Walker (Tsai, 2012)

My goal in Toronto each year is pretty simple. I typically see about 30 films at the fest, and if I choose the right 30 then for the next twelve months I get to participate in the larger critical conversation about contemporary world cinema, despite living in a midsized city in East Tennessee. Over the years, I’ve fine-tuned my method for choosing films to the point that it is literally a formula. I’ve built an Excel spreadsheet to score each film on a sliding scale according to specific criteria: availability, director, actor, theme, buzz, nation, length, and a catch-all category that is used mostly for giving bonus points to films that have played other major festivals.

This year, I suspect, it will be more difficult than usual to pick the right films. Most of my favorite filmmakers — Claire Denis, Hou Hsiao-hsien, the Dardennes, Pedro Costa, Jean-Luc Godard, Arnaud Desplechin, Lisandro Alonso, Catherine Breillat, Chantal Akerman, Nicolas Klotz, and Elisabeth Perceval (I’m sure I’m forgetting others) — are absent this year, and what little positive critical consensus that came out of Cannes was for two films that aren’t part of the TIFF lineup: Leo Carax’s Holy Motors and Alain Resnais’s You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet. There are new films by PT Anderson and Terrence Malick to see, but those will both play in Knoxville. Haneke won another Palme d’Or, but for a film about which I’m unable to muster the slightest bit of enthusiasm. Carlos Reygadas continues to experiment with form, but the reviews I’ve read make Post Tenebras Lux sound like the cinephile’s equivalent of sour medicine. (“Time to take the Reygadas.”)

The good news is that Tsai Ming-liang is back, even if Walker (pictured above) is only 26 minutes. De Oliveira has a new film starring Jeanne Moreau, Michael Lonsdale, and Claudia Cardinale! I’ll be able to see Raul Ruiz’s final two films (one of them completed posthumously by his wife and long-time collaborator, Valeria Sarmiento), along with new work by Brian De Palma, Christian Petzold, Hong Sang-soo, Abbas Kiarostami, Olivier Assayas, and Bernard Emond. Some excellent (relatively) young filmmakers will be there: Cristian Mungiu, Jem Cohen, Sergei Loznitsa, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Miguel Gomes, Mati Diop, Lucien Castaing-Taylor ,and João Pedro Rodrigues among them. And most exciting of all: Wavelengths, which has always been my favorite part of the festival, now includes a full lineup of feature films (formerly programmed as Visions) that is incredibly strong.

After crunching the numbers, I’ve whittled TIFF’s 300 or so films down to these 75, ranked in preferential order by program. I’ll try to see everything in Wavelengths, most of Masters, a few each from Discovery, Vanguard, and TIFF Cinematheque, and as many as I can manage from CWC and Special Presentations. The schedule-makers will inevitably make many of these decisions for me.

Any and all recommendations are much appreciated.

Contemporary World Cinema

Discovery

Masters

Special Presentations

TIFF Cinematheque

Vanguard

Wavelengths

12 Responses to “Anticipating TIFF 2012”

  1. How did you decide many of those WC and Discovery titles — summaries sounded good?

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    • It’s a combination of things. Plot summaries are probably less important to me than still images and the trailers and clips you can occasionally find on YouTube. A few of the films have already played at other fests, so there are a handful of reviews out there, too. I also trust some programmers more than others.

      But, honestly, this is where the quirks of my scoring system begin to reveal themselves. I’m more willing to take a shot on an 80-minute film than one that’s over two hours. French films get a bump, American films don’t. I like films about marriage but avoid child in peril stories and other varieties of poverty tourism. (There’s actually a film in Discovery called Eat Sleep Die!)

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  2. Thanks Darren. I don’t know how much my impressions are worth in regards to stuff I’ve seen and would recommend to skip. I’ve also heard bad word of mouth on a couple I haven’t seen. But maybe you should ignore all that and go with your own impressions? Let me know.

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  3. Danny, I’d definitely be interested in hearing your recommendations. A couple days ago I skimmed your response to After the Battle, which you seemed to be alone in really liking at Cannes, and bumped it up a few spots on my list.

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  4. Yes that movie is quite interesting, especially the mise-en-scene. Very unjustly rejected at Cannes. Of your list the only ones I’d really skip would be IN THE FOG, which is overlong and banal (and I really liked his previous film), and WHITE ELEPHANT which is super boring, highly social message-y without much cinema in it. There are others I disliked (Tabu, Lux, Beyond the Hills, Reality) but are big enough names I assume you’ll see them anyway, and others I heard bad things about (Bertolucci, Room 237) but likewise. The Trapero really is not worth your time. Loznitsa is if you have a lot of time but otherwise I’d just watch ASCENT or an Anthony Mann western…

    The 5-hour indian genre film, Gangs of Wasseypur was one of the best things at Cannes. A good touchstone would be Fukasaku’s Battles without Honor or Humanity. Really straightforward genre told impeccably.

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  5. I appreciate the tips, Danny. I remember last year you described Bruno Dumont’s Outside Satan as a bore. I saw it anyway, of course, but remember sitting in the theater thinking, “Yep, Danny was right.” I think I even described Dumont as a bore in my write-up for Senses.

    I can’t get over the negative consensus on In the Fog. Ten minutes into My Joy I totally trusted Loznitsa. It’s hard to imagine such a quick drop-off in quality.

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  6. IN THE FOG is, arguably, a step up in “quality”: whereas MY JOY had a shaggy rambling charm in its narrative shape, IN THE FOG is classically (almost relentlessly) straightforward, clear in its storytelling, restrained in what it chooses to depict, and generally voids 98% of what was of interest to me in Loznitsa’s voice in MY JOY. Even his use of the frame I found less interesting here.

    I had a similar reaction to BEYOND THE HILLS, which I found to also be a torpor-laden slog (pretty much the last thing I expected after 4,3,2).

    Not to be all negative: I loved the hell out of TABU and very much enjoyed SIGHTSEERS and ROOM 237.

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  7. I don’t know who you are Doug, but I agree 100% of your more precise assessment of IN THE FOG and BEYOND THE HILLS! I definitely want to see TABU again. Note made about the other two, which I haven’t seen.

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  8. That’s ok, I don’t know who you are either ;). Filmmaker/film buff in New Zealand, dillamonster on twitter, followed Long Pauses ages ago in its first incarnation. The NZFF in July gets a huge wave of post-Cannes titles, which is where I was able to see all of those (as well as lots of others, including HOLY MOTORS – wait, that’s playing TIFF, right? it’s conspicuolusly absent above – and IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, which was one of Hong’s most accessible efforts – I enjoyed it, but I think Hong’s incapable of making a film I don’t enjoy).

    I don’t think one’s feelings on TABU would correlate strongly with a possible reaction to SIGHTSEERS or ROOM 237, although the former’s been more generally warmly received than the latter, it seems. ROOM 237 tends to mostly piss people off who are expecting a SHINING documentary or dislike the formal conceit of not showing the people speaking on screen. It put me in mind of Craig Baldwin’s TRIBULATION 99, which is well ensconced on my top 100 films of all time. (Its use of Lamberto Bava footage didn’t hurt, either.)

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  9. HOLY MOTORS and YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET were the two films at the very top of my to-see list, and neither of them are playing TIFF. I’ve heard that after picking up Canadian rights for HOLY MOTORS, Mongrel Media got concerned about its bad box office in France and decided to pull it out of TIFF in order to protect its commercial release in Toronto. The Resnais film doesn’t have distribution at all in the States, so I’m hoping the Nashville Film Festival shows them both in the spring. Otherwise, I’ll likely never get a chance to see them in a theater.

    > Even his use of the frame I found less interesting here.

    After reading the bad reviews of IN THE FOG coming out of Cannes, I had to look it and MY JOY up to make sure they were shot by the same DP. It’s been two years since I saw MY JOY but I still remember a long take early in the film that is shot from behind the main character, who is sitting in the driver’s seat of a truck. It was Loznitsa’s use of the wide frame there that made me trust him. I also really liked his suffers-no-fools attitude during the Q&A.

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  10. IN THE FOG is by no means a badly shot film, and his one-shot/one-scene approach results in some nice-ish camera movements. I’d undoubtedly be more impressed by it if it weren’t by somebody who had made MY JOY.

    But, yes: that scene in the driver’s seat of the truck is a stunner, I remember it vividly. Nothing remotely like that, although there is one scene (after a train goes by) that skirts with the same level of things occurring in multiple planes in the frame.

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  11. Danny, thanks to a huge dead spot in the P&I schedule on 9/8, it looks like I’ll be able to see both parts of GANGS OF WASSEYPUR.

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