With almost 400 films playing at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, there are bound to be plenty of films that just don’t get the recognition they deserve. Since 1976, the first year of TIFF, thousands of films have been screened from every corner of the world. Some films may go on to receive a wide theatrical release, while others may never be seen again. To compile a list of TIFF films that may not have had their turn in the theatre was too daunting a task. There are so many movies that have graced the screens of TIFF that I have no knowledge of, and trying to dig up box office numbers for obscure titles from 1979 seemed almost impossible. Instead, this month’s TFS List offers up five films that I feel didn’t get enough respect. I’m sure they may be films that you’ve heard of, but how many people really accept how important, fantastic and entertaining these films truly are?
In 1997, TIFF played host to this incredible film from Michael Haneke. The film is about two young men who meet a vacationing family. The family believe that the young men are friends with the neighbours, but things quickly turn ugly when the men imprison the family in their home, subjecting them to terrible mental and physical trauma. Intended as a comment on the influence of media violence on society, Haneke crafted a truly disturbing film. Most of the violence happens off-screen, which only makes things worse for the viewer, but it’s not the violence that many remember from this film, it’s the way the film continually breaks the fourth wall. One of the young men will occasionally acknowledge the audience, causing viewers to feel as if they’re taking part in the tragedy that unfolds. There’s even a moment where one of the vicious men actually rewinds the movie to undo something that has gone wrong. These moments of going against the way a film is made makes Funny Games a radically different film that was eventually overshadowed by the American remake.
Also playing at TIFF in 1997, Cube is easily one of the best science fiction films around, but it rarely makes anyone’s top ten list. It also happens to be Canadian. The film follows six people who wake up in a large, square room. There seem to be thousands of these rooms, and as the group travels through them, the six people must find out what unique talent they each have and how it can help them escape. This movie is the perfect example of the less is more idea. Filmed on a tiny budget, there was only one 14 x 14 x 14 room built, with another partial room built for moments when characters would look into the next room while standing in another. It’s tense, intelligent, and has some extremely insane ideas at the heart of it. The film works so well because of the great interaction between characters. It also happens to be one of the most creative films that this reviewer has ever watched.
Screening at TIFF in 1998, Last Night is the one film on this list that I haven’t watched, and that’s the exact reason I placed it here. Winning numerous awards including three Genies and the Best Canadian First Feature Film at TIFF, the fact that I had not heard of the film surprised me. The film follows an intersecting group of characters as they spend their final night on Earth. That alone should be enough to gather interest. Add in a fantastic cast including David Cronenberg, Sarah Polley, and Sandra Oh, and the dazzling direction of Don McKellar, and it seems to be the perfect Canadian film. Perhaps that’s the reason that Last Night is overlooked. When people think of Canadian films, it’s probably Cronenberg that comes to mind first, and the Great White North is frequently forgotten when a film comes to the theatre. Maybe it’s the fact that the film was set in Toronto that turned audiences off. With so many awards and positive reviews, Last Night should be a film that more people know about, especially with its apocalyptic theme and the idea that 2012 may be the end for us all.
In 2006, the Midnight Madness programme hosted an impressive line-up of films, but it’s Black Sheep that I feel is the most overlooked of the group. The film is about some genetically engineered sheep in New Zealand who have a taste for human flesh. Once someone is bitten, it’s not long before they become a hideous monster. Years before, Peter Jackson delivered the outrageous horror comedy Dead Alive, and Black Sheep follows in the same over the top footsteps. Hilarious and bloody, this is a film that nobody ever seems to talk about. Other films typically come to mind when you think of mixing zombies and comedy, but the idea that the sheep are the zombies instantly gives this film a distinct edge. I haven’t met many people who have actually watched this one, but those who have all agree that it’s one of the best horror comedy films around.
As part of the Midnight Madness programme in 2007, Inside is an important film in the new wave of French horror, but it’s a name that gets lost in the shuffle. Frontier(s) also played at TIFF in 2007, and that’s the name that people tend to go to for French horror. That’s unfortunate because Inside is one of the most bloody and tense films out there. The film is about a pregnant woman who is in a car accident that kills her husband. Months later, on Christmas Eve, the woman is preparing for the birth of her child when someone breaks into her home attempting to take the unborn child. The film is brutal, and can be incredibly hard to watch, but it turns some of the horror genre conventions upside down, giving it the kind of twist horror fans need. After going through many of the films considered to be part of the new wave of French horror, it’s Inside that left the strongest impression. Certainly not for the weak of heart, this film is one of the best horror films around, and absolutely one of the best coming out of France.