My final day in Toronto included a screening of Vertigo, “the best film of all time,” a game of street hockey, the best sport ever invented, and a steak meal, the best food of my entire trip. It was my best day at TIFF, which happens to be the best festival I’ve ever attended. Let’s continue with this optimism and consider some of the other superlatives of TIFF 2015.
Best Genre Film:
Picked up by A24 and DirectTV after receiving mostly positive reviews, February, the directorial debut of Oz Perkins (son of Anthony), should receive a theatrical release in the not-so-distant future. Relying more on atmosphere and an ambitious narrative structure, February has a poignant story of teenage angst underneath its atmospheric and horrifying imagery. The film moves at an atypically slow pace, allowing the story, performances, and mood to quietly creep up on us. It is the rare scare flick bolstered by characters and plot, not clichés and jump-scares.
Best Performance By A Child Actor:
Jacob Tremblay (Room)
Without Jacob Tremblay, Room (winner of the People’s Choice Award) could have been manipulative and phony – just another Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. But with him, the film is undeniably affecting, a tearjerker that earns the money you’ll be giving to Kleenex. Nuanced, subtle and fittingly erratic, Tremblay achieves an authenticity someone twice his age might struggle to achieve. Certainly this is one of the greatest performances by a child actor ever projected on the silver screen. Although Tremblay looks slightly older than his part – he was probably closer to seven-years-old when they began shooting but his character is about five – there is never a moment we call into question the truthfulness of his performance. It’s not hyperbolic and I’m not catering to sell a story, Jacob Tremblay’s acting in Room is some of the best of the year, or maybe any year.
Runner-up: Abraham Attah (Beasts Of No Nation)
Most Likely Oscar Nomination:
Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)
Tom Hooper doesn’t produce pathos, he manufactures Oscars. In 2012’s Les Misérables he provided Anne Hathaway the perfect moment to act her guts out while crying her way through I Dreamed A Dream. There’s a similar moment in his latest film, The Danish Girl, where an awkwardly long take – maybe 45 seconds – of Eddie Redmayne tearing up is so painful, not because of the poignancy, but because of how showy it is. Redmayne is a good actor and he gives a good performance in The Danish Girl, but the problem is that he’s rarely allowed to seep into the bones of his character. It’s a theatrically overstated performance that feels at odds with the subtlety and nuance that Alicia Vikander provides opposite of him. The problem isn’t Redmayne’s acting, it’s that we always sense that he is.
Runner-up: Michael Caine (Youth)
Most Important Film:
Although many of the films at TIFF had agendas, none felt as relevant or immediate as the concerns expressed in the formally simple but politically complex, Taxi. Casting himself in the lead role, Jafar Panahi plays a taxi driver who is producing a film in his Tehran cab. Panahi, who has been banned from making films in Iran for 20 years, has once again challenged the country’s censorship by depicting Iran’s poverty and sexism. Taxi is not only good entertainment and great art, it’s also an attempt to transform Iranian politics through cinema.
Non-judgmental sympathy runs through every frame of Keeper. The film weaves a story that focuses on one point of view yet the entire predicament can be understood from so many other perspectives. It is the rare story about teenagers where their lives are treated with respect; they’re not used as pawns for the filmmakers shabby ambitions. Unfortunately, this microscopic Belgian film, which was the discovery of the festival, has no American distributor or release date, but mark it down on your phones, send yourself an email, or maybe even go as far as tattooing the title on your arm because Guillaume Senez’s Keeper is more than a keeper – it is one of the very best films of the year.
Three days after leaving Toronto, my time at TIFF almost feels like an extended dream, a vague memory in which only a few instances remain distinct. I was able to get glimpses of writer’s I’ve idolized, see films I greatly anticipated, and spend entire days transported into the worlds created on the screen. I wish I never had to wake up.