Our Top 11 TIFF 2011 Picks
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Our Top 11 TIFF 2011 Picks

Eleven films worth betting on at this year's film festival.

Looks like somebody’s about to get smacked with a bottle of Johnny Walker Black in Johnnie To’s A Life Without Promise. At least it’s not the good stuff.

Now that TIFF has announced the full 2011 programme with additions today to the Masters, Discoveries, and Mavericks slates, it’s time for us to announce the films we’re most excited about. To keep things magical, we’re going to stick with the number 11. (And because chaos reigns, these are in no particular order.)

Johnnie To’s Life Without Principle (Hong Kong, Special Presentations)
The last time the insanely prolific Hong Kong genre master had a flick at TIFF was 2009, with the French co-produced neo-noir Vengeance, starring Johnny Hallyday as a revenge-seeking criminal with Memento-like short-term memory loss. His latest is a heist caper and mini–morality drama involving a bank teller, a small-time crook, and a cop. Sounds promising.
Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (UK, Special Presentations) Though still a relative newcomer—her first feature, Red Road was released in 2006—both that film and her follow-up, Fish Tank, are very, very good. Considering their adherence to a kind of gritty, Dogme-ish social realism, it may seem odd for Arnold to adapt the Brontë classic. (Yes, it’s an adaption of the novel, not the Kate Bush song.) But anyways. Do we even need any more adaptations of stuffy Victorian classics? Well, Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre was impressive, so maybe we do. And with Arnold at the helm, this Wuthering Heights promises to be, well, interesting.
Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s Livid (France, Midnight Madness) This year’s Midnight Madness programme is crammed with world premieres, but there’s none more anticipated (on our end, at least) than Maury and Bustillo’s follow-up to the Midnight Madness 2007 hit Inside, one of the grisliest examples of the so-called New French Extremity movement in horror cinema. Livid follows a young woman and her pals as they break into a gothic mansion, so it promises some of the same claustrophobic indoors tension of Inside. And if it’s even half as tense and pants-shittingly gnarly, then all you sicko gorehounds out there are in for a treat.

This unrevealing image from Yorgos Lanthimos’ ALPS seems bleak and depressing, which we would not expect from a Yorgos Lanthimos film, we said sarcastically.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ ALPS (Greece/France, Vanguards) We were as surprised as anyone when Lanthimos’ incestuous family satire Dogtooth got nominated for an Academy Award (alongside the much crappier incestuous family super-drama Incendies). But hey, now Yorgos Lanthimos is a household name (at least if you live in a Greek household), which just puts more pressure on him. His follow-up, ALPS, seems similarly macabre, dealing as it does with a group of grieving-assistants who work as stand-ins for the recently deceased. The premise alone is as clever as it is disturbing, just like Dogtooth. Should be good.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Kid With the Bike (Belgium/France/Italy, Masters) As far as masters of contemporary cinema go, you don’t get much more masterful than the Dardenne brothers. They’re one of only a few to ever take home two Palme d’Or prizes at Cannes (for 1995’s Rosetta and 2005’s L’Enfant) and they’ve garnered enough critical praise that they could start churning out Pepsi commercials and nobody would bat an eyelid. Their latest, The Kid with the Bike, is about a kid (with a bike) looking for friendship after his father takes off. Based on reviews out of Cannes, the film puts the brothers back on their feet after the shaky reception that met 2008’s Lorna’s Silence (though, granted, for the Dardennes, shaky simply means “not universally adored”).
Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Headshot (Thailand/France, Vanguard) We don’t know anything about Pen-ek Ratanaruang, other than that he’s Thai and that Thailand has been producing some very good films lately. Also, his movie is about a cop who gets double-crossed and shot in the head, then wakes up three months later to find that he sees the whole world upside down. Which sounds amazingly trippy and inventive, though hopefully it’s not too Gaspar Noé.
Neil Young in Conversation With Jonathan Demme (Mavericks)
There are plenty of promising dialogues this year (Francis Ford Coppola, Deepa Mehta, and Salman Rushdie), but this has got us pretty worked up. Jonathan Demme has made like 100 documentaries about Neil Young in the past few years (including a few live concerts shot at Massey Hall earlier this year) so it’ll be fun to finally hear why the Stop Making Sense/Silence of the Lambs director is so hung up on him. Plus, Young’s legendarily wily and evasive in interviews, so the idea of them having anything like a conversation seems hilarious.

Isabella Rossellini shamelessly mugs for the Vaseline-smeared lens of Guy Maddin’s camera in Keyhole.

Guy Maddin’s Keyhole (Canada, Special Presentations) Canada’s most vitally important filmmaker hasn’t made a proper talkie since 2003’s excellent The Saddest Music in the World, and hasn’t even made a proper full-length film since 2007’s docu-fantasia My Winnipeg (which took home Best Canadian Feature honours at TIFF). Keyhole reunites Maddin with sometimes-muse Isabella Rossellini, while also bringing Jason Patric, Udo Kier, and Kevin McDonald. Described as a “rousing gangsters-meets-ghosts sonata,” Maddin has been dropping mentions of the film for years. Even if it just ends up being more of the same from Maddin, it’ll still be far better than you can get from most filmmakers.
James Benning’s Twenty Cigarettes (USA, Wavelengths) If you’ve ever read Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema 2, then you’re familiar with the idea of the “time-image.” If not, the basic gist is that cinema’s primary ability as an art form is to convey a sense of duration. Deleuze uses the likes of Ozu as an example, but Twenty Cigarettes may emerge as the new standard. The film, quite simply, depicts twenty people working through a pack of cigarettes, one at a time, and the interactions and reactions that occur during the length of the smoke. Sure, it may be a long sit, but it’s bound to be a wake-up call for smokers who lose track of just how much time they spend enjoying the rich, full-bodied Virginia flavour of tobacco. We need a smoke just thinking about it.
Joel Schumacher’s Trespass (USA, Galas) Okay so blah, blah, blah, this is the kind of film that will open 20 minutes after the festival and it’s a waste of money to go see it and it will probably suck and it isn’t what film festivals are about and blah. We know that line. We toe that line. But still, Nicolas Cage fending off a home invasion? From Joel “The Number 23” Schumacher? Come on. Sure it’ll just be an aperitif to February’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, but it’ll still be either awesome or so-shitty-it’s-awesome. Hell, considering that he’s the most fun American actor to watch on screen, we’d pay to watch Nicolas Cage smoke a cigarette. Or twenty.
Simon Ennis’s Up in Cottage Country (Canada, Short Cuts Canada) Ennis crafted a pretty nasty would-be cult film with You Might as Well Live, which was sweet and gross all at the same time. But it felt distended in places, with all the dick-and-fart jokes dragging on and on. That said, the prospect of Ennis working on a ten minute short, reuniting with YMAWL star Joshua Peace, and tossing in the gaunt Skeletor of Canadian cinema, Julian Richings, in a reimagining of that Kafka story “In the Penal Colony” seems so weird and fucked up that we can’t help but be super curious about it.
TIFF 2011 runs from September 8–18, 2011. For the complete lineup, click here.