TIFF 2012: To the Lightbox - Wrapping Up My Fall Fest Experiences
by Alex Billington
September 12, 2012
I'm currently sitting at the Bell Lightbox in Toronto (website), the Toronto Film Festival headquarters built a few years ago. It's where a number of screening rooms are located and where I spend most of my time up at Toronto during this festival. I'm heading back home to Los Angeles tomorrow, wrapping up my two weeks here at the fall film festivals. Years ago, Peter from SlashFilm and I used to travel for 30 days straight through September from fest to fest (to fest), but we've taken a big step back nowadays. It's exhausting. But it's always invigorating. Whenever I return home, it feels like I've turned over a new chapter in my film life.
Don't worry, I'm not trying to be all preachy and pretentious here. What I'm trying to say is that, having now been attending film festivals for six years straight (since 2006), my yearly cycle is built around these events. Sundance starts the year for me - not New Years. January is always a blur, it goes by so quick. Then there's Cannes every May - going to France right as the summer begins. Finally, every September we get Toronto aka TIFF. I love this city, it's an awesome city, and TIFF has evolved into an excellent fest. As the summer comes to an end, my mind is always elsewhere. But then I head out for a few weeks to these film festivals, usually seeing most of the big awards caliber films, and when I return it's almost as if everything is different.
That's really what these fall festivals are all about - the awards season. For almost five years now, TIFF has played the film that goes on to win Best Picture (and subsequently becomes a worldwide financial hit). Yep, they're talking about: Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker, The King's Speech and even The Artist (even though that first premiered in Cannes many months earlier). All of them were at TIFF, and the fest has even started playing a tag in front of every film this year that briefly highlights these success stories (as a reminder to vote for the People's Choice Award). It's getting to be a bit "oh come on" because, really, we're here to see good films, not necessarily instantly begin deciding which ones will win Oscars in the end.
But that's how it goes. Every film you get out of, we all start throwing around Oscar terms. "Oh that has Best Makeup in the bag" (I exclaimed about Cloud Atlas when it ended). "Well, what about Anna Karenina?" (Also playing at TIFF.) The Master had Oscar buzz before it was ever shown. While I'm not sure the Best Picture winner is "here" this year, it could be. There's quite a few fantastic films playing, even The Master still has a chance. Cloud Atlas? I personally hope so (I loved that film). You never know. And it's honestly kind of crazy to be making these claims this early on after seeing the film anyway. But that's what we do.
Here's my own big list of films from both Telluride and Toronto that I caught - currently at 24 seen so far.
1. Argo (dir. Ben Affleck) - Liked It
2. Ginger & Rosa (dir. Sally Potter) - Hated It
3. Frances Ha (dir. Noah Baumbach) - Loved It
4. Hyde Park on Hudson (dir. Roger Michell) - Liked It
5. At Any Price (dir. Ramin Bahrani) - Loved It
6. Stories We Tell (dir. Sarah Polley) - Liked It
7. The Attack (dir. Ziad Doueiri) - Loved It
8. Looper (dir. Rian Johnson) - Loved It
9. Motorway (dir. Pou-Soi Cheang) - Just Okay
10. Rust & Bone (dir. Jacques Audiard) - Loved It
11. Spring Breakers (dir. Harmony Korine) - Loved It
12. Perks of Being a Wallflower (dir. Stephen Chbosky) - Liked It
13. The Place Beyond the Pines (dir. Derek Cianfrance) - Liked It
14. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) - Liked It
15. End of Watch (dir. David Ayer) - Loved It
16. Cloud Atlas (dirs. Andy & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer) - Loved It
17. The Company You Keep (dir. Robert Redford) - Just Okay
18. Passion (dir. Brian De Palma) - Hated It
19. Byzantium (dir. Neil Jordan) - Liked It
20. The Impossible (dir. Juan Antonio Bayona) - Liked It
21. The ABCs of Death (dirs. Various) - Liked It
22. To the Wonder (dir. Terrence Malick) - Just Okay
23. Tai Chi 0 (dir. Stephen Fung) - Liked It
24. Imogene (dir. Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini) - Hated It
There's always a few surprise and films that beat expectations and come out with a lot of buzz. The one this year that I missed in Toronto that I heard unanimously great things about was Silver Linings Playbook, the latest David O. Russell dramedy starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Scheduling overlaps caused me to miss it, and there are no other screenings left. But I'm sure I'll catch it in the next month back home anyway. I also completely missed Seven Psychopaths, not that it actually has any Oscar potential, but I heard it was good. There's always a few films that I end up missing each year - you can't catch 'em all!
My festival experience is also about much more than just seeing films. It's about catching up with friends, intensely discussing cinema with colleagues, meeting industry execs, conducting interviews, and generally enjoying the charming fall weather in Toronto (it barely rained a few times this year). Thanks as always to Brad Brevet from RopeofSilicon and Kevin Jagernauth of The Playlist for being the nicest friends/seat savers at most screenings. Shoutouts to Eric Lavallee from IONCinema, Jeff Sneider from Variety, Matt Rorabeck from Movie Knight, Brad Miska from Blood-Disgusting and fellow critic Laremy Legel, too.
While I love these fall festivals, my biggest complaint from TIFF this year was cell phone use in theaters. Nearly every "Press & Industry" screening I went to, I had to tell some industry guy to put away his phone. Usually, they'd leer back at me in anger; I even got into an argument with two guys who then later called me "arrogant" just because I told them to put away their phone. It's an abhorrent habit that these "industry people" are the biggest offenders of, and yet they continue to do it. Hopefully complaints and pressure like this will teach them it's flat out wrong (there is no excuse) to use a phone in the theater. They need to learn.
With that, I'm wrapping up a bit earlier this year, as I'm heading back home on Thursday evening. As much as I love writing reviews and discussing films, I always feel like trying to capture some of the experience of a festival. I don't review every film, but I do see a lot of them, and I wanted to at least mention those. Another fun, exciting, fascinating year at TIFF comes to end for me, but I plan to be back here next year as usual. Toronto is one of those fests I plan to always return to. Now it's time for the awards season to really begin!