Ben Sharrock’s Limbo was a fantastic ending to my run of TIFF movies this year. With beautiful cinematography and an excellent cast of uplifting, eccentric supporting characters, Limbo still manages to be fun despite the crux of the story revolving around the heavy subject of Syrian refugees awaiting letters about their refugee status on a remote Scottish island.
The film stars Amir El-Masry as Omar, a serious, down-trodden refugee who makes frequent calls back home and seems pained by the life he has left behind. Were Limbo to focus solely on his character, this would be a very dull, somber feature. But he is surrounded by eccentricity at every turn: quirky cultural-awareness course leaders; local shop owners who eat raw onions like apples; flatmates obsessed with Friends and Freddie Mercury; local tour-operators dressed up as dolphins. It’s the supporting characters that help make Limbo more than the sum of its parts, and give the entire movie real charm and identity.
Pieces Of A Woman stars Shia LaBeouf and Vanessa Kirby as a couple dealing with severe trauma, and opens with such an incredible, intense first thirty minutes (most of which being one single long take) that I’m pretty sure I just outright stopped blinking as I watched their evening unfold. Unfortunately the remainder of the feature never quite hits these highs again, but I’m still left thinking about that opening long after the credits have rolled.
Hao Wu’s documentary is a glimpse into our planet as it changed, filmed in secrecy during the 76-day lockdown in Wuhan, China during the initial outbreak of the coronavirus.
76 Days focuses on the frontline medical workers during the lockdown and their frantic struggle to keep up with a new virus. The film grips you immediately with its opening, as a frontline professional begs to say goodbye to her deceased father whilst other workers hold her back, needing her to remain composed so she can continue to work with them.
Ricky Staub’s Concrete Cowboy is an intriguing concept about a niche subculture in northern Philadelphia, but a feature that would have been far more effective as a straight-up documentary than an uneventful drama that struggles to maintain any sense of momentum.
Idris Elba and Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin star as an estranged father-son duo, with Cole (McLaughlin) forced to live with his father after being expelled from school. Cole is thrown into work at the city’s stables, whilst trying to reconnect with a former friend, bad influence ‘Smush’ (Jharrel Jerome).
The Father is the gripping, heartbreaking debut feature from Florian Zeller about a man’s battle with dementia and the loss of identity. Anthony Hopkins stars in a performance that will surely earn him an Oscar nomination, as both he and the audience are consistently forced to question what is real and what is not.
Framed from the perspective of Anthony (Hopkins) as he struggles with his mental state and refuses to lose his independence, Zeller disorients viewers through repeating conversations, shifting surroundings, and even having multiple characters play the same role. By the time the credits roll, you can piece together what really happened and when – if you aren’t too busy crying / scared of getting dementia yourself, obviously.
J Blakeson’s I Care A Lot is a stylish, gripping thriller that is thoroughly entertaining throughout – pitting a conwoman against her toughest mark yet and letting the audience watch as each side continuously one-ups the other.
Rosamund Pike stars as Marla Grayson, a self-confessed lion amongst the sheep who cons her way into becoming the legal guardian of vulnerable isolated elderly people, helping herself to their estates while she cares for them in corrupt facilities. Her perfect scheme runs into trouble when she aims her sights at the wrong target – Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest). It sounds awfully dark, but I Care A Lot is so, so much fun to watch – it is, at its core, a game of cat and mouse; the tone is kept relatively light despite the subject matter, with fun dialogue, stylish direction, and an incredible wardrobe department.
François Ozon’s Summer of 85 is a French LGBTQ+ coming-of-age movie that chooses to gloss over the ‘coming out’ phase of the characters and instead focus on their relationships themselves, irrespective of sexuality. It’s refreshing to see LGBT features like this, that don’t dwell on the characters orientation – even more refreshing that this feature is set in the 80s and still doesn’t feature excessive homophobia or acceptance issues.
Penguin Bloom is Glendyn Ivin’s dramatization of the surreal true story of Australian Sam Bloom, who was left paralyzed and unable to walk after falling off a balcony during a vacation in Thailand. After her family take in a stray injured magpie that is unable to fly, she learns to adjust to her new disability through caring for the intelligent wild bird. It’s a heartwarming tale, with messages that are a little too on the nose and a script that is a bit too sickly-sweet – but an overall uplifting movie that will most certainly make you want a pet magpie of your own.
Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is generating a lot of hype right now, having just won the top Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival. It’s a fascinating insight into the nomad lifestyle, and a showcase of Frances McDormand’s talent – the best performance I’ve seen during TIFF so far. Treading the line consistently between bleak and optimistic, loneliness and community, Nomadland kept me engaged and invested throughout, despite not a whole lot actually happening.
If you’ve always been itching to see a Taiwanese political zomromcom with slapstick humour and over-the-top visual effects, well, Get The Hell Out is what you’ve been waiting for. Director I-Fan Wang’s feature debut plays like a heartfelt tribute to director Edgar Wright’s stylish blockbusters (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim) and is a mostly fun watch that occasionally leans too heavily into the silliness.