The Haligonian From TIFF!! AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE?, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR!!
AICN’s old friend and longtime contributor The Haligonian is back, this time sending thoughts from this year’s TIFF. As always, we appreciated The Haligonian's time and efforts...=================The Haligonian here, now based in Toronto. Caught a whole bunch of films at TIFF and thought I’d share my thoughts on some of them.AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
The new film based on Tracy Letts’ play is good, but it lacks the energy of his work with Friedkin. John Wells just can’t seem to make the material work on a cinematic level, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the film. He just brings too soft a touch to the film, especially in scenes that need to land an emotional punch. The film is based on Letts’ 2007 play, a deconstruction of the Southern Gothic literature that also functions really well as an example of the form. In the story, a father goes missing and a family comes together, while secrets are revealed and copious amounts of booze is consumed. The script is terrific, and his gigantic cast gives their all, but without that missing piece, the film only ends up being pretty good, rather than the masterpiece it could be.
There’s a difference between workman-like direction, something Woody Allen does terrifically, and an overall lack of direction. It’s as if Wells thought getting out of the way of his cast and Letts’ script was the best choice, and while the film works on a functional level, it’s missing the energy it needs to go from the stage to the screen successfully.
The performances from Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale and Benedict Cumberbatch are terrific. It would be so cool if Martindale landed some Academy recognition for her work, as she’s been a terrific character actor for ages. One scene of hers late in the film manages to capture that energy the film misses.
Overall, the film is pretty good because the script is so strong and the performances are phenomenal. The ending of the play is one of my all-time favourites, but the film makes some strange choices at the end and kinda misses the ball. It’s no masterpiece, but it works.12 YEARS A SLAVE
Easily the best film of TIFF this year. Saw it last night at a packed house at the Elgin with 1700 people, the third of three sold-out screenings. While I loved HUNGER and SHAME, McQueen’s newest film is his first masterpiece, and it left me shaking as I left the theatre.Steve McQueen’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE is one of the most haunting films I’ve ever seen. His camera never breaks from the horrors on screen, instead choosing to linger on shots until the viewer can no longer stand it, and then he keeps going. I was worried when I saw the first trailer for the film that McQueen would be abandoning his exhausting style for a more Hollywood approach, but I’m glad that’s not the case. The film maintains the voice McQueen has established as a filmmaker in HUNGER and SHAME, but here he’s elevated his storytelling, and the film knows how to move while maintaining an emotional intensity that never lets up.
Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a stunning performance as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Ejiofor brings so much emotion to his role and is able to say so much without saying a word in some scenes. McQueen lets the camera stay on Ejiofor’s face for long, unbroken shots and the effect is incredibly powerful. In a funeral scene we see a bit of in the film’s trailer, the camera stays on Ejiofor as he goes through an emotional catharsis and we go through one as well. Lupita Nyong’o deserves recognition as well, and I would love to see a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her. The work she does is absolutely haunting.12 YEARS A SLAVE is the best film at TIFF this year, and it’s the film right now that I think deserves to win Best Picture this year.CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE?
The new quasi-musical from ONCE director John Carney is pretty good, despite having one of the worst titles of the year. The songs are terrific, and I think I liked them better than the stuff in ONCE. I could see an awards push for Best Original Song later this year.
The film stars Mark Ruffalo as a depressed music-label exec, and when we meet him in the film, he’s at the end of his rope. Ruffalo’s doing a lot of the same beats here as his usual intensity, but he’s pretty good at playing a live wire, and when he meets Kiera Knightley, playing a shy singer-songwriter, the two make an immediate connection. I’m usually not a fan of her work, but here, she’s phenomenal and succeeds in getting us to believe she’s a real artist. That could be because the songs are so strong, but the film made me fall for its charms. Carney’s script does a great job at making the film feel like we’re really seeing art being made, and captures that excitement of collaboration.
The film only really works when it’s focused on Ruffalo and Knightley at work, trying to put together a demo album. Thankfully, the film spends a lot of time with them, but when the film focuses on Knightley and her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, played by Adam Levine of Maroon 5, the film falls apart. Levine is kind of terrible here, and the film doesn’t really know what to do with him, but there’s one scene near the end of the film where he really nails a moment during his last song, and it works. Catherine Keener shows up in a small role as Ruffalo’s ex-wife, and she does great work.
I think I enjoyed CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE? more than I was supposed to, as reaction to the film has been kind of mixed. I think it really works in places and has a lot of charm.BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR
While 12 YEARS A SLAVE is my pick for the best film of TIFF 2013, I think BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR might be my favourite. I saw it a week ago, and still can’t get it out of my head. Abdellatif Kechiche’s film is stunning, an epic achievement at capturing the intimate, a sprawling 3-hour film that zooms by in an instant. It does one of my favourite things films can do-it makes you not want the film to end.Winner of the Palme d’Or this year at Cannes, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR is the story of Adele, a 15-year old high school student who falls in love with Emma, a young woman in art college. The film follows Adele over years as her relationship with Emma develops and goes through many changes. The film is undeniably emotionally honest, more so than so many films about love, and it understands what it means to be young and in love perfectly. While the film shares nothing stylistically in common with Spielberg, I can see why he said the film left him “absolutely spellbound” as the jury president of Cannes this year. The film understands that age between youth and adulthood and brings us there, vulnerable to the extreme emotions the film captures..
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR is absolutely fearless filmmaking and the performances from leads Adele Exarchopoulous and Lea Seydoux are stunning. The film is able to capture first love and first examinations of sexuality as they are with emotional and explicit honesty, something that will leave audiences uncomfortable. It’s a film that interrogates you and how much you’re willing to see, but at the end of the film, the honesty is stunning. I don’t know how audiences will respond to some of the most graphic (and possibly unsimulated) sex scenes I’ve ever seen. I counted about 10 walkouts during the screening at TIFF. But there’s a purpose to everything we see in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR, and it’s one of the most honest portraits of youth I’ve ever seen.
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