Toronto 2018

Fall Festival Marathon Wraps with TIFF’s Awards

On Film / The Daily — Sep 18, 2018
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Peter Farrelly’s Green Book (2018)

For journalists who spend half the year sussing out the Oscar race, Toronto’s announcement on Sunday that Peter Farrelly’s Green Book had won the People’s Choice Award offered a flurry of excitement. Variety’s Erin Nyren is quick to point out that “five audience award winners have gone on to capture best picture, including Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave, The King’s Speech, American Beauty, and Chariots of Fire. In 2016, the prize went to La La Land, while last year’s award went to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Both were nominated for best picture.”

Farrelly, primarily known for the films he’s codirected with his brother Bobby, such as Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, takes the title of his new film from The Negro Motorist Green Book, an annual guide published between 1936 and 1966 offering African American travelers advice on where they might find food and lodging without running into hostility. In Green Book, the year is 1962, and real-life concert pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is being driven through the Jim Crow South by former nightclub bouncer Frank Anthony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen).


Variety’s Peter Debruge notes that the film plays like “Driving Miss Daisy in reverse,” and for the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy, it makes for “a lively and likable diversion.” Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson suggests that if Green Book were to become an awards season contender, “it would join past hits, like Hidden Figures and The Help, as a movie about race in the 1960s made by white people. Which is probably where most of the discussion about the film will begin when it’s released in November.”


Audiences in Toronto also vote for their favorite films in the Midnight Madness and TIFF Docs programs. Coming out on top in the former poll is Vasan Bala’s The Man Who Feels No Pain, a Bollywood-tinged action comedy in which the titular young man who can’t experience pain (Abhimanyu Dassani) teams up with a martial artist (Radhika Madan) and a karate master (Gulshan Devaiah) to battle the master’s evil twin and his gang. “And there are songs that stop the plot in its tracks,” notes Michael Sicinski, writing for Cinema Scope. “It seems churlish (and even a bit culturally insensitive) to claim that an Indian film is baggy at two hours and twenty minutes, but fans of this genre (the festival description cites both Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow, not without reason) are likely to get a bit restless around the ninety-minute mark.”


The winning documentary is Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s Free Solo, which tracks a famed climber’s quest to ascend El Capitan, a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park—without a single rope or harness. “Vertigo sufferers need not apply,” warns Keith Uhlich in the Hollywood Reporter, and Peter Debruge adds that the climb is “made all the more intimidating by the use of relatively new camera technology—including drones, remote-operated rigs, and super-long zoom lenses—that effectively strap audiences right in there with Alex Honnold as he claws his way up a 3,000-foot wall with nothing to protect his fall.”


Filmmakers Lee Chang-dong, Béla Tarr, and Margarethe von Trotta have chaired the jury for Toronto’s only competitive program, Platform, a selection of twelve films that outgoing TIFF director Piers Handling calls “risk-taking, challenging, and, at times, formally inventive.” This year’s winner is Cities of Last Things, the fifth feature from Taiwanese director Ho Wi Ding. This “fatalistic film noir,” as Jessica Kiang calls it in Variety, is presented in three chronologically reversed chapters. In the Taipei of 2056, hardened ex-cop Zhang Tong Long (Jack Kao) commits a brutal murder, and his motives are gradually revealed over the course of the segments set in the present and the past. “Though it takes a little while for the film to find its footing, this is an ambitious and, finally, also touching new work,” finds Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. Writing for Cinema Scope, Shelley Kraicer notes that the original Chinese title “is bitterly ironic here: Xingfu Chengshi literally means ‘city of happiness,’ with its inverse echoes of [Hou Hsiao-hsien’s] great 1989 masterpiece Beiqing chengshi (City of Sadness).”


The International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) has presented two awards, one from the Discovery program, Carmel Winters’s Float Like a Butterfly​, and the other a Special Presentation, Guy Nattiv’s Skin. In Float, a young Irish Traveller is inspired to become a fighter like her idol Muhammad Ali following the death of her mother and the arrest of her father. At Cineuropa, Kaleem Aftab calls Float “a fabulous, organic mix of traditional Irish song, boxing and female emancipation.” Skin tells the true story of Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell), a young man raised by neo-Nazis who decides to turn his back on his upbringing and undergo the excruciating process of removing all his white supremacist tattoos. For Variety’s Dennis Harvey, Skin is the story of “painful tie-severing from an unhealthy subculture, with limited insight into that culture itself.”

More awards and special mentions were doled out on Sunday, and you’ll find the full list here. For now, let’s note that, three weeks after Venice opened, critics have begun assessing the fall festival season as a whole and drawing up lists of favorites. At the top of its annotated list of twelve, IndieWire bluntly declares that, even though most of us have yet to see them, we have now at least heard about “the bulk of 2018 fall movies worthy of discussion.”

Four titles appear on all four lists from IndieWire, the Film Stage, the Hollywood Reporter, and Variety: Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, and Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux. Narrowing their focus strictly to Toronto are annotated lists from Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey and Rolling Stone’s David Fear and appetite-whetting, titles-only rankings from Acropolis Cinema cofounder Jordan Cronk, Notebook editor Daniel Kasman, and filmmaker Blake Williams (PROTOTYPE).

As we leave TIFF 2018 behind and begin to anticipate this year’s NYFF, let me recommend Michael Sicinski’s survey of TIFF’s Wavelengths program for the Notebook. Each year, this collection of reviews amounts to an essential assessment of the state of avant-garde and experimental moving image work. A fine accompanying read is Tyler Prozeniuk’s interview with Wavelengths programmer Andréa Picard for POV magazine.

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