This year, for my 21st birthday present, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Toronto International Film Festival and had an amazing time so I think it would be good to briefly go over the films that I saw at the festival. There are not going to be any spoilers for any of the films here as I’ll just be doing a quick overview of my thoughts. When there are full releases for what I’ve seen I will be doing full reviews of them, but for now, here are my brief thoughts on what I saw.Jackie
The newest film from Pablo Larrain, the director of No and Tony Manero, this film focuses on Jackie Kennedy, mostly in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of JFK, along with a few looks at her time as First Lady, mainly in her role of restoring the White House, framed around a tour she gave for TV in 1961. I found this to be a really engaging film, with an excellent performance by Natalie Portman at the centre balancing all the feelings that Jackie Kennedy had for JFK, both good and bad, and her feelings surrounding the assassination, mainly her concern that legacy take more importance than safety, with Portman’s performance and the script doing a great job of balancing everything. There’s also this great foreboding atmosphere throughout the film which puts you in the mindset of the population at the time, aided by an excellent score from Mica Levy. There are also great performances from Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy and John Hurt as the Priest Jackie Kennedy consults afterwards, those scenes adding great thematic depth to the film, whilst Greta Gerwig does good work showing the public perception of Jackie and how that perception is maintained, which is also aided by a great framing device of an interview she gave in the weeks after the assassination, which also brings in themes of legacy and empire, which is brilliantly conveyed through the use of the Camelot soundtrack. Overall, a strong English language debut for Larrain and a well executed biopic.
I wanted to make sure that a foreign language film was on the cards whilst at the festival and this Malian political thriller from Daouda Coulibaly, making his feature debut, was a great fit. This is a very tense, engaging film about the nature of the drug trade across Mali, Senegal and Guinea, and the film does a good job at showing the workings of the drug trade, how the smuggling operations work and the complicity the government and the military have in the drug trade, along with the involvement of al Qaeda and the film does a great job at showing the dangers faced and how corrupt the system is, along with how little thought is given to the workers in the drug trade, being treated the same as cattle. All the themes surrounding why people enter the drug trade, the intelligence needed to avoid detection and the pain and grief that can be experienced are well presented through Coulibaly’s script and an incredible central performance from Ibrahim Koma. This is one I highly recommend you see when it gets a general release.
Black Mirror: San Junipero and Nosedive
After seeing that a few episodes from the new series of Black Mirror were on the table to watch, I knew I had to go for them and these two episodes rate up there as some of the best of Black Mirror. San Junipero is a bit atypical for Black Mirror in that it plays as more of a romance and as a period piece, being set in the 80s, and being more hopeful than other episodes of Black Mirror with the romance angle sold by the excellent chemistry between Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis. The other episode, Nosedive, is classic Black Mirror focusing on a rating system for people and allows for some great social satire to take place with a very Stepford feel to the whole thing, which is brilliantly sold by Bryce Dallas Howard. I won’t say any more for fear of spoiling but on the strength of these 2 episodes, Series 3 looks like it’ll be as strong as the previous 2. On another note, after the screening I attended, I was given the chance to meet Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones and I have to say that they are both really nice people and I thank them for giving me the opportunity.
This is a film where it helps to know as little as possible but for now I’ll say that Denis Villeneuve has crafted one of the best sci-fi films of the past few years with a great focus on the nature of language and the dangers of miscommunication and how easy language can be misconstrued, along with delving into the nature of time, with Amy Adams giving some career best work in the lead role, helping to make it easily the best film I saw at the festival. I’ll go into more detail when I review the film fully on release.
Short Cuts Programme 9
I have to say, I was disappointed watching this. The first, second and sixth shorts were intriguing, with interesting ideas and compelling plots which could make for great material if given a bit more time to go into detail with their ideas. The other three shorts meanwhile were a mix of overly surreal, incomprehensible and just badly written and kind of pointless. It could just be me not getting these shorts but I did not find them engaging in the slightest.
I won’t go into much detail here as I’ll be doing a full review in a few days as it has just been released on Netflix, I went to the world premiere screening the day before it appeared on Netflix, all I’ll say now is that it is a very compelling sci-fi film which makes great use of the time loop formula to tell a compelling story with the pacing of the film and the reveal of key plot points happening at the right moment in each of the time loops and the whole concept of the film and the wider world that is presented is sold by strong performances from Robbie Amell and Rachel Taylor. I wasn’t familiar with the writing work of Tony Elliot prior to watching this, having not seen Orphan Black or the 12 Monkeys TV series but based on the strength of this, I will check them out and, since it is on Netflix, I recommend that you check out ARQ, but go in knowing as little as possible.
Overall, aside from the shorts, I recommend everything I saw at TIFF this year, but if I could only recommend one thing for you to watch, it would easily be Arrival. Speaking as a newcomer to TIFF, I have to say the whole experience and the atmosphere in Toronto was excellent, the whole experience of the lines and seeing how the audience reacted to the adverts that played prior to the film was brilliant and I can’t wait to get the chance to go back to Toronto and experience TIFF again.