It’s been 11 days with roughly 11 hours of stretched out in between. I saw 32 movies. Wrote somewhere between 40 and 50 articles.
It’s been a TIFF, a great one even. One of the best hit-to-miss ratios of good movies to bad that I’ve ever been lucky enough to experience during my 12 years covering The Toronto International Film Festival. But, I’m glad it’s over now. As much as I love mainlining films through my eyeholes and into my heart (with the occasional pit stop at my brain), your friendly CGM film critic is exhausted. However, before I can slip into a coma and pick up a PlayStation controller to depart reality in favour of pretending to be Spider-man like the overgrown child I am, there is one last box to check in my TIFF coverage. That’s right. It’s time for the annual CGM TIFF Awards.
If you’ve been following our festival coverage over the last few years, you know the drill. This is The Official 2018 CGM TIFF Awards. Contrary to popular belief, they are the only awards related to the Toronto International Film Festival that actually matter. These decisions will change careers and alter lives (note: not guaranteed). No trophies, certificates, or official honours of any kind shall be awarded to the victors. However, the pride and joy that will be felt by all who grace this list will be unmatched by any other accolades the winners will receive in their careers henceforth. If your eyeballs are currently glazing over this article and you’re about to win an award, rest assured that your life will never be the same again (note: not accurate).
As anyone who has actually read these awards in the past knows, none of that is true. This is just a bit of fun. In fact, very few of the categories are serious or legitimate. However, if you hunger for another wrap up article about a particularly satisfying TIFF, then this bud’s for you. Enjoy!
That’s right we’re kicking off this awards list with a tie and there is no Best Picture this year. You’re just going to have to deal with that. Instead top honours go to a pair of films that offered singular cinematic experiences in a theater that I will never forget. Damien Chazelle’s First Man chronicled the well-told tale of Niel Armstrong’s race to be the first man on the moon. However, it did so through such visceral means that it actually felt like you were trapped in those rickety spacecrafts and the vastness of space with him. Using every conceivable film format from 8mm to IMAX, Chazelle created a cinematic space odyssey that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Simply put, if you don’t feel profoundly moved by the climax (spoiler alert: it takes place on the friggin’ moon!) then you don’t deserve to go to the movies.
Next up was something completely different. Roma is a highly personal movie about the intertwined lives of two oppressed women in Mexico City during the 70s. Doesn’t sound like the sort of thing suited to a cinematic experience comparable to blasting out of the earth’s atmosphere, right? Well, did I mention the film is by the genius directorial visionary known as Alfonso Cuaron (Children Of Men, Gravity, Harry Potter And The Prisinor Of Azkaban)? Working in his native Mexico for the first time since Y Tu Mama Tamien, Cuaron uses all of the techniques he learned from blockbuster filmmaking to create an intimate epic. Shot in glorious 70mm black and white and backed with a stunningly immersive soundmix, Cuoron creates frames filled with life in the foreground and background that are stunning to behold. He’s created an intimate epic. A small and very specific story told with such grandiose cinematic style that it transforms into a stunning testament to so many things the subject essentially becomes “life.” There aren’t enough superlatives in a thesaurus to throw at Roma to praise it accurately. An extraordinary filmmaking achievement from Alfonso Cuaron that must also be sought out and experienced on the biggest screen possible before it lands on Netflix this fall.
That’s right. Another tie. This is one if more of a joke though if you haven’t picked up on that. Simply put, there was absolutely no reason to expect that the 11th movie the Halloween franchise would be this good. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that it’s the best entry in the series since the original. Jamie Lee Curtis’ trauma victim turned to administer of shotgun vengeance was a brilliant and clever way to bring back her character and end this story. Director David Gordon Green’s roving cameras and deliberate compositions gave Michael Myers the creepy comeback he deserved. Danny McBride’s (yep, the actor) script is funny and wise, while still focusing on the relentless and simple scares audiences want from the series. John Carpenter’s comeback score is excellent. Gore is plentiful, entertainment value is relentless, and the ending is perfect. This should be the end of the franchise right here. There’s no need to go on. It will be a hit though. That means at least one more disappointing sequel will follow. Oh well, at least we got one more great entry in the Halloween franchise that we can all at least pretend was the finale.
Filled with one-liners, explosions, and glorious Predators getting up to no good, Shane Black’s The Predator is a goddamn B-movie delight. Sure, it’s a weird programming choice for a film festival and the Rotten Tomatoes score indicates that I am certainly in the minority for loving the hell out of this thing. However, I can’t deny that this is the most fun that I’ve had with a Predator movie since the original (and I’ve loved them all except for AVP 2, which should be abolished from history). Sure it was kinda dumb, but good lord was it ever fun. That’s all I need out of a Predator movie. Sorry not sorry.
John C. Reilly has spent so long in his second career as one of the funniest people on the planet that it’s easy to forget he was a truly great actor until he joined forces with Adam McKay and Tim/Eric. Thankfully, the delightfully odd Western The Sisters Brothers puts Reilly back in a role that shows off everything he can do. As a hired outlaw growing weary of murdering people on horseback, Reilly plays a rather tragic and oddly noble figure with deep pain behind his eyes. Thankfully, he also plays the character as a lovable buffoon, so there are still laughs. Those laughs just come under layers of melancholy that the actor hasn’t gotten to show off in a while. It is easily one of the finest performances of his storied career and hopefully will be the beginning of a return to drama. John C. Reilly is way too damn funny to stop tickling our funny bones, but he’s also such a gifted actor that he would be wasted if he stuck to comedy. Hopefully, The Sisters Brothers mark the beginning of filmmakers taking this guy seriously again.
Viola Davis is pretty much in the running for Best Actress every single time she takes a job. However, it was nice to see Davis deliver such particularly strong performance in a film that wasn’t the most obvious choice for her. Widows is a rip-roaring thriller about a collection of women left (wait for it) widowed by their criminal husbands and forced into executing a heist to save their lives. Director Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) delivers a rip-roaring genre ride filled with layers to dark social commentary in a rather brilliant little crime thriller. Of course, none of it would work without it all being grounded by Davis, who provides a pained and empowered performance while also proving that she’s is indeed a badass. We all assumed that, but it was still nice to see it. Not to be missed.
Sure, I may not typically comment on dresses in movies. However, that’s primarily because most movie dresses aren’t possessed and haunted pieces of fabric at the heart of perverse and disturbing horror comedies. If that happened more often, I’d say yes to the dress every day. Thankfully the wonderfully bizarre mind of writer/director Peter Strickland (The Duke Of Burgundy) provided the nightmare satire of consumerism starring a demonic dress that I never knew I needed. Easily weirdest and freakiest film of this year’s Midnight Madness lineup, In Fabric is practically guaranteed to become a cult film. Make sure to see it if you want to have a laugh and have disturbing images seared into your brain for the rest of your days.
For the first hour or so of its running time, director Zhang Yimou’s latest wuxia is a bit of a chamber piece that’ll make you wonder what the hell that man who brought us the wondrously colourful action of Hero and House Of Flying Daggers is up to. Fortunately, the second half of the movie is essentially one long and surprisingly gory battle royal to give the genre crowd the good stuff. Best of all, Yimou somehow manages to take the umbrella and turn it into one of the most amusing and deadly weapons to appear in an action flick in quite some time. It’s almost impossible to describe how he does this. You just have to see it for yourself. Prepare to giggle and feel your jaw hit the floor in absolute awe.
While there were certainly some standout horror movies at TIFF this year, the scariest cinematic experiences didn’t come from that genre. In fact, one of the most frightening films for me was predominantly just a middle-aged man talking. That man is Steve Bannon though and as interviewed by master documentarian Errol Morris, he lays out all of his brutal beliefs and the tricks he used to get Trump into the white house like a Bond villain in his layer. What’s perhaps most frightening of all is the fact that Bannon is a fairly rational and intelligent guy, just one lost in rhetoric and hate in ways that even he doesn’t understand. As a vision of what’s wrong with political discourse in the world right now, Morris’ American Dharma is a chilling film. The fact that the filmmaker keeps shooting Bannon in slow motion with monster movie music playing in the background doesn’t hurt either.
Speaking of absolutely terrifying movies that aren’t horror flicks, let's talk 22 July. It’s a film about the Norwegian terrorist who murdered 77 people one chilly morning, all to promote disgusting far-right rhetoric that did go on to become rather popular a few years later (see Brexit, Bannon, etc.). The film comes from writer/director Paul Greengrass, best known for his Jason Bourne blockbusters but best at transforming true life tragedies into vividly staged and painfully real films (Bloody Sunday, United 93, Captain Phillips). His stark telling of the 22 July events and their aftermath is an almost unbearably tense yet vivid and vital cinematic experience. One of the most powerful films of the festival and one well worth seeking out if you feel like being scarred for life one it hits Netflix.
Ah yes, the annual CGM award dedicated to the title made me WTF harder than any other movie at the fest. This year the honours to French provocateur/naughty boy Gaspar Noe, who has claimed the award in the past. His latest feature Climax opens with a stunningly crafted 30-minute dance number, then pauses long enough for dancers to party and all get dosed with a mysterious drug. From then it turns into another dance of sorts as they all slowly lose their mind to the drug, go into convulsions, self-mutilate, engage in all manner of wrong sexual activity, and just plain move their bodies around in unpleasant ways. Throughout all the madness, Noe swings his camera wildly around the disturbed bodies in motion, creating an uncomfortable and disorienting effect that makes you feel like you like you’re losing your mind along with the characters. Sure the movie is a little empty and even soft by Gaspar Noe standards (I was really hoping to see a literal descent into hell with Noe demons and convinced myself it was coming…don’t know why just felt right), but there’s no denying the sheer visceral impact of the rush of disturbing images and sounds that Noe plunges into his viewers eyeballs. A demented delight, but certainly not for the faint of heart.
What an absolute piece of boring and unfunny garbage. I feel sorry for the audience who stayed up late on a weeknight and paid premium festival pricing to see Nekrotronic. You folks and TIFF deserve better.