jury noted, “Blurring the line between narrative and documentary, Linder’s All Cats Are Grey in the Dark simultaneously observes its main character — and its topic — with both empathy and absurdity. This unexpectedly touching, exceptionally composed, and tender tale of a man’s love for his cats (along with the best employed use of Alexa) surprised the jury with its observational filmmaking and memorable feline performances.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize, made possible by IWC Schaffhausen. The jury gave honourable mention to Federico Luis Tachella’s The Nap for its brave exploration of age and sexuality.

The Canadian awards below were selected by a jury comprised of Magali Simard, Devyani Saltzman, and Alicia Elliott.

CITY OF TORONTO AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FIRST FEATURE FILM The City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film goes to Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century. The jury remarked, “Rankin’s debut feature is superb in its imaginative wildness, taking an otherwise staid historical Canadian figure and propelling him into the heart of one of the most creative, visual, and compelling experiences of the Festival.” This award carries a cash prize of $15,000, made possible by the City of Toronto.

CANADA GOOSE ® AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN FEATURE FILM The Canada Goose ® Award for Best Canadian Feature Film goes to Sophie Deraspe’s Antigone. The jury said that “Antigone stands out on its own as an electrifying piece of cinema. Tackling with vigour contemporary realities of immigration in Canada through the framework of Greek tragedy, Deraspe created magnificent onscreen humanism. It is imperative to point out Nahéma Ricci’s performance, reminiscent of Renée Falconetti’s Jeanne d’Arc.” This award carries a cash prize of $30,000 and a custom award, sponsored by Canada Goose ® . The jury gave honourable mention to Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn’s The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open.

NETPAC AWARD Selected by a jury from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Pacific Cinema (NETPAC), the NETPAC Award goes to Oualid Mouaness’ 1982. Jury members include Chairperson Beckie Stocchetti, Kanako Hayashi, and Albert Shin. The jury remarked that this film was selected “for its adventurous, imaginative style and subtle, confident filmmaking, bravely juxtaposing and framing the universal innocence and charm of youth within harrowing historical context.”

GROLSCH PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS

This year marked the 42nd year that Toronto audiences were able to cast a ballot for their favourite Festival film for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. This year’s award goes to Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit. The award offers a $15,000 cash prize and a custom award, sponsored by Grolsch. The first runner-up is Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. The second runner-up is Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.

The Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award goes to Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s The Platform. The first runner-up is Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night. The second runner-up is Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum.

The Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award goes to The Cave, directed by Feras Fayyad. The first runner-up is Garin Hovannisian’s I Am Not Alone. The second runner-up is Bryce Dallas Howard’s DADs.

TIFF is over for 2019. Preparations begin or 2020.

Reported by:

Gilbert.

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2019 TIFF Movie Review: BLACK CONFLUX (Canada 2019) ***

Black Conflux Poster
Trailer

The seemingly separate lives of an anxious, disillusioned teen girl and a troubled, alienated man converge fatefully in this haunting exploration of womanhood, isolation, and toxic masculinity, set in 1980s Newfoundland.

Director:

Nicole Dorsey

Writer:

Nicole Dorsey

BLACK CONFLUX tells the dual stores of two disillusioned people set in 1980’s Newfoundland.  The film could very well be set in the present in Toronto close to where director Dorsey earned her film degree and lives. 

 The seemingly separate lives of an anxious, disillusioned teen girl and a troubled, alienated man converge fatefully in this haunting exploration of womanhood, isolation, and toxic masculinity.  Fifteen-year-old Jackie (Ella Ballentine) is navigating from vulnerable adolescence to impending adulthood. Dennis (Ryan McDonald) is a socially inept loner with a volatile dark streak and delusional fantasies of adoring women at his beck and call.  Director Dorsey loves to play with symbols.  

There are two scenes involving bugs, the significance only realized after a bit of deep thought at the end of the film.  Dennis’ story is more interesting as his character as an ambiguous creepy characters that could explode at any instant is more intriguing.  he film has a solid ending when the two stories eventually converge and the two meet making.  A very assured debut feature from Dorsey again enforcing the power of women.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auJvUxFK1TE

2019 TIFF Movie Review: WASP NETWORK (France/Belgium/Spain/Brazil 2019) ***

Wasp Network Poster
The story of five Cuban political prisoners who had been imprisoned by the United States since the late 1990s on charges of espionage and murder.

Director:

Olivier Assayas

WASP NETWORK is a multi-level political thriller that tells the story of numerous characters set in the Cuban American cold war.  Director Assayas did CARLOS which spanned a 181-minute lengthy running time.  WASP NETWORK has more stories to tell and it seems really rushed in Assayas’ storytelling in this 2-hour film.  The primary story is set in December 1990. Airline pilot René González (Edgar Ramírez) steals a plane and flees Cuba, which is about to topple into an economic crisis precipitated by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Having abandoned his wife (Oscar winner Penelope Cruz) and daughter, René, now based in Miami, is regarded as a coward and a traitor, though in letters home he explains that he is fighting for a more just and prosperous Cuba as a member of the activist organization Brothers to the Rescue.  

Another character is fellow exile and pilot Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura). René gradually becomes more aware of the moral compromises the Brothers make to do their work — and the degree to which the CIA is involved in supporting anti-Castro activities.  Director Assayas makes the CIA the story’s chief villain.

Trailer: https://www.cineuropa.org/en/video/rdID/375491/f/t/

2019 TIFF Movie Review: FORD V FERRARI (USA 2019) ***

Ford v Ferrari Poster
Trailer

American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.

Director:

James Mangold

FORD V FERRARI is the type of crowd pleasing action packed movie that critics generally dislike and audiences cheer to.  Director James Mangold (3:10 TO YUMA) and the 4 film writers tell the story of real-life superheroes Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, race car engineers who commandeered the resources of the mighty Ford Motor Company in the 1960s to go head-to-head with the gods of Italian auto racing, Ferrari. 

But it is the Ford motor company’s owner Henry Ford and marketing chief that the two have to keep fighting in order to beat Ferrari.  So the title of the film should be Underdogs V Ford.  

Cliche ridden, the film does contain two manipulative segments (the fight and the ride Ford takes in the race car) that got the audience applauding.  D.P. Phedon Papamichael shoots the race sequences, particularly the night ones spectacularly as if putting one in the driver’s seat. Christian Bale excels in his role as maverick Ken Miles, the British born American race car driver.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3h9Z89U9ZA

2019 TIFF Movie Review: MARTIN EDEN (Italy/France 2019) ***

Martin Eden Poster
Trailer

Martin Eden struggles to rise above his destitute, proletarian circumstances through an intense and passionate pursuit of self-education, hoping to achieve a place among the literary elite.

Director:

Pietro Marcello

Writers:

Jack London (novel), Maurizio Braucci (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

Based on the Jack London novel of the same name, Pietro Marcello’s latest film follows a sailor, MARTIN EDEN (Luca Marinelli) trying to remake himself as a writer, in this passionate and timeless story of class consciousness and failed ideals.  The story is reset to a port town in Italy.  Eden has two things going against him in life.  The first is his falling in love with Elena (Jessia Cressy) who s wealthy and upper-class and way over his social standing. 

 This second is his desire to succeed and make his living as a writer that is as difficult a vocation as his survival in poverty.  Worst still, his ideals in socialism makes him extremely unpopular with Elena’s family while getting him into trouble with the locals.  Does Martin Eden survive?  

Hardly as displayed in a rigorous telling of a tale of hardship and perseverance.  The period piece is beautifully shot by cinematographers Francesco Di Giacomo and Alessandro Abate.  Actor Marinelli, who has been playing everything from a doomed lover to a drug pusher in the past few years (THEY CALL ME JEEG) has finally got a role to be reckoned with.  

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4516162/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_3 (in Italian)

2019 TIFF Movie Review: SYNCHRONIC (USA 2019)

Synchronic Poster
Two New Orleans paramedics’ lives are ripped apart after encountering a series of horrific deaths linked to a designer drug with bizarre, otherworldly effects.

Writer:

Justin Benson

Set in New Orleans, paramedics and close friends Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) arrive on the scene for what seems like a typical overdose.  They end up stumbling upon a bizarre plot that will take them down a most unexpected path.  Deaths occur from a synthetic narcotic known as synchronic, which has some extreme side effects that don’t just alter consciousness. 
 When Dennis’ teenage daughter (Ally Ioannides) tries synchronic and goes missing.  Steve, who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, aims to discover the truth behind the killer drug named SYNCHRONIC and inadvertently sets off on a journey to find her – a journey that involves time travel.  It is an outrageous premise that has so many loose points.  Worst still the directors are way too serious with their story which looks as if it is made up as they go along.  
What is inconceivable is that no explanation is given on to the reason Steve ends up in the swamp or on a battlefield depending on the position he takes the drug.  Benon and Moorhead takes their audience on a wild ride which ends up going nowhere furiously fast.  One cannot care for stuff that do not make sense.

2019 TIFF Movie Review: WESTERN STARS (USA 2019)

Western Stars Poster
Trailer

Live concert performance of Bruce Springsteen singing songs from his album ‘Western Stars’.

The Boss himself,  Bruce Springsteen performs his critically acclaimed latest album and muses on life, rock, and the American dream, in this intimate and personal live-concert film co-directed by himself.  Being his first full-length film to carry his name as director, the fact must have affected the Boss getting to his head. 

 Springsteen offers his advice on love, loss, change and other assorted matters prior to each song he performs and there are quite a few of his performances on screen so that it the films become over preachy.  Springsteen is no great sage either. No one wants to keep hearing him expel his personal demons.  

The choice of the Glen Campbell song “Rhinestone Cowboy” he performs is an odd choice to end the movie.  The only good thing about the film is watching him perform his live album concert songs with his orchestra.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGqjav-KbDU