Toronto 2013 halftime report
In a slate of explosive films, Canadian talent makes good while stranded heroes feel the pull of home.
Tue Sep 10 2013
“I know I’m not a Hollywood director,” Quebec’s Denis Villeneuve assured the crowd at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre as they waited for his Hugh Jackman thriller, Prisoners, “because I didn’t take a Xanax before coming out here.” The laugh he got was huge, but the rainy, fully absorbing police procedural that followed—a nod to the neonoirs emerging from Scandinavia (or at least to David Fincher’s Seven)—felt small and intimate: a suburban kidnapping tragedy of rare power. After several well-earned gasps, the audience was his. Villeneuve also debuted Enemy, a more mannered mood piece set in the city thousands of film lovers are calling home this week, and local pride in the picture’s Cronenbergian vistas was palpable. First-time filmmaker and Toronto hero Mike Myers, in town with the riotous documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (about the longtime manager of Alice Cooper), gushed about his country of origin in a prescreening appearance. We’re not worthy, Canada.
The annual Canadian festival was having naches this year. Always well-attended, the movie event of the fall drew long lines and snarls of foot traffic (even on a day of pissing rain). Intriguingly, the idea of home itself—half-forgotten but a beacon to many a weary Ulysses—infused several of the highest-profile offerings. Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón’s staggeringly accomplished science-fact adventure, depicts a stranded space-shuttle crew’s attempts to make it back to the blue orb below. Naturalistic turns by astronauts George Clooney and Sandra Bullock (a sister in demeanor to Sigourney Weaver’s fixed-jawed Ripley) barely hid viewers’ whispers of amazement at scenes of zero-G floating detritus and extended mayhem. A technical marvel, the commercial movie defiantly won critics’ hearts.
Another Torontonian, Jason Reitman, turned a creaky farmhouse into a faintly unrealistic weekend paradise for escaped convict Josh Brolin in Labor Day, while vampire Tom Hiddleston filled his decaying Detroit mansion with creature comforts such as old guitars, vinyl records and a doting Tilda Swinton in Jim Jarmusch’s groovy Only Lovers Left Alive.
Undeniably, the film of the festival thus far has been Steve McQueen’s staggering 12 Years a Slave, an antebellum saga of stolen freedom that turns the idea of reuniting with wife and children into an “unspeakable happiness.” Those are the words of Solomon Northup (awards-bound Chiwetel Ejiofor), a kidnapped New York musician who becomes a piece of property in a movie that exposes the surreal evil of plantation violence and apartment-held slave sales alike. Funneling the ominous moods of Shame and Hunger into a more conventional structure, McQueen leaps to the forefront of art-house psychologists riding the cusp of the mainstream.
Of course, not every title in this showcase of hundreds focused on the homeward-bound. A Formula 1 racetrack rivalry becomes the only constant in Ron Howard’s clichéd Rush, which tells us more in purple dialogue (“Am I ready? I’ve been wanting this my whole life!”) than any movie about stoic drivers should. Perversely, genius cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle turns it all into a soft-lit beer commercial, even as cars spin out and faces fry.
It’s unclear what Eli Roth (Hostel) has proven by breaking his six-year silence with the extra-Parmesan cannibal flick The Green Inferno, but we midnight hordes ate it up. But even he was outdone by Kim Ki-duk’s shocking Moebius, a psychodrama without a single spoken word that somehow turns mother-on-son castration and marital discord into something hilarious. Maybe home isn’t the best place after all.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf