TIFF day 1

The first day of any major film fest will be a resoundingly exhausting experience. So much to see with so very little time. Albeit there are more than 10 days to The Toronto Film Festival but the sheer amount of quality directors to choose from is limitless. Trying to focus on one thing is tough here. The kinetic pace leaves you with the need to down espresso shot after espresso shot just to make it through to the very last screening of the day. It doesn’t help that to go from screening to screening you have to go through massive amounts of crowds that are waiting for the next celebrity to walk down the red carpet. This year there are big names coming; Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock just to name a few.

 Me? I’m here for the movies. The next big thing we”ll be talking about come Oscar time. The next “Slumdog Millionaire” to come out of nowhere and wow audiences. If I’m too pummelled by the amount of serious, heavy dramas I have to see on a daily basis I will switch gears and watch something light like Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, the R rated comedy “Bad Words”, in which he plays a 40-year-old high school dropout who exploits a rules loophole in order to compete against 10-year-olds in a national spelling bee. Light stuff and not very impressive but needed when you see one heavy movie after another.

 My first day started with a screening of Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” starring Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Octavia Spencer and Maria Bello. An incredible cast having a go at a screenplay that was on the “black list” for the longest time. The film will get many comparisons to David Fincher’s “Zodiac”. An understandable comparison since this is a 150 minute tale about missing kids and the obsessed people trying to solve the case. The obsessed are Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead detective and Hugh Jackman as the up-to-no-good father of one of the missing children. Unlike “Zodiac” Villeneuve’s film doesn’t manage to get you as obsessed about the case as its main characters. The screenplay is also nothing new, we’ve all seen this before but the twists and turns keep the story going. It helps that Director Villeneuve has a great visual flair, as he showcased in the Oscar nominated “Incendies” in 2010. Jackman, fresh off his “Les Miserables” nomination, could get a second nom for this one. He delivers a passionate, relentless performance, easily the best work he’s ever done. 

However, everyone here talking about “12 Years A Slave”. I have never seen this many men in their mid to late 50′s sobbing their eyes out of a screening. I also more than once heard someone refer to it as the “Schindler’s List of slavery”. Oy vey. Steve McQueen’s film is much more than that. It’s a film that gets you riled up and mad with none of the conventions that pegged Spielberg’s otherwise masterful film. Yes, “12 Years A Slave” is a Steve McQueen film through and through even with an ending that surprisingly tries to tug at your heartstrings. Then again that ending is what might spell Oscar for the movie. If anyone was as disappointed with “Shame” as I was, McQueen redeems himself here. Some scenes are as tough to watch as any from his brilliant directorial debut “Hunger”.

I’d go as far as to say this is probably the most realistic portrayal of slavery ever put on celluloid. Don’t go in expecting”The Color Purple” or “Beloved”, McQueen refuses to flinch at anything. He tries to depict exactly what happened. At the press conference the director was frustratingly peeved off when a reporter asked him and Fassbender if it was hard depicting such cruel people on screen, “The truth is the truth. we are just doing our job, showing what happened” the director replied. Fassbender is brilliant as Epps, the cruelest of slave owners with the sole intention to dehumanize his “assets”. A bible quoting man with a mean-spirited wife that jealously thinks he’s turned on by one of the female slaves Patsy. And what to make of Chiwetel Ejiofor, brilliant in films like “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Redbelt” but flat out phenomenal in this film. I thought the best actor Oscar was his until I saw Mcconaughey in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” (I’ll delve onto that one tomorrow).

 “12 Years To A Slave” is for now the IT movie everyone is talking about, a Best Picture Nomination is all but sealed. Comparisons will also be made to another much buzzed film “The Butler”. Let’s put it this way, if “The Butler” is a great pop song then “12 Years To A Slave” is a great symphony. It flows effortlessly from one scene to the next with the ability to have you feel like you’re eavesdropping on an important part of American history. Things can rapidly change here. The buzz can dwindle or accentuate. So is how it works down here in Toronto.