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Film Friday: TIFF takes over
What Venice and Telluride can tell us about the week ahead

So, the Toronto International Film Festival started yesterday. (Maybe you heard?) And with it, the non-stop media coverage, which I regret to say I will have little part in. As it turns out, getting media accreditation from the TIFF powers-that-be isn’t as easy as you might think, and for whatever reason I didn’t make the cut. (Luckily, the Standard’s fearless editor, Sabrina Maddeaux, did, so she’ll be taking up the slack.)

Just so you know, I am not remotely bitter about being left out. Not at all. Sure, when I first got word I flew into a rage, broke all my furniture, then sat in the middle of my destroyed apartment heaving huge, wracking sobs, but after a few hours I realized something: this was a blessing in disguise. Last year at this time, I was essentially living at the Varsity Cinemas, gorging on advance screenings every day with fellow critics, then rushing home at night to cough up my thoughts in dashed-off reviews. And to be honest, it wasn’t much fun. As deeply as I love movies, I don’t love them to the exclusion of all else, and watching so many at once — often as many as three a day — made them all blur together. Before the fest was over, I was sick to death of movies.

I’m sure I’m not the only critic who feels this way, which leaves me wondering: why do critics review so much at TIFF — to the point of exhaustion and crankiness — when only a tiny fraction of the reading public attends TIFF? The vast majority of readers won’t be seeing these movies until they’re in general release, so why not forgo reviews and stick to the celebrity sightings, press conferences, and party photos? Even without being accredited, I could’ve attended the bulk of this year’s pre-fest screenings (accreditation being mostly for screenings during the fest, and for celebrity access and such), but I decided this was my cue to skip the whole infernal thing. And so far, I think I made the right decision. (Do I sound like I’m trying to make lemonade from lemons yet?)

Anyway, this is my long-winded, roundabout way of explaining why you won’t be seeing any TIFF reviews from me this year. (My regular reviewing will resume next week with P.T. Anderson’s long-awaited The Master.) In the meantime, I have to leave you with something, so let me fill you in on the latest bits o’ buzz from the precursor Telluride and Venice film festivals.

Maybe the biggest surprise from out of Telluride (which ended last Sunday) is that a seemingly sure-fire Oscar contender, Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson (which debuts at TIFF on Sept. 10), appears to be a bit of a dud. The film, in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt welcomes King George VI to his upstate New York home for a weekend, is a very obvious attempt to capitalize on the success of The King’s Speech, and it had been mooted for months as a Best Picture front-runner. It could still happen — and star Bill Murray could still get a Best Actor nod — but word is the movie is less like The King’s Speech and more like the Oscar also-ran My Week With Marilyn. (In other words: boring as hell.)

Some of the titles that got a big boost at Telluride include Ben Affleck’s hostage crisis film Argo, which was pretty much the hit of the fest; hometown gal Sarah Polley’s deeply personal documentary Stories We Tell, which went from under-the-radar curiosity to subject of serious awards talk; and Noah Baumbach’s shot-on-the-cheap Frances Ha, which stars Baumbach’s girlfriend, Greta Gerwig, and could easily have been a too-quirky vanity project but is reportedly a solid crowd-pleaser. All three films get their TIFF debuts tonight.

One of the most controversial titles at Telluride was the documentary The Act of Killing, which was executive produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. Directors Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn got former members of Indonesian death squads to re-enact their murders in the style of Hollywood action movies, and audiences were either impressed by the resulting frissons or disgusted. Either way, it got people talking, so expect the same when it debuts here on Sept. 8.

As for the Venice Film Festival, the Golden Lion hasn’t been handed out yet (that happens tomorrow), but it’s looking increasingly like it will go to The Master, to the surprise of pretty much nobody. Based on the early reviews, Anderson’s look at the origins of Scientology appears to have lived up to expectations (though it will probably be more of a critical fave than a popular one, à la There Will Be Blood). Furthermore, stars Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams are getting excellent notices. The Master gets it’s first (sold-out) Toronto screening tonight at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

Also getting much love in Venice were Olivier Assayas’s semi-autobiographical Something in the Air (Sept. 8), about a young man moving on from his teenage revolutionary fervour; South Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk’s reportedly grim Pietà (Sept. 12), about a scummy loan shark reunited with his long-lost mother; and, to a slightly lesser extent, Marco Bellocchio’s right-to-die opus Dormant Beauty (Sept. 13), which has netted largely positive reviews but has also been criticized for featuring a few too many characters.

Not faring so well in Venice was Terrence Malick’s super-secret To the Wonder (Sept. 10), starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem. Malick’s movies are always divisive, but even admirers were let down by this one, which is said to be almost completely free of both plot and dialogue, and possibly a little too precious for its own good. The film has its defenders though, so we’ll withhold judgment until its TIFF bow. In any case, its Oscar prospects look dim, which makes it increasingly unlikely it will get a theatrical release this year. Expect to see it sometime in 2013.

And finally, the Venice reviews of Brian De Palma’s kinky thriller Passion (Sept. 11) are just now pouring in, and they’re sadly “meh” on the whole. Variety critic Justin Chang says that the movie, which stars Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace as scheming, canoodling corporate-climbers, contains “some modestly campy pleasures” but ultimately “lacks the delirious trash-horror verve of De Palma’s best work.” I’m hoping Chang’s wrong, but based on De Palma’s recent output, he probably isn’t. (Big, big sigh.)


Scott MacDonald writes about cinema for Toronto Standard.

You can follow him on Twitter at @scottpmac. He just started tweeting, so be gentle with him.

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