Read Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' first report from the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival here.
In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea) This highly enjoyable Éric Rohmer-esque vehicle for Isabelle Huppert continues Hong's tradition as being the Korean Woody Allen by making a highly personal comedies. Huppert is masterful bouncing in and out of each random-yet-interconnected sequence, but Yu Jun-sang steals the show as the local lifeguard who hilariously channels Roberto Benigni (circa Jim Jarmusch's 1986 Down By Law). It's one of the funniest comic performances of 2012.
Passion (Brian De Palma, Germany/France) Brian De Palma is back, and primed for those of us who love the way he remixes his favorite Alfred Hitchcock movies (see: 1976's Obsession, 1980's Dressed To Kill, 1984's Body Double, and 2002's Femme Fatale). This time, though, De Palma remakes a French thriller: Alain Corneau's 2010 Love Crime. It begins with a whiter-than-Wonder Bread color scheme and structurally devolves into something much more sinister combined with a crisp HD cinematography by Jose Luis Alcain (of Pedro Almodovar fame.)
De Palma said in the press that he really wanted someone who "understood how to make a woman look beautiful" — and by gawd, leads Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace not only look flawless but deliver deliciously diabolical performances. Passion also boasts what has to be one of De Palma's most exciting conclusions. As soon as it was over, I wanted to watch it again! Who says De Palma peaked with Scarface (1983)?!
Gangs of Wasseypur (Anurag Kashyap, India) Only 10 critics (yes, I counted) at the festival completed both parts of Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur, which runs five hours and 15 minutes long. But I feel those of us who did are bonded together forever.
This historical Hindi gang epic, which begins in 1941 ends in the present day, is massive film that transcends generations and should make Ram Gopal Varma (of Sarkar films fame, clearly an inspiration here) proud. Director Anurag Kashyap pays attention to the details: wonderfully changing fashion and hair styles, ever-evolving movie posters on the alley walls. Not only is Gangs a tribute to the history of Hindi cinema, it establishs quite brilliantly where and what time period the characters are in — and during a five and half hour movie, you need all the help you can get.
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, US) This extremely hyped Harmony Korine dream project does exactly what you could ever fantasize about by delivering a T&A-filled exploitation film, led by James Franco as a grimy, gold-grilled-grinning, dreadlocked drug dealer who lives to prey on bikini-clad young girls (which is perfectly punctuated by the brilliant casting of Disney darling Selena Gomez.)
Spring Breakers is poised to become Korine's most popular film to date, but its commercial appeal will likely overshadow perhaps his greatest film: Lotus Community Workshop, which played the San Francisco International Film Festival earlier this year and features a legendary performance by the almighty Val Kilmer! Don't miss either of these soon-to-be contemporary cult classics.
Aftershock (Eli Roth and Nicolas Lopez, US) Eli Roth and Nicolas Lopez's earthquake horror flick Aftershock is a gleefully mean-spirited grindhouse thriller that sends a group of annoying American tourists (led by Roth himself, as the dorkiest douchebag of the year) into earthquake-ridden Santiago, Chile. Throw in every tried and true obstacle from 70s genre flicks such as Mark Robson's Earthquake (1974) and Wes Craven's Last House on the Left (1972) and you've got either one helluva hilarious tongue-in-cheek horror roughie, or, as some critics leaving the press screening were saying: "One of the worst films of the year. It definitely should go straight-to-streaming."
Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan, Canada) Winner of the Best Canadian Feature at this year's fest, Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways is yet another OCD, gorgeously-designed love story; it fits perfectly alongside his extremely personal I Killed My Mother (2009) and his devastatingly spot-on hipster classic Heartbeats (2010).
Once again, Dolan's characters are allowed to feel obsessive about one another while encased in jaw-dropping mises en scène. Some critics seem to take issue with this 24-year-old's influences (Wong Kar-wai, Pedro Almodovar), which led many reviews suggesting that Dolan needs to hire an editor (Laurence Anyways clocks in at two hours and 41 minutes).
But I would argue that this epic, gender-bending love story needs to take its time to do what no other film has ever done right. By humanizing not only Laurence, the transgendered lead character (epically performed by Raúl Ruiz's ingenue, Melvil Poupaud), but also his life-long lover Fred, performed with an Elizabeth Taylor-esque guttural passion by Suzanne Clément, who won the Best Actress prize in this year's Cannes Film Festival's sidebar competition, Un Certain Regard.
For those willing to give in to a decade's worth (1989-1999) of hypnotic set and costume designs, cryptic character development, a crew of campy castaways, and a killer soundtrack ranging from Visage to Celine Dion, Laurence Anyways should elevate Dolan from Canada's best kept-secret to being an integral leader of a post-gender film movement that is just about to explode.
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks is the Film History Coordinator at the Academy of Art University and hosts Midnites for Maniacs, a film series devoted to underrated, overlooked, and dismissed cinema.