TIFF 2009: The Story So Far
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TIFF 2009: The Story So Far

Johnny Hallyday stalks Hong Kong in search of his daughter’s killers in Vengeance.

Toronto International Film Festival announcements come thick and fast in the months leading up to the festival each year, and it quickly becomes hard to work out just what’s being announced and why you should care. After all, it’s not until the festival’s been going for a few days and enough buzz has built that you realize that you’ve got tickets for exactly the wrong unheard-of director, or this year’s un-coolest country, or all of the films that Cameron Bailey selected (that last one’s a killer). Yeah, if we could bet on TIFF, I’m sure we’d end up broke—did you foresee Slumdog Millionaire winning everyone’s hearts and minds at Toronto only to go on and nab a ton of Oscars a couple of months before TIFF 2008 even started? If so, you should let us know what your picks are (maybe in the comments? Actually, no, wait, just tell us, the Oscar odds right now must be insane). Anyway, we’re going to try to pick over the announcements so far and work out what’s interesting before we reach the festival, which runs this year from September 10 to 19. Warning, though: we’re going to concentrate on the best-known names because in most cases they’re all we have to hang on to.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans trailer. See it to believe it.

Working backwards, starting just this week TIFF announced a clump of new Special Presentations. It’s here that if you rely on internet buzz you’ll assume there’s only one game in town: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Directed by Werner Herzog and starring Nicolas Cage, acting in a way that implies there was a plan behind The Wicker Man all along, if this manages to be even half as good as the trailer implies then, well, it may well be.
Michael Moore also returns to Toronto with Capitalism: A Love Story. After the shrill, self-congratulatory horror show that was Captain Mike Across America, we can only hope he has learned how to construct an argument using the documentary format. Yes, that’s very negative, but if Mike wants he can come and hassle our secretary for a few hours until security escorts him out.
Joel and Ethan Cohen also return with A Serious Man, and Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut (starring Ellen Page) Whip It—about a rebellious teen entering the world of roller derby(?)—appears, but our interest is piqued by Harry Brown, starring Michael Caine as an ex-serviceman who reaches breaking point over a gang of thugs in his neighbourhood. After the damp squib of Gran Torino, is this the octogenarian-revenge flick we all want to see? Seriously, we hope so.
Also revenge-related is Johnnie To’s Vengeance. Known for his incredibly cool but also entirely ludicrous Hong Kong crime thrillers, this one takes cool/ludicrous to a whole new level by starring French pop icon Johnny Hallyday. Yeah, really.

Steve Zissou’s cameo in George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead is a surprise.

The Host director Bong Joon-ho returns to the festival with Mother, a film more in line with his earlier work, Memories of a Murder (which if you haven’t seen, you should, because we maintain it makes Zodiac look practically amateurish). It’s a thriller about the lengths a mother will go to to protect her son; expect layers upon layers of depth.
Nicolas Winding Refn also returns with Valhalla Rising. If anyone remembers the Pusher trilogy screenings from TIFF 2006, they’ll remember how incredible they were, but this is a Viking film, not a grimy gangster flick, so we have to wonder what it’s going to be like. Though we only recently found out he directed a film about famous British criminal Charles Bronson, so we’ll have to see that first.
When it comes to the Discovery selection, it’s naturally hard to find films to hook onto at this stage, but we do see that Samantha Morton’s first film in the director’s chair, The Unloved, has made the cut, and the award for the worst summary we’ve possibly ever seen from TIFF goes to Five Hours from Paris: “In a suburb of Tel Aviv, an Israeli cab driver who longs to fly and a Russian music teacher who is soon to board a plane find out that romance is only a cab ride away.” Eurgh.

This guy hasn’t really worked out how to efficiently carry things in Cleanflix.

The still-difficult-to-categorize Vanguard selection—forever trapped with films where you ask “why isn’t this in Discovery/Visions?”—notably offers Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, the film everyone was talking about at Cannes if they weren’t talking about Antichrist. It follows an American drug dealer living in Japan through his life and death. That isn’t really a spoiler, in case you’re worried.
Of course, with all of these announcements so far—including the likes of Johnnie To, Bong Joon-ho, and Gaspar Noé—one does wonder: what of the Midnight Madness? Well, if I told you that it’s opening with a Diablo Cody–penned Megan Fox vehicle (Jennifer’s Body) and no more, you’d probably be prepared to boycott the whole thing. But ignoring this decision to irritate the hell out of Torontoist with its opening night flick, this year sounds strong (and hopefully stronger than last year) with George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead, Ong Bak 2: The Beginning, and Symbol from Hitoshi Matsumoto. Matsumoto delivered one of the oddest films of recent Midnight Madnesses, Dainipponjin, which infuriated and amused us in equal proportions by mixing up intentionally dull (and therefore funny) scenes of not very much at all happening with giant monster battles. Oh, and probably one of the most brilliantly absurd endings ever. A Midnight Madness package—all ten films across the festival—costs $156.51 ($100 for students and seniors) and is available now.
Documentaries are a little easier to cover. Rather than “who made it/who’s in it?” the excitement lies in the topic (usually). This year, topics include the Mormon initiative to offer “edited” versions of Hollywood films in Cleanflix, baby-production outsourcing in Google Baby, and one (blind) woman’s attempts to conquer the Iditarod dogsled race in Snowblind.
Oh, and there’s Wavelengths. It’s barely worth trying to describe the selection, but the programme is consistently one of the most incredible of the festival, so keep it in mind—especially at only $55.40 ($47.09 for students and seniors) for tickets to all six films.
If we’ve sufficiently whet your appetite, the only thing to do is to head to the TIFF website and start to order up some tickets. As is traditional, the TIFF’s online ordering is an ugly, unintuitive mess, but prices and packages are improved. While never quite “a bargain” (unless you’re a student, and the student day cards are going fast!), offerings such as the ten ticket package ($159.14, no student/senior pricing) are pretty much unbeatable.