Thursday, August 30, 2007

The First of Many TIFF Entries

Attending the Toronto International Film Festival (hereafter referred to as "TIFF") every September is one of the highlights of my year, an essential staple of my movie-going diet. It will be a sad day indeed should I have to leave Toronto at some point in my life (which may be a possibility in the near future.) Even if funds are low; even if school responsibilities pull me away; even if it is tremendously difficult to justify spending $300+ on a week of films, I try and find a way to make it work. True, such an extravagance may seem outrageous to casual film watchers; I've often had to justify my choices to horrified friends and family. But how can one explain it? The rush of surviving on coffee and four films a day? The joy of meeting beloved artistic personalities in person? Watching a film several months - or even a full year - before it receives an official release?

Since 2001, I've participated in some capacity, and the number of screenings have ranged from a couple to over thirty (my record is 32 in 2005, I believe.) This year, I'm "only" taking in about twenty films, and the reasons are two-fold; firstly, prices in general have shot up significantly in the last number of years (to give you an example, single-day or rush tickets will likely put you back $20+; even passes and coupon booklets aren't so wallet-friendly lately.)

The second reason may seem a bit strange, but quite frankly, I don't have it in me to go "full out" this year. In previous seasons with a thirty-film schedule, I've found that despite enjoying myself thoroughly, it takes me a long time to recover. The lack of sleep and physical exertion (running from theatre to theatre is quite a workout) catch up with you, and it's not exactly the best way to start a new semester of classes. Plus, I'll be adjusting to a completely new program with time-consuming practicums, as well as moving homes. Those of you unable to attend a major film festival like Cannes, NY, Venice, Telluride or Toronto are probably yelling, "Stop complaining, Ali! I'd give anything to be that sleep-deprived zombie in your shoes!"... and you do have a point. I don't want to suggest that I'm anything less than thrilled at the thought of attending another year - only that I'm getting a better sense of my limits. Plus, I don't like the thought of feeling obligated to watch a film the whole way through. Or not giving it my undivided attention due to crankiness and university stress - last year, I actually fell asleep during Syndromes and a Century... not because I found the film lacking in any way, only because I was exhausted and spent six hours in class earlier that day.

I was reluctant to post a tentative run-down of my selected films, only because of what happened last year (I posted a list of hopefuls, only to be shut out of half my selections.) This year, I don't think I'll have too much trouble; I'm only watching a couple of popular Oscar bait pictures, and I wouldn't be disappointed if I had to fall back on my alternates. I'm worried that I'm Not There and Margot at the Wedding will fill up quickly, but even then, at least they are guaranteed a release somewhere down the road, right?

I am in box #2 this year; think good thoughts for me, people! In case you don't know how the system works, let me clarify... the advance draw allows people who purchased advance passes and coupon booklets to put forward their primary and secondary selections. Boxes are filled with the customers' envelopes, from 1 to 40-something, depending on the demand (let's say 43.) On Friday at 1pm, the advance draw ends, and the box office staff will draw a number randomly; if the number is 26, then that will be the first box opened. Number 27 will follow, up until 43. Then they will process box 1 up to 25 (the last one); obviously, the people in boxes 15-25 would be unhappy campers. Last year, my ballot was placed in the second-last box processed - needless to say, I was cuh-rushed. (Happily, I was still able to rush several screenings like Volver and The Fountain, so it's not a lost cause - you just have to be willing to stand in line for hours and hours... and hours.)

EDIT: Friday afternoon - box number 66 was selected out of 75 total boxes, according to Looks like I have a good shot!

My one rule this year for picking films was the following - absolutely nothing that opens in September could be considered. Therefore, I had to be strong and ignore Eastern Promises, Lust, Caution (*sob*), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, My Kid Could Paint That and In the Valley of Elah (... if you can't tell I'm kidding about that last one, obviously you don't know me well.) I tried to be a little more adventurous this year and move towards titles I didn't know that much about, although you'll certainly see familiar ones in the mix. And my excuse for Reservation Road? I guess it's the Oscar pundit within emerging, but I love Ruffalo and also want to see what kind of acting quartet category fraud will ensue this year. What am I most excited for? Well, besides the aforementioned Haynes and Baumbach features, I'm really looking forward to seeing my idol in person (read: Mira Nair, who will be presenting several short films on AIDS in India, along with several other prominent directors like Santosh Sivan and Vishal Bharadwaj.)

Most devastated to miss out on (due to timing conflicts): Alexandra (Sokurov), Before the Rains (Sivan), Atonement (Wright), Silent Light (Reygadas), Paranoid Park (Van Sant) and The Savages (Jenkins).

I'll likely find out on Sunday which of my picks went through.

You, the Living (Roy Andersson)
L'Avocat de la terreur (Barbet Schroeder)
California Dreamin' (Endless) (Cristian Nemescu)
The Man from London (Bela Tarr) - I know you hated it Glenn, but... it's Bela Tarr!

Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy)
Mira Nair Presents: Four Views on AIDS in India (Nair, Sivan, Bharadwaj, Akhtar)
Juno (Jason Reitman)

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)
Nothing is Private (Alan Ball)

Just Buried (Chaz Thorne)
A Jihad for Love (Parvez Sharma)
Sleuth (Kenneth Branagh)
Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach)

It's a Free World (Ken Loach)
Useless (Zhang-Ke Jia)
Corroboree (Ben Hackworth)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel)

Reservation Road (Terry George)
I'm Not There (Todd Haynes)
The Last Lear (Rituparno Ghosh)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Most Anticipated Films of 2007 [Part Two]

Whew! Part One can be found here.


4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu) - Depressing Romanian cinema is certainly a hot property these days, yes? This Palme-D'Or winning film follows in the steps of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 12:08 East of Bucharest as a most-probable critical darling (I bet you ten bucks it will show up in the top ten on an upcoming Village Voice critics' poll.) But will it release this year? The last two films to win Best Picture at Cannes showed up the following year (L'Enfant, The Wind that Shakes the Barley.) Anyways, I'm so there whenever the distributors get their priorities straight.

Be Kind, Rewind (Michel Gondry) - Unfortunately, the only Gondry film I've seen is Eternal Sunshine..., so I don't have a strong opinion of him as a director yet. I have to admit, the premise sounded a lot better on paper than it does in this trailer released recently (but then again, how is that indicative of anything?) There are a lot of likely plot holes that I hope the screenplay is able to adequately explain (why don't they just buy the erased titles again? Is this set in the pre-DVD era? How long can one sustain a concept like this?), but I'm keeping an open mind despite my nitpicky points. Yay for Mos Def. And Mia Farrow! Looks fun, even if it ends up being overall unsatisfying

The Stone Angel (Kari Skogland) - Margaret Atwood's devastating book of the same name about regret and lost faith is a personal favourite, so the upcoming film adaptation appears here only on that basis. I have no expectations that a film version will successfully master the difficult time shifts, nor the complexity of main character Hagar's interior monologue. Still, I'm intrigued to see what it Skogland's screenplay is able to translate successfully, and Ellen Burstyn in anything is a definite plus. It's a great, great part, so she could get some awards play if the release is handled properly (as a Canadian production, a Genie nomination looks very likely. Unless Academy rules disqualify non-Canadian actors... I should look that up.)

And the others: Silk (Michael Pitt and Keira Knightley = either sensational casting, or zzzz-inducing), Lars and the Real Girl (shifty premise, but Gosling and Mortimer = good) Savage Grace (Miss Julianne doing some naughty comedy; Glenn thought it had some merit), Things We Lost in the Fire (love Susanne Bier of Brothers brilliance and Benicio; don't disappoint me Halle!), Lions for Lambs (eeehh for Redford... but Meryl!), Rob Zombie's stab at Halloween (come on, I just had to!) and Aaja Nachle (Madhuri Dixit's long-overdue comeback Bollywood vehicle; her first role since 2002's Devdas.) Plus Becoming Jane and Two Days in Paris (they've already opened here in Toronto, but I haven't been to the theatre yet.)


15. The Assassination of Jesse James... (Andrew Dominik) - Another troubled holdover from last year's list, this one could go either way. And as far as gritty Westerns go, it could get squashed with the much more accessible-looking 3:10 to Yuma releasing a month earlier. It's launching at TIFF this year, so that could definitely help quell the negative word-of-mouth. Or just perpetuate it (see All the King's Men.) Either way, I can't wait to see Mary-Louise Parker in her first on-screen role since... forever (2004?), and although I still haven't seen Dominik's Chopper (the only other feature to his name), I've only heard good things.

14. Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach) - The trailer looks icky and dull (ill-timed editing is probably more to blame than anything), but I wasn't quite convinced by the pre-release word-of-mouth for Squid either. And we know how that turned out. Nicole Kidman is tipped as an awards player again (then again, isn't she always?), and perhaps even Jennifer Jason-Leigh could get enough attention for a long-deserved career nod. I still don't think Jack Black is the perfect fit here, even though I love him, but I think Baumbach knows what he's doing. Plus, I've heard great things from an insider at TIFF (apparently the best of the lot he has seen.)

13. Fugitive Pieces (Jeremy Podeswa) - I read this Anne Michaels book for my Grade 12 English class, and it made a major impact on me (I ended up doing a presentation the dense figurative language, and it was one of the most difficult projects I worked on that year.) I highly recommend picking it up, but if you're not the most voracious reader, hopefully this adaptation starring Stephen Dillane (Leonard Woolf in The Hours) will live up to the (read: my) high expectations and do some of the work for you. It opens TIFF this year.

12. No Country for Old Men (Coen Bros.) - I go back and forth on the Coens. I like Fargo well enough, but not on the same level that its most ardent supporters do; I even like the ones that those same fans outright dislike (Intolerable Cruelty). But I'm not particularly passionate about them either way... perhaps I should catch up on their early stuff before passing judgment so readily. But back to the film - I've heard good things about the Cormac McCarthy book though; perhaps I should give it a look before the film hits the screen.

11. My Kid Could Paint That (Amir Bar-Lev) - D'Angelo loved it, and even if he didn't, this still looks pretty damn fascinating (trailer here.) And while this kind of documentary is becoming kinda stale at this point (raising more questions than solid answers... maybe she does, maybe she doesn't - oooooh), I'm a big sucker for them.

10. Nothing is Private (Alan Ball) - I no longer love American Beauty as much as I once did, but "Six Feet Under" is mostly brill, and I largely gel with Alan Ball's bleak outlook on life. Looks provocative and incendiary, but that's a good thing... isn't it? Plus Maria Bello and Toni Collette in one film? *explodes*... *explodes again*

9. This spot was originally reserved for Kimberly Peirce and her new film Stop, Loss (took her long enough!), but it's been pushed back to March 2008. So let's talk about...

The Golden Age (Shekhar Kapur) - I love Elizabeth. I love Cate Blanchett in it. She should have won the Oscar. I've been salivating at the thought of a sequel for yeeaarsss. So why is this situated at #9? Truthfully, it probably would have landed the #1 spot if it weren't for that depressing, pitched-to-the-rafters trailer. I can't even watch it the whole way through anymore. Hopefully the finished product won't be this hysterical, cheesy and bombastic (what is with that "I'm a hurricane" nonsense? I'm mean, really now.) It just doesn't sit well with me at all, even if I'm a major fan of everyone involved with this project. As much as I'm a fan of Cate, lately she's just not doing it for me. After last year's depressing output (that nomination belongs to EMILY BLUNT), I'm scared to believe, lest I am burned again. Okay, enough of my bitching. The good? Samantha Morton as Mary, Queen of Scots is brilliant casting; I can't wait to see what she does with role. I'm also excited to see how the much-hyped Abbie Cornish fares up against all these acting titans. Oh yeah, and apparently Clive Owen is in this. Okay, I'm ready. Bring it on.

8. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant) - Not much in the way of advance word from Cannes, where it was quietly and very politely received. If it's anything like Gerry, Elephant or Last Days (making up his stellar "Death trilogy"), I'll probably adore it. No release date yet, so I'm trying not to keep my hopes high... but IFC Films is listed as a theatrical distributor on IMDB. Maybe they're readying it for 2008 sometime?

7. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel) - Best Director prize at Cannes aside, this would still appear as high on account of Schnabel's excellent Before Night Falls (perhaps best-known as the film which earned Javier Bardem an Oscar nod and featured Johnny Depp in drag... again.) And if you add these personalities to the mix: Ronald Harwood (screenwriter), Janusz Kaminski (DP), and actors Mathieu Amalric and Marie-Josée Croze = yummy. This adaptation of the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby (Amalric), a magazine editor who developed locked-in syndrome as a result of a paralyzing stroke, could prompt (unwarranted) comparisons to The Sea Inside, but hopefully will be considered on its own terms.

6. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson) - Fine, I'll come right out and say it: I don't like Boogie Nights or Magnolia. I just can't get behind either of them, despite several repeat viewings. Each time, my opinion remains unchanged: both are bloated and overlong, peppered throughout with some inspired moments and bolstered by very strong ensembles. But then again, I loooove the hell out of the loony Punch-Drunk Love, which was half the length of its predecessors and twice as effective and inspired. P.T.A. now turns toward an Uptown Sinclair novel to explore oil, empire and Christianity in turn-of-the-century Texas, with Daniel Day-Lewis (!) and Paul Dano in tow. The teaser trailer looks particularly gorgeous, even if it doesn't really give a lot of plot detail away (which is probably a good thing, right?).

5. Jodhaa-Akbar (Ashutosh Gowariker) - The talented director of the Oscar-nominated Lagaan and the equally-strong Swades brings together Bollywood hotties Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan as the well-known Mughal figureheads. Not only is the hotness potential off the roof, this will serve as both history lesson and full-scale eye candy entertainer. Plus, it features a score and soundtrack composed by God (that is, A. R. Rahman.)

4. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg) - This could not come at a better time for me. Not only does it reunite Viggo and David after their 2005 knockout (*hyperventilates*), but it conveniently opens following my Naomi Watts reappraisal, who finally lives up to the hype post-Lynch (re: last year's The Painted Veil - see it for her, among a few other pluses.) It will probably have to compete with the biggie American Gangster for mafia-related picture of the year (*shrug*); hell, it will certainly draw comparisons to A History of Violence, which itself dealt with grisly secrets and shadowy mobsters. But whatever, it's Cronenberg. How will this not be gross, stomach-turning, brilliantly acted (Viggo with a hot accent!), subversive, sexy and all those things you expect from the master?

3. Atonement (Joe Wright) - I have not read the novel by Ian McEwan, but it's supposed to be one of the better ones; I haven't heard one negative reaction by a reader so far. So we already have great source material on the table, plus a clearly-capable director and delicious cast on top of it all. And if one person can get a great performance out of Keira "I'm usually a blank slate" Knightley, it's Mr. Wright (see Pride and Prejudice), and we already know that James McAvoy is a most dependable actor.

2. Lust, Caution (Ang Lee) - I watched the trailer a couple of days ago and then died of excitement. I'm consciously not reading much about the film to keep my movie-going experience as virginal and untainted as possible. All I know it has Tony Leung and Joan Chen, which will be... I can't even finish that sentence.

1. I'm Not There (Todd Haynes) - I tried to leave substantial comments for this selection many times, but words continue to fail me. Are they even necessary at this point? How can I adequately explain why an upcoming Haynes film is always cause for celebration... Even if the film doesn't end up working in the end (which I highly doubt in the first place), you've got to give him props for being so experimental and original with his cinematic projects. If only all directors thought this "out-of-the-box". Either way, I'm excited to see what looks like a dismantling of the biopic structure (among other things), and that cast looks pretty damn fine to these eyes (Bale! Ledger! Williams!). Even my now-estranged Blanchett seems to be in top form, and when was the last time I felt that way?! One word seems apt in this case: meep!

Anyone else notice how this year's crop features a lot of directors following up on their acclaimed 2005 films? Cronenberg, Lee, Wright, Van Sant, Baumbach, Clooney, Burton, Jordan, Ridley Scott, Hood, Allen and Bier (well, Brothers was *technically* 2004, but released here the following year.) Very interesting - how will their newest projects compare? Can't wait to find out.

EDIT: The only reason Michael Haneke's remake of his own Funny Games wasn't included is that I had heard it was pushed back to April '08. Now I'm reading it's back on for a limited late October release...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What happened to the Actor Countdown?

Is this a bit of a cop-out? Well, I'll write a few lines in my defense first...

I'm disclosing my final choices (#1-7) for the Top 25 Performances by a Male Actor Countdown (2000-2004) in one go. You may recall that this project was created in response to Javier's own list centering on female actors. After roughly the #7 selection, both of our countdowns kind of ran out of steam; Javier closed shop on Auteur Lust several months ago (here's hoping for that comeback soon, Javi!), while I just stopped churning out entries altogether. Although I'd love to see him finish up his list, entry by entry (to maintain the suspense), I personally have to throw in the towel. Realistically speaking, there's no way I can complete this project with the detail I originally started off with. My respect for the actors' work has not diminished; my passion for the project has.

Every few months, I try to muster up enough enthusiasm to continue, and once in a while I'll post something halfway decent. But the truth is, I've stopped caring about these entries and what they represent. After investing myself in awards season after awards season, I'm realizing the ridiculous act of judging performances and ranking them on a scale. I know this is supposed to be fun and not taken seriously in the least, but I'm having a hard time justifying placing one actor over another, thereby creating a hierarchy of what is all-around great acting work. The other reason is that if I prolonged this any longer, I'd never finish it (it's been more than a year since entry one!). I think it's better to get it over with quickly...

7. Gael Garcia Bernal, Bad Education - (I posted an entry for this a few days ago, hoping that the sight of an empty post would prompt me to fill it in. No such luck.)

6. John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch

5. Mark Ruffalo, You Can Count on Me

4b. Ed Harris, Pollock

4a. Ralph Fiennes, Spider

3. Dan Futterman, Urbania - (This is the performance I saw last year that changed the look of the list, resulting in the tie between Harris and Fiennes.)

2. Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom

1. Haley Joel Osment, A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Comment, discuss, ignore. Perhaps I'll fill these out properly one day, perhaps not. Ask me about any of these if you want, and I'll provide some comments.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Blog Makeover

Like the new look? Either way, it's not as if I spent much time on it - just a few clicks here and there, selecting from a list of Blogger-approved layouts. I rather like it, despite my lack of originality picking fonts and colours. I figure it's safe sticking to tried-and-true formulas, like the trusty, eye-friendly white background and black fonts. Anyways, I figure that I can update and improve over the coming months, as I grow more familiar with html nonsense. And the biggest plus side to all this? The subtle change makes me want to write again...

I guess I could give you quick details about my convocation ceremony, and the many trips I took out of town during the months of June and July (Stratford, Minneapolis, New York City), just to justify my long absence from the blog:

- June 14th: I graduated from the University of Toronto, with a Bachelor of Arts in the field of South Asian Studies. Many people ask what that entails, so I think a better way to describe what I've been studying for the last four years is "post-colonial/critical theory". The event itself was mind-numbingly boring; just the conferring of diplomas took an hour in itself. Our speaker was the Minister of Finance, and he delivered a speech I felt like I heard ten times before ("My grandfather emigrated to this country with nothing in his pockets, and an education helped him to... etc, etc.") Family stuff was fun; after picking up an award at my college, we went out for dinner at our favourite Pakistani restaurant. Of course, everything on the menu contained meat or animal products, so I had to get a special order of chana (masala chickpeas); 'twas good.

- Late June: Family wedding in Minneapolis; my second-cousin's daughter's (it took me a while to get my head around that too; the complexities of extended family relations.) Not much to report here; if you've been to an Indian-Muslim wedding before, you would know that the festivities last several days (mendhi party, mosque night, the actual wedding ceremony, reception, etc.) It's always pleasant to revisit places you once called home, only now through the eyes of an adult (I lived there until I was six, then moved to Dubai.)

- Late July: Drove down with my cousin to New York City to visit my sister (a most gracious host, thanks sis!). Stayed for about five days, and did some of the requisite tourist attractions (Times Square was insane, but exciting due to the enormity of it all.) I didn't get in any Broadway shows (my only choices through a discount ticket-seller [TKTS] were The Color Purple and The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, neither of which I was really keen on.) My favourite experience was visiting two museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art (the latter of which I visited with none other than Nick.) We caught an afternoon showing of Bresson's Mouchette at the MoMA, but funnily enough, neither of us had a solid movie-going experience. The man in front of me with his giant head completely obscured the subtitles, while Nick was unable to concentrate without a cup of coffee (which we were unable to procure before the screening, and apparently Starbucks was out of the question.) Anyways, it was a pleasure meeting him in person, and it was great being able to spend time in an amazing city with someone who knows it so well. It's very easy to feel overwhelmed in NYC, especially as a Canadian. I'm already planning to go back in October.

So... back to the movies. We've hit the mid-August mark, which usually means that the summer movie season is almost at an end point (somewhat sadly marked by the release of Rush Hour 3.) I'm grateful; there is a limit to the amount of sequels and prequels one can hear about, let alone plunk down cash for and tolerate. All right, I'll admit to enjoying a couple: I have to give props to Raimi & co. for investing so wholly in Spider-Man 3's cheesy histrionics. And the latest Harry Potter flick was memorable for proving that Daniel Radcliffe can carry a film all by himself. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the summer for me was the much-hyped Simpsons Movie, which felt stale and outdated for much of its running time. Watching South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut beforehand certainly didn't do Homer and friends any favours.

As for Part Two of the "Most Anticipated of 2007" project I had going on - I had saved a copy for editing right after completing the first part, but it somehow got deleted in the process. I've been quite lazy re-writing the entry... but I promise to have it up soon. Perhaps even tomorrow! How about that?

Hope all your summers are going well!