I like to think I know a thing or two about movies, but compared to the film-buffery of many of the contributors to Toronto Film Scene, I’m a total neophyte. But that’s one of the main reasons I enjoy being a contributor, because it exposes me to new films I wouldn’t have seen if not for TFS (and older ones I should have seen by now anyway).
The following is a list of some of my favourite films that I’ve seen this past year either because I had to review and discuss them, or because other TFS’ers inspired me to go out and see them myself.
Before reality TV there was Allan King’s A Married Couple. It follows Billy and Antoinette, a young married couple over the course of a few months, as their relationship constantly teeters over the brink. Both of these people can be very annoying (especially Billy in his more pompous moments, of which he has many), and usually that would make me stop watching. Thankfully I had to watch it all, and I legitimately wanted to, partly because of that perverted voyeuristic fascination with watching a car accident. But I also found myself caring about what would happen to them in the end; these are real people after all. The fact that the film is semi-scripted, meaning King was more than an objective observer, makes this weird piece of “actuality drama” that much more engrossing.
The story of an African-American woman who came from a broken and impoverished home only to become one of the greatest jet-setting jewel thieves of the 20th Century sounds made up, and yet there she is on screen, still stealing in her 80s, and trying to outrun and outsmart the law for as long as she can. Her story is fantastic, and almost romantic, except for the toll it takes on her family and herself. This film is a wonderful portrait of a woman riddled with contradictions any screenwriter could only dream of inventing.
It’s not always easy viewing an environmental doc about how we’re screwing up the planet six ways from Sunday, but this film manages to thwart that doom and gloom stereotype, even though the message is largely the same. Musicwood is poignant in that it connects the natural world to the world of music, and how the loss of one will deal a bitter blow to the other. But it’s more than just a soapbox because of the opposition between Greenpeace, who are trying to save the U.S.’s largest national forest, and the Native American landowners who bristle when outsiders tell them how to manage their land. Musicwood manages to strike a balance between all sides of the argument, even when the bottom line is the loss of this forest to clear-cutting means the loss of the acoustic guitar as we know it, not to mention, you know, an entire ecosystem.
I was never assigned this film to review, but it and its creator Vincenzo Natali have been brought up around TFS often enough that I figured I couldn’t not see it myself. So I had myself a date with Netflix and six strangers who wake up in a giant alien-like structure, without any memory of how they got there or why they’re there in the first place. The dialogue and acting can be pretty goofy at times, but the ideas in the film are diabolically well-crafted, and for the most part well executed. The making of the film is also a testament to how much you can do with very little means.
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