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TIFF Opening Night Film Announced

Beth, you picked the right movie, but not the right night! Paul Gross' PASSCHENDAELE will open this year's Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, September 4. Gross, well-known to American audiences for his roles on television's "Slings & Arrows" and "Due South," and to Chlotrudis members for his roles in the films WILBY WONDERFUL and MEN WITH BROOMS, directed, produced, and stars in this historical romantic drama set during World War I. Gross plays Michael Dunne -- a man injured in France who comes home to Calgary. However, a romance with a nurse inspires him to go back to France to protect her younger brother, who is embroiled in the third battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele.

TIFF traditionally opens with a high-profile Canadian film. Last year Jeremy Podeswa took the coveted spot with his FUGITIVE PIECES. Gross' PASSCHENDAELE will make it two historical drama in a row. Beth had pegged this film as the festival closer, with Egoyan's ADORATION as a possible opener. This is the first announcement for this year's festival which runs September 4 - 13. The official website for this year's festival will go live on June 27th. Thanks to Cinematical for the tip!

BLINDNESS Still Coming to Cannes?

After posting the announcement about the Cannes Film Festival line-up the other day, there has been some speculation among Chlotrudis members about the absence of Fernando Meirelles' BLINDNESS. There's been a lot of talk about BLINDNESS on Mewsings (here, here and here), largely because of Chlotrudis Advisory Board member Don McKellar adapting the screenplay from Jose Saramago's novel, and the general thought was that it would premiere at Cannes. Then the line-up was announced, and no BLINDNESS! While we would love to see the film premiere at Toronto in September (mainly because many of us would be there) we were left wondering why it wasn't at Cannes.

Well apparently others were wondering the same thing, and the Hollywood Reporter has a piece about that very subject. Basically, they suggest that there are still announcements to be made about the Cannes line-up, and any speculation on there absence of BLINDNESS are still premature. So while it would be great for us to see the premiere of BLINDNESS at TIFF, it would be pretty cool for both McKellar and Egoyan to strut the red carpet at Cannes.

Movies in Miami

Scot, Bruce and I are fortunate enough to be in Miami for the Miami International Film Festival. The weather is gorgeous, the movies have been pretty interesting; some hite, some misses, and the company has been delightful. The Festival itself is well-attended, which is great, but unfortunately it's pretty disorganized. I'm not sure if that's the norm, or unique for this year. It's rather surprising considering the festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. You'd think by now they'd have it down.

At any rate, between the beach, the restaurants and the movies, there has been surprisingly little time to do much blogging, but I am going to try and at least review my films here over the next few days. I'd also like to mention seeing Patricia Clarkson and Chris Cooper at a Q&A for their film MARRIED LIFE. Believe me, if I could have chatted with Ms. Clarkson personally, I would have extended that Chlotrudis Awards Ceremony invitation! No such luck.

More soon. That's a picture of Scot on South Beach taken last Friday, by the way.

My Favorite Films in 2007

Okay, it’s taken me a little longer than I’d planned to get this Top 10 together, but here it is. As usual, I couldn’t stop at just 10, and my list expanded to 15 top films of the year. I also created a Top 10 Festival films that have yet to receive theatrical release.

Top Films of 2007 (with theatrical distribution)

  1. PROTAGONIST (Jessica Yu) – Jessica Yu’s documentary is compelling, intelligent, layered, funny, suspenseful… all the things a great movie should be. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever had a documentary as my favorite film of the year, but that just tells you how impressed I am by this film.
  2. LINDA LINDA LINDA (Nobuhiro Yamashita) – As far as sheer crowd-pleasers go, LINDA LINDA LINDA tops the list. Japanese high school girls in a power-pop, rock ‘n roll band, led by the comic genius of Du-na Bae. And one of the most infectious songs in a movie ever. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
  3. AWAY FROM HER (Sarah Polley) – Sarah Polley’s feature directorial debut is a masterful look at Alzheimer’s disease, crowned by an elegant performance by Julie Christie. Add to that the outstanding support from Gordon Pinsent, the grossly underrated and amazingly talented Kristen Thompson and source material in the form of an Alice Munro short story, and you’ve got a winner.
  4. LARS & THE REAL GIRL (Craig Gillespie) – A quirky town comes together in support of one of their emotionally troubled citizens in this melancholy, sweet, and hysterical film. Ryan Gosling completely overcomes my personal bias against him and wins me over completely. Support work from Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, and especially Patricia Clarkson is like the best cream cheese icing on the moist, delicious cake.
  5. JUNO (Ivan Reitman) – Sure, it has crossed over and is raking in the dough. Sure, some people say it’s not truly an indie, but a powerhouse backed by an astronomical marketing budget. JUNO is a great film. Diablo Cody has written a strong, funny screenplay, and the preternaturally talented Ellen Page brings Juno to beautifully sublime life. I’m not sure anyone else could have taken Juno and imbued her with the depth and complexity that Ellen Page brings in such a subtle and gorgeous way.
  6. THE WAYWARD CLOUD (Tsai Ming-Liang) – In this sort-of sequel to Tsai Ming-liang’s masterpiece, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? we see two emotionally distant, isolated people tentatively find each other only to be confronted with a climax that will either tear them hopeless apart, or perhaps cement their relationship. All that, and it’s a musical too!
  7. WAITRESS (Adrienne Shelly) – Adrienne Shelly comes into her own as a director with this sadly sweet portrait of a young woman trapped in a dead-end relationship, and now facing an unwanted pregnancy. Shelly imbues her screenplay with humor and a gravity that keeps the sweetness from becoming too cloying.
  8. I’M NOT THERE (Todd Haynes) – Todd Haynes’ sprawling pseudo-biopic of Bob Dylan is not perfect, but it’s so exciting in its audaciousness that I am compelled to include it on my year-end list. Six different actors portray different aspects of Dylan’s personae to form a fascinating mosaic of the sphinx-like celebrity. Ambitious and largely successful.
  9. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson) – Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, left me with giddy with excitement for hours… even days after seeing it. This portrait of a man obsessed, played with perfect, over-the-top bravura by Daniel Day-Lewis is so flat-out weird, it almost feels like a trick that the critics are all praising it and urging mainstream audiences to go take a look. And it has spawned a cultural quote which, taken out of context, is just insane, “I drink your milkshake!”
  10. MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (Noah Baumbach) – I wasn’t a terribly huge fan of Noah Baumbach’s THE SQUID & THE WHALE, but something about this intensely introspective study of a pair of dysfunctional sisters clicked with me. And I love seeing Nicole Kidman in great movies. She needs to find more of them. Or maybe I just included it to irritate Hilary.
  11. THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS (Isabel Coixet) – Sarah Polley showed her directorial skills, but I always thrill to see her well-documented acting ability, and Isable Coixet’s THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS gives her plenty of opportunity to strut her stuff. Despite the severe dialogue misstep in the penultimate scene of the movie, every other aspect works to perfection. And it’s a wonder of story-telling and acting when 7/8 of the way into the film, Polley performs a lengthy monologue that completely changes the tone of the film and drives it through your heart.
  12. THE BUBBLE (Eytan Fox) – Eytan Fox is an intriguing filmmaker, whose work I always love but doesn’t quite translate to a masterpiece. THE BUBBLE is certainly his closest yet, about three young friends living in Tel Aviv and how even in their bubble of apolitical life, the political conflicts around them intrude. A beautiful look at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the way a new generation views it.
  13. I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE (Tsai Ming-Liang) – Tsai Ming-Liang is the master of telling stories about isolated people using images and very few words. I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE is gorgeous in its simplicity. The subtle touches of humor accent the somber stories almost to the point of absurdity, and this audacious mix rewards viewers every time.
  14. GRBAVICA: THE LAND OF MY DREAMS (Jasmila Zbanic) – In a fashion more straight-forward but no less powerful, Zbanic covers similar ground to Coixet in THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS. The horror endured by thousands during the Balkan Wars is easy to overlook or forget globally, but daring filmmakers such as these two amazing women won’t let these historical facts fade into obscurity. By focusing on a fractured mother-daughter relationship, Zbanic shows the aftermath of this war and how it affects survivors in the most personal of ways.
  15. THE KIING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (Seth Gordon) – In what is surely the most entertaining film of the year, Seth Gordon explores a sub-culture of video gamers that is filled with stereotypes, both reinforced and smashed. There’s good, there’s evil, and there’s a titanic conflict of epic proportions in this intensely enjoyable documentary.

Other films that almost made the top list, but I couldn't squeeze them on: ONCE, BRAND UPON THE BRAIN, RED ROAD, DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, EXILED, FAY GRIM, and STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING.

Best Festival Films of 2007 (not yet released theatrically in the U.S.)

  1. THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS (Bruce McDonald) – If Ellen Page grounded the sitcom antics in JUNO, she unites the visually hyperactive, fragmented mosaic that is THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS lifting it to dramatic heights. What’s it like to be literally in the mind of a troubled young adolescent? Bruce McDonald and Ellen Page give us a peek in a film that blends visual and aural over-stimulation in a way that reminded me of a cross between LILYA 4-EVER and PI.
  2. JELLYFISH (Shira Geffen; Etgar Keret) – In one of the most masterful uses of magical realism and whimsy in film, this Israeli import looks at disappointment is a way that is powerfully moving and contemporary using a variety of unique storylines to tell a coherent tale. Chlotrudis co-presented this film at the BJFF after several of us saw it in Toronto. I can’t wait for everyone to have a chance to see it when it is released Stateside this spring.
  3. MONKEY WARFARE (Reg Harkema) – Bitingly humorous, and surprisingly moving, MONKEY WARFARE is grounded by the performances of its two talented leads: Don McKellar and Tracy Wright. Add to the mix a fresh performance by Nadia Litz, and Harkema’s terrifically spot-on screenplay, and you’ve got all the workings for a unique and entertaining film.
  4. MY WINNIPEG – All of Guy Maddin’s considerable talents come together in this faux documentary of the city of Winnipeg, that is actually something of a memoir of Maddin himself. MY WINNIPEG successfully combines Maddin’s fantastical visuals with his offbeat humor to create a piece of work that Chlotrudis will be proud to co-present at this April’s IFFB (hopefully along with THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS).
  5. THE VISITOR (Thomas McCarthy) – McCarthy follows-up the Chlotrudis success of THE STATION AGENT, with a film that elegantly examines the politically-charged topic of illegal immigration in a way that focuses on the personal and familial relationships that suffer as a result of deportation. Richard Jenkins is phenomenal as the understated lead, and Hiam Abbass, so divine in so many international films is a wonder in a rare American production.
  6. A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE (Nobuhiro Yamashita) – In a series of episodic tales, this gently beautiful adaptation of a popular Japanese manga focuses on a small group of school-age children living in a tiny village. With an innocence rarely seen in contemporary society, GENTLE BREEZE will take you away on a soothing zephyr to a land that may seem hopelessly imaginary, yet somehow manages to exist.
  7. BREAKFAST WITH SCOT (Laurie Lynd) – This Canadian adaptation of a young adult novel explores family dynamics when the family in question has two dads and an unexpected child. This sweetly funny film manages to avoid most film clichés even while it uses them to tell a story that reaches beyond sexuality to appeal to any film viewer.
  8. BRICK LANE (Sarah Gavron) – Talented filmmaker Sarah Gavron offers up her first feature narrative with such a command of film language that you might be tempted to think she’s been at this for a long time. If there is a drawback in this adaptation of an internationally best-selling novel, it’s that the screenplay doesn’t take more chances, but Gavron certainly does, focusing in on the heart of the story of a family of Indian immigrants struggling to make their lives in England.
  9. HELP ME EROS (Lee Kang-sheng) Tsai Ming-liang’s perpetual leading man, Lee Kang-sheng, is not only an accomplished actor, but a talented filmmaker as well. Lee wrote and directed HELP ME EROS, a powerful portrait of a man calling out for help as he spirals out of control, indulging in heavy marijuana smoking and sexual antics after losing his fortune in a bad stock market decision. Like his mentor, Lee mines the territory of alienation with masterful assurance, and gives us a cinematic conclusion that will take your breath away.
  10. PLOY (Pen-ek Ratanaruang) – This follow-up to the magnificent LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE explores many similar themes and employs a more subtle dreamlike quality that serves to both confuse and tantalize the viewer. With the principal characters suffering from jet lag, the introduction of the adolescent Ploy into their lives causes major seismic shifts that have either startling effects on their lives, or at the very least, their dreams.

Other festival films worth looking for upon release: PING PONG PLAYA’; AN AMERICAN CRIME; AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL

DUCK SEASON Director in Berlin

I was just thinking about DUCK SEASON, a multiple Chlotrudis nominee from last year, and its director Fernando Eimbcke. It's exactly the type of film I love to see receiving a Chlotrudis nomination, much less several. DUCK SEASON scored nods in the Best Movie, Director, Supporting Actor and Ensemble Cast categories, and I bet 99% of the U.S. population has never heard of it.

Well Chlotrudis members and fans of the film, filmmaker Fernando Eimbcke has a new film and it screened this week at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival. Called LAKE TAHOE, GreenCine Daily has a review.

An Overdose of Scheduling

In just over a week, a bevy of Chlotrudis members will cross the northern border and arrive eager to spend the better part of their days in dark movie theatres at the Toronto International Film Festival. As anyone anticipating a trip to the festival knows, the complete schedule was posted yesterday so many of us have been spending a lot of time working on excel spreadsheets tweaking schedules and prioritizing films. It's a massive undertaking with well over 300 films to chose from. Now while my friends Bruce and Beth are well ahead of me with scheduling, I have spent a little time on my own film selection, so I thought I'd share with you in no particular order a handful of films I am excited about and hope to see during the festival.

PING PONG PLAYA' directed by Jessica Yu - With Yu's documentary PROTAGONIST as one of my top docs seen this year, I am very excited to catch her first feature narrative about a young Chinese-American man with dreams of becoming a basketball star. The problems is, he's not very good. Instead he finds himself taking over for his mother to teach ping pong lessons after she is injured in a car accident. Despite his lack of interest in ping pong, our hero finds himself giving his best effort in an important championship game to win the attention of a girl he admires.

THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS directed by Bruce McDonald - TIFF is always flush with new Canadian films, something this movie buff always enjoys, and this year is no exception. Chlotrudis Award winner Ellen Page is featured in a trifecta of features this year, and THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS is the one I am most excited about. Visually experimental, McDonald's latest film tells the story of Tracey, a young social outcast who leaves her small town for the big city in search of her younger brother. Penniless and along, Tracey encounters a series of outsiders while always one step behind her target.

UNE VIELLE MAÎTRESSE directed by Catherine Breillat - I'm always up for a new film by the controversial Catherine Breillat, who received Chlotrudis attention with for her divisive film FAT GIRL. After suffering from a near-fatal stroke, Breillat returns with a movie that while less in-your-face than some of her earlier work, still deals with her perennial topics of women and sex. UNE VIELLE MAÎTRESSE concerns the attempts of sexual libertine Vellini to interrupt the plans of her dissolute young lover, Ryno de Marigny, to marry the virtuous gem of the French aristocracy, Hermangarde.

BRICK LANE directed by Sarah Gavron - On the strength of a single film, the made for British television work, THIS LITTLE LIFE, filmmaker Gavron received a Chlotrudis spotlight. I am very eager to see her first feature narrative based on one of the most celebrated British novels in years, that opened a window on a community that lives in plain sight but is seldom understood by outsiders. Growing up in the idyllic setting of Bangladesh, Nazneen is married off to a man she has never met and flown to London’s Brick Lane neighbourhood to meet her new husband after her mother commits suicide. Nazneen must struggle to find her own autonomy with a man she does not love, but when the attractive young Karim enters the picture, things get complicated.

JUST LIKE HOME directed by Lone Scherfig - Danish filmmaker Scherfig is off to a strong start. She wowed us with her debut narrative, ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS, and proved her talent with her follow-up, WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF. Now with her third film, Scherfig displays her talent for angst-ridden comedy is at its sharpest. A man running naked through the steets of a small Danish town sets off a chain of events that uproot the natural repression and politesse of its inhabitants. As the townsfolk attempt to find a solution to this sudden decay of morals in their community, Scherfig focuses a harsh lens on this insular society’s collective neuroses.

HELP ME EROS directed by Lee Kang Sheng - TIFF is always packed with new films from Asia, and I'm very excited about this Taiwanese entry from Lee Kang Sheng, best known for his leading roles in all of the films of Tsai Ming Liang. In his second directorial effort, Lee shares a personal reflection on Taiwanese society. In this tale of loneliness and dissatisfaction with consumer culture the successful Ah Jie loses all his money on the stock market and turns to pot for comfort. Although he makes a connection with Chyi, a volunteer hotline counsellor, he engages in an easy but unsatisfying sexual relationship with local vendor Shin. Lee explores excess and poverty, both in terms of consumerism and spiritual sustenance.

I'll be back with some more of my selections in the next day or two. I haven't even mentioned any of the terrific-sounding documentaries screening at the festival. I will also return with some tips for TIFF newbies to make sure you don't miss any of the films you want to see!

Kurt Cobain Doc Clip Available Online

I'm sure you all remember that Chlotrudis Advisory Board member, A.J. Schnack, has a new movie out called KURT COBAIN: ABOUT A SON. The film has been on the festival circuit, most recently, and closest to home at the Newport International Film Festival. For those Chlotrudis members who haven't had the opportunity to see the film yet, you can see a clip on YouTube. Hopefully we'll get to see the film on the big screen here in Boston sometime in the future. I had been hoping for a screening at the Provincetown International Film Festival, which I leave for tomorrow, but no such luck.

Independent Film Festival of Boston Announces Its Line-Up

With the kick-off just over a month away, the Independent Film Festival of Boston has announced the impressive line-up for its 5th Annual Festival. I'm truly looking forward to MONKEY WARFARE, Reg Harkema's look at aging hipsters in Toronto that stars recent Chlotrudis guests Don McKellar and Tracy Wright. In a similar Canadian vein, I can't wait to check out Sarah Polley's feature narrative directorial debut, AWAY FROM HER. Hal Hartley is back with FAY GRIM, a sequel of sorts to HENRY FOOL. As has been the case in the past, the IFFB offers an outstanding batch of documentaries as well, with PROTAGONIST leading the pack for me... that's Jessica Yu's follow up to Chlotrudis nominee IN THE REALM OF THE UNREAL. Go check out the list!

McDonald and Page Score in Berlin

Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald's latest film THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS scored a distribution deal at the Berlin Film Festival this week. This experimental film stars busy Chlotrudis-winner Ellen Page, who is nominated this year for her compelling performance in HARD CANDY. To tell his story of a girl struggling with puberty, McDonald takes the film title literally by using fragments of images, often many at a time, to visually represent what Tracey is experiencing. McDonald film work has been little seen in America (HIGHWAY 61, DANCE ME OUTSIDE, HARD CORE LOGO, PICTURE CLAIRE), but Chlotrudis members will definitely know him for some of his television work ("Twitch City," "DeGrassi: the Next Generation," "Queer as Folk").

THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS has been picked up by Canada's Odeon Films for distribution in Canada and Germany. Here's hoping it makes an appearance south of the border. With Page getting some attention with HARD CANDY, and the recent Sundance premiere of AN AMERICAN CRIME, in which she co-stars with Catherine Keener, perhaps THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS has a chance of getting U.S. distribution. THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS is based on a novel by Maureen Medved who also wrote the screenplay.