That’s right everybody, that special time of the year is here. The only Toronto International Film Festival Awards that my mother cares about. It’s time for me, your humble CGM movie nerd to justify my heartbreaking absence from this site over the past two weeks with a cavalcade of semi-serious awards that prove I was, in fact, filling my eyeballs with TIFF goodness for an endless stream of hours. As usual, the festival was a wild ride of sleep deprivation, over caffeinated, good flicks, unwatchable garbage, and more movie stars than the eyes can see.
Whether you were down in the trenches TIFF-ing it up with me or not, I hope that this collection of statue-free film awards (the winners get nothing but the honour of having pleased me) will help summarize those 10 days of cinema-overload in a somewhat witty manner. Unlike most awards ceremonies, the big awards obvious awards come first so that the silliest are saved for last. Enjoy.
Best Film: Nightcrawler
Now before you get excited, no there wasn’t secretly an X-Men spin-off film about Nightcrawler at TIFF this year. Nope, this movie was even better. Dan Gilroy (who wrote The Fall, The Bourne Legacy, and others) made his directorial debut with this searing, vicious little media satire that feels ripped from 70s auteur cinema despite an up-to-the-second contemporary setting. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a dead-eyed sociopath who stumbles into a job (via Bill Paxton, who automatically makes any movie better) as a freelance videographer who sells grisly crime scene footage to local news stations. From the start, the job is wasteland of morality and ethics, but Gyllenhaal’s relentless pursuit of fame and fortune somehow manages to make things even worse. Gilroy’s bitter little pill of a film offers harsh laughs that hurt and some genuinely thrilling sequences as he rips apart the contemporary state of journalism. It’s a brilliant, entertaining, hilarious, and exquisitely acted little movie that I urge everyone to rush out and see. Nightcrawler will be one of the best films of this year, even though it’s likely too darkly uncompromising to ever be a major Oscar winner (that’s a good thing).
Best Actor: Dan Stevens (The Guest)
When Adam Wingard’s brilliant The Guest hits screens next week, I’ll wax on endlessly about its awesomeness. For now, I’d just like to highlight Dan Stevens’ brilliant performance at the center of this weirdo horror/thriller/action movie. Stevens plays an incredibly tricky role that requires him to alternate from wide-eyed innocent to hilarious goofball and ultimately a terrifying killing machine without ever drifting from an all American smile. That might sound one note in theory, but Stevens’ manages to get such range out of a single expression that he delivers easily one of the most amusing and impressive performances at the center of a genre movie in years. There are many reasons why you’ll want to see The Guest next week, but Stevens’ performance is probably the best.
Best Actress: Macarena Gómez (Shrew’s Nest)
The Spanish horror flick Shrew’s Nest tells the tale of terrifyingly agoraphobic woman who is so scared of leaving her apartment that she’s willing to kidnap and trap people inside there with her. Well, the movie is a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the roughest possible outline for this wonderful Misery-esque horror flick. Now, to make a Misery-style movie, you need an actress with the creep out factor of a vintage Kathy Bates to pull it off. Thankfully, Macarena Gómez (who you might know from Stuart Gordon’s excellent Dagon) was more than up to the task. Frail on first glance, but with the power to overwhelm a grown man and enough psychological baggage to choke four Freuds and an elephant, Gomez’s character is the life blood of this creepy little indie and her performance carries it with ease. It’s hard to say when or if Shrew’s Nest will receive a North American release, but if you have a chance to see it, check it out for Gómez’s remarkably frail monster alone. It’s easily one of the best performances in a horror film in recent years.
Geeky Movie That I Swear To God Did Not Make Me Cry, There Was Something In My Eye: The Theory Of Everything
James Marsh’s Oscar-bait Stephen Hocking bio-pic The Theory Of Everything might come loaded with cheese and pandering, but it also works damn well. There are a few reasons why. First, Marsh is an incredibly talented director (see Man On Wire for more) with a beautiful sense of visual storytelling to carry the movie over its rough patches. Second, Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Hawking is heartbreakingly truthful and damn impressive. And finally, the Stephen Hawking story of a remarkable man whose brain was unlocking untapped secrets to the universe while his body collapsed is just plain gut-wrenching. The Theory Of Everything is a deeply moving movie, but I swear it didn’t make me cry. I was just very emotional that day for other reasons and…oh boy…sniff, sniff…excuse me for a moment.
Best Comeback: Takashi Miike (Over Your Dead Body)
Ok, so I’ll admit that it’s a bit weird to give a comeback award to a director who makes at least 2-3 movies a year every year, but hang on a second and I’ll explain. Takashi Miike may never have stopped making blood-soaked movies, but he hadn’t delivered a horror movie in years. Given that this was the only director from the Masters Of Horror series whose episode was banned from unrated cable broadcast, that was simply unacceptable. Thankfully, he returned this year with Over Your Dead Body. The film is about a theatre company staging a classic Japanese haunted revenge play, only for their lives backstage to seemingly become possessed by the supernatural shenanigans that they were living out onstage. Like Miike’s most famous effort Audition, this movie takes it’s time and even borders on tedious before delivering 30 of the sickest minutes I experienced in the entire film festival before the credits rolled. Welcome back Miike. No director makes me nauseous quite like you.
The Near Miss Award: Spring
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Spring was a tough movie for me to judge. It was certainly unlike anything that I had ever seen before, combing the rambling philosophical-conversations-as-flirting style of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset series with some genuinely creepy Lovecraftian body horror. There were times when the combination was brilliant and other times when it was frustrating. If nothing else, it’s the only horror movie I’ve ever seen that could be described as wistful, so I guess that’s an accomplishment. I’m still not sure if I liked the film or not, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, so that’s certainly worth something. One of the toughest parts of a film festival is only being able to make rash judgments on anything that you watch since you’re running between up to five movies a day. I need to see Spring again before deciding whether it’s a genre-bending mini-masterpiece or a failed experiment. For now, it’s a near miss, but one that I would encourage anyone to watch.
Creepiest Non-Horror Film: Foxcatcher
I normally try to limit my CGM TIFF coverage to movies that qualify as genre entertainment, but every now and then something comes along that deserves mention despite its refusal to fall comfortably within one of our beloved genres. This year, that movie is Foxcatcher, which was creepier than most of the horror films I saw during the fest despite being a drama. It’s a true story about a fairly insane billionaire who became so obsessed with a pair of gold-medal Olympic wrestlers that he paid for them to come train on his compound full time. His relationship with them was bizarre to say the least and he demanded to be called their coach despite doing nothing but glaring at their greasy bodies in action (even commissioning documentaries about his incredible coaching talents for no real purpose). Eventually, he murdered one of them. Director Bennett Miller shoots the film in an unsettlingly austere manner that gradually builds up a sense of dread with bursts of unexpected dark comedy, madness, and eventually violence. It’s a rather wonderful and nasty little drama, featuring frankly amazing performances from Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as wrestling brothers and Steve Carell (yes, that Steve Carell) as the creepily quiet John du Pont. A must see, if only because it’s one of the weirdest Oscar bait movies ever made.
Best Feature Length In-Joke: The Editor
The lovable Manitoba skallywags from the filmmaking collective Astron-6 have been cranking out hilariously campy trash movie revivals for a few years now. However, as fun as both Father’s Day and Manborg were, nothing they’ve done to date compares to The Editor. The film is a pitch perfect parody of the Italian giallo genre (Deep Red, Bay Of Blood, Blood And Black Lace, Inferno, Pieces, Tenebre, and basically anything else made in Italy from the 60s to the 90s with a black-gloved killer). If you know those movies well, The Editor is a cripplingly funny send up of all of the relentless gore, nonsensical plotting, horrible dubbing, terrible acting, reckless misogyny, bad mustaches, beautiful cinematography, and catchy prog-rock music of the classic Italian giallos. It’s a pretty specific in-joke, but a glorious one for hardcore giallo fanboys like myself. If you’ve never seen one of the many movies that the folks behind The Editor are mocking, I’m sure it’s still hilarious (you don’t need to have seen Dolemite to find Black Dynamite funny either). However, if you have done the required reading, The Editor will be one of the funniest damn movies you’ve ever seen. These guys nailed it and god bless their filthy little minds for it.
The Kevin Smith Award For Most Kevin Smithness: Tusk
Kevin Smith may have shifted genres recently, but the man, podcaster, and filmmaker remains Kevin Smith no matter what. His latest film Tusk is a disgusting slice of body horror about a man involuntarily turned into a walrus. It’s a departure in many ways, if only because it’s so visually explicit. Yet at the same time, it’s undeniably a Kevin Smith movie filled with in-jokes, hefty monologues, and more references to Canada than the entire Canadian TIFF program put together. Tusk is a Kevin Smith film through-and-through and a pretty damn great one if you’re a fan of the filmmaker. The more he changes, the more he stays the same and that’s not at all a bad thing. Hell, I just named an award after him for godssakes.
The WTF Award: The Cobbler
Every year I give out a WTF Award to the most twisted movie that melts my brain. Generally speaking, that’s supposed to be a good thing. This year, I’m taking another route and bestowing the honor on the awful film The Cobbler. On paper, it’s a typical Adam Sandler comedy in which he plays an Adam Sandler-like character who finds a sewing machine that makes magic shoes that allow him to transform into any shoe’s owner while he’s wearing them. Sounds like the stuff of classic dumb Adam Sandler comedies, right? The difference is that Sandler got earnest indie director Tom McCarthy to write/direct the film. McCarthy typically makes very small, quiet, and sensitive dramas about little people with little problems like The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win. So, he brings that same subdued sense of drama and sensitive realism to a stupid Adam Sandler movie about magic shoes. It’s difficult to even begin describing how the movie goes so wrong. This thing is just nuts, desperately trying to present a slapstick premise as earnest drama. It’s a horrible film and yet I kind of recommend seeing it anyways, if only to try and figure out what the hell anyone involved with the production could possibly have been thinking.
Best Cameo: Jerry Seinfeld (Top Five)
Chris Rock finally delivered a movie worthy of his prestigious comedic talents this TIFF with Top Five. He wrote, directed, and starred in the damn funny movie tailor-made for his comedic gifts. He also filled the flick with cameos from some of his most famous and funniest friends, leading to one of the biggest highlights of the festival for me. At one point, Rock actually got the squeaky clean Jerry Seinfeld to rain hundred dollar bills onto naked strippers in one of the most un-Seinfeld moments of his career. There are many reasons to see Top Five, but the sequence with Seinfeld in a strip club tops them all. Those 2-3 minutes of screen time are worth the price of admission alone.
Best Bill Murray: St Vincent
Bill Murray starred in St. Vincent in a very Bill Murray-like role. I adore Bill Murray for his lifelong commitment to Bill Murray-osity. Therefore, the man gets this well-deserved award for continuing to be Bill Murray in a world filled with dastardly non-Bill Murray types. Well done, Bill. You earned it, yet again.