Today I’m giving away the 2006 TIFF Programme. Another excellent year for the festival and a couple of great discoveries for me. I have a slightly longer list than previous years because it was so good.
Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing – directed by Barbara Kopple who already had a big name in documentaries. She was at the screening and did one of the best, most enthusiastic Q&A’s I’ve ever attended. She told us that when they started this project they thought they were going to make a movie about the Dixie Chicks’ worldwide tour, to show an insider’s view of the machinery that makes a huge star juggernaut act happen. Then, on the first or second night of the tour, Natalie Maines said to a UK audience they were ashamed that George W. Bush came from Texas. Their world exploded and the movie follows them over the next 12 months through all of the protests, and the making of their follow up album. I loved the music, but even if you can’t get into it, it’s a great movie and an amazing story about the right wing machinery that makes a different kind of juggernaut act happen.
After the Wedding – This was the film and the year that Mads Mikkelsen entered my life. It’s a great movie in any case but, if you have only ever seen Mads as the poker player who sheds blood tears in Casino Royale, you have no idea what this man can do. Denmark has an amazing film community, they are at least half of the guys who gave us Dogma, but more importantly they gave us Mads. See anything he is in, especially in Danish. He will grip you from the first frame to the last. FYI – especially true of this year’s The Hunt
Fay Grim – Another instalment in my fangirl appreciation of writer and director Hal Hartley. I think Jeff Goldblum was miscast, he’s acts too big, but Parker Posey carries the movie. She’s the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
The Postmodern Life of My Aunt – This was a winding story about a woman of a certain age trying to live in and embrace the new China but she gets duped and swindled and ends up back in her old impoverished and small life. At the time I thought it was too long and her naive decisions frustrated me, but it was a haunting story and a really moving performance. It stayed with me and became a parable for the transformation that is happening in that country. It also stars Chow Yun-fat in a great turn as a sneaky Lothario.
The Last King of Scotland – directed by Kevin Macdonald. Yowsa, that scene in the airport towards the end of the movie is still vivid in my memory after 6 years. What a cast, Forest Whitaker was Idi Amin and won the Oscar, but it also included James McAvoy, Kerry Washington and Gillian Anderson. BTW – Kevin Macdonald also directed one of my favourite docs, Touching the Void – it will keep you on the edge of your seat too.
Pan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo del Toro had already made a few really good movies but this was my introduction to him. He’s done a lot of weird stuff since (Hellboy II and The Incredible Hulk TV show??) so I don’t know, maybe this was his peak for me. I thought the mysterious and dangerous world he created underground and the pressing, claustrophic sense of personal threat above ground were incredible. The movie made me squirm and I loved it. I also gave big trees a wide berth for a while afterwards.
Jindabyne – This story killed me. It’s about a bunch of guys in Australia who go on a fishing trip. As they head up river on their first day, they discover a corpse but make a decision to leave it agreeing to deal with it on the way back. The corpse, however, is a young, naked, aboriginal woman. The way the movie handles the fallout and aftermath got a little melodramatic in parts but the rest of it was fantastic. Gabriel Byrne is amazing and the story itself is confounding and will stay with you.
Red Road – To be honest, I saw this movie in London a few weeks after the festival but it was so great, I want to include it. It was written and directed by Andrea Arnold who went on to make another amazing movie Fishtank, a few years later (she also directed Wuthering Heights but I didn’t see it). This woman tells really tough stories and has written some of the most complicated and interesting female characters of the last several years. I don’t want to tell you anything about the story of Red Road because I don’t want to give anything away, but see it if you get a chance, it’s gritty, emotional and surprising. So is Fishtank. See either.
And my favourite…
The Lives of Others – Also one of the best Q&A’s I’ve ever attended. It was a first feature written and directed by Florian Heckel von Donnersmarck (!), and told a gripping, edge of your seat, crackling story. We follow a Stasi agent who, for personal reasons, targets a young attractive couple in the arts, bugs their home, infiltrates their lives and starts listening in to everything. It’s a thriller, an intimate and complex character study, an examination of loyalty, and a frightening look inside the operations of East German intelligence gathering in the early ’80s. The lead actor, Ulrich Muhe, was a famous actor in Germany with some influence and was very instrumental in getting the film financed. It turns out that he had been the subject of some harrowing Stasi investigations himself years earlier so he wanted the story told. It ended up winning the best Foreign Language Oscar. If it had been made in English it would have been a top grosser that year. See it. It’s a great movie.