Toronto 2001: The Grades

Thu 6

Brainstorm (Laís Bodanzky, Brazil/Italy): C-
[Overwrought Cuckoo's Nest rehash with a few Aronofsky-style flourishes; head doctor makes Nurse Ratched look like Mother Teresa.]

Last Wedding (Bruce Sweeney, Canada): D+
[Oh boy, a Canadian sitcom; only Molly Parker makes it out alive.]

Ignorant Fairies (Ferzan Ozpetek, Italy/France): C+
[Heartfelt, but as clumsy as the English translation of its title, and I was ahead of it every step of the way.]

/Training Day/ (Antoine Fuqua, USA): A-
[Held up nicely on second viewing -- definitely the year's biggest surprise.]

The Orphan of Anyang (Wang Chao, China): B
[Fascinating juxtaposition of longueurs and ellipses, plus a simple, moving story expertly told; Wang botched what could have been a gorgeous ending, though.]

Fri 7

Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan): B+
[Let's just say that one of the reasons I'm updating this page at nearly 1AM is that I'm afraid to turn out the light in my hotel room.]

Versus (Ryuhei Kitamura, Japan): C+
[Let's try to keep the kung-fu zombie pictures well under two hours, shall we?]

Loin (André Téchiné, France): C
[Assured, intelligent, humane, graceful, credible...and really dull.]

The Navigators (Ken Loach, UK): B-
[Very minor Loach, keenly observed but also maddeningly lackadaisical; hectoring's kept to a minimum, thankfully.]

Waterboys (Shinobu Yaguchi, Japan): B
[Or: The Pool Monty. This thing is gonna be huge, and it's sporadically hilarious enough to make that prospect seem welcome.]

Sat 8

Address Unknown (Kim Ki-duk, South Korea): C
[Life sucks, and then life sucks some more; redeemed by occasional glints of black comedy.]

Joy Ride (John Dahl, USA): B-
[Makes no sense whatsoever from moment to moment, but pretty darn entertaining all the same; Steve Zahn, predictably, blows Paul Walker off the screen.]

Dark Blue World (Jan Sverák, UK/Czech Republic/Germany): C+
[Reasonably tolerable as semi-foreign Oscar bait goes, with many pleasant grace notes enlivening a terminally hokey love triangle.]

Be My Star (Valeska Grisebach, Austria/Germany): B
[A perfect miniature; I literally can't think of a single flaw or misstep. If only every Discovery film were this good.]

Fulltime Killer (Johnnie To & Wai Ka Fai, Hong Kong/China): B
[You really kinda have to admire a movie about dueling assassins that abruptly metamorphoses into a movie about the head Interpol dude's struggle with writer's block.]

Sun 9 [aka The Day from Hell]

The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, Austria/France): C+
[Movies about sexual masochism invariably leave me cold; at least this one features a strong central performance and Haneke's usual formal chops.]

The Way I Killed My Father (Anne Fontaine, France/Spain): C-
[Turns out he showed Pop tediously tasteful movies like this one until the old duffer finally took an electric table saw to his own thorax. I wish.]

Kandahar (Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Iran/France): C+
[Life is hard in Afghanistan due to poverty, sexism, war, really bad actors speaking lame English dialogue, etc.]

Read My Lips (Jacques Audiard, France): B-
[Starts off strong, then takes a wrong turn into straight-to-vid thrillersville. Vincent Cassel's slowly developing into a major actor.]

From Hell (The Hughes Brothers, USA): C
[Jack the Ripper deserves much better than this phony, conventional whodunnit; my main feeling throughout was gratitude that the Watchmen movie never got made.]

Prozac Nation (Erik Skjoldbjaerg, USA): C-
[And I should care about this overprivileged whiny self-absorbed twit because...?]

Mon 10

The Believer (Henry Bean, USA): B-
[Apparently Mr. Bean saw American History X and thought to himself, "Somebody should make that movie again, only not so stupid this time."]

Lan Yu (Stanley Kwan, Hong Kong/China): C+
[Apparently Mr. Kwan saw Happy Together and thought to himself, "Somebody should make that movie again, only not so stylish this time."]

Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, France): C
[Apparently Ms. Denis saw Pay It Forward and thought to herself, "Fuck that, I'm gonna make a really arty movie about cannibalism starring Vincent Gallo and Béatrice Dalle." Which sounds awesome on paper, but is just a load of mannered nonsense onscreen in my opinion, sorry Jeff.]

The Grey Zone (Tim Blake Nelson, USA): B
[Veers into Holocaust-porn territory at times, and asking Harvey Keitel to perform with a thick German accent was less than superduperwise; it gets more and more powerful as it goes along, though, and by the end I was pretty much a blubbering mess.]

Deep Breath (Damien Odoul, France): B-
[Perhaps that's what certain critics and programmers oughta take a few of before proclaiming some dude's feature debut a masterpiece on the strength of some nice b&w photography and your basic stark rural lyricism.]

Tue 11

The Quickie (Sergei Bodrov, Germany): C-
[Performances by Vladimir Mashkov and Jennifer Jason Leigh outclass the material by a considerable margin. Go home, Sergei!]

{The press screening for The Quickie began at 9am Eastern time and concluded at roughly 10:40am. As you may have heard, some pretty horrific events were taking place in the U.S. during that time period. I learned the news upon entering the festival press office immediately following the movie; needless to say, the art of the films of the cinema was not exactly my top priority for the remainder of that day (and all screenings were cancelled a few hours later in any case).

The festival resumed the next day, and since it's impossible for me to return to New York -- whether I'll even be able to fly home on Sunday is currently, uh, up in the air, for that matter -- I have chosen to forge ahead. My concentration isn't operating on even half of its cylinders, however, and that fact, coupled with the no doubt temporary but currently quite strong feeling that life is too short and too precious to be wasted on mediocre movies, has led to a drastic change in my viewing habits. Previously, I'd stick with a bad flick to the bitter end; now, if I'm not thoroughly enjoying myself by the end of the second reel (roughly 35-40 minutes in), I just bail. I'll list those titles below, but bear in mind that in most cases it's not so much that the films were awful as that they simply weren't offering me enough to justify what seems at the moment like seclusion from the world.}

Wed 12

Hotel (Mike Figgis, UK/Italy): C+
[Far more interesting formally than Timecode, and large chunks of it work as a quasi-avant-garde sensorium; the content's pretty inane, though.]

Birthday Girl (Jez Butterworth, USA/UK): B-
[Stupid plot redeemed by offbeat sense of humor and Nicole Kidman acting her heart out in subtitled Russian. Bonus points for casting Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz as Kidman's russkie pals.]

Manic (Jordan Melamed, USA): B
[Probably the best therapy movie I've ever seen (admittedly somewhat faint praise), thanks to superb ensemble work and a surprisingly strong sense of credibility/believability/general 'yep'ibility.]

WALKOUTS: C'est la vie (Jean-Pierre Améris, France); Margarita Happy Hour (Ilya Chaiken, USA); The Zookeeper (Ralph Ziman, Denmark/UK/Czech Republic/Netherlands); Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (Jill Sprecher, USA) [I actually walked out of this back on Saturday, but may as well note it here.]

Thu 13

Distance (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan): C
[No kidding. Great (and accidentally timely) premise, stultifying execution.]

Ichi the Killer (Takashi Miike, Japan): B-
[I'm just not enough of a gorehound to fully appreciate this, I'm afraid.]

Fri 14

Enigma (Michael Apted, USA/UK): C
[Material's far too intellectually convoluted for the screen, and Stoppard strives too hard to be faithful; Dougray Scott a mopey zero opposite the gloriously frumpy Ms. Winslet.]

The American Astronaut (Cory McAbee, USA): B-
[Sort of what I imagine might happen if Johns Linnell and Flansburgh decided to make a movie; just kinda sits there being self-consciously wacky between musical numbers. "Hey Boy" a future clip-party classic.]

Strumpet (Danny Boyle, UK): D
[Every nightmare you've ever had about the advent of digital video realized in a mere 72 minutes. Hard to say which is more painful to behold: the shameless self-indulgence of the performances or the sheer butt-ugliness of the imagery. Brace yourselves, people.]

Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise (Danny Boyle, UK): D+
[See above, except that Timothy Spall occasionally manages to transcend the surrounding ineptitude. U.S. programmers take note: Screening these two films back-to-back could potentially be considered a violation of the eighth amendment.]

A Dog's Day (Murali Nair, UK/India): C+
[Who's a harmless little political satire? Who's a harmless little political satire? Yes he is! Yes he is!]

Sat 15

Lantana (Ray Lawrence, Australia): B
[Solid ensemble drama makes the most of a terrific, largely unknown cast; ultimately a little too pat and schematic, though.]

Harmful Insect (Akihiko Shiota, Japan): B+
[If not for a glib, meretricious ending, might have been one of my films of the year; Shiota's incontrovertibly masterful direction inexplicably controverted by most of my festival buds. Whatever, fellas.]

Lovely & Amazing (Nicole Holofcener, USA): C
[Facile and annoying...but it does feature one truly extraordinary scene, for which Emily Mortimer deserves a special Oscar of some kind.]

Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan/France): D+
[The usual: Moody ciphers trying not to upstage Hou's carefully-timed focus pulls and the distractingly gorgeous cinematography. What all y'all see in this dude's superlanguor I will never comprehend.]

The Bunker (Rob Green, UK): C-
[Possibly the least frightening psychological horror film I've ever seen. Memo to Colin: Please bring back the rock 'n' roll zombies next year.]