The mostly online edition of this year’s TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) concludes this Sunday and we’ve seen a lot of great stuff. Some highlights:
We’re still reeling from Roseanne Linag’s high-altitude Shadow in the Cloud, a feminist action-horror flick starring Chloë Grace Moritz as a WWII pilot traveling on a B-17 filled with a bunch of sexist Air Force bros and one determined flying monster. Beautifully lit with a sick John Carpenteresque score, this totally bonkers midnight banger mashes up the best parts of Alien, Overlord, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and the airplane sequence in Twilight Zone: The Movie into one crazy entertaining popcorn picture. Vertical Entertainment acquired the rights and will release the film theatrically next summer.
The most politically provocative film in the festival, Mexican director Michel Franco’s ultra-nihilistic dystopian thriller New Order feels like early Michael Haneke crossed with Parasite’s final scene and kicks off with an upper-class wedding violently interrupted by an angry gang of protestors. The next hour follows the bride-to-be and a family employee to the depths of hell as we witness a barrage of murder, assault, torture, and the like. Any semblance of human emotion exits this cold-blooded film long before someone gets an electric prod up the butt and one starts to wonder if this is just an empty exercise in relentless brutality, or a terrifyingly prescient glimpse into our inevitable future – only time will tell.
The LGBTQ+ films were carrying, as usual: hate crime enthusiast Marky Mark stars as the title character in Good Joe Bell, a well-intentioned but schmaltzy and didactic gay suicide romp that centers itself around hetero parental guilt. A road movie (on foot) from the Brokeback Mountain screenwriters (a film Wahlberg turned down because the first 15 pages left him “creeped out”), director Reinaldo Marcus Green ratchets the faux Americana vibe up to 5000 and even drags great actors like Connie Britton and Gary Sinise into this mess. Trust, you’ll have to fight the desire to scratch your own eyes out long before Joe and his dead gay son’s ghost bop down a highway while singing Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” You’re on the wrong track, baby.
Meanwhile, the French continue their proud cinematic tradition of simply not giving a fuck in Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar’s A Good Man, a new film starring cis screen goddess Noemie Merlant (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Jumbo) as a trans man who decides to carry a baby after learning his girlfriend is sterile. How do you review something that never should have happened in the first place? Easy: you don’t! (Dear producers and casting directors: we’d just like to remind you once again that trans actors exist and everyone’s tired of this nonsense).
Francois Ozon goes back to his roots with Summer of ’85, a gay coming-of-age drama darker than the misleadingly jolly poster suggests. After last year’s By The Grace of God, an unbearably long, talky, and uncinematic drama about child molestation in the Catholic church, Ozon’s new joint about first love gone horribly awry bursts with youthful energy in every frame and brings back the subversive and macabre elements that made his earlier work like Sitcom and Swimming Pool so thrilling. Everyone knows you can’t make an ‘80s movie without a cute soundtrack – from a disco scene set to Movie Music’s cheesy synth jam “Stars de La Pub” to Bananarama’s eternal classic “Cruel Summer” pumpin’ in the local clothing shoppes, the music slays throughout, including multiple uses of Rod Stewart’s ballad “Sailing.”
Another film about queer teens, Dutch filmmaker Vincent Tilanus’ excellent 20-minute short Marlon Brando (originally set to premiere at last Cannes in May) stars Jetske Liber and Tijn Winters as Naomi and Cas, two bffs forced to part ways after high school. A perfect blend of comedy and melancholy, it’s one of the highlights in this year’s Shorts programs and already has us itching to see Tilanus’ next project, a 50-minute drama called Heartbeats.
Francis Lee’s Ammonite wasn’t available for online press review, so we’ll give the Best Queer Movie title to Zaida Bergroth’s Tove, a WWII-era biopic starring Alma Pöysti as bisexual Finnish author Tove Jansson, best known for creating the delightful Moomin book series. Shot on 16mm and set between the 1940s and ‘50s, it’s an engrossing film with a cozy texture that’s just as much about artistic process as it is the subject’s sexuality. Everything’s on point here – Pöysti’s passionate performance, the striking Krista Kosonen’s turn as Jansson’s upperclass lover, Eeva Putro’s screenplay, Eugen Tamberg’s elegant costume designs – it all comes together perfectly and ends with touching 8mm footage of the real-life artist doing a happy little dance over the credits.
Set in an ahistoric Athens during a pandemic that wipes people of their memory, Greek director Christos Nikou’s mesmerizing debut Apples opened the Orizzonti section at Venice earlier this month and features a spectacular lead performance from Aris Servetalis. A haunting meditation on memory, love, loss, and simple daily habits, Apples is the type of film that feels cold and remote for awhile before sneaking up on you with surprising warmth and insight, and features an unforgettable “Let’s Twist Again” dance sequence.
Actress Regina King (who got her start on TV’s 227 in the ‘80s) deserves all the Oscar buzz already in the air for her directorial debut One Night in Miami, a fictionalized “what if” story that spends a long night in a hotel room with Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) in 1964. King’s fluid and assured direction, Kemp Powers’ brilliant script (adapted from his stage play), and wonderful performances from all four actors (especially Ben-Adir) pretty much guarantees tons of trophies during the awards season.
In Pieces of a Woman, Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’ eschews the stinging political allegory from his first feature (White Dog) and instead stages a realistic tragedy that’d make Cassavetes proud. Shot in a single take, the agonizing opening 30-minute sequence follows an unmarried couple Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia Leboeuf) as they lose their baby during a home birth with a midwife (Molly Parker). The rest of the film witnesses the devastating emotional fallout, from one character’s drug relapse to another completely turning inward. Ellen Burstyn (as Martha’s meddling mom) comes close to stealing the show, but Kirby’s performance (for which she took home Best Actress in Venice) is nothing short of breathtaking. Things get a little clunky near the end with a big courtroom moment (a scene that also has an odd fascination with women’s necks), but Mundruczó recovers with a understated and hopeful finale. Netflix has picked up the film for worldwide distribution.
A love letter to civil service and administrative process, 90-year-old Frederick Wiseman’s sprawling City Hall runs 4-and-a-half hours, but don’t let that steer you away – it’s the best documentary of the year. Focusing mostly on Boston mayor Marty Walsh’s administration as they conduct policy meetings on new developments, including a controversial cannabis dispensary, Wiseman also explores how the city functions on other levels – the marriage licenses, the pest control, the parking tickets, the garbage collection, all of it. Highly immersive, oddly hypnotic, and not even remotely boring.