1998 Toronto International Film Festival Update #7: "Wrap Up"

Commentary by James Berardinelli
September 20, 1998

I thought about calling this final update from the 1998 Toronto International Film Festival, "What I Did on My Summer Vacation," but decided not to. Too trite...

Anyway, as I sit at the keyboard, the festival has officially been over for about six hours. Now, critics, programmers, and partiers can get some sleep (a much needed commodity for everyone, as was evident from the number of people snoozing through various screenings, especially in the last few days). Ten days of events came to a conclusion with a Midnight Madness screening of the 1977 Hong Kong "classic," Mighty Peking Man, but the climax occurred a few hours earlier, when this year's Closing Night film, Antz was unwrapped for its world premiere. (I won't say anything about the movie here, since the review will be posted at this site in less than 72 hours.)

Several people have already asked whether or not this was a "good" festival. Frankly, it's hard for any one person to make that determination, because even the most ambitious movie-goer could only see about 20% of what Toronto had to offer. For my part, I thought this year's fare was a little weaker than last year's, but not appreciably so. That's probably more a reflection of the current state of the film industry than anything else. Before I make any more "summary" comments, however, let me do justice to those films I saw but have not yet mentioned. Briefly, they are (in no particular order):

If there was a "must see" film at this year's festival, it was Todd Solondz's Happiness, a disturbing black comedy about people's secret lives and fetishes. Depending on who I talked to, the movie reactions varied from disgust to near-ecstasy. Regardless of your opinion, this is the kind of movie that will stay with you. It's a safe bet that the traditional movie-goer, who likes to munch happily on popcorn while turning off his/her brain, will be offended (and perhaps horrified) by Solondz's view of American life, but those who enjoy a cinematic challenge should check out this film when it becomes available.

There were also a few films that generated some strong buzz. Even though I didn't see these movies, I'll dutifully report what I heard about them. Thursday provoked some very negative talk. Roger Ebert in particular hated this film because of its dubious moral foundation. Bernardo Bertolucci's latest, Beseiged was received more with boredom than anything else. (One overheard comment: "Bertolucci rewards us for sitting through two hours by showing Thandie Newton's breasts.) A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries was almost universally praised. Ebert called it one of the festival's best. I never heard a bad word about the Opening Night Gala, The Red Violin. Larry Clark's followup to Kids was roundly blasted. John Waters' Pecker received mixed reviews. And John Turturro's Illuminata was described to me as "a lot of fun" by one well-respected critic.

For those who are interested in what I thought the best films of the festival were, here's what my Metro Media ballot looked like:

  1. La vie revee des anges (The Dream Life of Angels)
  2. Hilary and Jackie
  3. The Impostors

And, while I haven't yet broken all the ratings down into "star" categories, here's an overview of what I do and don't recommend:

Highly Recommended: Autumn Tale, Christmas in August, The Dream Life of Angels, Happiness, Hilary and Jackie, The Impostors, The Mighty, My Name is Joe, Pleasantville, A Simple Plan.
Recommended: A Vendre, At Sachem Farm, Dog Park, L'ecole de la chair, Life is Beautiful, Living out Loud, Permanent Midnight, Praise, A Soldier's Sweetheart, The Theory of Flight, West Beirut, Without Limits.
Not Recommended: Apt Pupil, Clay Pigeons, Desert Blue, Divine, Hair Shirt, I'm Losing You, Judas Kiss, L.A. without a Map, Sweet Degeneration, Voleur de vie.

So that pretty much does it for Toronto 1998. Now I'm going to get a few winks then start working on my backlog of reviews. Festival coverage resumes in January with Sundance...

Addendum: Winners of the three major festival awards:

Air Canada People's Choice: Life is Beautiful (Runner up: Waking Ned Devine)
Metro Media Award: Happiness
Best First Feature: Praise, West Beirut (Tie)

© 1998 James Berardinelli

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