Ottawa Life at TIFF: Days 1-5

Ottawa Life Magazine's resident film buff Keith Whittier is on the scene as our correspondent for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Here's his Day 1-5 festival update!

So far the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has surpassed my expectations. I have barely had a moment to catch my breath but wanted to touch base. 

I arrived late last Wednesday and picked up my media credentials and got settled in. That night was very much the calm before the storm. One of the great aspects of this year for me is the ability to attend red carpet events, press conferences and don’t get me started on the parties. It seems every day I receive an email where I am being invited to a post-premiere party. Tough life right?

In addition to that I am also able to go to press screenings. These are screenings that are just for press and industry representatives. There are two things that I learned very quickly about these types of screenings; one is people are on their cell phones quite a bit and, two, people walk out…a lot. Industry buyers will come to these screenings and decide very quickly that perhaps the movie isn’t for them or their intended audience. Another reason for the early departure are people trying to make it to their next screening on a tight window in between. It is not uncommon for me to only have 15 minutes between movies. 

All that aside let’s be clear, this is still the festival to come to. A lot has been made about TIFF downsizing but it is hardly noticeable. You are still seeing large crowds at the theatres and there is still a ton of excitement around this event.

I was surprised at how many people camp out at the airport or outside of posh hotels for a glimpse of their favourite celebrities.

At the core of this event for me is the movies. Being able to be at Q&A’s with the cast and crew is great but it’s the movies that make this event for me and so far I have seen quite a few movies.

Let’s do a quick review of some of the films I have seen so far. (Full reviews will be posted of all films seen after the Festival)

Actors: Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell
Director: Dee Rees

Synopsis: Two men return from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi where they struggle to deal with  racism and adjust to life after the war.

Review: This film explores a lot of themes in the south and for the most part doesn't offer a new perspective. What stood put to me in this film were the performances of Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton)

These two actors delivered career performances in a film that started slow but ended strong.

Grade: B-

Borg McEnroe
Actors: Shia LaBeouf, Svennir Gudnason
Director: Janus Metz

Synopsis: The story of the 1980s tennis rivalry between the placid Bjorn Borg and volatile John McEnroe.

Review: FIrst of all, LeBeouf was perfectly cast for this film as John McEnroe. A fan of tennis will love this film. Many were surprised this film was chosen as the opening film for the festival and I am one of them. That being said the actors deliver their material crisply, but I don’t feel this film will stay with you long after the credits.

Grade: C+

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Actors: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan
Director: Yorgos Lanhimos

Synopsis: Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behaviour of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.

Review: This movie was freaky! Fresh off of his turn in ‘Dunkirk’ Keoghan delivers a performance as disturbing as something out of ‘Funny Games’. Lanhimos’ respect for Stanley Kubrick is clear in this film that is one of the more original I have seen at this years festival

Grade: B

Call Me By Your Name
Actors: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg
Director: Luca Guadagnino

Synopsis: In 1983, the on of an American professor is enamoured by the graduate tide that who comes to study and live with his family in their northern Italian home. Together, they share an unforgettable summer full of music, food, and romance that will forever change them.

Review: This movie comes into the festival with a lot of hype and some of it is deserving. Many say this is Armie Hammer’s best performance and it could be. It could also be said this is the best material he has been given. I enjoyed this film, it’s a slow build though.  I just enjoyed it more the first time I saw it when it was called ‘Brokeback Mountain’.

Grade: B

The Florida Project
Actors: Willem Dafoe, Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite
Director: Sean Baker

Synopsis: Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year old Mooney as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, al while living in the shadows of Disney World.

Review: Like many of the films at TIFF I didn’t know what to expect but this film blew me away. Baker gets the best performances from first time actors Prince and Vinaite in a film that is raw, unique and feels very genuine. A definite must-see.

Grade: A-

Molly’s Game
Actors: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba
Director: Aaron Sorkin

Synopsis: The true story of an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stake. Power game and became an FBI target. Her players included movie starts, business titans and unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob.

Review: This movie is really the perfect storm of awesomeness. You have Jessica Chastain, arguably one of the best actresses working today, Idris Elba, whose resume continues to build with great work and the writing genius of Aaron Sorkin. From the opening sequence you know you are in for a great experience. This film is Mr. Sorkin’s directorial debut on a feature and you wouldn't know it. Two things are clear after seeing this film:

  1. No one writes like Aaron Sorkin
  2. This is one of the best film of TIFF 2017.

Grade: A-