2005 Film Fest Wrap Up


The 2005 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival has come and gone - almost a week later I've got some thoughts on the ten films I took in this year, in order of appearance.


Caustic and beautiful New York based comic Sarah Silverman brought her one woman show to the screen and to opening night of the fest for the midnight madness crowd. I love Silverman's work and doubt, quite honestly, that anything she could have put on film would have disappointed me. She was in attendance and did a very witty Q&A after the show. During said Q&A someone asked why after mocking blacks, asians, handicapped, midgets and the elderly, did she not go after fat people. Her response? “Oh, they’re sensitive.” It’s all in the delivery. When she was onstage introducing the film some young lovestruck boy yells out "I love you Sarah" - "I love you too" she replied, and then, after a long beat mused out loud "No, I don't". Simple, crisp and vintage Sarah Silverman. The film itself which is essentially a concert film interspersed with sketch and song, directed by Mr. Show alumn Liam Lynch, will probably not make wide release but it will have a life on HBO or Comedy Central and on DVD.


"Come with me. It's 1972 and my hands were shaking just the way they are right now. A bunch of people who really loved eachother have come together to...entertain. It's that night, you are backstage at the Orpheum Theatre...come with me...." Yowza, does Liza Minnelli know how to introduce a movie, or what? Then, in the dark Elgin Theatre, a woman I never met in my life dug her fingernails into my arm and whispered "I'm sooooo excited!". Liza Minnelli touches people. What was most amazing about this screening of the Bob Fosse directed made for TV concert film (which is newly restored) is that it felt like we were really at a concert, watching a live show. People cheered and applauded after every number. It was electric and magical. Minnelli and a pack of Producers did a very lengthy Q&A after the show which will be featured as bonus material when the concert film is released on DVD. Minnelli showed herself to be funny and endearing and Fosse's work, both as a choreographer and a director of stage and film was, in a word, flawless.


Writer and Director Jeff Stanzler's film is set against the anxieties and fears of post-9/11 New York where an Arab cab driver (Abdel Kechiche) picks up a troubled professional woman (Robin Wright Penn) with, let's say, unexpected results. Both actors do an incredible job creating characters that are real and compelling and in Wright Penn's case very, very scary. The film's pacing troubled me, especially the ending which felt sort of anticlimactic and rushed, but overall it's a nice piece of work and worth seeing. Sandra Oh has a small role, and is amazing. When I think about this movie now, it is her performance I think of. She doesn't have a lot of screen time but she creates a likeable and above all believable character that has stayed with me in a way that has totally taken me by surprise.


Theatre vet Adam Rapp's Writing and Directing debut for film feels very much like someone's first effort. The very capable Zooey Deschanel, who played Will Ferrell's love interest in Elf, stars as Reese, a young woman living the bohemian actor's life in New York City. She's painfully unhappy (one night stands, cocaine, masochism and, I'm not kidding, feline leukemia all effect her mood). Reese is offered a small fortune by a book editor if she can secure for publication the love letters that her father (Ed Harris), a reclusive novelist, wrote to her mother, who has since committed suicide. Returning to Michigan, Reese finds that an ex-grad student (Amelia Warner) and a would-be Christian Rock musician (Will Ferrell) have moved in with her father and...hilarity ensues! Well, no, hilarity does not ensue. Well, yes, it does, in Ferrell's scenes, but as my viewing companion pointed out "he seemed like he was in another movie". At first I thought perhaps her opinion was being coloured by past performances and then I realized she was probably right and it was just that I would have rather been watching the "other movie" that Ferrel was performing in. The self indulgent depressed characters in Winter Passing made me flashback to when I first saw the musical Rent on stage and wanted to get up and SCREAM at the stage "Get a JOB and PAY your RENT!!!!"


The story follows Mirabelle (Claire Danes), a disenchanted salesgirl and aspiring artist based in LA and the two men in her life wealthy divorcee Ray Porter (Steve Martin) and struggling graphic designer Jeremy (Jason Schwartman). Based on Martin's novella of the same name and Directed by Anand Tucker, Shopgirl is a nice example of the emotional weight that comedy writers can create when they choose to work on more "serious" material. The performances are all stellar and the direction, while not perfect (there is one musical montage that feels like it belongs in a much lesser movie) is fine. I'd recommend this to someone looking for a bittersweet romantic comedy in a heartbeat. Oh, and I heart Steve Martin.


I also heart Frank Gehry, the Toronto born, world famous architect. Sketches of Frank Gehry is an honest look at the man, his work and his creative process Directed by his friend Sydney Pollock. There really isn't a whole lot more to say than that. If you are the least bit interested in art, architecture or the creative process see this film. Pollock clearly admires Gehry and that shines through in the finished product. Good stuff.


Festival is an earthy, black comedy set during the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Various plot strands interweave, including the bitter relationship between a famous self-obsessed British comic and his ever-suffering assistant, an actress debuting at the festival with a one-woman show about Dorothy Wordsworth and a depressed, rich housewife who spies on the stoned Canadian theatre troupe to whom she has rented out her house, all events climaxing with the presentation of the much sought after comedy award. Great character comedy and a fun familiarity for anyone who has ever been involved with a Fringe theatre festival. You know who you are. The film doesn't yet have Canadian distribution so keep your eyes and ears open. Lots of laughs.


Can I start the Oscar buzz for Phillip Seymour Hoffman here and now please? And while we're at it, Catherine Keener deserves a nod for her portrayal of Capote's friend and author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Bob Balaban also stands out as New Yorker editor William Shawn (real life father of Wallace Shawn). I must say the moody grey tones of the cinematography were highly appropriate but also wrecked havoc on me almost a week into the Fest when I was sleep deprived and guzzling coffee. The film follows Capote while he researched and wrote In Cold Blood and is at once focused, sharp and moving. I will see it again, when I am less fatigued.


I can't remember the last time I read the book before I saw the movie. I've been reading a lot of non-fiction lately. At any rate, Jennifer Weiner, author of In Her Shoes is one of my faves so I did (read the book before I saw the movie). I loved the book, the characters are relatable and funny and the movie delivers 100%. The three lead actresses are all wonderful and this is sure to be a fine, fat hit - I recommend it and the book (or any of Weiner's other books including the just-released-this-week Goodnight Nobody). Fun trivia: portions of this film were shot on the same soundstage as what could very well be my favourite movie of all time The Apartment, making this a homecoming of sorts for Shirley MacLaine. If men are concerned that this is merely a "chick flick" don't worry about it. Director Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential, The Wonder Boys and 8 Mile) sees to it that it does not descend down treacle lane.


Wow! Great singing! Yikes! Shitty Libretto! This take on Bizet's Carmen, set in a modern-day South African township had immense potential but fell flat. Ultimately I walked away thinking, if you are going to do Carmen, do Carmen or if you are going to tell your own stories, tell your own stories. Make up your mind. Not recommended.


As always, the Fest is a treat. I love the atmosphere, the line ups, the sleep deprivation, the minor changes in the weather, the coffee in a cardboard cup and I look forward to doing it all again next year!


  1. Anonymous11:16 AM

    Great reviews. I look forward to seeing Shopgirl and Sketches of Frank Gehry.


  2. Thanks Kevin! They're both really enjoyable flicks...

  3. Anonymous11:29 PM

    MTN-Really enjoyed reading your Film Festival reviews. Your "Winter Passing" companion really sounds like she knows what she's talking about.

  4. Indeed she does, "anonymous", indeed she does ;)


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