Spring Breakers Movie

The Best of TIFF 2012

TIFF 2012 has come to close and while we tried our best to catch all 372 films playing on the 34 screens around Toronto at the end of the 11 days it was, well, a pretty insurmountable task. Nevertheless, between a rogue crew of us here at blogTO we were able to agree on something - that each of us has a different opinion about which films shone the brightest at this year's festival. Perhaps not surprisingly, only a few of our selections overlapped with the TIFF 2012 award winners announced on Sunday. Here's a rundown of our 15 favourite films at this year's festival, in no particular order.

Spring Breakers
If I could only choose one film as my personal favourite this year at TIFF, that film would be Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers. More than just the spring break party film that the name implies, this film has an intense colour palette, brilliant shotgun edits, characters you love to hate, and all of the slow motion shots are pure sex. More accessible that Korine's early controversial work, now is time to get on the Harmony train. (JL)

Here Comes the Devil
The only bit of horror thriller worth a damn that I saw this year at TIFF, Here Comes the Devil is about a couple of children who go missing in the mountains on a family vacation, and come back...different. A very strong performance from Francisco Barreiro, and a couple of pretty convincing kids. Did I mention the best sex scene of the fest? The only negative is the overuse of dramatic zoom (someone please break that button off his camera). (JL)

The ABC's of Death
ABC's features over two dozen of the world's top horror directors, each given a letter of the alphabet to turn into a horrific segment. This concept is brilliant, even if you don't like the director his segment is over in 4 minutes, and you get to see something else. It's like watching the best of a short film festival. D is for Dogfight was my favourite, but there was something for everyone, including enough to make a bunch of people leave early (and in a hurry). (JL)

As I've said before, this one is definitely going to polarize audiences. The first feature from Brandon Cronenberg is a brilliantly bizarre piece of dark scifi where boutiques deliberately infect paying customers with diseases harvested from top celebrities to providing a "biological communion" between stars and fans. This film will make anyone but needle fetishists a little squeamish. Too challenging for most of the audience I saw it with, I think this director is better out of the gate than his father, and shows tremendous promise for the future. (JL)

The Sapphires
Innocently sweet and funny, The Sapphires is a film with a lot of heart about four talented young "Aboriginal" girls who leave Australia for Vietnam to entertain the troops in the late 60's. Includes one of my favourite funny men, Chris O'Dowd (The IT Crowd), who really makes the film. Inspired by the true story of Laurel Robinson, mother of writer of the film (Tony Briggs), and his aunt, Lois Peeler, who toured Vietnam as singers. Bring dancing shoes and a hanky to this one, in case something gets in your eye. (JL)

For all the talk about consciousness, environment, and labour that is getting tossed around with this one - all of which, don't get me wrong, are among the major themes in Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel's new experimental fishing documentary - the project seems to be first and foremost an attempt at recalibrating viewers' sense of gravity. Functioning as a quasi-sequel to Michael Snow's landmark (pun kind of intended) La rĂŠgion centrale, Leviathan thrashes the camera erratically in any and every which direction, even one-upping Snow by allowing the apparatus to puncture the surface below (the ocean), revealing an entirely new, mirrored space to be whisked through. Space is spun, flipped, and exploded to often vertiginous effect; I felt like I was going to fall out of my seat on a few occasions (oh how I would kill for an IMAX screening). There will be decades-worth of imitators. (BW)

August and After
Part of my love for this new film from master avant-garde filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky stems from the embarrassing fact that this is the first of his films that I've really connected with. Dorsky routinely introduces his films warning that you have to watch his work with a different part of your brain that you would with most other films. He suggests he's working in a highly poetic and subconscious language than has to be felt rather than thought. Always one to crave the best of both worlds, August and After is so successful for me precisely because it both works as wordless poetry and has a recognizable thesis. The 'ah hah' moment occurs early on when the late avant-garde diarist George Kuchar makes an appearance, sitting debilitated in a wheel chair, clearly on his way out. This brief segment creates a powerful association with previous and upcoming footage of mannequins in storefronts, statues in parks, monolithic buildings bathed in sunlight and shadows, and youthful Abercrombie models glimpsed on shopping bags. What it adds up to is a rapturous and sorrowful treatise on the impermanence of the human body. As if that weren't enough, it's also - like most of Dorsky's films - one of the most succulently photographed films ever made. (BW)

To the Wonder
I'm not going to pretend that there isn't a lot to cringe at in this one. What I will pretend is that there is an entire facet of Malick's heavily-scorned new film that is being ignored by the critic-verse that seems to be the key to appreciating it, and that facet is a scathing indictment of American suburbia. For some reason, people think that Malick is presenting these airy, personality-vacant figures for the sake of creating a rhapsodic and universal romance picture. But those images of cubic, cookie-cutter suburban neighbourhoods, fluorescent grocery stores, Sunday worship services, and dinners at Sonic aren't just there because this is Malick's first film set entirely in present-day America; they're direct links into understanding the soullessness of Neil (Ben Affleck) and why his life has been entirely bleached of idiosyncrasy and genuine emotion. (BW)

Frances Ha
I have been on Team Lena Dunham ever since I watched the first episode of her HBO show Girls; I intended to watch only that single half-hour pilot, yet I immediately downloaded the entire season upon its completion and then watched the other nine episodes straight through. This is relevant because Girls and Frances Ha have a lot in common (not least of which is the presence of Adam Driver), and I think that Baumbach's film, while great, is a bit inferior in most aspects to Dunham's series. They both deal with a central female character stuck in post collegiate, barely-employed purgatory; both portray the nomadic NYC lifestyle that sees individuals changing addresses left and right, settled without ever really settling; and both sympathize with an increasingly ubiquitous brand of guilt found in twenty-somethings who leave their hometowns and never return. Hilarious and potent, Frances Ha works none the less for Greta Gerwig's truly singular and alive portrayal of Frances, my favourite character of the year so far. (BW)

A Hijacking
One of my wild card picks this year, pretty much just because it played in the Venice Film Festival. There's not too much that should be, or needs to be, said about it. It details the corporate negotiations that take place after a freighter is hijacked by some Somali pirates, who demand a $15M ransom or else they're kill them. Despite the fact that the bargaining of this ransom is thrilling and tense and takes up about 90% percent of the running time, it almost feels like a MacGuffin when a single action that takes place five minutes before the end of the film re-routes the film's destination toward a profoundly moving portrayal of insurmountable guilt; a lightning-quick turn on par with the mid-film rift in last year's The Loneliest Planet. (BW)

Yes, 9.79* is going to next appear on ESPN but that shouldn't take away from the fact that it will become the defining film about the 100 meter dash at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It also functions as an enlightening (if not depressing) expose of the use of HGH, steroids and other performance enhancing drugs by amateur athletes. It's no simple feat that the director snagged interviews with all 8 participants in the race including extensive sit downs with Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis. But the real turning point is the shocking revelation (to me anyway) that a former teammate of Lewis' fessed up that he slipped drugs in Johnson's beer just before he took his career-defining urine test. (TS)

The first-runner up for this year's People's Choice Award, the Ben Affleck directed (and starred) Argo was perhaps the most timely post at this year's festival. Screening on the same day that the Canadian government announced the withdrawal of its diplomats from Iran, the film tells the true story of an unbelievable plot to sneak six stranded Americans out of the Canadian embassy in Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Sure to be a contender come awards season, Argo should be seen for this little-known episode in Canadian history (they don't teach this in high school) as well as its hilarious supporting performance by Alan Arkin. (TS)

Admittedly I have not seen the 1996 Danish original of this Luis Prieto remake so maybe including it here is some sort of sacrilege to devoted Danes and their hangers-on. But what I loved about Pusher is its pure adrenalin. It's a quintessential genre film that's fast-paced, stylish and slightly predictable in all the right places. At the end of 87 minutes this is not a film that makes you envious of the drug dealer lifestyle but at the same time dealer Frank is charismatic, cool and likeable enough (at least compared to the sea of slime he associates with) that he's someone you want to root for until almost the very end. (TS)

I have never attended a live concert of Thirty Seconds to Mars - a fact that undoubtedly put me in the 5% of audience goers who showed up for the debut screening of Jared Leto's film at the Ryerson last Friday night. Neverthless, I found this to be a thoroughly entertaining documentary - one that chronicles the making of the band's album This is War set amidst their protracted contract fight with record label EMI. While the film positions Leto as a cross between a creative genius and crusader for musicians everywhere (and, hey, maybe he really is) the story about the disruption taking place in the music industry is perhaps ideally seen through this singular case study. Incidentally, the film won the People's Choice Award Documentary. And even though Leto encouraged attendees to stuff the ballot boxes it's hardly an unworthy recipient of the award. (TS)

I'm a bit of a sucker for vampire films (Twilight saga excluded) so take that for what it's worth that Byzantium is included on this list. While the film may not be director Neil Jordan's finest work (I'll save that for the Crying Game and The Butcher Boy) it is somewhat a return to form and an entertaining two hours to spend in the company of Saoirse Ronan and up-and-comer Caleb Landry Jones. The film is set in the present day but slowly reveals a 200 year old story about how our vampire protagonists came to be. There's the expected blood feasting and occasional decapitation but the style and substance here is closer to 2008's Let the Right One In than any similarly-themed film made since. (TS)

What were your favourite films at this year's festival? At your picks to the comment thread below.

Legend: JL (Johnny Larocque ), BW (Blake Williams) andTS (Tim Shore)

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