Note: You can check out Detroit's Metro Times version of this post (with pictures!) by clicking here.
The big deal for the first Monday of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival was that the brand new TIFF Bell Lightbox officially opened for business (and I had my first volunteer shift there). TIFF’s state of the art new headquarters in the middle of downtown Toronto’s Entertainment District, the Bell Lightbox features five theaters and screening rooms, lecture halls, gallery and exhibit space, a film reference library, a gift shop, and, of course, the TIFF offices.
The doors officially opened yesterday, celebrated by a huge block party and live music on the streets, but today is the first day that TIFF screenings are being held there. The building is being called “the house that film built,” and to celebrate it’s first year, the TIFF brain trust created a list of 100 Essential Films from throughout history, each of which will screen in one of the Bell Lightbox theaters sometime over the next several months. (Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey will screen in December in their original 70mm prints—an event I’m strongly considering trekking back up to Toronto for.) Also opened at the Bell Lightbox today was an exhibit showcasing art and memorabilia from each of these 100 Essential Films, including gorgeous original posters, costumes, props, and photographs from the productions. For my volunteer shift at the TIFF Bell Lightbox today, I was one of many people assigned to help patrol the exhibit and help answer patron questions.
After the shift, I caught three screenings (all of which were pretty heavy and serious in subject), and two of them were among the best of the Fest… as well as potential Best Picture nominees.
Movie: 127 Hours
What Is It? The true story of hiker/mountain climber Aron Ralston, who got trapped under a boulder in a Utah canyon in 2003. After 127 hours, and running out of both food and water, Ralston severed his own arm to free himself.
Director: Danny Boyle—Winner of the Best Director Oscar for his last film, Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle is also responsible for the modern classics Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, as well as the interesting-yet-flawed The Beach and Sunshine.
Notable Cast: James Franco (Milk, Pineapple Express, Spider-Man) plays Ralston, who is really the only character on screen for much of the film. Kate Mara (Shooter) has a small part as another hiker Ralston encounters prior to his entrapment.
Notable Crew: Boyle worked mostly with his Slumdog crew again, as Simon Beaufoy adapts Ralston’s book, and A.R. Rahman provides the score
The Grade: A-
Thoughts: The first thing you need to know is that James Franco WILL be receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. I’m not saying he’ll win, but a nomination is absolutely in the bag. The second thing you need to know is that this movie becomes difficult to watch at times. It’s an extremely intense experience that is often grueling for the viewer, and when Ralston finally has to resort to cutting off his own arm, it’s a pretty gruesome sequence. The third thing you need to know is that Danny Boyle continues to prove why he’s one of contemporary cinema’s most interesting directors. The exciting opening credits alone are worth the price of admission, and the vivid colors and landscapes are truly gorgeous. Boyle also gets creative with how to hold the audience’s attention, but I won’t spoil anything there.
And the last thing you need to know is, if you can stomach through the hard parts, this is the year’s most uplifting movie. I actually started tearing up at the end watching Ralston gain his freedom (remember, even after lopping off his arm, he then had to get out of the canyon with one arm and having gone well over a full day without food or water). Boyle chooses his music at the end perfectly—it’s a Sigur Ros song called “Festival”—and the film closes with the real Ralston with his wife and daughter. It’s a truly inspiring tale of the human spirit, very similar to 2007’s Into the Wild, but without the downer ending.
What Is It? The true story of Miral, an orphaned Palestinian girl growing up in Israel in the wake of the Six Days War. She finds herself drawn into the conflict before eventually becoming a sympathizer for both sides.
Diretor: Juilan Schnabel—One of the modern era’s most renowned visual artists, Schnabel entered filmmaking in 1996 with the biopic Basquiat. He has since made 2000’s Before Night Falls, which starred Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp, and 2007’s outstanding The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which earned him a Best Director nomination.
Notable Cast: Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) plays Miral. Vanessa Redgrave and Willem Dafoe are also in the movie, but their parts are so minuscule and inconsequential that I don’t understand why they bothered.
Notable Crew: The real Miral helped adapt her own autobiography with Schnabel.
The Grade: B-
Thoughts: The first movie of the festival that I was disappointed in; it certainly wasn’t bad, but Schnabel’s previous film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, simply set the bar too high. With that film, Schnabel found remarkably interesting ways to tell the story that could seemingly have only come from a visual artist. With his follow-up, I was expecting another masterpiece, and sadly, I didn’t get one. Miral definitely has some interesting moments, and there are a few flashes of the brilliance Schnabel showed with Butterfly, but for the most part, it’s nothing more than a well-made film of a fairly conventional story that does little to distinguish itself.
Movie: Black Swan
What Is It? Nina, a New York ballerina wins the starring role she’s always coveted, but the director forces her to lose control and embrace her dark side to fully commit to the character. In doing so, Nina begins a decent into her own psyche that just may cause her to lose her grip on reality.
Director: Darren Aronofsky—The director of some of contemporary cinema’s most disturbing and memorable films, including Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, and 2008’s The Wrestler.
Notable Cast: Natalie Portman stars as Nina, while Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Winona Ryder play rival ballerinas. The great French actor, Vincent Cassel (Ocean’s 12 & 13, Eastern Promises) plays the Ballet director.
The Grade: A
Thoughts: I managed to score the last ticket available at 7:00am this morning, and it was worth it—the best of the Fest so far, and a truly absorbing movie-going experience. The beautiful visuals and the epic slow-build of tension and intrigue ensure that you simply can’t take your eyes off the screen.
If you can imagine a cross between The Shining and Showgirls (only an alternate reality version where Showgirls was really good), then you’re just about there. There’s also some substantial similarity to Aronofsky’s previous film, The Wrestler, which is no accident. Aronofsky said he views them as companion pieces—one is about what people might call the lowest art form, and one is about what could be called the highest art form, but both are about people who sacrifice every aspect of themselves for their art.
Portman is extremely impressive with the range of emotions she captures, and it appears that she did most of her own dancing. She’s nearly as much of a lock for an Oscar nomination as James Franco.
Word of mouth on this film has been great throughout the Festival, and it inspired the longest standing ovation I’ve seen thus far.
On Tap For Tomorrow: The Great Bruce Springsteen Adventure: will your fearless author get to meet his idol? Stay tuned…