Friends and family think me crazy for driving up the QEW so I can sit in darkened theaters for around thirty of a total eighty-hours in Toronto, but I wouldn’t spend my early September days any other way. This is what the Toronto International Film Festival does—it makes you look sanity in the face, say no thanks, and go the exact opposite way towards a world-renowned cinematic spectacle those same people are jealous about once I tell them I saw Kristen Wiig tell a joke. It was a funny one too about the size of the IMAX screen her movie was soon to play on considering she’d be projected stark naked atop it forty-minutes later.
This year’s festival was perhaps crazier than most because I had to get fellow critic and Buffalo cinephile Christopher Schobert in early for a 9:00am showing of Olivier Assayas‘ Clouds of Sils Maria our first day (which he loved). That meant a 5:00am wake-up call to get on the road, traverse the newly chaotic traffic patterns thanks to King Street shutting down for TIFF festivities, and find a place in line at the box office to pick up our tickets. It looked touch and go there for a second, but the 2,800 volunteers did us a solid by opening the booth an hour early. So he grabbed his ticket, I headed to the Hyatt Regency for my press pass, and the adventure began.
Being on the job for The Film Stage and needing to file reviews as rapidly as possible these last few years have rendered the oftentimes wonderful film talk in line silent since I’m write while waiting for my next show. This decision has the plus of ignoring what amounts to a ton of unsolicited spoilers about films I may be seeing mere hours later, but also the con of missing the hilarious banter of know-it-alls bragging about inane things while others pretend to listen intently until it’s their time to spout their own opinions on anything from genre rules, celebrity sightings, and movie-centric anecdotes.
I was, however, privy to a conversation between two film buyers before my press screening of Bang Bang Baby (a fun sci-fi musical with an Ed Wood aesthetic supplying good fun if also a few flaws). The one proudly declared how he had already walked out of four films since the day began six-hours previously. Now I’ll admit 2014 was one of my most lackluster slates yet, but come on! It just goes to show how different an experience you can have when you’re on the clock rather than free to enjoy without deadlines slicing up your time. Thankfully I’ve been able to exist inside a hybrid of both worlds because at some point the fun is still watching the whole piece and appreciating it as more than a fifteen-minute first scene.
Having some time to kill before my noon movie at the Princess of Wales that first Friday, I took a quick jaunt along the newly created King Street promenade dubbed Festival Street. Still too early to witness the full experience, I saw the appeal of creating its hub of activity since the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Wales, and Roy Thompson Hall all live along the blocks cordoned off. I saw two young gentlemen engaged in a life sized chess game, caught a glimpse of a couple food trucks’ breakfast menus nearby the illuminated TIFF logo ushering visitors in, passed a huge line of patrons waiting for a free McCafé, and chuckled at a “film festival therapy” booth a la Lucy from “Peanuts” wherein the “doctor” was out. Much more lively at night—to the point were it was difficult to move amongst bar hoppers and premiere attendees staring at a HAL 9000—I’m certain it will become a yearly tradition for the first weekend despite some local backlash towards its effect on drivers.
As for the films: after a total of fourteen in four days along with a few online screeners during the build-up, I had the pleasure of seeing some great work, some entertaining work, and a couple huge disappointments if only because of the talent involved. Also, besides Kristen Wiig I heard director Zhang Yimou introduce Coming Home (a well-made document about a family impacted by the Cultural Revolution in China and the way Chairman Mao broke parents and children apart through his political rhetoric); Peter Strickland humorously speak about his The Duke of Burgundy with star Chiara D’Anna (a surrealistic adventure of sadomasochism merging reality with fantasy … and butterflies and mannequins); as well as Kriv Stenders, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, and Shira Piven for their respective films.
The disappointments included two Adam Sandler vehicles that held potential considering the filmmakers behind them. Jason Reitman‘s Men, Women & Children simply believed itself to be more profound than it was and Thomas McCarthy‘s The Cobbler couldn’t help buckling under its fairy tale for adults conceit. Sandler himself was pretty good in both, but ultimately overshadowed by Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever in the former and Method Man in the latter. Yes, Method Man. He’s a delight in a dual role, playing both a thug and Sandler’s character Max when Adam’s titular cobbler takes the rapper’s body for a spin courtesy of a magical shoe stitcher (you can see how the plot could be a bit much).
In the middle of the pack came Lone Scherfig‘s The Riot Club possessing a centerpiece dinner scene of excess and violence that may have been the best sequence I saw all festival (with great performances from Sam Claflin and Max Irons). There’s also the fun crime puzzle of a lark starring Simon Pegg called Kill Me Three Times; a couple of okay comedies led by women caught in fantasy lands with Jane Levy‘s darker Bang Bang Baby and Wiig amidst a mental crisis in Welcome to Me; and the surprisingly authentic Adult Beginners led by a Nick Kroll whom I didn’t find as obnoxious as I usually do.
The greats spanned the newest film from the team behind French hit Intouchables entitled Samba, the stoic Algerian War-set Far From Men starring Viggo Mortensen, and the aforementioned Duke of Burgundy—although this last one’s aesthetic proves an acquired taste some may want to steer clear from. Canadian produced Corbo was an effective drama about the early days of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) and documentary The Wanted 18 a creative mix of animation and interviews depicting the crazy tale of cows thought to be enemies of the state within the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
If I’m to speak about two films that seriously left an impression, though, it would come down to Dan Gilroy‘s Nightcrawler and Moorhead and Benson’s Spring. The first has its lulls and repetition, but those qualms are easily forgotten thanks to a stirring lead performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as a sociopath firmly placed upon the Austistic spectrum. His Lou Bloom is a stringer taking late night video footage of bloody crime scenes for a local television station who crosses the line of decency when he begins consciously helping to create the carnage he shoots. Its climatic chase scene of high-octane mayhem came a close second to Riot Club‘s banquet on the memorable scale.
Spring was hands down my favorite of the festival, though. A self-produced independent genre bending horror/romance, its authentic portrayal of love surpasses the key plot point that one half of the central union is a monster. Starring Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker, it has been accurately compared to Before Sunrise in its European meandering with naturalistic conversations about love, sacrifice, and life itself. The creature effects are fantastic, the cinematography gorgeous, and the acting top notch. I cannot wait to see it again and hope that Buffalo audiences will have a chance to do the same in a theater setting locally.
Don’t fret that Spring is a small movie with limited roll-out, though, because most others are on their way to us sooner rather than later. Kevin Smith‘s insane Midnight Madness movie Tusk hits Buffalo this Friday, September 19th (my BuffaloVibe review is forthcoming), as well as the Jason Bateman/Tina Fey/Jane Fonda starring This is Where I Leave You. Some other TIFF selections on the docket are The Equalizer, Pride, The Judge, and St. Vincent with critical darlings Whiplash, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, and Nightcrawler to follow during award season this Fall.
So despite TIFF now being over, the films themselves are far from gone. Look for the festival’s laurels stamped to movie posters currently installed at Dipson, Regal, and North Park to see which ones you could have already viewed across the border last week. And if the number grows to excessive lengths—trust me, it will—definitely think about heading down next September to catch a few early with all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood royalty.
 Festival Street Light Tunnel courtesy of TIFF
 Kristen Wiig in Welcome to Me courtesy of TIFF
 Festival Therapy Booth
 HAL 9000
 Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) in The Duke of Burgundy. Courtesy of IFC Films.
 Jane Levy in Bang Bang Baby courtesy of TIFF
 Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler courtesy of TIFF
 Nadia Hilker in Spring courtesy of TIFF