179 minutes. That’s how long Co-Writer/Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film Drive My Car is. I heard unanimous praise coming out of Cannes for the film — where it won Best Screenplay, the FIPRESCI Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, not to mention being In Contention for the Palme d’Or — but all I could fixate on was the length. It was daunting and trying to schedule watching it during TIFF in September alongside 40+ other films was a logistical nightmare and a battle that I lost all too quickly. Instead, I just continued hearing the unanimous praise and continued seeing the film’s poster taunting me on Letterboxd as one of the “Highly rated films you’ve yet to see”.
So when the time came to finally watch Drive My Car a few weeks back, after it being chosen as Japan’s Best International Feature entry for the Academy Awards, I was filled with trepidation and anxiety. Adding to the pressure, multiple critics’ groups had started calling it the Best Foreign Language Film of the year and last week, the NYFCC straight up awarded it as the Best Film of the Year period. Could the film match what I had been picturing for months? Would I be able to watch it all in one sitting (quick answer: no)? How the hell did Hamaguchi and Co-Writer Takamasa Oe manage to turn Haruki Murakami’s short story into a 3 hour film?! All of these thoughts were swirling in my head, and continue to as I finally settle down to write this. It seemed patently wrong to dismiss it entirely because of its gargantuan running time. A film like this was too important not to watch.
When we first meet Anne (Deragh Campbell), a single daycare worker from Toronto, she is prepping to go skydiving for her best friend’s bachelorette party. The overwhelming experience and new sensation she felt jumping out of a plane changes her — she starts to be a lot more care-free at work and home, much to the chagrin of everyone around her. Very quickly, Anne begins spiraling and starts blurring the lines of what is socially acceptable and what is not.
After watching Anne at 13,000 ft. earlier this week, I immediately regretted skipping it at TIFF 2019. Writer/Director Kazik Radwanski has composed a terrific character study about a woman on the edge that is equal parts intimate and invasive. The film is shot entirely in close-up shots, and has a habit of shifting from absolutely riveting to completely unbearable in the space of a single breath. It always feels honest, and Radwanski never shies away from how uneasy a situation Anne is in — or how awkward she makes the people around her feel. It was a lot to take in watching on my computer monitor; I can only imagine how much more intense it would have been to watch on a theatre screen.
I have been kicking myself for missing In Fabric when it screened during TIFF well over a year ago. I had scheduled it in for the second day of the festival and lined up diligently 40 minutes prior to showtime. It was my first year being a serious member of the press and I had quickly discovered that to maintain my schedule, it would involve a lot of running around between theatres and screens. Having already sat through 8 films by that point, I thought I had it all figured out. But I had not factored in the size of the screen and the number of seats for that particular screening, and stupidly thought that I would not have any issues entering despite the obscene number of people in line. My confidence took a bit of a hit when they cut off the line with ten people ahead of me. Somehow I held out hope that eleven magical seats would show up if I waited around, missing other potential screenings I could have ran into instead. But it was not to be for me, the few people ahead and the 100+ behind me.
TIFF made up for this by scheduling
multiple additional screenings of the film to meet the audience demand. As it
would turn out, I had other much more pressing movies to see literally every
single time they showed it. I was disappointed I missed out, but the
consolation was seeing literally everything else. A24 picked up the film for
release in the US soon after the festival (Mongrel Media picked it up for
Canada), so I assumed I would not have to wait all that long to see it. That
was September 2018.
Cut to December 2019. It is very cold outside, Christmas is coming, a whole other TIFF has come and gone, and I am just now finally seeing In Fabric. Some would call it a Christmas movie, so thematically the timing makes sense. But to say my expectations were super high would be an understatement.
What I have always found fascinating about movies is the fact that once they are finished and released into the world, they rarely change. Sure there have been Director’s, Extended and Unrated Cuts released after the film’s initial release (Ridley Scott is the KING of tinkering with his movies and never being satisfied with any of his final cuts) but they rarely alter the original content or message. They merely add to and/or enrich and/or destroy the viewing experience. What does change, almost every single time, is how we as individuals feel about the movie we are watching. It’s not unheard of to watch a movie you liked for the second or third time and have absolutely no idea why you ever enjoyed it in the first place, or vice versa. And I find that this ideal happens substantially more often for films I see at festivals, specifically the Toronto International Film Festival.
I mention and namedrop TIFF because the first time I saw Unicorn Store was at its World Premiere screening during the festival back in September of 2017. It was Day 5 of the festival and my first movie of the day. I had slept in that day not just due to exhaustion from the previous four days, but I was also still reeling from seeing mother! the night before (I went into that movie completely blind as my fifth movie of the day and was not okay afterwards). I was excited to see Unicorn Store that day for multiple reasons: it was Oscar-winner Brie Larson’s directorial debut; it was playing at my favourite venue, the Ryerson; and it was not an obscenely priced Premium ticket to pick up. I sat down in my seat, took not-all-that subtle photos of the celebrity sitting behind me (the team flanking him was less than thrilled), and waited for the film to start.
Looking back at my Twitter feed from that day, it looks like I enjoyed the film for the most part. But as days and weeks turned into months, I forgot about it and it quickly became one of four movies I saw during that festival that never officially saw the light of day again. Flash forward over a year and a half later, and Unicorn Store is finally being released on Netflix. But a lot can change in that amount of time, even if the movie itself has not done much changing.
It’s been a bit of a crazy week for me, but even crazier if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been happening with the Oscars. The wording is still a bit confusing, but The Academy announced this week that they will be handing out the awards for Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Live Action Short, during the commercial breaks and editing together a piece to show the winners and their speeches sometime later in the ceremony.
Oh, and they are trying to hold all winners to 90 seconds for their speeches – and this includes the time it gets them to stand up, be congratulated by their loved ones and peers sitting around them, and sprint to the podium. The guys might be able to pull this off in their dress shoes, but what about the women? Is The Academy encouraging them to wear sneakers and not have trains on their dresses? Naturally everyone is furious. Petitions are being signed. Celebrities and industry people alike are speaking out and protesting the Academy’s decisions. Twitter is on fire with rage. But it’s just another day as we stumble towards the ceremony on February 24.
And with that, here’s a few words on the Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Films I missed posting about last week.
I love watching the Oscars. Full stop. Despite the on-going shenanigans the Academy continues to pull on a daily basis, not to mention the seething and vile commentary from bloggers and Film Twitter, I am still very excited for this year’s ceremony. But much like the rest of you, I rarely know which Short Films to pick when I am filling out my ballot for the yearly office Oscar pool. I have had some successes in the past — and by sheer luck, went 3/3 way back in 2004 and then never again — but I typically miss properly predicting these categories entirely.
So when the opportunity arose to watch and review these films this year, I jumped at the chance. I am always well versed in the nominees for the major categories, but the Shorts have consistently been a major blind spot. And now I’m slightly more optimistic at my future picks this year. I still need to catch up on the Documentary Shorts, so today I will focus on the Animated and Live Action Shorts.
Here’s hoping the Docs are a little more uplifting, because if there’s anything these short films have in common so far, it’s that they are very bleak and depressing. And the majority of them involve children.
Another year, another TIFF. It was my ninth year in a row of going to the festival, and my second time covering as Press — but first time where I actually used the pass as it was meant to be used. The less said about the last time, the better.
I watched 5 films before the festival, 44 films during (my own personal record!), attended 2 Press Conferences, 1 Jason Reitman Live Read (for The Breakfast Club no less), and even had some time leftover to skip a whole day to attend the wedding of a dear friend. Through all the smoking and deep, depressing films, I had a total blast and cannot wait for next year. Perhaps I’ll budget my sleeping better so I don’t doze through a good portion of a movie like The Old Man & The Gun? Probably not, but I can at least pretend that I’ll try.
I wrote quite a few words for Mr. Will Wong on a number of the films I had the opportunity to see, so here are the individual links to those reviews and the links to the Press Conferences I covered:
#TIFF17 has come and gone, and like most years — it kicked my ass. I saw 32 films this year between Thursday September 7 and Friday September 15 (along with 4 before the festival even began), shattering my previous best of 25 films from previous years. And I tied my personal best number of films seen in 1 day at 5. I was hoping to see 6, but the combination of Revenge starting almost an hour late (at 1AM no less) and the eye-opening experience of watching mother! were a bit too much to handle. So while I am disappointed that I cut this year short, I am more than satisfied with what I did see.
I had a lot of activity going on Twitter reviewing all the films quickly, but did get to write out a few journals for the great Oscar-tracking site NextBestPicture.com. Here are the links to the journals filled with thoughts on the films I saw, as well as some of my experiences (including getting to tell Nicolas Cage he was my spirit animal!).