Previewing the 34th annual Toronto fest

Posted by · 7:25 am · September 4th, 2009

TorontoIn less than a week I will kiss my wife and kids goodbye and head into Toronto, about 50 miles away, for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Twelve years ago my wife and I found it makes no sense for me to attend the festival for 16 to 18 hours and then try to drive home; beyond the danger of driving exhausted, arriving home at three in the morning tends to wake them up because our stupid, stupid dog begins barking the moment anyone pulls into the driveway. So for 10 days I live in the Delta Chelsea Hotel on Gerrard Street.

This year I am finding leaving for the festival easier. Last year my wife Sherri was diagnosed with brain cancer and dealt with the removal of part of a considerable brain tumor. We went through radiation last summer, the loss of her beautiful, lush red hair, and the constant exhaustion she had to deal with. Cancer, sadly, is a family affair, and not something anyone should go through alone.  But this year we are in a good place.  The monster seems to be at bay, for now.

So what I am looking forward to seeing?  Well first let me state that I’m shocked “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Amelia” and a handful of other films are not here. They seemed like good fits for the festival, their filmmakers have been here before, etc.  That said, it looks like one of the best festivals in recent memory, though I am not sure anything will ever beat out 2007, which presented a bounty of great pictures.  I was leaving screening room after screening room giddy.

This year looks like a challenge for even the toughest film fester. Choosing the films to see is the toughest part because there is no chance you’ll see everything you want to see. There are generally three of four press/industry screenings at the Varsity, Cumberland or new AMC Theatres, as well as the public screenings which the press have limited access to. Our press pass allows us access to six (I think) Gala performances in the evening, but they sell out quickly. There is also a DVD library where you can watch the films in the rooms provided on your own, but films are meant to be seen on the big screen.

So the decision making is the first order of business. After scanning the fat Programme Book, which seems to get bigger every year, folding down the pages of the films that seem interesting, I take the time to read those articles abaout the films I think might be for me. Then I go through the press/industry screening schedule and highlight the films I will see, and “x” mark those I will try and get too.

Then the bookings start for interviews, which are cool and a lot of fun, but frankly I would rather be at the movies. Two hours spent with an actor or director can be thrilling, but which film am I missing while interviewing? That is my quandry, and do not get me wrong, I love interviewing because it allows me to learn more. Last year I declined the chance to interview Danny Boyle for “Slumdog Millionaire” because it conflicted with a film I really wanted to see and I’ve regretted it ever since (for obvious reasons).

“The Road” is the film I am most anxious to see this year and I’ve been reading Cormac McCarthy’s book recently in anticipation.  The trailer looks incredible and Viggo Mortenson has more than proven himself to be a capable actor.  The concept of the book is, of course, quite terrifying. I cannot wait to see it.

Lars Von Trier’s film “Antichrist” has drawn controversial reviews since being screened for the first time at Cannes, and though I cannot claim to be an admirer of his work, I like that it provokes discussion. His treatment of women bothers me, though actresses know what they are signing up for and keep working with the man.

“Precious” fascinates me. I like hard hitting, gritty tales of life, and this one looks like just that. I have heard nothing but praise for the film, and though I have not read the book, my daughter has and tells me it is quite something.

George Clooney is here twice with “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” which looks and sounds fantastic, and “Up in the Air,” from director Jason Reitman.  Reitman was here two years ago with a little sensation called “Juno.”  I love Clooney; I believe him to be in the same league as Clark Gable, an actor who is also a movie star. His work in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Michael Clayton” was incredible, so the chance to see him in two really strong roles interests me.

Robert Duvall and Bill Murray in the same movie? Yep.  It’s a little film no one knows much about entitled “Get Low” about an old man living in the bush who suddenly comes out to plan his own funeral. Any chance to see Duvall at work is reason enough to see one of his films, and Murray has grown into a brilliant character actor. It will be interesting to see them bounce off one another.

“Agora” looks so ambitious, so daring, and oh so interesting. It will go one of two ways: brilliant or noble failure.  I’m intrigued.

“The Informant!” looks like it might place Matt Damon in the Best Actor race, and frankly any film directed by Steven Soderbergh is worth a look. Even his failures are interesting. I am also interested in the Coen brothers’ latest “A Serious Man” because it looks so odd, a throwback to their early work.

“The Vintner’s Luck” is on my list because I remember reading Guy liked it or was interested in it, and something that strikes Guy is worth a look in my book.

Though “Bright Star” seems to be disappointing some who have seen it, I like Jane Campion and Abbie Cornish enough to give it a chance on my own and see where it takes me.

My newfound respect for Penelope Cruz, which has grown since seeing her in “Volver” and her wonderful Oscar-winning turn last year in “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” will lead me to “Broken Embraces,” also the work of world class director Pedro Almodovar.

Tim Blake Nelson has directed the extraordinary Edward Norton in “Leaves of Grass,” which also features Susan Sarandon and Richard Dreyfuss. Norton alone gets me there after his searing work 11 years ago in “American History X.”  I also admit to being something of an admirer of Todd Solondz, who directed and wrote the daring and bizarre “Happiness” and is back again with “Life During Wartime.”

Drew Barrymore proved to me this year in “Grey Gradens” that indeed she can act (Emmy awaits) but can the girl direct? We’ll see when her roller derby flick “Whip It” premieres here starring the wonderful Ellen Page. I am interested largely because I remember watching roller derby with my grandfather in the 1970s and also remember seeing “Kansas City Bomber” with Raquel Welch, and the film may strike a chord in me.

After hearing so much about “An Education,” I am interested, and Joe Dante of all people is here with something called “The Hole,” which has me curious. Michael Douglas will star in “Solitary Man” so I will see that because I admire his work (sometimes), and the film “Youth in Revolt” has me also curious.

Anything Werner Herzog does has me at the very least wondering what he has created, so I will certainly make room for “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” and “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done.”

There is a very cool looking horror thriller called “Daybreakers” with Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, in which a plague has turned many of the world into vampires.  I might give that a look.  And two documentaries hold great interest for me.  The first  is”Kings Ransom,” director Peter Berg’s study of how Wayne Gretsky impacted hockey as a sport in California. Think of it, since Gretzky played in LA after leaving Edmonton, two more hockey franchises have landed in California: the San Jose Sharks (a good team) and the Anaheim Ducks (a Stanley Cup winner).  I’m a huge Gretzky fan so I cannot wait for this one.

The other doc is “Hugh Hefner,” about the infamous publisher of Playboy who both defined and influenced a generation.

And there are so many more not mentioned here.  I’ll get to as many as I can.  Enjoy the coverage and I’ll see you in a week.

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9 responses so far

  • 1 9-04-2009 at 7:53 am

    James D. said...

    I must have added almost ten films to my Netflix queue. I hadn’t even heard of “Get Low”. Thanks John.

  • 2 9-04-2009 at 8:17 am

    snowballa said...

    Glad to hear that your wife is doing well, John. Maybe one year she can accompany you to the festival, no?

    Also, when you see “An Education”, you must review and post it quickly and swiftly. I’m so anxious to see it.

  • 3 9-04-2009 at 10:19 am

    Ronn Burner said...

    Great intro to the Festival. I love Bill Murray and his understated indie films and cannot wait for “Get Low.” The Peter Berg doc sounds amazing and the Hugh Hefner doc was an inevitable necessity and at the very least should be very interesting. Great read, John.

  • 4 9-04-2009 at 6:11 pm

    Luke Gorham said...

    I’m right with you on “Get Low.” I had that film on my list frmo day one. I just got my ticket package results back two days ago. Very disappointed that I will have to get up early a couple morning to try to snag day-of tickets for The White Ribbon, Un Prophete, An Education, and Bright Star, but am definitely stoked about the other 35 or so films I will be seeing.

  • 5 9-04-2009 at 9:38 pm

    Glenn said...

    I hope, john, that you’re not only seeing these movies. I really hope you ditch some of the American movies that will be receiving nation-wide releases anyway and try to seek out smaller fare.

    I don’t know how many times I have to go on about “Samson & Delilah” though before people take notice.

  • 6 9-04-2009 at 9:43 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Samson & Delilah is playing Telluride and I’m looking for a reason to see it. Hit me, Glenn.

  • 7 9-05-2009 at 2:41 pm

    Simone said...

    Hey John, I doubt we’ll meet in T.O but we’ll be at the same movies. I will be at The Road, Antichrist, Daybreakers and The Vintner’s Luck.

    Have fun, I know I will!

  • 8 9-06-2009 at 5:02 am

    John H. Foote said...

    Hi Simone:

    I walk with a cane, and my name is on my press pass — always dress caually, jeans, short sleeved shirts with an orange trimmed backpack — please introduce yourself should you suspect it is me — love to meet readers and meet them all the time at TIFF —

    And Glenn — of course I will be going to other films, that is part of the joy of the fest, discovering those little films that need the attention and the buzz exploding out of Toronto — count on it.

  • 9 9-06-2009 at 5:25 am

    Glenn said...

    Kris, I tried to post a very HTML-heavy reply, but it appears to have been rejected so I put it all over here. 20 solid irrefutable reasons right there. And there are more if you wanna look for ’em.