28 films in six days: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (part three)
21) Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, UK) Adapting Emily Brontë's novel from 1847 is a perfect project for the stark realist Andrea Arnold. Her previous films Fish Tank (2009) and Red Road (2006) have captured audiences with their brutal honesty and inspired storytelling. With perhaps the most visually poetic atmosphere since Lynne Ramsey and Claire Denis, Arnold manages to emphasize every snowflake in this austere tale of lost love without a single lazy hint of narration. Do not miss this for the world.
22) The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy) Can these Belgian brothers make a bad film? Seriously? Like their Rosetta (1999), The Son (2002), and L'enfant (2005), this is yet another hypnotic neo-realist journey portraying modern-day youth like no other in cinema. Every character makes unexpected and inevitable decisions. No moment is false. The Dardennes create movies that make life feel more real.
23) God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait, USA) Of all the films at Toronto this year, though it may not be as fully realized or neatly trimmed as others, Bobcat Goldthwait's low-budget quickie has the most immediacy. Blending Todd Solondz and Oliver Stone, the fiery God Bless America follows a couple of frustrated and nihilistic characters as they rant and rave their way across the country, incessantly exposing every annoying detail about this past decade. The film takes out everything from American Apparel to American Idol; in the Q&A following the film's midnight screening, Goldthwait shocked audiences when he called out Kevin Smith and referred to Oprah Winfrey as the devil.
Even though Goldthwait's constant, unmuzzled, reactionary explosions may ultimately overstay their welcome by the last act, God Bless America does something unlike any comedy I've seen this year: it cares enough about our country to get mad as hell and not want to take it anymore.
24) Trishna (Michael Winterbottom, UK) Deconstructing the Bollywood genre by simply removing the gloss from the top, Winterbottom has crafted a Thomas Hardy-inspired (yet modern) tale of life in the big city (in this case, Rajasthan). As a young woman (Freida Pinto of 2008's Slumdog Millionaire) attempts to transcend her family's poverty, she meets hip young tourist Jay (Riz Ahmed, 2006's The Road to Guantanamo Bay) who falls for her beauty. What follows is a Robert Bresson-esque tale with spectacularly nuanced acting and editing that has the possibility of leaving you absolutely breathless.
25) Shame (Steve McQueen, UK) Gasps fluttered through the air as Michael Fassbender wandered around his apartment naked in the opening sequence of Steve McQueen's sophomore output (after 2008's Hunger, also with Fassbender). Shame explores the concept that the desire for sex consumes many of our lives; it's a mesmerizing film that plumbs darker depths than anyone in the theater was prepared for. Containing hands-down one of the greatest and bravest roles of the decade (Fassbender took the acting award in Venice) — Shame also features a heart-wrenching Carey Mulligan performance, as Fassbender's seriously self-destructive sister. Bearing the imminent scarlet letter of NC-17 (which most US movie chains won't screen), Shame is still a movie not to be missed.
26) Your Sister's Sister (Lynn Shelton, USA) The sleeper of TIFF 2011, Lynn Shelton's follow-up to her genre-defining bromance Humpday (2009) is a pitch-perfect indie flick. Depressed and confused 30-something Jack (played by Mark Duplass, master of casual awkwardness) heads off to a remote island to figure out his life. The only trouble: his best friend (a mesmerizing Emily Blunt) also has a lesbian sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) who is already there doing her own soul searching. With this contemplative, honest, and hilarious film, Shelton is turning out to be quite a splendid voice for our current generation of progressive pitfallers.
27) Melancholia (Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany) Lars von Trier's infamous press conference at Cannes (in which he compared himself to Hitler among other things) should not dissuade any cinephiles from seeing his evocatively profound latest film. In fact, this sci-fi (by way of John Cassavetes) entry proves that the auteur not only dares to explore panic attack-inducing subject matters (comparing the anxiety towards marrying the wrong person with, say ... the end of the world), but he's able to do it with horrific beauty. As a result, Melancholia might be his most accessible and most traumatizing film to date.
28) We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsey, UK/USA) There are some films that need to be seen more than once. There are are some filmmakers who need to make more than one movie every eight years. Enter Lynne Ramsey. Adapted from Lionel Shriver's book of the same title, Ramsey's epic descent into the difficult relationship between a mother and son doesn't just beautifully weave through the universal moments of familial love and hate (similar to Terrence Malick's 2010 Tree of Life), it teleports you visually without relying on a single shred of narration, explanatory dialogue, or without ever condescending to the audience.
Kevin boasts stunning performances by Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller as the mother and son; what could've been a tossed-off husband role is made hauntingly sweet by the almighty John C. Reilly. Here's hoping the success of this film will insure the kind of industry (and financial) attention that'll allow Ramsey to shorten the gaps between her films. We Need to Talk About Kevin, but more importantly, we need to talk about Lynne Ramsey!
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks teaches full time as the Film History Coordinator at the Academy of Art University; he also curates the film series Midnites for Maniacs, which celebrates dismissed, underrated, and overlooked films.