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TIFF 2011 shortlist

Every year, in the runup to the Toronto International Film Festival, I poke through the (typically logy) website, looking through the 300 or so programmed films for a few I think I’d like to see.  So, in addition to the 3 films I chose for this year’s Chasing the Buzz, here’s my shortlist for TIFF ’11 (TIFF synopses in italics and my reasons for choosing follows)…


Starting a few months after Hurricane Katrina, Jonathan Demme follows a strong matriarch from the Lower Ninth Ward named Carolyn Parker as she struggles to rebuild her home over several years.
It is the Demme name that draws me. He’s made quite a number of films I admire, including documentaries such as Man From Plains.

This shocking investigation into the world’s water crisis, draws upon the work of scientists and activists including the real Erin Brockovich, from Academy Award-winning director Jessica Yu and the producer’s of “Food, Inc.”
Yu’s Protagonist was one of the most interesting films (form-wise and content-wise) that I saw at Hot Docs ’07.

Exploring the rough and tumble world of hockey, Academy Award winner Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) looks at the world of the NHL enforcers and specifically the career of Chris “Knuckles” Nilan who helped the Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup.
On May 13/11, Derek Boogaard died of an accidental lethal mix of alcohol and oxycodone. On Aug. 14/11, Rick Rypien committed suicide. And last week, on Aug. 31/11, Wade Belak did, too. All of these guys were so-called “enforcers” in the NHL–guys whose role it is to enforce what Don Cherry refers to as “The Code”–and at least two of them (Rypien and Belak) admitted to suffering from clinical depression. Don’t know if Boogaard did, too, but he did have substance abuse problems for which he had sought treatment. I am not sure I’d want to link these personal issues to the role these guys played on their teams, but it is, certainly, a discomforting coincidence. Here, director Gibney looks at Chris “Knuckles” Nilan, who managed to make the transition from “NHL enforcer” to “retiree” that these three did not.

Acclaimed maverick Michael Dowse (FUBAR, FUBAR 2, It’s All Gone Pete Tong) returns to the Festival with his latest, Goon, a raucous, hilarious take on Canada’s one true national obsession — hockey — and the divisive topic of violence in the game. Co-written by and starring Jay Baruchel (The Trotsky, Tropic Thunder) and boasting a truly great cast including Seann William Scott, Nicholas Campbell, Liev Schrieber, Alison Pill, Kim Coates, Eugene Levy, and Marc-Andre Grondin — Goon is the Canadian comedy counterpart to Jimi Hendrix’s version of the “The Star Spangled Banner”: sacreligious, twisted and, somehow, perversely patriotic.
Not sure how funny this is going to seem, what with recent events… but I’m curious not just because it’s a movie about hockey but also because I loved Dowse’s It’s All Gone Pete Tong (which you can watch here).

For 18 years, filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky have followed the case of the “West Memphis 3” who remain in prison for murders despite strong evidence pointing to their innocence. This new film revisits the case and presents surprising new information.
Like the two films that precede this one on this list, recent events have elevated this film’s profile. The West Memphis 3 were released from prison on an Alford plea on Aug 19/11. The thing that I have always found perplexing is that as obvious as it is that that Baldwin, Echols, and Misskelley are innocent, it certainly appears that a likely candidate for the murderer actually appears in the films.

dir. Léa Pool
Léa Pool’s devastating documentary about the industry and “culture” around breast cancer, addresses the rise of corporate involvement in fund-raising for charities (as one activist describes it “cause marketing”) and the impact it has had on research into the disease. Powerful and incendiary, the film is an important and timely piece from one of our finest filmmakers.
I suspect this film is going to enrage me.

Filmmaker and historian Mark Cousins adapts his book of the same title into a 15-hour exploration of cinema‘s artistry with a global perspective from the silent era to the digital age.
Okay, at 15 hours in length, it’s clearly not possible for me to see it during the festival, but I’d sure like to.

Bruce MacDonald’s post-modernist, wryly self-conscious Hard Core Logo 2, the sequel to his celebrated punk-rock faux doc, doesn’t so much mock the notion of sequels as take a blow torch to it. Protagonist is “Bruce” (McDonald), the director in the original film. He’s been living the Hollywood life in Laurel Canyon, until his series is cancelled and the only gig offered him is a doc for Wiccan TV about a singer, Care Failure, who claims she’s been possessed by Joe Dick, the leader of the punk band Hard Core Logo and the principal in “Bruce”’s doc. The focus here is the filmmaking process, but the film also poses questions about the unavoidably invasive role of the documentary filmmaker — and, more significantly, friendship and betrayal within the film world.
Long time comin’.

A young teen is taken under the wing his mother’s alpha male boyfriend and in a mix of misdirected hero worship and terror, becomes an accomplice to a spree of torture and murder in this brutal and grim dramatization of a real life serial killing spree in Australia.
Creepy true story! We love creepy!

Laced with black humor, The Patron Saints is an unorthodox documentary about a home for the aged and disabled. By turns lyrical and unsettling, the directors eschew more traditional approaches to the subject, opting for a mesmerizing atmospheric treatment and turning narration over to the home’s youngest patient and his candid confessions.
Black humour! We love black humour! In a doc, no less!

Todd Solondz creates an intimate dark comedy about a manchild whose desire for a romantic relationship runs smack into reality.
Normally, I really like Solondz’s films. I just hope it’s not the shitshow that the last one felt like to me… I couldn’t even make it all the way through Life During Wartime.

An angry, cynical alcoholic who has reached rock-bottom is surprisingly brought back into life by a complete stranger: a middle-class woman with a strong belief in Christ. Eventually the fissures in her marriage come to the surface.
Well, first of all, I adore Peter Mullan. And the film that made me fall for him was one that almost sounds like a companion piece to this one (Ken Loach‘s My Name is Joe… which you can watch here).

Inspired by the gothic horror of Edgar Allen Poe, Coppola’s latest tells the tale of a burnt-out mystery writer (Val Kilmer) who gets mixed up in murder and evil in a California town.
It is the reference to Poe that caught my attention.

Based on the best-selling novel, Tilda Swinton gives a strong performance as a mother who always knew her son was different, angry and perhaps evil.
I am currently reading Dave Cullen’s Columbine, so the subject of the monstrous child in Ramsay’s film is interesting to me. I am also a big fan of her earlier work, Ratcatcher.

For his third consecutive collaboration with Viggo Mortensen, David Cronenberg adapts Christopher Hampton’s 2002 stage play concerning the turbulent relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his mentor Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) as they struggle to treat a troubled patient (Keira Knightley).
Huge Cronenberg fan. Duh.

French director Michel Hazanavicius’ black-and-white silent film follows George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent-era film star struggling to make it in the talkies. This witty and visually enthralling homage to early cinema features supporting performances by Malcolm MacDowell, John Goodman and James Cromwell.
I just love the idea of this film–shot in B&W, silent, and in the proper aspect ratio of the period: 1.33. I want to see if someone can still tell a story using cinema’s original toolkit.

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