By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - 0 Comments
I bring you breaking news from the Toronto Film Critics Association—of which I’m president but do not control. It’s what they call a democratic organization; one critic, one vote. At a weekend meeting, over platters of crustless sandwiches fit for a garden party, we voted on our favorite films of 2012. There was some spirited debate, and some very close races, but no one lost an eye. Unlike the characters in the movie we liked best, we didn’t swig moonshine or wrestle each other to the ground. The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 70 mm epic about a cult leader and the ravaged war veteran who falls under his spell, dominated the TFCA winner’s circle, taking four categories, including best picture, director, screenplay and supporting actor. This is the second time an Anderson film has won the TFCA’s top prize: In 1999, his Magnolia won awards for Best Picture and Best Director, and he shared the Best Screenplay prize with Being John Malkovich author Charlie Kaufman. (Anderson was also named Best Director in 2002 for Punch-Drunk Love, making this his third time winning that award.) Yes, P.T., we like you; we really like you.
The TFCA (of which I’m president) also announced today the three finalists for the newly endowed $100,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award: Bestiaire, directed by Denis Côté, Goon, directed by Michael Dowse, and Stories We Tell, directed by Sarah Polley. Each of these movies defies any fixed preconceptions about the character of Canadian cinema. They’re all films of a kind we haven’t seen before. Bestiaire is a visionary documentary from Montreal that explores our relationship to the animal world. Stories We Tell, a doc from Toronto, unfolds as a procedural home movie, investigating the filmmaker’s family secrets; and Goon, shot largely in Winnipeg and set across the country, is a viciously funny comedy about hockey violence.” Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 2:23 PM - 0 Comments
Cinephiles, start your engines. Today the madness of TIFF begins but I’ve been preparing for weeks, pre-screening films and loading my Blackberry calender with interview slots. Most of the heavy action is packed into the first few days, so you end up juggling impossible choices. Amid the wall-to-wall schedule, I’ll try to keep up with it all in BDJ Unscreened. But this year, I’m also wearing another hat at TIFF. I’ve produced and directed a film that’s in the festival, a 7-minute Bravo!FACT short called Yesno, which is premiering Sept. 12. (Now a brief pause for a blast of shameless self promotion.) My little film is a mix of live action and animation based on a book of poetry by Dennis Lee (Alligator Pie), which is voiced by other poets, including Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Karen Solie. I’ve been asked more than once if I’m going to review it myself. Uh . . . no. But I have launched a new website for my moonlighting endeavours behind the camera: bdjfilms.com. OK, enough about me. On to the main event . . .
TIFF opens tonight with the premiere of Michael McGowan’s Score: A Hockey Musical, the first of five opening night galas at film festivals across the country. Clearly there’s widespread consensus that this is right movie at the right time, an alleged crowd-pleaser that tries to hitch our struggling national cinema to our blockbuster national sport. Whether it will indeed please the crowd, I can’t predict. But after seeing the movie at a press screening, a few things seem clear. The notion of a hockey musical is both ingenious and outrageous, and much of the film’s charm lies in the sheer showbiz bravado of the concept, a bravado that’s embodied by the central character—a home-schooled 17-year-old pacifist nerd named Farley (Noah Reid), who graduates from shinny to national stardom as the Next Great One, while mortifying hockey fans by his refusal to defend his honour on the ice with his fists. Score is a meta movie, one that celebrates the fact of its own existence, wearing its post-modern concept like a team emblem. At its heart a terrific performance by Noah Reid. Not only can he skate and act; when he sings, he sounds like a young Paul Simon. And with an all-star roster of Canadian talent helping compose the songs, there are some good riffs to work with. But this is one hokey hockey movie. The cornball dialogue often falls flat, and story goes way offside with a third-period shortcut that defies logic. Which is too bad. Because the script’s cavalier tone undermines a heartfelt conviction in Reid’s performance and in that of his young leading lady, Allie MacDonald. Even when a musical aims for outlandish farce, when hockey and young romance are in play, to engage emotionally, you still have to believe what’s happening.
Although Score invents its own zany genre, it belongs to a certain breed of parochial Canadian movies that have a populist appeal not designed to travel beyond our borders—movies like Men With Brooms, Passchendaele, Bon Cop, Bad Cop and McGowan’s own One Week. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; Quebec has built a thriving film industry on movies geared to a Quebec audience. But insofar as film is a universal medium, no matter how specific the references, you’d like to think that a Canadian movie would go beyond that vintage CBC mandate, of reflecting Canada to Canadians. And and English Canada, unlike Quebec, has never really displayed a large popular appetite for its own cinema. So making films for a domestic audience would seem to be a losing proposition.
There are, however, other styles of Canadian comedy at TIFF this year that may travel more successfully. Continue…