Toronto International Film Festival 2001

The 26th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) took place from September 6 to 16, 2001, including the additional screenings added on the 16th after the horrible events of the 11th disrupted the festival. Of the approximately 255 films overall (excluding short films under 50 minutes), I managed to see 43.

If you're interested in possibly attending the festival some day, see this page.

-- Mike, 9/20/2001

Below are the films I saw in approximate descending order of preference. Note that the quality level seemed fairly high, so I would actually recommend probably all but the bottom 10, although some of the higher rated films wouldn't be right for many viewers.

  1. In the Bedroom (2001):
    To quote my notes from immediately after seeing this difficult but very rewarding drama, “wow! overlong but otherwise hard to say anything bad” (thinking about it since then, it seems that the slow pace may well be deliberate); the acting is all great, and the directing is another high point (one scene comes to mind, but I don't want to spoil any surprises)
  2. Elling (2001):
    This small comedy/drama, which has been compared to King of Hearts, has a wonderful and inventive story with abundant humor and real emotion; the acting is good or possibly great (it can be hard to tell in comedies); highly recommended for everyone; in Norwegian with subtitles
  3. Focus (2001):
    This film, about people discriminated against because they look Jewish, seems particularly applicable after the events of September 11 (this world premiere was roughly 38 hours before that started); the strengths are the acting (especially William H. Macy) and cinematography
  4. Heftig og begeistret (2001, English title: Cool and Crazy):
    This documentary about an all-male choir from a small fishing village in northern Norway is the best I have seen in some time; there are touching emotions when the people open up and plentiful humor as well; the outdoor scenes are photographed beautifully and there is an environmental message during part of the film; this film reminds me of He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' in its feeling; in Norwegian with subtitles
  5. Kissing Jessica Stein (2001):
    This is a very good romantic comedy with some of the best and most fun dialog I have heard in some time, and also very good acting; note that I saw this on September 12, so every time a shot included the World Trade Center (and there were several), there was a small reaction from the audience
  6. Italiensk for begyndere (2000, English title: Italian for Beginners):
    This is the lightest feeling Dogme95 film I have seen, and is definitely a comedy (and lots of fun) even though it has a few somewhat intense scenes; as far as the Dogme95 rules go, it didn't look like it was 4:3 (perhaps just projected wrong), and there was one or two cases where it was hard to accept that the sound rules were followed; in Danish and Italian with subtitles
  7. Who is Cletis Tout? (2001):
    In this screwball comedy Tim Allen plays a hitman who sees everything in terms of old movies, which makes this great fun for movie fans; objectively it probably belongs lower on the list; world premiere although the director and stars were unable to attend due to the airline shutdown
  8. World Traveler (2001):
    The acting is the strong point in this dramatic road film (especially Billy Crudup - this film makes me want to see some of his other films); the script also seems good and there are good flashbacks and dreams; my father adds: “Julianne Moore is on screen for less than half the movie but she gives a sensual, fragile performance that is worth the price of admission”
  9. Silent Partner (2000):
    This great small Australian film was shot in 7 days after about twice that time in rehearsals, for a cost of only about 13.5K Australian dollars (for the shoot itself); the strong points are the amazing acting and excellent script (based on a play); note that the two main characters are stupid and generally losers, which makes the film difficult to watch at times
  10. Når nettene blir lange (2000, English title: Cabin Fever):
    This is a Dogme95 film more or less in the mold of The Celebration but not quite as well written; it was shot in 15 days (after months of on and off rehearsals), on video (up to 5 cameras) in continuous takes of up to 20 minutes, in a 15 square meter cabin (very claustrophobic); in Norwegian with subtitles
  11. Manic (2001):
    This small drama about disturbed teenagers in a mental institution has uniformly good acting not only by the recognizable actors (including Don Cheadle) but also the non-actors that the director met during his research; it felt a little like a more realistic, rawer (shot on video, which was used well), and coed version of Girl, Interrupted
  12. Grey Zone, The (2001):
    This is a difficult film to watch, about Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz who help with the executions in exchange for good living conditions and four months of life; the feeling is very cold and detached, with dialog that seems stilted, but under the circumstances perhaps that would be accurate; the acting is good, and I especially appreciated Daniel Benzali (lead actor in the first season of “Murder One”); in English even though the viewer is supposed to imagine a mix of German, English, and probably other languages
  13. Bank, The (2001):
    This is a fun and very good Australian thriller was written and directed by someone who really dislikes banks; Anthony LaPaglia is especially good in the bad guy role
  14. Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001):
    This drama about happiness and chance is both serious and fun, with intersecting stories and a non-linear timeline; it was apparently written backwards according to the cowriter/director Jill Sprecher; the acting is good (especially Alan Arkin)
  15. Nueve reinas (2000, English title: Nine Queens):
    This caper film is great fun, with all the plot twists and turns you could want, if not more so, and generally good acting; it has been compared to House of Games; in Spanish with subtitles
  16. Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) (2001):
    My only real complaint with this film is that the actors (all Inuit and many non-professional) never seem convincing when they were crying, although perhaps crying varies with culture and this is accurate; the cinematography outdoors is wonderful, as is the music (presumably native or native-inspired); the feel is somehow small yet simultaneously epic, and the almost 3 hour running time passes quickly; in Inuktitut with subtitles
  17. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922, English title: Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror):
    Rating this silent classic in the context of when it was made would place it much higher, while rating only the film itself and ignoring the accompanying Toronto Symphony Orchestra would put it lower; note that the orchestra was conducted by Berndt Heller, who reconstructed the score from the composer's journal
  18. Buffalo Soldiers (2001):
    While the TIFF program compares this film to Apocalypse Now and Dr. Strangelove, I think it is closer to Three Kings; it is lots of fun, although objectively it probably belongs lower on the list; it is strange to see Ed Harris playing a stupid character; world premiere
  19. Safety of Objects, The (2001):
    This suburbia-set drama is uneven, probably too long, and has an incongruously happy ending, but the main story (with Glenn Close) did get to me quite effectively
  20. La Chambre des officiers (2001, English title: Officers' Ward):
    The strong point of French World War I period drama is the excellent story, which has a distinct but indirect anti-war slant; the pace is quite deliberate (read: slow), but that worked for me; the makeup (or possibly special effects) used for the disfiguring injuries must have been quite challenging; in French with subtitles
  21. Hearts in Atlantis (2001):
    With a story by Stephen King, a screenplay by the writer of The Princess Bride, direction by the director of Shine, and Anthony Hopkins in the cast, my expectations were probably too high;
    while the childhood love story here manages to be quite touching, overall I felt obviously manipulated by the film in a few too many places for my taste
  22. Margarita Happy Hour (2001):
    This slice of life film does go somewhere, like the main character's goal of “constant forward motion;” the basic premise of mostly single mothers getting together for margaritas at happy hour is apparently real, and the original location was used in the film; it was shot in 21 days and the actors were not paid
  23. Mulholland Drive (2001):
    This film by David Lynch has lots of amazing, fun, and inventive style, but has little detectable substance (I suppose it is set in Los Angeles and mostly revolves around the film business, so maybe a lack of substance is accurate <grin>) and a weak ending, leaving the viewer feeling ripped off; most of the story lines intersect, and the timeline is hyper-non-linear; since I originally wrote this I read the analysis from Salon.com (here) and find my opinion has improved (it would probably be maybe 10 places higher now)
  24. Lucía y el sexo (2001, English title: Sex and Lucia):
    This film would be hard to recommend to most people because it goes solidly into NC-17 territory, and while I wouldn't consider it pornography, some might; the story is also challenging in that it's hard to keep straight who is who and whether what you're watching is real or part of a story that the main male character is writing (his story is based on his real life, so some things are both fact and fiction); the credits ran in the reverse direction from normal; in Spanish with subtitles
  25. Heist (2001):
    This caper film is disappointing given the talent involved (David Mamet and Gene Hackman); the dialog includes some good lines but the lines between them don't flow together well, and the story has too many coincidences; the acting is only okay
  26. Man from Elysian Fields, The (2001):
    This drama about a struggling writer is better than I feared, with Mick Jagger and Julianna Margulies holding their own better than expected in a generally good cast; the story seems weak, however
  27. Grey Fox, The (1982):
    This western set in 1901 has great cinematography; the acting varies from poor to very good; Richard Farnsworth plays his character very similarly to his character in The Straight Story; the story seems a bit too “special”
  28. Un Crabe dans la tête (2001, English title: Soft Shell Man):
    This drama about human relationships is generally fun ride, with good visuals and mostly good acting, but it doesn't seem to go anywhere; in French with subtitles
  29. Birthday Girl (2001):
    This romantic comedy/caper/thriller, about a mail order bride arrangement gone bad, has some good performances (I especially liked Ben Chaplin, who was very funny in a deadpan way); the story, unfortunately, is weak
  30. American Astronaut, The  (2000):
    This “retro-futuristic musical space western” (to quote the TIFF program) is basically a set of musical numbers (the director has been the leader of a band since 1989) strung together into a loose, silly plot which dragged a bit towards the end; the production values are very low (including being in black and white), which can be either charming or distracting
  31. Training Day (2001):
    This is a Hollywood police corruption movie with good but not great acting (better than expected from Ethan Hawke and not quite as good as expected from Denzel Washington), and a story with a few too many holes
  32. From Hell (2001):
    This is a Hollywood movie about Jack the Ripper with more violence than I like (although less than I feared); the acting was nothing special; the cinematography was good, although it was more surreal and Tim Burton-esque than one normally expects in a period piece; note that I saw this immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks and before they stopped the festival for the rest of that day
  33. Mr. In-Between (2001):
    This film, about a hit man who starts to question his choice of career, is rarely enjoyable and has some plot problems, but it has an admirable style (the first time director Paul Sarossy is a cinematographer of films like The Sweet Hereafter)
  34. Hotel (2001):
    This train wreck of a film had people leaving the theater throughout the showing (this was commented on by the director, Mike Figgis); only a few of the actors had scripted parts (the ones in the Dogme95 film within the film), with the rest making up not only their lines but also their characters, resulting in a film that was apparently much more fun to make than it was to watch; that said, there are a few good moments here and there
  35. Asoka (2001):
    The best part of this film, about an important figure from Indian history over 200 years B.C., is the cinematography; unfortunately, the story, acting, and music are all quite corny, at least to me; in Hindi with subtitles
  36. Picture Claire (2001):
    This fish out of water film is about a French Canadian (Juliette Lewis) who doesn't speak English in Toronto; it has some interesting mosaic effects, where the screen is broken up into pieces of the same picture, repeated pictures, different pictures, and so on, but is otherwise pretty conventional with a marginal script; world premiere
  37. Last Wedding (2001):
    This Canadian drama has a few good moments and seems to have a theme of gender role reversal in 2 but not all 3 of the couples; some of the sex and nudity seems gratuitous; IMDb lists this as 2000 but the official world premiere was at Toronto (and actually started 45 minutes later than the showing we saw)
  38. Señorita Extraviada (2001, English title: Missing Young Woman):
    This Mexican documentary tells a story that needs to be told about women being murdered in the border town of Juárez; unfortunately it is told without any particular flair; world premiere; in Spanish with subtitles
  39. Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise (2001):
    This film about vacuum cleaner salesmen, by the director of Trainspotting and with Timothy Spall (Secrets & Lies), has a fair number of good moments but is nothing special, and it's somewhat difficult to watch since none of the characters are likable
  40. Strumpet (2001):
    This film about a street poet and a young musician, by the same director as Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise, has good energy and some interesting camera placement (e.g., on a pen while someone is writing), but in general is nothing special
  41. Models (1999):
    This documentary about struggling models might be better with some significant editing since the characters keep doing the same things and yet it is just barely under 2 hours; the only redeeming characteristic seems to be some interesting framing of some shots; in German with subtitles
  42. Kaïro (2001, English title: Pulse):
    To quote my notes, “probably more style than your average teen horror 'don't go there' film, but still seemed pretty stupid;” in Japanese with subtitles
  43. Carving Out Our Name (2001):
    The content, about a group of struggling actors (including Wes Bentley) living in a shared house as some start to become successful and others don't, is sometimes interesting; the presentation, on the other hand, is very weak; a telling comment from the director was that he didn't really want to make a documentary; note that we saw this when The Believer was canceled

The following reviews are from my father, for films that he saw and I did not:

Filmography links courtesy of IMDb.

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Copyright © 2001-2003 by Michael S. Weston. All rights reserved.