Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and we’re still gathering reviews here. Note that the first round of all but unqualified praise has since been qualified considerably. Let’s see how it plays in New York. First runner-up: Stephen Frears’ Philomena. And second runner-up: Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners. Click the titles for reviews of both.
Now, Toronto’s a non-competitive festival, that is, there are no juries or golden statuettes. These awards are either voted on by the attendees or presented by independent organizations.
The People’s Choice Documentary Award: Jehane Noujaim’s The Square. At the AV Club, Ben Kenigsberg notes that the film “observes the Arab Spring from the vantage point of activists in Tahrir Square, capturing their changing perspectives as the government and constitution evolve…. Edited until just before the festival—there’s footage from Morsi’s ouster this summer, plus title cards filling us in on August—the film is valuable for its ground-level view of a movement that the American cable news too often abstracts into facelessness. But the film seems scattered, in search of a defined subject.” More from Jason Gorber at Twitch. Next stop: New York.
Runners up: Alanis Obomsawin’s Hi-Ho Mistahey!, which, in the words of the festival, “chronicles the Attawapiskat First Nations campaign to draw global attention to the Canadian government’s neglect of Aboriginal youth education,” and Leanne Pooley’s Beyond the Edge, an “in-depth look at the first Mount Everest ascent on the 60th anniversary of the event,” as John DeFore phrases it in the Hollywood Reporter. The 3D adventure “works from copious interviews, a trove of photos and film footage, and a reenactment of the climb whose lead actor is a remarkable stand-in for Edmund Hillary” and is “aesthetically related to, but much more thorough than, the fare shown in science and natural history museums.”
The People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award: Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? We’ve gathered critical reaction here. First runner-up: Mike Flanagan’s Oculus. It’s a “a slow burn film with a deliciously creepy mood, yet at the same time it remains exhilarating throughout,” writes Jason Gorber at Twitch. “The fact that a ‘creepy mirror’ film proves to be one of the highlights of this (or, frankly, any previous) Midnight Madness slate is a testament to one key fact: this isn’t just a great MM film, this is a great film, period.” Second runner-up: “A band of bumbling thieves and their hostages, all unhappy with the women in their lives, are pursued by a coven of Basque witches with sacrifice on their minds in Álex de la Iglesia’s frenzied battle of the sexes Witching & Bitching,” writes David Demchuk at the Torontist. “Iglesia’s anarchic take-no-prisoners style is much in evidence in this frenetic horror farce.”
The NETPAC Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere: Anup Singh’s Qissa. From the festival: “Set amidst the ethnic cleansing and general chaos that accompanied India’s partition in 1947, this sweeping drama stars Irrfan Khan… as a Sikh attempting to forge a new life for his family while keeping their true identities a secret from their community.”
The Grolsch Film Works Discovery Award (FIPRESCI): Claudia Sainte-Luce’s The Amazing Catfish. Laya Maheshwari in a dispatch to the Film Society of Lincoln Center from Locarno: “Claudia (Ximena Ayala) is a lonely 22 year-old salesperson who moves in with Martha, a middle-aged friend living with HIV, and her peculiar family, attempting to find her niche in her new surroundings even as Martha’s health deteriorates…. The Amazing Catfish is emotionally draining, yet it is undoubtedly heartwarming. Once they were done wiping their tears, I noticed audience members beaming with happiness as they left the theater.” For some, grants Variety‘s Jay Weissberg, this’ll be “a sweetly emotional experience, notwithstanding the tragedy. Those less enchanted by the clan and wanting a deeper exploration of the protag’s complexity won’t be so enthused, though Agnès Godard’s lensing has its own rewards.”
The City of Toronto + Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film: Alan Zweig’s When Jews Were Funny. “Is it about whether Jews define American humor, what makes Jews funny or where Zweig himself fits in now that he’s married a non-Jew?” asks Susan G. Cole at Now Toronto. “Where’s Sarah Silverman, Sandra Bernhard, Fran Drescher? If you can dredge up archival stuff on Jackie Mason, you can find footage of Joan Rivers. Still, it’s is a very entertaining survey of guys who know funny.”
Best Canadian First Feature Film: Asphalt Watches. “Saying you have to be stoned to enjoy something is usually just a way of writing it off, excusing its weirdness as ungraspable,” writes John Semley for Now Toronto. “But… well… it certainly couldn’t hurt to be high or chemically readjusted for Asphalt Watches, a film whose weirdness is so slippery and mercurial that it’s truly tricky to get a bead on.” This is “a funny, authentically strange trip, even if it feels sluggish and road-weary for stretches.”
Best Canadian Short: Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg’s Noah. This one’s already going viral, and I’m not sure it’ll be available indefinitely, so watch it now. Betsy Morais‘s spoken with the filmmakers for the New Yorker, noting: “The entire story plays out on the computer screen of the protagonist, a high-school senior named Noah, who frenetically switches from a porn site to Facebook to Skype to iTunes to Chatroulette. Watching the monitor as Noah sees it replicates the voyeuristic sensation of Facebook stalking—it’s both entrancing and poisonous. Woodman and Cederberg wanted to present a more realistic depiction of technology than what they typically see in movies.”
The Grolsch Film Works Discovery Award: Gia Milani’s All the Wrong Reasons. “The everybody-hurts multi-character dramas of Vancouver’s Carl Bessai find their East Coast analogue in Milani’s tale of four sad Frederictonians who all work at the same department store,” writes Norm Vilner for Now Toronto. “Milani takes two full hours to play out a story that could have fit into a short.”