The Master
Credit: Phil Bray

Nothing else I’ve seen in my time at TIFF approaches the strange power of The Master. Paul Thomas Anderson’s unsettling meditation on the elements that shape a man’s nature is thorny and difficult and towering, with a great, almost frighteningly intense performance by Joaquin Phoenix. It’s yet another striking, consuming work of movie art from one of the most important filmmakers in action today. But I’ll be writing more fully about the movie next week, so hold that thought.

For that matter, nothing else I’ve seen in my time at TIFF approaches the skittery, all-over-the-joint carnival visuals of Cloud Atlas, a ballsy, high-risk attempt to translate David Mitchell’s singular, time-shifting novel of the same name for the screen. The result of this fancy filmmaking dive by Tom Tykwer and siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski is so slippery and all-over-the-place — just keeping track of Tom Hanks’ costumes requires a clicker — that I’d prefer to watch it again before wrestling with it.

In between, there’s so much else to talk about at this year’s TIFF, a festival of such happy/painful muchness that every moment of watching Movie A or Movie B contained within it the frustrating knowledge that one is inevitably missing Movie C or Movie D, unspooling elsewhere at the same time.

Four to talk about:

The Stories We Tell, the newest project (and first documentary) from Canada’s leading art-house star actor/writer/director Sarah Polley, is a fine work of personal cinematic poetry. The stories told here belong to various family and friends of the filmmaker, as they reminisce about Polley’s mother, who died when Sarah was young, taking secrets with her. The daughter makes room for her own conflicted feelings, as well as those of her interview subjects as she probes those mysteries, artfully structuring the piece to accommodate voice-over narration, direct commentary, dramatic re-enactment, and archival footage. Marching strictly to her own tambourine both in the roles she has taken as an actor and in her previous films Away From Her and Take This Waltz, Polly has quietly established her identity as a reigning Canada-centric poetess of cinema.

— David O. Russell throws together mental-illness comedy, football fanaticism, and family dynamics with chutzpah and verve in Silver Linings Playbook, makes a run for it — and wins. Bradley Cooper more or less carries off the role of a a highly fraught, emotionally unstable fellow with a busted marriage, released from a psychiatric facility into the care of his own nutty father (Robert De Niro) and mother (Animal Kingdom‘s Jackie Weaver). Jennifer Lawrence utterly and spectacularly nails the role of a local young woman with a few issues of her own. Jeez, that Lawrence, she’s a powerhouse. And a dish.

— I’d love to see the excellent Chilean political drama No on a double feature with Argo, if only to guarantee greater exposure for Pablo Larrain’s smart, atmospheric corker about the advertising campaign that helped overthrow General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorial regime in 1988. Like Argo, No takes its era seriously, working with the technical specs of the period. Like Argo, too, it handles sophisticated political nuances with great clarity. For an added draw, Gael Garcia Bernal plays the ad guy who comes up with the winning ad concept.

— Meanwhile, with recent history played like a Tommy Hilfiger ad, The Company You Keep is an amusing — I guess that’s the best word — very noble-minded drama about the present, late-middle-aged life of former Sixties radicals. What a time that was! According to this corner-cutting, easy-out, unchallenging drama directed by Robert Redford, that fiery crew grew up to be Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, and Redford himself! Power to the people and looking good! And oh, how they’ve mellowed. Not unlike the Toronto Film Festival in middle age.

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Cloud Atlas
  • Movie
  • 164 minutes