By Nick Maylor
This year’s Toronto International Film Festival saw a slew of great films and welcome surprises. I did not get to see everything I was interested in but with an impressive selection of screenings, I walked away in awe of two major films that are guaranteed to be a massive presence come awards season.
A STAR IS BORN (****)
For our regular coverage of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, A Star is Born was one of the earliest film’s we reviewed; and while John’s article by no means required an addendum, I decided to offer a perspective that he couldn’t. When I’m not writing about film, I pretend to be a musician.
I started singing as soon as I could talk. I took my first piano lesson at age five, owned my first guitar at 14 and wrote my first song less than a year later. Being obsessed with both music and film, I believe one would be hard pressed to meet a critic who is more of a stickler when it comes to actors believably playing their instruments in films that require it.
I believe I can say (with confidence) that the following things about Bradley Cooper’s performance in his directorial debut (the best acting he’s done):
He did not master the guitar prior to filming this movie
There are scenes where his hands are clearly (to me) not responsible for the guitar audio we are hearing and thus some level of pantomime was used
There appear to be zero shots with a hand double playing the instrument for him
He fakes it so well and films it so precisely that even I can’t fault a single thing about it (even if I know it’s not 100% legitimate)
This movie works on so many levels beyond what may have been spotted by my musician’s nitpicking; that it would be improper to dock Cooper any points for not becoming Jimi Hendrix in order to play this role.
Lady Gaga can act and Bradley Cooper can sing. Their chemistry together is remarkable and everything about this movie works. The songs feel real. Everything feels real. The emptiness, longing, detachment, and pain are all the colours that Cooper paints his picture with; tied together intrinsically and longingly through the music. It’s been said that gospel is the music of joy and the blues is the music of sadness. While both genres undeniably influenced the notes that make up this ensemble, joy is to be found only in moments; and never to last. It’s almost like a perfectly executed bridge that takes a song to its apex of hopefulness before inevitably playing down and out for the finale. The story of these characters is the stuff the best songs are made of. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love. boy loses girl…. that old chestnut. Cooper’s balancing act in this film cannot be understated; choosing to take on so much responsibility for his first film.
Bradley Cooper’s persistence got him the chance to make this film. Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg were considering it before Cooper. It is clearly a labour of love and it shows in every frame of the film. Cooper was also part of a massive collaboration between producers, songwriters (including Gaga herself) and an enthusiastic road crew that any rock n roll outfit would be lucky to have. The blending of cinema and music is something that is breaching new frontiers. Singing live in-camera is becoming more popular and Lady Gaga’s influence as a musician is felt throughout.
FIRST MAN (****)
Damien Chazelle has already proven himself to be a master auteur and prominent voice in today’s cinema. He is the youngest person ever to win the Academy Award for Best Director. Having already helmed Whiplash and La La Land, Chazelle has once again delivered a film for the ages. The appropriately titled First Man tells the story of Neil Armstrong and the long, arduous journey that led to him becoming the first human to set foot on the surface of our moon. Ryan Gosling’s stoic and thoughtful performance is sure to land him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and the film itself will likely be nominated for a slew of technical awards along with some of the top honours. Chazelle films scenes from tight and close perspective inside the various claustrophobic cock-pits and spaces that the astronaut found himself confined to in the years leading up to the Apollo 11 mission. The film shows the tough family dynamic that resulted from Armstrong’s various trips away from his family in preparation and a crucial scene with his son prior to leaving for Apollo 11 shows the very real human sacrifices that great and bold people have made in pursuit of these higher achievements. Unlike his partner Buzz Aldrin (the second man on the moon), Armstrong mostly retreated into private life after his journey to Earth’s natural satellite and so this film does a great job of pulling back the curtain to show the man behind the mission. Chazelle’s achievement here only builds on the amazing things he has already accomplished as a young filmmaker and makes me eager to see what bold new pieces of cinema will come from him in the years to come. Everyone should see this movie. It is bound to be a major hit later this year.
Other highlights from the festival include:
FARENHEIT 11/9 (***)
In Michael Moore’s angriest film to date, he shows us a lot of stuff about Donald Trump that we already know. He never wanted to be President. He never thought he would win. He is in way over his head. He’s done an absolutely terrible job. Buzz around the festival was that Moore’s film was unfocussed and sporadic but I can’t fault him for this. Much of the movie focuses on the water poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan (Moore’s hometown), one of the most impoverished cities in America. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder personally saw the oversight in a series of decisions that poisoned an entire American city. The man should be charged with war crimes. Although the movie doesn’t leave much of a sense of hope for the audience, it is raw, unapologetic and honest: everything one should expect from Michael Moore.
LUCAS HEDGES x 2
In Boy Erased Lucas Hedges plays a gay teen growing up in a conservative Christian American household. Russell Crowe plays his Baptist Preacher father and Nicole Kidman appears as his loving yet misguided mother. Based on a true story, the movie is a sincere look at the horrors of gay conversion therapy and the damage is does to the children it tries to “fix.” Hedges performance is great and only one half of his great work shown here at TIFF. In Ben is Back, Hedges plays a drug addicted prodigal son who returns home, much to the thrill of his mother (Julia Roberts in a winning performance). The film shows the problems of addiction and the effect it has on both the addicted and the families of those suffering. You might be able to trust a person but trusting an addiction is guaranteed to end in heartbreak. This film struck me on a personal note as addiction issues has plagued my family for years and Hedges character is a shocking analogue of someone I know personally. While it was slightly painful and personal to watch, it was hard to look away. Hedges again delivers a top-tier performance.
Green Book, Widows and The Old Man with the Gun were all great films I saw this year and as always, TIFF refuses to disappoint. The volunteers worked tirelessly to keep everything running smoothly and deserve commendation at every turn. While I am grateful for the calm after the busy week, I am left still reflecting on the whole experience and the massive amount of talent that gathers here every year. It won’t be long before I am pining in anticipation for TIFF 2019. From everyone here at Foote and Friends on Film, thanks to the people who made TIFF so memorable.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor