Day Two at TIFF may have started with two junket screenings, meaning there was no chance of seeing any filmmakers/actors, but it also began with what could be my number one film of the year—Never Let Me Go. Amidst the small contingent of press glomming down free danishes and coffee courtesy of Fox Searchlight was a work of art that will devastate even the most cynical of souls. It’s tough to go into detail of the plot, though, without ruining the nuance of the parallel universe world, one where disease and illness has been conquered in 1952 and life expectancy exceeding 100 years in 1967. All I can say without regret is that Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley show so much with subtle, heartbreaking performances, and director Mark Romanek returns to the big screen in astonishing fashion. 10/10, no question.
But no matter how good that one was or how interested people should have been, the theatre showing our second film, Conviction, contained twice as many in the audience. Tony Goldwyn‘s based on a true story work focuses on Betty Ann Waters and how she decided to go to law school in order to learn the tools necessary to get her falsely accused brother out of jail after a life sentence for murder. The plot is definitely conventional and it does at times feel like a paint-by-numbers TV movie of the week, yet the film is surely worth your time due to the stellar performances from leads Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell and supporting characters Melissa Leo and Juliette Lewis. If the end was pared down by a good 20 minutes or so and the inevitable verdict reversal didn’t see quite so many snags, it could really be a winner. As is, the Academy might love it for end of year praise, but we shall see. 6/10.
Thankfully, because the junkets were back-to-back and early in the morning, we found ourselves with some much needed free time for a little lunch at the wonderful 3 Brewers, and even some hotel rest watching the Bryan Brothers win the US Open doubles championship and for Chris to Skype home with his wife and newborn son. The welcome reprieve almost made it hard to get back into the swing of movies, especially with what appeared to be an overlong, personal journey through nature in Emilio Estevez‘s The Way. We never anticipated that the movie would be as good as it was.
A personal trek through Spain by a father (Martin Sheen) sending his tragically just-deceased son on his way, sees an old opthamologist find his long dormant fervor for life. It’s a spiritual mission to complete the 800 kilometer Camino de Santiago, spreading his son’s ashes along the way—one last father/son trip he shrugged off taking months earlier. It’s a sweet tale with a lot of humor infused from a wonderful Yorick van Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, and off-the-wall James Nesbitt. The length never feels boring, the soundtrack is great with The Shins, Coldplay, and David Gray, and if nothing else, I now have a new European hike to complete before I’m 50. 8/10.
Back on the subway, we made our way to the final venue of the evening for two films we had no idea what to expect from. The Australian Wasted on the Young became a welcome gem, living up to the festival book’s description of Elephant meets “Gossip Girl”. A powerful look into the ambivalence of today’s youth and the artificial world based on popularity and fear in high school they reside in, the story itself is based upon the Duke University scandal not so long ago. Director Ben C. Lucas adds a lot of flourish to the visuals, superimposing text messages onto the screen and showing social media sites and their integral part in clique communication, but as he said himself afterwards, the film is to its core a melodrama. As such, it would live or die by the cast culled together—and boy do they knock it out of the park at all times. There were two distinct points to end the movie on that would have left an indelible mark, but the film kept going, perhaps too far. Either way, the Aussies continue to bring their A-game to the world of cinema. 7/10.
And then came Joaquin Phoenix‘s and Casey Affleck‘s is it/isn’t it documentary on the former’s descent into personal hell upon retiring from acting. I’m Still Here is fascinating on paper and intriguing as hell conceptually, but watching it all play out onscreen left me completely cold. What worked so well the past two years via internet rumor, YouTube clips, and tabloid TV speculation never lives up to the hype in film form. There is nothing new added to the debate and really Affleck only rehashes what we already know. Laughs are had, behind the scenes interactions are shown, and cocaine, excrement, cursing, and male genitalia run rampant, but what is the point? I appreciate what they’ve tried to do (whether real or not), but I was utterly bored. 4/10.
 Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen
 Adelaide Clemens, Oliver Ackland, Ben C. Lucas
 Joaquin Phoenix Girls