Werner Herzog (right) comin’ at ya in 3-D, Cave of Forgotten Dreams.
Like Chuck D once said, “Don’t believe the hype.” It’s a pretty okay maxim to live by. More often than not, hype—that ethereal promotional hum that makes something seem more consequential than it really is—ramps up expectations that can never be met. Case in point: Crystal Pepsi. Remember Crystal Pepsi? Didn’t think so.
But sometimes a little buzz can be a good thing, especially when it comes to major events like TIFF. With so many films to choose from, it helps to have a little hype behind your movie. And at TIFF, the hype surrounding certain films is of a more earnest, less wildly hyperbolic, stripe. A certain film may be of interest because it represents an intriguing gambit on the part of its filmmaker, because it has garnered awards at other festivals, or because it just seems so weird or fresh that not checking it out seems foolish.
Having said that, here are ten films unspooling at TIFF 2010 that we’re pretty “hyped” about. Whether you choose to believe us is entirely up to you.
1 Promises Written In Water
Vincent Gallo is such a weird dude. Actor, filmmaker, model, musician, asshole provocateur, Gallo’s always managed to stay in the headlines by fostering a sense of mystique around himself. Whether he’s hocking his own sperm on the internet for one million dollars, or grooming his pranksterish persona as some kind of radical conservative, he always finds some way to stoke his own self-styled cult of personality. And his filmmaking career has been no less controversial.
While his excellent debut, Buffalo ’66 (1998) earned him swells of critical hurrahs, Gallo mostly squandered the bulk of this goodwill with his 2003 follow-up The Brown Bunny. Gallo’s sophomore feature caused controversy when it premiered at Cannes, owing largely to the unsimulated blowjob Gallo’s character receives from indie princess Chloë Sevigny. Roger Ebert called it the worst film to screen in the history of the festival, and Gallo called Ebert a “fat pig with the physique of a slave trader.” Gallo’s third and latest film as a director follows a terminally ill woman who, eager to die on her own terms, convinces a photographer to take a job at a funeral parlour in order to oversee her cremation. Shot on 16mm and without a script or conventional production schedule, Gallo’s latest promises to prove him either as bold and daring as he thinks he is, or as insufferably ostentatious as his critics say. The write-up in the TIFF program book doesn’t even include a photo. How enigmatic!
You think your family reunions are weird? It’s all ghosts, monks, and catfish sex in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
2 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Here’s another one that stirred a bit of controversy at Cannes this year. Uncle Boonmee doesn’t contain any real-time blowies (though it features a catfish having sex with a woman), but its Palme D’Or win divided critics, including local “scribe” Peter Howell at the Star. (Though Howell referring to Weerasethakul as a “dark horse” only serves to betray his ignorance. The Thai auteur has been a favourite of cinephiles for the past decade.) We haven’t seen it, but our trusted sources tell us that Uncle Boonmee, a buoyant phantasmagoria about a dying man exploring his previous incarnations, told in a style that appropriates the look of the Thai genre films Weerasethakul gorged himself on while growing up, is well deserving of any and all praise heaped upon it.
3 Black Swan
Given that Black Swan has already secured a major theatrical release later this year, it normally wouldn’t be the kind of film we’d put high on our list of stuff to check out at TIFF. But after seeing the trailer, we can’t deny the allure of seeing this psychological thriller about two rivalling ballerinas (Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis) with a Toronto festival crowd. It’s not merely a function of star power, or the accolades afforded Aronofsky’s The Wrestler when it screened at TIFF in 2008. It’s a matter of Black Swan, even moreso than this year’s Splice, looking uncannily like the work of one of our city’s most treasured auteurs: David Cronenberg. The rivalry recalls the fraught Jeremy Irons v. another Jeremy Irons dynamic in Dead Ringers, Portman’s weird mutation smacks heavily of The Fly, and there’s even a little M. Butterfly in the lavish stage sequences. With any luck, Aronofsky’s tendency towards emotional and stylistic bombast will only service these elements.
4 You Are Here
Okay, so there’s not a ton of hype surrounding this one or anything, but we’re going to try and start some. The debut film from Toronto video artist Daniel Cockburn, You Are Here, is a truly exceptional mind-fuck of a film. Recalling everything from Charlie Kaufman’s giddy narrative head games, to the fractal storytelling of David Foster Wallace, and the Borgesian Library of Babel, You Are Here stars the late Tracy Wright as an archivist compulsively schematizing a library of found audio and video artifacts. Problems arise when her private library begins to outgrow her, as if it’s taken on a life of its own. It’s a noodle-scratcher, sure. But it’s one that offers rewards throughout, and not merely in the satisfaction of piecing it together.
5 Cave of Forgotten Dreams
In a treatise published in Newsweek earlier this year, Roger Ebert lamented how 3-D filmmaking is discernibly altering the kinds of films Hollywood is churning out. He also noted that he may become reconciled with the medium should his hero, Werner Herzog, ever make a 3-D film. Well Merry TIFF-mas, Roger Ebert. Herzog’s latest doc, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, has him spelunking into the Chauvet caves in southern France, home to thirty-thousand-year-old cave drawings. Toying with the possibilities of 3-D technology, Herzog uses the added dimension to give a sense of depth and contour to these early images of mankind. So don’t expect any stalactites jutting out at you. And as more proof that Herzog, 67, is determined not be outpaced by the forward march of technology, he recently took to answering questions from Twitter users on YouTube.
6 Fubar II
If you’re one of the people who knows every line from 2002’s cult classic Fubar, and catch yourself saying stuff like “A large rocket” or “We’re havin’ a fuckin’ party for ya, buddy,” without thinking about it, then chances are you’re excited for Fubar II. But the film presents an interesting double-bind. Sure, it’ll be hilarious when it premieres on September 9. But the real test is seeing if it’s as funny the fifth, sixth, tenth, twenty-sixth time around. But if you want to get cracking on committing more Terry and Dean–isms to memory, you can start early by seeing the film at the festival before it hits theatres on October 1.
Vincent Gallo looking a lot like Jesus (we doubt he minds) in Essential Killing.
7 Essential Killing
Boy oh boy, more Vincent Gallo? What did we do to deserve such cinematic bounties? Here Polish master Jerzy Skolimowski employs Gallo much as Francis Coppola did in last year’s Tetro: as an objet d’art whose distinctive bone structure and piercing eyes tend to photograph incredibly well. Unlike Coppola’s overwrought monochrome family drama, Essential Killing is an exercise in pure cinema, i.e. the theory of filmmaking that attempts to distance cinema from antecedent arts such as theatre and literature. This means no conventional storyline. No character development. And long takes? You bet! It’s kind of a hard sell for the casual moviegoer (“Hey, want to go see a movie that isn’t a movie in the way we have come to regard movies?”), but that’s precisely why Essential Killing deserves attention.
8 L.A. Zombie
Speaking of hard sells, how about a hardcore gay porno with zombies? Picking up the thread of his 2008 zombie film Otto; Or Up With Dead People, LaBruce’s latest has already drummed up controversy (shockingly) after organizers at the Melbourne International Film Festival refused to screen it. L.A. Zombie casts French pornstar François Sagat as a schizophrenic believing himself to be a zombie, who attempts to bring the dead back to life by having sex with them. It’s also being touted in early write-ups as a pointed commentary on urban poverty. And like all pointed commentaries on urban poverty, there are plenty of zombies fucking. As with so much of LaBruce’s more obvious provocations, L.A. Zombie will likely engender reactions of disgust and disinterest. But even stronger is its “this I gotta see!” factor.
9 Let Me In
When Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish vampire thriller Let the Right One In came across the pond in 2008, it deservedly garnered praise as one of the most inventive, stylish, and sweet horror films of the year. Given this cross-over success, it’s a bit befuddling as to why we need an English-language remake, let alone an English-language remake helmed by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves. (Except for the obvious explanation that, duh, we is too dumb to read us our fil-ums.) All the same, the film’s story of a child bloodsucker (here played by Kick-Ass kiddie Chloe Moretz) befriending a shy, bullied boy (The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee) is so rich that we can’t help but want to see more of it. Plus, Let Me In casts Elias Koteas, one of our nation’s finest living actors, as a policeman on the trail of the prepubescent killer. As a general rule, any movie with Elias Koteas is going to be great. (See: The Thin Red Line, Defendor, Zodiac, Crash, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.)
10 Les Amours imaginaires
It’s hard to remember a Canadian filmmaker whose debut caused such hullabaloo as Xavier Dolan’s. The twenty-one-year-old Dolan’s breakout feature, last year’s J’ai tué ma mere, was the most talked about Canadian film of last year, and anticipation for the follow-up is running high. In a way, the pressure to meet the expectation fostered by his first film must be liberating: there’s no way Dolan can meet the swell of accolades afforded J’ai tué ma mere, which gives him the opportunity to try something new. This seems to be the direction he has moved in with Les Amours imaginaires, a comedy about young Montreal couple, Marie (Monia Chokri) and Francis (Dolan), whose relationship becomes triangulated by an intriguing young man (Niels Schneider). It sounds like Bertolucci by way of Three’s Company. Colour us curious.
Stills courtesy of TIFF.