TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2000 (PART I) Send This Review to a Friend
A fabulous collection of films, more then 325 of them, were assembled for the 25th anniversary celebration of the Toronto International Film Festival 2000. In the first year there were 127, still an impressive number for an upstart. The festival has grown not only in size but in prestige, and as one who was present and chairing the craft conferences that first year, I find the developments in the quarter of a century something about which to cheer. Of course, it is impossible for a critic to do more than dip into the vast number of selections.
Among my favorites was British director Ken Loach's BREAD AND ROSES, his fictional treatment of a Los Angeles battle to organize the exploited janitors working for big office buildings. Mostly immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, they have been taken advantage of and paid very little. Loach, working from Paul Laverty's screenplay, manages to turn out a deeply personal drama as well as a solid message film. Loach has long made social action movies of one type or another, and here he has succeeded when working in Los Angeles, far removed from his customary locations.
ALMOST FAMOUS, Cameron Crowe's fictional reminiscence about his days as a teenager trying to write for Rolling Stone, is packed with color and insider views of the rock scene, and Toronto snared the film prior to its wide commercial opening. (Click on Film or Search for the review).
John Turturro scored impressively in his films showcased at the Festival, THE LUZHIN DEFENCE, based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov, and in TWO THOUSAND AND NONE. In the former, directed by the very talented Marleen Gorris, Turturro portrays a chess champion who has been obsessed with the game, and is an awkward individual troubled by his past as a childhood prodigy and unable to relate easily in personal situations. Emily Watson gives one of her most outstanding performances as the woman who becomes infatuated with him, and against the wishes of her parents, decides to accept his impetuous proposal of marriage. The film is pleasingly stylish in its lavish Italian settings, and Turturro is memorable as the haunted chess genius.
In "Two Thousand and None," Turturro has the demanding role of a paleontologist who learns that he is doomed by a brain disease. He sets about trying to make the most of his remaining days, and he seems better equipped to handle the tragedy than those around him. The film is a dark comedy that attempts to deal with life and death in an offbeat manner, and in Turturro, writer-director Arto Paragamian has an actor who can pull off the most difficult situations. The film is weakest when resorting to fantasy sequences involving the stricken man's imaginary conversations with his dead parents, strongest when he becomes involved in such macabre doings as digging up their remains to re-bury in Armenia and finding that the airline has lost his suitcases containing their bones. Actress Katherine Borowitz excels as the ex-wife still devoted to the paleontologist even after their divorce.
One film that proved to be immensely entertaining is Elias Merhige's SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, which is loaded with inside references to F. W. Murnau's classic "Nosferatu." John Malkovich plays Murnau as sort of a mad genius of a director determined to make a great vampire film, and he has enlisted a mysterious actor named Max Schreck, a weirdo played to the comic hilt by a heavily made-up Willem Dafoe. Greta, the beautiful and tempting leading lady is portrayed by Catherine McCormack. The gimmick, of course, is that Schreck is a real vampire, and the director has made a promise that at the end of the film he can feast on his co-star. It's a very funny movie that may well turn out to be a popular hit, and buffs can have a good time comparing set-ups with those in "Nosferatu."
Norwegian director Hans Peter Moland digs deeply into family relationships with ABERDEEN, set in Norway and Scotland and graced with a stunning performance by Lena Headey, as a young Scottish woman who sets off on a quest to get her estranged, drunken father and take him to visit her dying mother. Stellan Skarsgard is brilliant in capturing the father's hapless state as well as his complex feelings, and Charlotte Rampling gives a perceptive performance as the mother and wife. Various adventures and misadventures occur along the way as the bitter relationships unfold, and Ian Hart is also superb as a man who becomes increasingly involved against his better judgment.
The festival also previewed THE YARDS, a Miramax release that absorbingly examines relationships mired in corruption. Directed and co-written by James Gray (the co-writer is Matt Reeves), the relentless drama stars Mark Wahlberg as an ex-con who wants to straighten out his life in New York after serving in prison as the fall guy for his buddies who went free. But his pal, played by Joaquin Phoenix, lures him into crime and a situation that explodes. James Caan does an excellent job as the protagonist's conflicted uncle, who is himself deep into the extortion and payoff racket. All of this is played out against a background of officially sanctioned corruption. The cast includes Faye Dunaway and Ellen Burstyn, with remarkably versatile Charlize Theron playing a sullen, trusting woman the middle. There have been many films delving into the lives of criminals, but this one, while covering familiar ground, is compelling on its own terms.
Robert Alman's latest, DR. T AND THE WOMEN also received a festival showcase and justifiably generated a healthy buzz. Richard Gere is Dr. T, a popular gynecologist in Dallas, with an array of women who flock to him. Gere is particularly good in the role, and Altman, with a script by Anne Rapp, has a great time skewering the behavioral patterns of the Dallas set, and as usual, he has assembled a stellar cast to deliver what he needs, including Helen Hunt, Kate Hudson, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern, Shelley Long, Liv Tyler and Tara Reid. The bizarre ending is at odds with the realism of the rest of the film, but it is entertaining nonetheless and has a point to make.
Karyn Kusama's GIRLFIGHT(Click on Film or Search for review) made a strong impression. It's about a resentful young Brooklyn woman struggling against her background and deciding to come into her own as a boxer. Michelle Rodriguez is terrific in the part, which she handles with understatement yet inner volatility. The plot gets corny with the need for her to fight her boyfriend in the ring. But nevertheless, this is an original and involving film that marks an impressive feature debut for the director.
I didn't get to see "Pollock," starring Ed Harris as the renowned artist, "Innocence," "Billy Elliot," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and a few others that turned out to be especially praised. But in addition to films I enjoyed there were the inevitable disappointments. For example, "Beautiful," directed by Sally Field,(Click on Film or Search for review) is a vapid, cornball film about the fixation of a woman determined to become a beauty queen even though she has to hide the fact that she's a mother. Minnie Driver, who plays the lead, doesn't exactly look like Miss American Miss material, even though her acting is a plus. There some amusing moments, but the upbeat tear-jerking ending is so contrived that the story becomes ridiculous. "George Washinggton," a film about Southern youngsters and their problems, is too lead-footed by far under the documentary-like direction of writer-director David Gordon Green.
The Toronto Festival was also alive with special events, including a tribute to Stephen Frears, retrospectives, the Real to Reel program of shorts, emphasis on Contemporary World Cinema, a Discovery section and other facets of what has become one of the most important festival concentrations of cinema in the world.