Notes from the queue: My TIFF16 diary

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A significant part of the Toronto International Film Festival experience is waiting in line for screenings to begin. This year, I spent much of that time writing reviews or putting together some brief Facebook posts about my time at the festival. Here are four days of notes, all written the morning after.

Day 1: September 8, 2016

Day one of #TIFF16 is in the books, and it was a solid start. We did not arrive in time to catch any of the early morning biggies (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, LOVING, PATERSON, DANIEL BLAKE), but we did manage to eat pizza at 10 a.m. (win) before I caught Olivier Assayas’s confounding, brilliant PERSONAL SHOPPER. It’s no shock this slow-burn ghost story has proven to be divisive, but it worked wonderfully for me, and it’s another peak for Kristen Stewart. (A woman behind me just described the film as “an incoherent mess.”)
Next was the Cannes hit TONI ERDMANN, a long, long, long but truly lovable comedy about a father and daughter. Madden Ade’s film meanders quite a bit, but it has moments as uproarious and moving as any in recent memory.
Following TONI was Paul Schrader’s unpleasant but admittedly entertaining DOG EAT DOG. It’s a Cleveland-set crime romp starring Nicolas Cage and Willem DaFoe, and it’s exactly what you’d expect. Norway’s PYROMANIAC could’ve used some of Schrader’s lurid passion — it’s a repetitive and dull account of a serial arsonist.
Now on to day two, starting with Tom Ford’s NOCTURNAL ANIMALS … One thing is certain: Everyone on screen will be better dressed than me.

 

Day 2: September 9, 2016

Brief rundown of #TIFF16 day two — brief because I’m now exhausted: Tom Ford’s NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is my favorite of the fest so far, a razor-sharp, (predictably) stylish, uniquely funny film that feels like De Palma plus Hitchcock divided by, well, Tom Ford. The performances are uniformly excellent, with Amy Adams and Michael Shannon at the top of the list.
My Amy Adams marathon continued with ARRIVAL, a strong, cerebral sci-fi drama with surprising emotional impact. There’s always one film at TIFF that makes me really miss my kids, and this year, it’s ARRIVAL.
The somber kids’ film A MONSTER CALLS was ambitious but way too familiar, and left me cold. Paul Verhoeven’s ELLE, on the other hand, was a wildly entertaining, utterly provocative gem. Isabelle Huppert gives the most memorably complex performance I’ve seen this year.
The day ended with so-so crime thriller/family drama hybrid TRESPASS AGAINST US, a film I’ll be reviewing soon for The Film Stage.
I’m now seated for a British entry called LADY MACBETH, and the day will also include THE BIRTH OF A NATION, VOYAGE OF TIME, and at least one more TBD … On with it!

 

Day 3: September 10, 2016

It’s my fourth and final day at #TIFF16, and it follows an interesting Saturday, to say the least.
I started with LADY MACBETH, a very dark period piece not based on Shakespeare, but featuring a heroine who would make Lady M. proud. It’s unsettling and fascinating to watch where this film goes.
I followed with Nate Parker’s controversial THE BIRTH OF A NATION, a film with moments of great power but occasionally clumsy execution. I’d call it good but not great, and that’s without even considering the moral issues Parker’s past.
Terrence Malick’s VOYAGE OF TIME: LIFE’S JOURNEY is more of the same — more breathy voiceover (this time from Cate Blanchett), more stunning imagery, more Malick in every way. It’s not a satisfying experience, although perhaps the shorter IMAX version will be.
TIFF added a late-night press screening of the acclaimed MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, so I skipped Park Chan-wook’s THE HANDMAIDEN to attend. (I already skipped the latest from Wim Wenders due to fatigue, hunger, and disinterest.) Kenneth Lonergan’s MANCHESTER was worth the schedule change — it’s an emotionally devastating winner in every way. There’s lots of weeping, and yes, it made me weepy. Casey Affleck highlights a uniformly strong cast.
Today includes Rooney Mara in UNA (watch for my review for The Film Stage), buzzed coming-of-age drama MOONLIGHT, Cannes’ favorite AMERICAN HONEY, and, finally, Natalie Portman in JACKIE. With any luck, I’ll also catch some football while writing today …

 

Day 4: September 11, 2016

My final day at #TIFF16 saw fun times in the order-less line pictured here, but it was worth it: JACKIE, starring Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy, was the finest film I saw at the festival. And that’s saying something, because I saw several masterpieces. In addition to JACKIE, I loved three other films yesterday: Rooney Mara-starrer UNA, stunning coming-of-age drama MOONLIGHT, and the wondrously electric AMERICAN HONEY.
More to come on these and others, but right now it’s time to mow the lawn. (That’s a sure sign I’m home from the fest.)