Technically, the Toronto International Film Festival only lasts 11 days and nights, but studies suggest that each edition takes three years off of patrons’ life spans. With the 37th-annual program having wrapped up shortly before midnight on Sunday, it’s a fine time to start figuring out what the hell just happened. Here’s our somewhat dazed take on the best and worst of the fest.
Best Place for a Massive Opening Night Party: The opening do may be as big and unwieldy as the festival itself. but it was a wise decision to move it from the relatively remote environs of the Liberty Grand to the “south core” nexus of Maple Leaf Square near (and in) the Air Canada Centre. By claiming this corner of the city as its own, TIFF proved that it can commandeer the south end of downtown just as surely as it once dominated Yorkville. (The new prominence of luxury hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and Shangri-La helped, too.) It’s just too bad that every visit to Real Sports didn’t involve the chance to watch a midnight burlesque show while eating free chocolate peanut-butter pie.
Best Argument Starters: Though consensus among the festival’s patrons on what movies rocked and sucked is always a rarity, this year’s slate prompted a particularly fierce array of debates. Much-anticipated new films by American masters like Brian De Palma (Passion) and Terrence Malick (To the Wonder) turned audiences into roiling camps of haters and defenders. Such entries as Spring Breakers, Lords of Salem, and Cloud Atlas proved to be equally divisive. Not even The Silver Linings Playbook—the David O. Russell dramedy that won the Blackberry People’s Choice Award, the much-coveted audience prize that’s regarded as an indicator of future awards-season success—was an unqualified, King’s Speech-like success. Meanwhile, arguments over Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master tended to deploy the kind of rhetoric that Stephen Colbert once reserved for George W. Bush—i.e., great movie or greatest movie?
Best Argument Starters (All-Canadian Edition): The biggest surprise at Sunday’s awards brunch was the upset victory for Laurence Anyways in the best Canadian feature category. A vividly stylized romantic melodrama by 23-year-old Montrealer Xavier Dolan that’s almost three hours in length, it edged out the best-received film among the Canadian selections, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. (On the other hand, Polley’s confessional doc got something even better than a prize: a U.S. distributor. Michael McGowan’s Still and Peter Mettler’s The End of Time were two more movies by Toronto filmmakers that scored deals.) Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral and Jason Buxton’s Blackbird shared the honours for best Canadian first feature honours, capping off a strong showing by the home team.
Best Place to Find Bill Murray: At the Bovine Sex Club for the Locarno festival party on Sunday.
Worst Trend: With all the Hollywood heavyweights looking to make a splash on the first weekend, the festival can feel ridiculously front-stacked. That tendency reached new extremes this year, with the unholy pile-up of star-laden premieres for the first four nights followed by a rather less frenetic slate. Given the pressure on TIFF organizers to cater to the thousands of film-biz types who treat the festival first and foremost as a marketplace, it’s understandable that the opening days attract so much of the available energy and attention, but there’s no way to keep up with the pace.
Best Object That Tom Hanks Was Asked to Autograph Outside the Cloud Atlas premiere: A volleyball.
Worst Explanation of Your Own Movie: An experimental doc that feels like an episode of The Deadliest Catch as shot by an angry sea god, Leviathan was another fest fave among hardcore cinephiles. Yet the filmmakers’ absurdly evasive answers during the post-screening Q&As made for a stark contrast with the usually effusive nature of the festival’s many meetings between creators and spectators.
Best Movie to Use the Alleyway Behind My House as a Location: Picture Day. Not a huge amount of competition there.
Best Way to Kill Time Before the Next Festival: Watching weekly installments of The Story of Film—a 15-episode doc on cinema history that played at TIFF 2011—at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema over the rest of the fall.