Manchester By The Sea (USA)
One of my most anticipated films of the festival, it feels like a lot of the best actor award buzz is around Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (who impressed critics with his other two films Margaret and You Can Count On Me), Lonergan tells the story of a man named Lee, who is living a shell of a life. He lives in a small basement room and works as a custodian in an apartment when he’s contacted about the death of his brother. Returning to his hometown to make the arrangements for the funeral, he must also figure out the custody situation of his teenage nephew and unwillingly confront his past.
Have no doubt, this film is a near perfect film. Lonergan is able to give a myriad of emotions through this film, both being able to make you laugh and to pull all the tears out of you. There’s a piece of Affleck’s character, Lee, that I really connected to but what’s really phenomenal about is that it feels so real that, at times, it’s almost unbearable. Casey isn’t the only one who turns in an Oscar-worthy performance, as Michelle Williams shows again why she is one of the best dramatic actresses on the planet and young actor Lucas Hedges is brilliant. This is a must see for the year. 5/5
A Quiet Passion (UK/Belgium)
After not enjoying Terrence Davie’s previous film this year, Sunset Song, a film that got great reviews elsewhere, I decided to give his new film, A Quiet Passion, a chance. A straightforward biopic about poet Emily Dickinson, the film stars Cynthia Nixon in the main role with veteran actor Keith Carradine as her father and under appreciated actress Jennifer Ehle as her sister. The film starts with Emily and her brother and sister in their teen years to establish her contempt for the church and women’s roles before quickly moving to her adult years after realizing her dream of becoming a poet. The film then continues into Dickinson’s fight against the status quo for women, the obsessions others have endured to find a “suitable mate” and the constant need for religious affirmation.
For the second year in a row, Cynthia Nixon delivers a commanding performance, after last year’s supporting work in James White as the titular character’s cancer-ridden mother. Nixon’s portrayal of Dickinson is bold and unflinching, showing she is far more than a former player on Sex And The City. This film starts off a bit bumpy and stiff, with the characters reading like a stage play but once the veteran actors come into play, the dialogue levels out and the film feels far less stilted. Davies command of the camera and use of the frame is just as gorgeous as it was in Sunset Song, a piece of that film I enjoyed, but the story is what keeps you engaged for the two-hour duration of A Quiet Passion. 4/5
The Love Witch (USA)
I can’t attest to this happening every year but at least last festival had a film that left me scratching my head and going “huh?” and that movie was Aaaaaaaah!, a British film that is too insane to even recommend to anyone. This year’s film that finds itself in that category for me is The Love Witch, a 1970s style sexploitation film that is one of the most baffling films I’ve seen. The film follows Elaine, a woman heading to a new town from San Francisco after the end of her marriage and the subsequent death of her ex-husband, something she most likely caused. The truth is, Elaine is a love witch who manipulates men with her ritual given powers and potions to fall in love with her. The fallout of this is the men eventually, or quickly depending on the subject, go insane out of wanton love for her and end up dying. This puts her in the crosshairs of a local detective, who may be another potential victim for Elaine.
This movie, unintentional or not, comes off as completely hilarious. All of those same tropes from exploitation movies exist in it, like bad cuts, frequent fast zooms, blatantly bad acting and, of course, many instances of gratuitous nudity. As fun as the movie tries to be, it has many failings that make it less than something to appreciate. The film feels like it is far too long and has pieces that are completely unnecessary and, as far as going off the rails, it never feels like it goes to a place that is grandiose enough to warrant using this 70s style filmmaking. That brings up the fact that I don’t think this was supposed to be set in the 1970s, as there are modern cars and even a smartphone used in one scene, yet the filmmaker, Anna Biller, presents this with the sensibilities of that time. I really wanted and even expected more out of The Love Witch, but I was ultimately let down. 1/5
As part of the Vancouver International Film Festival’s spotlight on France, I decided to check out the film, Chocolat. No, not the Johnny Depp film from 2000. This is a biopic about the first ever black circus performer, who delighted audiences in the beginning of the 1900s. Always fighting the battle against ignorance and blatant racism, he and fellow clown George Footit (who was his partner and helped him formulate this career) became a big hit in Paris.
The stars of this film, Omar Sy and James Thierree play very well off each other to make this a very compelling story. Sy seems to have stumbled in his English language films, underutilized in some or just plain bad in others, but he excels here and it’s interesting to note that Thierree is the grandson of the great Charlie Chaplin, and it shows in his portrayal of this famous clown. Beautifully shot and featuring some immaculate production design, Chocolat was definitely a surprise hit for me. 4/5
The Girl With All The Gifts (UK)
A pleasant surprise at the festival was to see this film from the UK, The Girl With All The Gifts, a zombie horror film. Based on the book of the same name, the story takes place in a post-event London where the world has been overrun by a fungus that turns people into zombie-like creatures called “hungrys”. Deep within a military base, a group of infected children are taught and experimented on as they are the only ones that are able to communicate and articulate, thought to be part of unlocking the infection by the project’s head, played by Glenn Close. At the center of this experiment is Melanie, an infected child that may have the most humanity of any of them and could be the key to unlocking a cure.
This film was, without a doubt, the most awesome and thrilling film of the festival. An original and completely fresh take on the genre, The Girl With All The Gifts is a movie I felt an immediate liking to, both with it’s cast featuring Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine and the direction and cinematography from helmer Colm McCarthy and Simon Dennis (usually known for his work with London East end filmmaker Nick Love). This story delves into an interesting but unexplored aspect of the zombie film that is immediately compelling, the effects on the children. This has the potential to be a big hit when it gets a full North American release next year. 5/5