The Grid’s Adam Nayman looks at the filmmakers, actors, venues, programming and happenings that defined our cine-scene this year.
For two weeks in September, Toronto becomes the centre of the movie-going universe (for better and for worse) but it’s not like interesting things aren’t happening the rest of the time. As the apocalyptic year of 2012 looms, we thought we’d look back at what went down film-wise in our fair city over the past 365 days. Picking 10 highlights in a place with a thriving industry infrastructure and approximately 3,458 local film festivals wasn’t an easy task, and if you’re dissatisfied with this list, take it up with us sometime in the next year—before things go all Roland Emmerich on us and your Mayan friends say “I told you so.”
Toronto Director of the Year: Ingrid Veninger
One of the most notable omissions from the 2011 Canada’s Top Ten list was Ingrid Veninger’s i am a good person/i am a bad person—the thrifty, inventive director’s third consecutive micro-budget triumph. Its predecessor, Modra, got great reviews when it was released theatrically earlier this year; at this point, Veninger stands alone as Toronto’s reigning queen of humble-core.
Toronto Actor of the Year: Sarah Gadon
We’d like to make an honourable mention for the stalwart, elongated character actor Julian Richings, who presided majestically over two acclaimed shorts at TIFF—Craig Goodwill’s Patch Town and Simon Ennis’ Up in Cottage Country. But the biggest impact by a hometown performer was made by 24-year old Sarah Gadon,who held her own opposite It Thespian Michael Fassbender in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method—and impressed her director enough that he cast her in his upcoming adaptation of Don Delillo’s Cosmopolis.
Toronto-on-Film Award: Take This Waltz
Not since Atom Egoyan’s Chloe has a film insisted on local geography as stridently as Sarah Polley’s flawed but intermittently powerful romantic drama: One fateful rickshaw ride takes the characters down Queen West and onto College, where they catch a show at the Royal. Sharp-eyed viewers will recognize parts of Parkdale and Little Portugal, and a crucial cameo by the Centre Island Scrambler—finally getting its close-up after all these years.
Best Retrospective: The Cinema Is Nicholas Ray at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Kudos to James Quandt for putting together such an expansive, comprehensive look at a Hollywood rebel: Not only did this centenary include beautiful prints of classic Ray films like Bigger Than Life and In a Lonely Place, but the Lightbox also brought in Susan Ray for screenings of her late husband’s mysterious, long-lost experimental feature We Can’t Go Home Again and her own companion documentary Don’t Expect Too Much. Altogether glorious.
Best DIY Programming 1: Refocus Film Series at Double Double Land
What does it say that a lo-fi, screened-on-DVD operation run out of a multi-purpose hipster hangout has screened more vital American indie films than TIFF Bell Lightbox over the past year? Kudos to programmer Jeff Wright for bringing in the likes of Aaron Katz’s Portland detective flick Cold Weather, Michael Tully’s beguiling Southern Gothic Septien and Alex Ross Perry’s caustic sibling comedy The Colour Wheel. Here’s hoping Refocus re-ups for 2012.
Best DIY Programming 2: Defending the Indefensible at Toronto Underground Cinema
At it best, Andrew Parker’s series pitting local critics in passionate combat over maligned or misunderstood films (from MacGruber to Freddy Got Fingered) yields real illumination and insight. To see Toronto After Dark programmer Peter Kuplowsky—his signature hat ditched for a gleaming white helmet—articulately defend the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer is an invigorating example of fanboy/scholar convergence. The next season includes an appearance by my esteemed Grid colleague Jason Anderson—hopefully in costume.
Local Film Shoot—Crisis Averted Division: Resident Evil: Retribution
When a stage collapsed on the Kipling Avenue set (pictured above) of Resident Evil: Retribution in October, the Twitterverse exploded with obvious jokes about confused EMTs unable to distinguish actors in gory zombie makeup from accident victims. The film’s star, Milla Jovovich, was more concerned with giving updates on the 10 members of the crew taken to hospital with a variety of injuries (including a few broken bones). Word is that everyone hurt in the incident is going to make a full recovery, meaning that the biannual tradition of having Ms. Jovovich and her director/husband Paul W.S. Anderson decamp to Toronto to make video-game movies will go on for at least a few years longer.
Local Film Shoot—Crisis Will Be When The Film Opens Division: Total Recall
Look, we don’t think that the original Total Recall is one of Paul Verhoeven’s best science-fiction movies (hello, Robocop and Starship Troopers), and we’re not averse to remakes in general (what’s up, Fright Night?). But handing an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story to the guy who made the Underworld movies is a recipe for disaster. The Total Recall reboot was filmed largely at Pinewood Toronto studios in the Port Lands, but word is that there were also scenes shot at U of T—we have always thought that Robarts Library belonged in a futuristic Martian dystopia.
Rep News 1: The opening of the Projection Booth
The arrival of the TIFF Bell Lightbox has had a seismic impact on Toronto’s rep scene, but it’s not all bad news: There are still vital neighbourhood cinemas like the Revue and the Royal offering worthy premieres and second-run offerings. The East End got a boost with the transformation of the Gerrard Cinema into the Projection Booth, which has already screened some very unique titles (including Koji Wakamatsu’s awesome United Red Army; we should also be grateful for Kelly Stewart’s monthly Fright Nights series, which digs up deep cuts from the horror canon.
Rep News 2: The closing—and impending re-opening—of the Bloor
Memberships are on sale for the newly christened Bloor/Hot Docs Cinema, but exactly what prospective buyers are getting is still mysterious. Hot Docs’ decision to transform the beloved but dilapidated Annex staple into a doc-centric year-round stronghold feels on some level like a response to the arrival of Lightbox, but it’s also the sort of swashbuckling move that Toronto’s rep scene needs. We’re eager to see what the finished product looks like—and to get a look at some sort of overall programming plan.