Before we bid adieu to celebrities and streetcar closures for another year, The Globe and Mail’s festival team presents the best, worst and most awkward moments of TIFF 2018.
Best discovery Alejandra Marquez Abella’s The Good Girls, and its distinctly female gaze. This quietly satirical drama is set during the Mexican debt crisis of 1982 and follows the perfectly coiffed and beautifully dressed Sofia as her credit cards get returned by clerks and her servants go unpaid. Played by Ilse Salas, the socialite is an oblivious snob, yet Abella manages to establish sympathy for her fall. Remarkably, the film is never cruel to its unpleasant characters even as it exposes their nasty social hierarchies and unearned entitlement. It’s hard not to believe that The Good Girls is a directorial coup only a woman could pull off.
Worst preshow entertainment Watching the L’Oréal ads at the beginning of every public screening. Seen from a very low camera angle, a posse of over-dressed, heavily made-up young women loom and pout, strutting forward or draping themselves over a car. A voice-over blabs away about making a statement, stepping into the spotlight, scripting your story and being seen before it concludes with a close-up of over-frosted pink lips and the slogan: “Read my lips … I’m worth it.” Okay, L’Oréal is a makeup company, but was ever a sponsor’s message as out-of-touch with the cultural moment at this piece of hyped-up objectification? I was surprised nobody booed.
Best supporting actors Forget Lucas Hedges. Timothée Chalamet? More like Chala-meh. Instead, this year’s It Boy of TIFF was a three-way tie between character actors Toby Huss (Halloween, Destroyer, The Front Runner), Brian Tyree Henry (Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk), and Coleman Domingo (If Beale Street Could Talk, Assassination Nation). First director to cast the guys as a trio of, say, hard-bitten lawyers who team up for a seemingly unwinnable case with a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, wins next year’s TIFF.
Worst cinematic show-off It’s hard to hate the long take – those single-shot feats of aesthetic trickery that serve to announce a filmmaker means Serious Business. But this year’s festival was drowning in them. While some were sublime – Bi Gan’s hour-long 3-D dream in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Gaspar Noe’s deliberately sickening vision in Climax – others felt extraneous, including Outlaw King’s sword fight, Assassination Nation’s home invasion, and The Front Runner’s Altman-esque opening. Cut!
Best Michael Shannon Moment: Part One In one of my favourite films of TIFF, What They Had, Michael Shannon plays a bar owner who’s coping with the decline of his mother. He also makes a perfect Manhattan. From the minute he mixed one on screen, I craved it, and on Sunday night, at the Fox Searchlight party at the Four Seasons Centre, I had my chance. I bellied up and ordered one. It looked perfect: huge, straight-up, icy cold. I spun around to the party, holding my glass like the Olympic torch, and bumped smack into… Michael Shannon. “I’m having this because of youuuuuu!” I may have yelled into his face. For a second he looked genuinely frightened. Then we both recovered and had a nice chat. TIFF was a lot of things, some of them disheartening (Canadian print media, denied interviews at our own festival – again). But for me it will always be the year I scared Michael Shannon.
Best Michael Shannon Moment: Part Two You can (and should) meet your heroes. Just don’t ask them for an autograph. Michael Shannon and I go way back – to 2017, at TIFF, where I interviewed the actor for the The Current War. I asked him about his band. He dug that. We connected. I interviewed him again this year, for the family drama What They Had. “I thought I recognized you,” my pal Michael said, as we shook hands. Of course he did! It is me! After our chat, I broke journalistic policy on autograph-seeking for the first time in my career. Because we were close. “What’s your name?” he asked, taking pen in hand. I played along and told him, “Brad.” He was kidding, right?
Best Twitter-free moment The after-party for A Star Is Born may have been the best TIFF event with the smallest social-media footprint. During the star-studded blues concert at the Concert Hall featuring everyone from harmonica virtuoso Frédéric Yonnet to Widows star Daniel Kaluuya, emcee and newly minted Emmy winner Dave Chappelle told everyone to “put down the cellphones” and just enjoy the music – and in the spirit of the movie, almost everyone miraculously did.
Most awkward favour: The “fan” who asked Barry Jenkins to sign a Widows screenplay.
Most awkward use of subtitles I felt modestly uncomfortable watching Roberto Minervini’s What You Gonna Do When the World’s On Fire? The film is superb, and soul-rattling in its empathy. But for whatever reason, TIFF decided to project the film, which depicts the lives of four groups of black Americans living in Mississippi and New Orleans, with subtitles. This despite everyone in the movie speaking American English. At least until I became sufficiently absorbed by Minervini’s film (which didn’t take long) it was very, well, awkward.
Best party that wasn’t a party The best TIFF event wasn’t a swish A-list-only party in a chic eatery or dimly lit nightclub, but rather the remarkably powerful Share Her Journey Rally, held for all at the foot of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. A few hundred gathered to listen and have their voices heard, and a 50/50 by 2020 gender parity protocol was signed just before the rally.
Best branding Nespresso partnered with RBC for three “Coffee with Creators” sessions, a casual panel discussion with directors and their casts with 20 or so guests (mostly media) in the audience. Fred Berger, producer of Teen Spirit, confessed to feeling the day-after effects of a late night karaoke-ing when the question of what song he’d choose if he had to audition for an American Idol-type show – the premise of the film – came up (Oasis’s Wonderwall, if you’re curious). Later, during a session for The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, director Xavier Dolan was unabashed about his love for the WB network’s teens soaps of the 2000s. All group interview scenarios should be this relaxed – and caffeine-filled.