Essential Movies and Moments from TIFF ’11

Another Toronto International Film Festival is in the books. As we wrap our coverage, we’d like to list a dozen or so films that were the standouts among the fifty films we reviewed. But anyone who goes to TIFF knows that the experience amounts to much more than what’s shown on screen. In that spirit, we’ve invited several critics and programmers to share their favorite moments from this year’s festival.

12+2 Essential Films

The Cardboard Village (dir. Ermanno Olmi)
A Dangerous Method
(dir. David Cronenberg)
The Deep Blue Sea (dir. Terrence Davies)
Dreileben (dirs. Christian Petzold, Dominik Graf, Christoph Hochhäusler)
Faust (dir. Alexander Sokurov)
Footnote (dir. Joseph Cedar)
God Bless America (dir. Bobcat Goldthwait)
Killer Joe (dir. William Friedkin)
Life Without Principle (dir. Johnnie To)
The Loneliest Planet
(dir. Julia Loktev)
Whore’s Glory (dir. Michael Glawogger)
Wuthering Heights (dir. Andrea Arnold)

Films not reviewed but heartily endorsed: A Separation (dir. Asghar Farhadi), Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)


22+ Personal Moments:

As I’m stuck in Kraków for most of the year, my only means of sustaining a conversation with other cinephiles from around the world is to talk to them on Facebook and/or Twitter. This year, as I came to TIFF for the first time in my life, I managed to meet many people I previously knew only as their on-line avatars. My single best TIFF 2011 moment would have to be this: as we meet for a late-night beer near the Lightbox entrance, face after face materializes from the haze of hundreds upon hundreds of tweets I read so far, and suddenly there they are: my fellow film geeks whom I cherish and admire, sitting next to me and having a beer in what used to be called the real world. This I will never forget.

– Michał Oleszczyk is a film critic based in Kraków Poland and has written books on Terence Davies and Guy Maddin. His blog is “Last Seat on the Right.”

In one of those half-awesome, half-awkward moments where you scramble to make small talk with a filmmaker you admire, I found myself walking down the baroquely cavernous corridors of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel with A Kid with a Bike directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne following an interview. I mention that the place reminds me of The Shining, and Luc smiles and says: “Another movie with a kid with a bike, yes?”

Fernando F. Croce is a film critic for Slant, Fandor Keyframe and Reverse Shot.

After sitting for about an hour through a press screening of film I couldn’t stand, I finally listened to the little voice inside me saying “Walk out! Walk out!”) and walked out.

Or tried to, until the director himself intercepted me in the lobby, blocking my way. What was he doing at a press screening? He insisted that I tell him why I was walking out. I really didn’t want to talk with him, and tried to continue walking. He blocked me like some Crazy-Man-On-The-Street, repeating that I must tell him why I was leaving. I was so determined to forget thinking about his film that instant that I didn’t even bother saying anything semi-clever (“Oh, I realized after an hour that I was sitting in the wrong film” “I am scheduled for brain surgery and have to go prep for the OR”), and just told him I didn’t want to talk with him. A non-effective strategy. I kept moving forwards, though, and he eventually gave up, increasingly plaintive calls of “Just tell me why you are walking out!” trailing behind me as I got out of range.

Shelly Kraicer is a film critic and programmer of the Dragons and Tigers Asian film program at the Vancouver International Film Festival

Seeing Brian De Palma (twice!) at the festival was frankly more thrilling than several of the films I saw at the festival. Seeing him seated just across the aisle from me at Dark Horse, Todd Solondz’s newest and maybe best film, was a delight. Mostly because I identify with Solondz’s latest to a freakish degree and think its a potent and deeply unnerving film. But also because I could look straight ahead and freak out one way and then look to my right and freak out another. Diversity rules.

Simon Abrams is a film critic for Slant, Fandor Keyframe and other publications.

My definitive TIFF moment arrived during the world premiere of Your Sister’s Sister. Being a fan of Humpday, I wasn’t surprised to find that Lynn Shelton’s smartly executed blend of comedy formula and improvisatory storytelling worked again. But I was fixated on the two giddy teens seated in front of me, who couldn’t get enough of the fact that Emily Blunt was sitting just a few feet away. Once the lights went down and the movie began, their gawking came to a halt and they had to watch the movie, which they actually loved.  Over the course of 90 minutes, a pair of would-be celebrity stalkers transformed into genuine movie lovers. If the festival environment has the power to transform autograph-seekers into movie buffs, there may be some hope for its future.

Eric Kohn is film critic for IndieWire.

Favorites of #tiff11 : A Separation (staggering), The Loneliest Planet, House of Tolerance revisited, The Deep Blue Sea. Extra-cinematic fave: TIFF removes the word “piracy” from do-not-record-the-film spiel in hopes of stopping audiences from going “ARRRR!!!!”

Mike D’Angelo is a film critic for the Onion A/V Club and blogs at The Man Who Viewed Too Much.

“There were a number of moments coming out of certain screenings—A Separation, Le Havre, Wuthering Heights—where, elated and ecstatic, I was reminded of exactly why I do what I do for a living (sharing an enthusiasm for great works of art with others), and why I remain obsessed with film’s ability to touch so many people in the most singular of ways. But nothing knocked me sideways more than the moment I filed out of the Sunday 9/11 evening premiere of Shame on to the street, simultaneously devastated by the film’s howling into the abyss and touched by how the movie portrays New York as a broken city trying to heal itself. Having spent the entire day listening to people talk about my adopted city while I was hundreds of miles away from anything resembling a commemoration ceremony, the film suddenly made me feel the gravity of that tragedy’s geography as if I were there, back home. Seeing such a brilliant film any night of the year would have been an incredible experience. Seeing such a perfectly realized New York movie on 9/11 at the festival felt like something akin to a religious experience.

David Fear is film editor of Time Out New York.

Hard to isolate a single moment, but a few scenes made an indelible impression by making, breaking or saving their movies: the Monica Belluci dancing scene in That Summer; the homemade electric chair in Keyhole; the song recording scene in Crazy Horse; the movie trivia moment in Dark Horse; Val Kilmer’s drunken accent montage in Twixt; the crying in the rain breakdown in Shame.

Karina Longworth is film editor of LA Weekly

The first moment at TIFF when I realized I had discovered a major new talent occurred about ten minutes into Angelina Nikonova’s Twilight Portrait, when, after Olga Dihovichnaya clearly expresses her contempt for her lover, he summons her to bed brusquely, and we realize a split-second before her reaction that she will obey.

Dan Sallitt is a filmmaker and film critic for MUBI.

What I most crave from the cinema these days is brief moments of ecstasy. There wasn’t a masterpiece among the thirty films I saw at TIFF this year, but at least once each day I felt that sharp shock of sensation when a certain composition or sound or movement momentarily broke the viewing experience. The otherworldly architecture in Vimukthi Jayasundara’s Mushrooms. Alessandra Negrini dancing to “Maniac” in Karim Aïnouz’s The Silver Cliff. Alexander Sokurov’s golden portrait of ideal beauty in Faust. But my favorite moments were in Low Life, the latest work by Nicolas Klotz and Elisabeth Perceval, who construct their films around such ecstatic interludes. Near the end of Low Life, an illegal immigrant from Africa paints himself white in a zombie-like ritual. Klotz frames the boy’s face in a tight, still closeup. The paint is dry and has begun to flake away, exposing patches of his dark skin. Combined with a droning electronic score, the image is unsettling and horrific but also curious and deeply humane.

Darren Hughes writes about film at Long Pauses

After ten days and nearly 50 movies, I was spent by the festival’s second Saturday, when William Friedkin’s Killer Joe arrived like a bloody bolt from the blue. By then, a climactic moment involving the use, and abuse, of a fried chicken drumstick had already become notorious, but the fevered allusions to the film’s copious transgressions had squeezed out a consideration of its wit, and the sheer glee Friedkin and Bug playwright Tracy Letts take in messing with the audience’s head. After a final revelation that’s like a middle finger firmly thrust in the audience’s face, Friedkin cuts to a round of reaction shots, one of which belongs to a freshly killed corpse. If you’re not grinning ear-to-ear by then, you might want to check for a pulse yourself.

Sam Adams is a film critic and served on this year’s TIFF FIPRESCI Critics’ Jury

Between an awkward chat with Whit Stillman and an 8:45 screening of Hellificanremember, I met this lady. She’s offering prose based on a subject you provide: love, despair, linguini–she said ‘the stranger the better’. Granted and putting it all into a book, this literal “writer-for-hire” is inspired. Camped outside the lightbox, she was a kick in the skirt when it felt like all my words were drying up.

– Sara Vizcarrondo is editor of Box Office Magazine and RottenTomatoes, and host of the web series Look of the Week.

After talking intimately with my dear friend Joseph Jon Lanthier in the Lightbox lounge (with mentions of stalkers, restraining orders, suicides, attorneys), we headed to the AMC for a screening of Last Winter. We sat near the front. As the film got underway it became clear that some sort of radio interference was affecting one of the speakers. I couldn’t tell if it was a radio talk show or a TV show, but there was faint scratchy dialogue coming through a speaker behind the screen while we watched nearly silent rural cowboy action on screen. I told a volunteer to tell the projectionist about the problem. It went unresolved, so these two garbled male voices continued to provide unintended background noise.

Eventually a Russian woman in the front row got belligerent with someone seated behind her–“Turn off your phone!” she yelled. Her teenaged daughters egged on the altercation. More volunteers became involved as tempers flared among a half-dozen patrons near the front. Someone involved in the tech side of TIFF came into the theater and started pestering everyone in close proximity to the screen to determine if an electronic device was causing the problem. “Are you accusing me?!” asked one patron. “I’m not accusing, I’m asking,” the TIFF staffer said in a whispered shout.

After he prodded several suspects, it was discovered that Jon had inadvertently recorded our conversation at the Lightbox and just as inadvertently switched his recorder to “play” mode so that it was broadcasting the unsavory details of several people’s lives to the entire audience.

Last Winter was one of my favorites at TIFF and that screening was probably my favorite festival screening of all time.

– Alejandro Adams is a filmmaker and writer for Fandor Keyframe.

What thrilled me was seeing Grace Wang, a programming associate, introducing a film. I met her as a commenter on my blog, she became one of my Far-Flung Correspondents, and now there she is onstage!

Roger Ebert is film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and Roger, host of Ebert Presents at the Movies, and author of several books, including Life Itself: A Memoir.

It’s a toss up between two which both happened at dinner:

Having Nicholas Provost describe to me in detail a scene that he wish he put into his film The Invader, leading to a pinkie-swear.

And running out during main course to do a Q&A for North American premiere of Random, one of my personal favorites at TIFF11. Taxi got there in nick of time. Sat through last 2 minutes of film. Got teary. Met director Debbie Tucker Green and lead actress Nadine Marshall for the first time. Saw them teary. Went on stage. Saw audience teary. Followed by a half hour of pure emotional outpour and love and thanks to the filmmaker, the talent, and the film. Poetry shared by all.

Grace Wang is a Programming Associate at TIFF.

Andrea Picard being applauded, well, getting a standing ovation really, from some of her fans in the audience at her last Wavelengths presentation (featuring Nathaniel Dorsky, of course, and Recoder/Gibson & Block).

The films: some good films came with high expectation or praise from Venice, and in other cases I’ve known the filmmaker for a while. So let’s mention the last film I saw, L’hiver dernier by John Shank – Belgian filmmaker, despite the name, and shot in a mountainous French province. Never pretentious, never slow; but also the filmmaker is never afraid of the dark, of silence, and has other means to move the viewer than the psychological.

Worst experience, you didn’t ask, but why not mention it: apart from being spared the usual nine introductory sponsor announcements, there was nothing to redeem the appalling 9/11 short “film” that preceded the (public) screenings on that day.

Gerwin Tamsma is programmer of the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

1. A surprising, startling and heart-warming standing ovation from TIFF’s loyal Wavelengths audience.
2. Discussing the dire state of the European Union, Hungary’s national cinema, and bemoaning the taste of regulated Dutch tomatoes with Béla Tarr over dinner at an Indian restaurant.

Andrea Picard is programmer of the Wavelengths, Visions and Future Projections sections at the Toronto International Film Festival.

At the Q & A with Bela Tarr after the screening of The Turin Horse:
Audience Member: Is this really your last film, and if so, why?
Tarr: Did you see this?

Andrew Tracy is Managing Editor of Cinema Scope magazine.

Girish Shambu informed me of a bookshop on Toronto’s College St., whimsically named Of Swallows, Their Deeds & The Winter Below, that carries a new translation of Andre Bazin’s What is Cinema? Because of copyright conflicts with the publisher of the previous translation, this edition, published by Caboose Press, is unavailable outside Canada. When I arrived at “Of Swallows…” and began perusing the film section, the clerk called out to me,” Are you looking for What is Cinema? Rather astonished, I replied,” How did you know that?” “Oh, everyone with a TIFF badge who comes in here is looking for that book,” he replied. It seems that bringing home this translation is , hyperbole aside, almost reminiscent of the Americans who had to smuggle Ulysses out of France in their suitcases during the 1920s. Girish told me that, when he bought the book a few days earlier, the clerk quipped,” Some good, old-fashioned contraband, eh?”

Richard Porton is a film critic, scholar and editor of Cineaste

Film festivals tend to serve multiple functions. While the majority of attendees are there for the screenings, there are those (like myself, on occasion) that are preoccupied almost entirely by meetings. Which, ultimately, is the worst of all worlds. You’re in another city without enough time to genuinely experience it. When you return, everyone asks about the assorted films that they’ve read about to get your first-hand impressions. Invariably, I haven’t seen them.

While I might be tempted to make some reference to a chance run-in with Juliette Binoche or a Wavelengths screening of Nathaniel Dorsky’s sublime The Return, the real highlight of TIFF was an opportune lunch at the Lightbox Canteen on my penultimate day in Toronto. I was talking with Adam Sekuler, Program Director of the Northwest Film Forum, on the street outside of the Hyatt Regency when Icarus Films’ Livia Bloom happened to pass by. She mentioned that she would be dining around the corner and invited us along. Given that it was a rare window of opportunity in an otherwise packed schedule, I certainly couldn’t decline. Once there, Daniela Elstner of Doc & Film International and Delphine Selles-Alvarez, cinema program officer of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York, were introduced (and, though I’d undoubtedly met them both before, this was the first meaningful conversation I’d had with either one). The leisurely lunch was the calm in the center of a storm, due in some part to the indolent service of the restaurant but largely a reflection of the participants, each remarkable in their own indicative way. Seated in the proverbial catbird seat (outdoors, next to the street), our proximity presented a chance to casually greet a number of other folks on their way from one venue to another. All in all, it was an ideal way to spend a Sunday afternoon–among friends, two quite dear and two newly found.

Which is to say that you must leave yourself open to the unplanned and the unexpected when traveling. Generally, that is where the best moments of any such occasion derive.

Jonathan Marlow is Co-Founder and VP of Film Acquisitions & Development at Fandor

My unforgettable moment was probably having drinks with Team ALPS — and having Athina Rachel Tsangari complement me on my Bill Walton jersey.

Adam Nayman is a film critic for The Grid TO, Cinema Scope, Fandor Keyframe, Reverse Shot and other publications.

While walking up John Street with ALPS producer and Attenberg writer-director Athina Rachel Tsangari, I saw her pause and look up. “Look at that sky,” she said. The sun was setting, but not yet in crimson glow, and certainly nothing like the brilliant colors I’m used to watching on the Southern California coast. But the sky was alive, for sure. “It’s so big, I need these kind of big skies,” she added. (She knows such skies, having lived for a decade in southern Texas, where big skies rule.) Then, wistfully, with a note of sadness: “We don’t get skies like this in Greece. In Europe, the skies are small, too small.” Had we not been boxed out of a public screening of Alexandr Sokurov’s Faust at the Lightbox, we would have missed this sun and this sky. Sometimes at film festivals, skies matter more than films.

Robert Koehler is a film critic for Variety, Cinema Scope, MUBI and other publications.

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