By Sean Boelman
This year’s Toronto International Film Festival featured a reduced lineup of just fifty films, but even so, it would have been impossible for anyone to maintain their sanity while watching and reviewing every single one. Still, between the Official Selection and the Industry Selects sidebar, which added even more to the slate, disappointment media was able to catch a total of fifty-six feature films! Below are some of the films in the Official Selection that we didn’t get the chance to do a full review for, but we wanted to highlight anyway.
Manijeh Hekmat’s road movie Bandar Band was one of the more alluring international offerings of this year’s Official Selection, but it didn’t live up to that potential. Following a band who travels through the flooded roads to Tehran, the film struggles to find a balance between meditative and joyous. Had the film been able to narrow itself down to one of its two purposes — an ode to music or a hard-hitting film about political issues — it would have been far more compelling. As is, it’s just a bunch of inconsistent scenes strewn together with a loose narrative.
The second runner-up in this year’s Audience Award voting, Tracey Deer’s coming-of-age drama Beans isn’t the average uplifting crowd-pleaser. Sure, the film does hit a lot of familiar beats, but they are presented with such an authentic voice that the end result doesn’t feel overly conventional. Exploring the Indigenous experience in a way that is empathetic and accessible to general audiences without pulling a lot of the punches that the genre is known to shy away from, it’s an entertaining and thoughtful film. And Kiawentiio is a star in the making with her phenomenal lead performance.
The Best is Yet to Come
The journalism drama The Best is Yet to Come is sure to leave viewers nostalgic for the era in which print journalism actually mattered to the public. And while print still very much matters as a medium, the story of this film doesn’t. The audience will undeniably care far more about the journalist’s experience than the issue which he is investigating. This may not be an inherently bad thing, but it also doesn’t sustain a nearly two-hour runtime. It simply lacks the scope of the more riveting entries in the genre, causing it to be mostly forgettable.
At every festival, there seems to be at least one film that gets in based on its star power alone, and this year, it’s Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut Falling. Even though this story of a gay man trying to teach his elderly homophobic father some empathy is undeniably well-intentioned, it’s so misguided in its execution that it feels like a ticking time bomb that just barely manages to not explode. And if listening to an old man shouting homophobic rhetoric isn’t off-putting enough, the film features one of the year’s most truly bizarre sequences in which a young boy becomes enamored with a duck he shot.
Gaza mon amour
The Nasser Brothers’ romantic drama Gaza mon amour is a nice little movie and a welcome relief from the noticeably somber tone of much of the Official Selection. That said, this film about a man trying to court the woman with whom he is secretly in love is the very definition of slight. There are definitely some great things about it, like an excellent performance from Salim Dau, but other parts feel extremely underwhelming. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the film is that the extremely talented Hiam Abbass, who plays the love interest, isn’t used to her fullest abilities.
Get the Hell Out
The Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival is well-known to bring out some of the weirdest and most messed up movies of the festival circuit, and the Taiwanese zombie flick Get the Hell Out fits one of those two descriptions. Unfortunately, despite a really interesting premise, the commentary is underbaked and the visual style is inconsistent at best. A few bursts of satisfyingly gory violence and the occasionally witty one-liner don’t make up for the film’s lack of substance. With a more experienced director at the helm, this could have been much more entertaining than it is.
I Am Greta
Greta Thunberg has done some exceptional things in her life already despite being as young as she is. And while the cause for which she fights is undeniably a good one, and her accomplishments speak for themselves, she doesn’t yet have enough of a command of her persona to carry a documentary. It also doesn’t help that Nathan Grossman’s documentary is painfully conventional, causing it to be little more than a dull and straightforward biography. Those who are a “fan” of Thunberg’s work will be interested in this, but most others will find themselves a bit bored by its lack of depth.
One of the more ambitious and unconventional documentary offerings of this year’s festival, Michelle Latimer’s Inconvenient Indian brings author Thomas King’s book to the screen. This deconstruction of the colonization of Native Americans is absolutely fascinating. Making use of abstract imagery complemented by commentary from King, this is a very profound film. Admittedly, there is quite a bit going on here in a short ninety minutes, so the film feels a bit busy as a result. Nevertheless, Latimer’s passion for and connection with the source material is evident, and this allows her to craft a film that is completely captivating from start to finish.
Ben Sharrock’s dark comedy Limbo gets off to a running start with a quirky introduction that shows the film’s potential to be a commentary on the very important issue of immigration. That said, after this initial intrigue wears off, the film turns into something much more conventional. Following a young immigrant alone in a foreign country waiting on the status of his immigration paperwork, the film struggles to find that balance between the satirical and the somber and meditative. Still, thanks to some excellent character work, it manages to be mostly compelling, even if it falls short in a few other departments.
A Brazilian thriller with a darkly comedic edge, João Paulo Miranda Maria’s film Memory House would make a great double-bill with the indie favorite Bacurau. Following a factory worker who comes across a house that reminds him of his cultural origins, the film’s unique pacing will prevent it from connecting with most general audiences. Regardless, the observations that the filmmaker offers about cultural identity are quite insightful, and it is quite fascinating as such. The true highlight of the film, though, are its haunting visuals which create a nightmarish world rich in Latin American history and culture.
What is sure to be the most divisive film to come out of this year’s lineup, Michael Franco’s New Order is an absolute mess, but in the best way possible. Taking place in a city experiencing unrest that turns into full-on class warfare, the film is disturbing and brutal, but to powerful effect. Anyone who is Latino can tell you that Latin American history is covered with blood, and Franco does an excellent job of showing how these cultures are not as pretty as they may seem. There are a few issues, but for the most part, it’s powerful stuff.
No Ordinary Man
Although No Ordinary Man is at face value a biography of a trans masculine icon, it is also so much more. In their exploration of the life of Jazz musician Billy Tipton, filmmakers Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt explore not just Tipton’s life, but the way in which society tends to remember LGBTQ+ individuals and their experiences. Although there are some moments that utilize traditional documentary techniques, like archive footage and talking heads, it is the other, more innovative approaches to this story that will make it stand out. As the title would suggest, this is no ordinary biography.
Adapted from her own short, Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby is a wonderful and brisk little comedy. Taking place nearly in real time, the film follows a young woman who runs into her sugar daddy while attending a funeral with her family. This is one of those comedies that really relies on secondhand embarrassment to milk an uncomfortable laughter out of the audience, and boy does Seligman succeed at that. It’s a truly hilarious exploration of familial bonds, among other things, and features some great performances to boot from Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, and Fred Melamed.
Young filmmaker Suzanne Lindon’s debut Spring Blossom is mostly notable because she wrote it as a teenager, and for a first film, it’s quite good. It’s definitely a very slight film, more impressive as a statement of the potential that Lindon has than a demonstration of it in action, but it’s a pretty enjoyable romance/coming-of-age film. Lindon’s best work in the film is arguably not as the writer or director, though — it’s in her leading role as the actress. It will definitely be exciting to get to see her do some more work with someone else at the helm.
Summer of 85
François Ozon has become known in recent years for making films that push the envelope, and while Summer of 85 may be a bit more safe, it’s still a tremendous work. A summer love movie with a dark twist, Ozon appears to be using this familiar story in unfamiliar ways, recapturing some of the stereotypes and cliches of LGBTQ+ cinema. Excellent performances from Félix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin ground the film, but it is Hichame Alaouie’s cinematography that is the real MVP. It’s an entertaining and breezy film that is a much more substantial alternative to the typical teen romance.
Naomi Kawase’s True Mothers has a really interesting concept, but it quickly devolves into little more than an upscale melodrama. Great cinematography and excellent performances can’t save a script that starts strong but goes all-in on the histrionics after the first act is over. Telling the story of a woman who is contacted by her adopted child’s birth mother, the convoluted narrative structure results in this film being about thirty minutes too long. Kawase shows a lot of talent behind the camera, but unfortunately, this is a film that easily could have benefitted from a substantial re-write.
Under the Open Sky
Miwa Nishikawa’s drama Under the Open Sky feels very long despite only clocking in at just under two hours. This story about a former yakuza trying to re-integrate himself into society simply isn’t as interesting as it should have been. There are definitely some things going for the film, like a phenomenal performance from Koji Yakusho and some solid cinematography by Norimichi Kasamatsu, but it feels like too much of the same old stuff we’ve seen countless times before. A few good moments aside, this film is fine but forgettable, which is a shame given the amount of talent involved.
Stacey Lee’s music documentary Underplayed deals with a tremendously important issue: gender inequality. However, in depicting the success of these great female DJs in the face of the adversity and opposition they have faced, Lee fails to do anything but shallowly inspire. Had she focused specifically on two or three of these artists, she would have been able to go into more depth on their experiences and how they are indicative of the industry as a whole. This general survey is still nice, and it obviously offers the opportunity to listen to some great beats, but otherwise, it doesn’t live up to its potential.
Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer have made some truly harrowing shorts, so their feature debut Violation had a very high bar to meet. Unfortunately, despite some interesting ideas and a few disturbing moments, the film largely falls flat. This definitely isn’t a standard rape-revenge thriller, but it’s a character drama without much interesting character work. Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer try to leave too much unspoken and as a result fail to convey much of anything. It’s an eighty-minute movie stretched into over an hour-and-forty-five, and apart from one anxiety-inducing scene, it will test the viewer's patience.
The 2020 Toronto International Film Festival ran September 10-19.
By Sean Boelman
Because of the reduced number of films that the festival was able to screen due to the unique challenges faced for this year’s edition, the Toronto International Film Festival debuted a new Industry Selects sidebar. These films, still receiving the honor of being recognized by the festival outside of the Official Selection, screened for press and industry and the festival. The following are some of those films.
The feature debut of Greek writer-director Christos Nikou, who worked as the second assistant director on Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth, Apples is an unusual film that feels destined to find success on the art house circuit. Telling the story of a middle-aged man who falls victim to a pandemic that causes the sudden onset of amnesia, it may lack the dryly satirical edge that makes Lanthimos’s films so beloved, but it makes up for it in its existential musings on memory and identity. And lead actor Aris Servetalis gives a great performance, elevating the film from above average to legitimately memorable.
In Between Dying
Hilal Baydarov’s In Between Dying is a wandering movie in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. Following a young man searching for meaning in life, it definitely feels like there is a lot to dissect here, but the audience is never really given a reason as to why they should. Lacking either the narrative strength or the character development to justify its occasionally meditative rambling. It’s an absolutely gorgeous film to look at thanks to some beautiful scenery and great cinematography by Elshan Abbasov, but it works better as pleasant background noise than a compelling cinematic experience.
Kill It and Leave This Town
As an avant garde animated film, Mariusz Wilczynski’s fascinating Kill It and Leave This Town shows the tremendous potential that the medium has beyond the constraints of traditional storytelling. A surreal and often trippy voyage through the memories of the protagonist, it’s a very bizarre film that is likely to be a bit too much for most tastes. And while the animation style of the film isn’t what one would usually call attractive, as it is quite harsh and rudimentary in nature, it offers some uniquely nightmarish images. It very well may test some viewers’ patience, but it is absolutely worth the resolve.
Like a House on Fire
The relationship drama Like a House on Fire throws a very unique twist on a familiar story. About a young mother trying to reconnect with her estranged husband and their daughter, Jesse Noah Klein’s film feels intensely personal and hits much harder than expected. Of course, the film owes a lot to the powerful performances given by its two leads, Sarah Sutherland and Jared Abrahamson, but there is just a lot of empathy in Klein’s script. This is one of those films that is understandably very difficult to watch, but is rewarding nevertheless as a challenging, emotional experience.
Argyris Papadimitropoulos’s romance Monday obviously wants to be something more profound than it is, but it works just fine as a breezy summer romance. A snapshot of a relationship between two American expats living in Greece, the film is at its best when it lets its characters just have fun and struggles a bit when it tries to do something more substantial, almost crossing the line into melodrama. The chemistry between the two leads, Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough, is probably the single most important factor in selling this film’s emotion, but slick cinematography by Hristos Karamanis and a good score by Alexis Grapsas seal the deal.
My Best Part
The comedy-drama My Best Part, co-written, directed by, and starring Nicolas Maury, is probably one of the biggest disappointments to come out of this year’s market — not because it’s the worst, but because it showed the most potential. There are plenty of glimmers of greatness in this film about an actor who returns to his childhood home after his breaking point, but too often, the film comes across as annoying and out-of-touch. Despite a committed performance from Maury, the character is whiny and unlikable, and it’s a significant hurdle that the film is never able to overcome.
Based on a bestselling book from the nineties, Danielle Arbid’s Passion Simple appears designed to have cashed in on the demand for mainstream erotica, but came a couple years too late. Tracking a relationship between a mother and a Russian diplomat, the film is watchable and has some solid cinematography and a great soundtrack, but it’s too low-brow for the art house and too cold for the horny crowd. As the title suggests, it’s a pretty simple film, with very little about it that isn’t straightforward. One just wishes that Arbid could have spared some more creativity for the steamy scenes.
The newest film from cult filmmaker Bruce La Bruce, Saint-Narcisse is the type of film that would have been in an expanded Midnight Madness lineup in a more normal year. A noir-tinged and darkly-comedic mystery about a man who sets out to better understand his past and makes some surprising discoveries along the way, it’s a weird and campy movie in many regards. And while the film’s occasionally extreme content and handling of taboo issues may put off some viewers, it will definitely catch the attention of those more daring fans of the festival circuit.
Like an edgier version of last year’s Les Misérables, the police thriller Shorta serves as a much-needed contribution to the discussion of police brutality. And although audiences probably don’t want to see more movies about cops at the moment, this film about two police officers who get trapped when news gets out of a deadly shooting really dissects the ways in which the law enforcement system is fundamentally broken. Though the action and suspense is undeniably the focus of filmmakers Frederik Louis Hviid and Anders Ølholm, there is a lot beneath the surface here that makes it worth a watch.
Having earned a lot of comparisons to last year’s Marriage Story because of their similar themes, Baumbach’s film and Daniele Luchetti’s The Ties differ quite a bit narratively. Exploring a marriage in crisis over several years as the parties attempt to stay together for the sake of their children, it’s an undeniably emotional watch. The segmented narrative, as would be expected, has some moments that are much stronger than others, but as a whole, the level of empathy with which the film treats its story and characters goes a long way in making it feel more resonant.
Well-made but disappointingly straightforward, Zaida Bergroth’s biopic Tove had the potential to be something really interesting but falls victim to a few too many cliches to be particularly memorable. Dramatizing the story of Tove Jansson, the artist and creator of the Moomins, the biggest issue of the film is Eeva Putro and Jarno Elonen’s script, which is simply too busy. By attempting to juggle too many storylines, the film ultimately falls flat when it could have been something more compelling had it been streamlined. Still, Alma Pöysti’s performance saves the film from landing in failed biopic obscurity.
Never Gonna Snow Again
Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert’s film Never Gonna Snow Again is the only film of this group that was not a participant in thse Industry Selects sidebar, and rather just screened for press and industry via an online private screening via the festival’s platform, and interestingly enough, it may be the best of the bunch. An unabashedly weird and meditative film about a masseur who offers guidance to his much more wealthy clients, this is one of those multi-layered films that immediately demands multiple viewings. Its idiosyncratic nature makes its commercial prospects low, but when its audience finds it, it will undoubtedly be among their favorites of the year.
The 2020 Toronto International Film Festival ran from September 10-19.
By Sean Boelman
As part of the “new normal”, disappointment media has been providing coverage of virtual and hybrid film festivals and the films that are a part of their official lineup. While we would love to be on the ground in Toronto covering films for the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, we also realize that the U.S. is in much worse shape than Canada, so it wouldn’t be fair of us to our Northern neighbors to travel at this time.
Still, disappointment media was honored to be selected to participate in remote coverage of the festival as a part of the Media Inclusion Initiative. That means we will be getting to watch some great films and access exciting conference events (from the safety of our home) and report back to you about what you should keep an eye out for.
Although the Official Selection for this year’s TIFF was reduced to just fifty films, a fraction of what it would be in normal circumstances, those films that were selected are sure to be exciting! Presented with a combination of in-person traditional, open-air, drive-in, and virtual screenings (geoblocked to Canada), this is sure to be a unique year for the festival. BUT it also means that there are more opportunities than ever to check out these intriguing films and more! Here are five movies that we personally can’t wait to see!
Thomas Vinterberg is arguably one of, if not the most versatile directors working today, directing everything from intense dramas (The Hunt) to war movies (Kursk) and almost everything in-between, and his newest film Another Round, a dark comedy, has all the signs of another hit. Starring Mads Mikkelsen as a teacher who sets out with his friends on a social experiment to remain slightly drunk throughout the day while maintaining their daily lives. If the Vinterberg-Mikkelsen reunion isn’t enough to excite the cinephile in you, it sounds absolutely hilarious, but knowing Vinterberg’s past work, it is sure to have more layers than the average drinking comedy.
Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds
Speaking of directors with eclectic filmographies, prolific filmmaker Werner Herzog’s newest film (and his third that will be released in the U.S. this year) Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds sounds like an absolute treat for anyone who is an astronomy buff. Offering an intimate portrait of scientists hunting meteors, Herzog’s distinctive style will make this an undeniably cinematic watch even if you don’t find your interest piqued by the material. And given what we’ve seen of Herzog’s documentary, we can expect some absolutely breathtaking cinematography to come out of it.
Summer of 85
The lower-profile of the two seaside LGBTQ+ romances set to debut at this year’s festival and arguably the one that looks more interesting, acclaimed French filmmaker François Ozon’s newest work, Summer of 85, explores a relationship between two teen boys that soon turns into tragedy. From the images and trailer, it looks like it is going to be one of the most gorgeous films of the festival, at least in terms of the cinematography and the scenery it depicts. And Ozon’s previous work gained a lot of notice for being so personal, so let’s hope that this one follows that trend.
Documentarian Frederick Wismean is ninety years old and yet is still going strong. His last film, Ex Libris, was considered by many to be a significant Oscar snub this year, but maybe his newest work, City Hall, which seems much more political, will finally get him the love he deserves from the Academy. Its four-and-a-half hour length is admittedly a bit intimidating, but Wiseman’s exploration of civil service is sure to be a fascinating watch if his previous work is any indication. This will be an endurance test for even the most committed of festival-goers, but one that promises to be rewarding.
Shadow in the Cloud
One of the most exciting things about festivals are the midnight movie sections, and while TIFF’s Midnight Madness isn’t running at full steam this year, there are three selections, and all of them sound great. The most exciting of them, Shadow in the Cloud, sounds like a uniquely feminist take on WWII action-horror. The program’s description doesn’t reveal a whole lot about the story, meaning that it probably contains plenty of unexpected twists and turns, but one thing we can anticipate is a typically excellent performance from Chloë Grace Moretz, who seems to be playing against type here but will surely be fun to watch nevertheless.
And these are just a few of the films we are excited for in this year’s festival! Unfortunately, with the festival only lasting ten days, it would be impossible for someone to get to everything showing in the lineup, but there truly is something for everyone. So for those in Canada, it’s not too late to look through the schedule and buy your tickets now, because there are some films you’re not going to want to miss!
The 2020 Toronto International Film Festival runs September 10-19.
By Sean Boelman
One of the world’s premier genre film festivals, this year’s Fantasia Film Festival is happening later than usual and in an unprecedented way with an all-online presentation. With a blend of offerings available on demand and being shown via livestream, this year’s selection is packed with some amazing and exciting offerings for genre cinephiles in Canada.
Unfortunately, due to rights restrictions, these screenings have to be geo-blocked to Canadian audiences only (with the exception of the new Troma film #ShakespearesShistorm, which I personally can’t wait to see), but disappointment media is still covering many of the films in the lineup because many will make their way to international audiences sooner or later. That said, for our Canadian friends, here are five films that you absolutely will not want to miss in this year’s festival.
Screening: August 20 @ 9:45 ET
Japanese filmmaker Shinichiro Ueda made his way to American audiences in a big way with his ambitious genre-bending zombie movie One Cut of the Dead (which also played at Fantasia), and his newest movie Special Actors is somehow even better. Like One Cut, this is best experienced knowing as little about the plot as possible, but know that it’s a quirky comedy that doubles as a satire of the art of acting. With plenty of laughs and some truly unexpected twists, it’s an insanely fun film in more ways than one, but it also packs a surprising amount of emotional heft.
Crazy Samurai Musashi
Screening: On Demand
Speaking of one-takes, the movie that seems most likely to gain a cult following out of Fantasia is Yuji Shimomura’s insanely ambitious action flick Crazy Samurai Musashi. Inspired by a real battle that has become the stuff of legends, the film is one take minus a brief prologue and epilogue. It’s certainly more of a technical feat than a narrative one, and it’s far from perfect, but the things that Shimomura is able to pull off are insanely impressive. Holding it all together is a committed performance from martial artist Tak Sakaguchi, who handles the intense choreography with both grace and intensity.
Screening: On Demand
Noah Hutton’s sci-fi/comedy directorial debut Lapsis was supposed to receive its premiere at this year’s SXSW, but that festival was sadly cancelled due to the pandemic. Luckily, the film was still able to secure U.S. distribution thanks to great buzz, and Canadian audiences get a chance to see it as a part of Fantasia. This wickedly funny satire is set in a not-so-distant future where independent contractors embark on dangerous hikes in order to connect cables for an emerging trading market. Examining the flaws and preaching the fears of the ever-growing gig economy, this film is even more relevant now given a recent unemployment crisis.
Screening: August 22 @ 7:00pm
The other film that just screams timely is the Taiwanese rom-com I WeirDo. Telling the story of two people who suffer from OCD as they find love in each other’s compulsions, it’s eerie how much the character’s feelings of isolation resonate with the current situation. That said, even without that connection, the film would still be great, largely thanks to the wonderful chemistry of its stars Austin Lin and Nikki Hsieh. Also impressive is that the film has some gorgeous iPhone-shot cinematography and ridiculously detailed production design. It’s a charmer made with a lot of care, something that is rare for the genre.
Texas Trip - A Carnival of Ghosts
Screening: On Demand
Steve Balestreri and Maxime Lachaud’s documentary Texas Trip - A Carnival of Ghosts is one of the hardest films in the lineup to sell, and it may have a hard time appealing beyond its niche, but that’s all the more reason to catch it while you can at the festival. Connecting drive-in theaters with alternative music artists, it’s almost as if Joe Bob Briggs and the guy from Frank got together to make a movie about creative expression. It’s weird as hell, but also a mesmerizing and beautiful sensory experience. This is one of those smaller and more out there festival films you just have to take a chance on.
With how massive the lineup is this year, there’s no shortage of films to check out, and there truly is something for everybody. If you live in Canada, even if none of these five films tickles your fancy, you should check out the lineup because I can pretty much guarantee that there will be something that will. Stay tuned to disappointment media for our ongoing coverage of the festival.
Virtual tickets are now on sale for the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 20-September 3, geoblocked to Canada.
By Sean Boelman
After being delayed from its original April dates and being expanded from its usual ten days to a whopping two weeks of great films, this year’s Florida Film Festival kicks off today at the Enzian Theater in Orlando, FL. Following all recommended state and local guidelines and with added safety precautions in place, film lovers from Orlando will gather (socially distanced, of course) to watch the great selections made by the FFF team.
While all eyes will be on the in-person portion of the festival, as the success of the event may be a good indicator of how a reduced capacity festival may work for the rest of the year (and potentially into 2021), it’s important to note that this year’s festival also features a virtual component which will allow cinephiles to check out a majority of the films in the lineup from the safety and comfort of their own home for the low price of $40!
Leading up to the festival, disappointment media has had the opportunity to check out some of the films playing online and at the Enzian via exclusive press screenings or having had seen some of them via different festivals. Below are five of our favorite films that were included in the selection, and hopefully you get the chance to check them and some of the other great selections out!
Section: Spotlight Films
Screening: Virtual ONLY, 12-6pm on August 13
Although the midday screening time of the film may prevent those with a nine-to-five from checking out this film, Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’s documentary Boys State is one NOT to miss if you can work it into your day. Following a group of boys at a summer camp where they form a mock representative government, this is both frequently hilarious and surprisingly horrifying with its commentary on American democracy. Although one may think that a bunch of teenagers may not be the most knowledgeable about the ins and outs of our government, there’s a surprisingly deep level of insight about some of the issues we are going through right now to be found in this film.
Things Happen Because
Section: Animated Shorts
Screening: August 12 @ 6:30pm; Also Available Virtually
Unlike some other festivals, the Enzian crew and Florida Film Festival take great care to feature up-and-coming filmmakers, and the community often comes out in droves to these shorts programs featuring exciting new voices. There isn’t a better example of that this year than Frank Volk’s Things Happen Because, an expressive (and very funny) Hertzfeldt-inspired short. It’s weird, dark, and not particularly family-friendly (leave the kids at home for this block), but it has a lot of charm in its five minutes. And if you still need to be convinced of how great this film is, it earned a spot in the main Animated Shorts competition rather than the more local “Sunshine & Swampland” block.
Some Kind of Heaven
Section: Florida Films
Screening: August 8 @ 12:00pm
Another great thing about the Florida Film Festival is that it always features films that are of significant local interest, and this year’s “Florida Films” feature is a particularly wonderful one: the Darren Aronofsky-produced documentary Some Kind of Heaven. Following some of the residents of the Florida retirement community The Villages, the film is equal parts funny and sad, and its cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. This examination of the facade that is suburban America may not be too flattering to the people who actually live in the area, but those who have visited will be intrigued by the ways in which director Lance Oppenheim calls out the hypocrisy of his subjects.
Fully Realized Humans
Section: Narrative Competition
Screening: August 8 @ 8:45pm
Last year’s Florida Film Festival featured a tribute screening of The Blair Witch Project with a reunion Q&A featuring the film’s cast. This year, one of those cast members, Joshua Leonard, returns to the fest with his new directorial outing Fully Realized Humans, an authentic and riotous look at the anxieties of parenthood. With some of the greatest visual gags in any film so far this year, this will have viewers rolling in their seats with laughters (although it’s not for those who are a bit prudish). And to top it off, the film features the interesting angle of having been shot while Leonard’s co-star Jess Weixler was actually pregnant and about to have her first child!
Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President
Section: Spotlight Films
Screening: August 18 @ 3:30pm; Also Available Virtually (Limited to 100 Tickets)
The other thing for which the Florida Film Festival is well-known is programming some excellent flicks for musicophiles, and while this year’s “Music Films” section is exciting, there’s another great music doc snuck into the Spotlight Films section. Mary Wharton’s documentary Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President is not only interesting because it explores the 39th Commander-in-Chief’s affinity for rock-and-roll, but also because its biographical portion is structured similarly to the traditional rock doc. It’s a consistently entertaining film packed with great tunes, some excellent interviews with musicians, and of course the opportunity to get to hear President Carter’s story in his own words. Both music fans and those interested in politics will definitely want to check this one out.
And that’s only a sampling of some of the great films that this year’s festival has to offer! Stay tuned to disappointment media to check out our ongoing coverage of the festival, which runs from August 7 through August 20 at the Enzian Theater. And if you’re in the Orlando area, you may just run into us at a few screenings, but please don’t run into us at home as we watch the virtually-available selections!
By Sean Boelman
2020 has been an unprecedented year for the film industry, with theaters forced to close as a result of the pandemic and the industry mostly grinding to a halt. Still, thanks to some new at-home viewing options (virtual cinema has proven particularly effective in maintaining some life in the indie market), and the lucky few releases that got their chance on the big screen before the shutdown, there were some pretty noteworthy titles released in the first half of the year. Without further ado, here are ten of the best films of 2020 so far, in alphabetical order.
Note: This list does not include films that have not received some sort of public release between January and June 2020, including festival showings, virtual or otherwise.
Kitty Green’s quiet and meditative drama The Assistant, a direct reflection of the “TimesUp” era, came out right before Harvey Weinstein was convicted in February, and while there have been significant changes since the first allegations against him broke in 2017, there’s still room to go. This portrait of a young assistant facing sexual harassment in an unnamed production company is absolutely harrowing, using restraint as a tool to creep under the viewer’s skin. Julia Garner’s performance here is unforgettable, and Matthew Macfadyen also gives a memorable bit turn as the unwelcoming HR rep. This may be the most underseen pick on this list, and that needs to be fixed.
While the initial premise of a terminally ill teenager falling in love with a drug dealer might sound messed up, Shannon Murphy’s darkly funny directorial debut Babyteeth is also surprisingly sweet. Although Murphy’s visual style and the script by Rita Kalnejais are both great, it is the performances here that make the film stand out the most. Hot off her star-making turn in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Eliza Scanlen proves that she is a force with which to be reckoned, bringing a lot of humanity to her role. Character actor Ben Mendelsohn is also as great as ever here, with one of the most demanding performances he has had to give to date.
The sophomore effort from Thoroughbreds director Cory Finley, the crime comedy Bad Education was bought by HBO out of TIFF last year and made its way to the pay network earlier this year. This story of public school embezzlement is almost so crazy that it’s hard to believe. Aided by great performances from Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney and vivid direction from Finley, the script by Mike Makowsky is the MVP here. With witty dialogue, killer pacing, and some surprisingly good characterization, expect this one to make a big splash at the Emmys when they are able to occur this year.
One may wonder why they should care about some random dying mall in Alabama, but Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb’s documentary Jasper Mall makes an impressive statement with this seemingly local interest story. Exploring the shortcomings of the consumerist tendencies of America, this film has an unexpectedly human touch to it, especially as it explores the story of the endearing manager trying to keep his mall afloat. The film definitely cashes in on the nostalgia that a lot of people have for their days of shopping at the mall being a formative social activity during their youth, but it’s also very much a product of the moment.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Out of all of the films on this list, the one most likely to achieve year-end success (with critics and awards voters alike) is Eliza Hittman’s character drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always. A timely exploration of the issue of abortion, it’s an emotionally devastating watch, but an important one at that, and it has been connecting with audiences of all ages as a result. Sidney Flanagan’s leading performance is absolutely amazing, but the gorgeous visual style that Hittman brings to the film is probably the biggest highlight here. It’s a restrained and low-key film, something of which the film industry is constantly in need.
On the Record
Following up their groundbreaking film The Hunting Ground with another exposé on sexual abuse, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s new documentary On the Record is one of the most hard-to-watch films of the year so far. After picking up some controversy when Oprah Winfrey and Apple TV+ dropped the film from their slate just prior to its Sundance debut, new streamer HBO Max gave this movie about the damning allegations against record producer Russell Simmons a new home. Incorporating elements of a music doc but packing a huge emotional punch, this doc isn’t one you’ll soon forget.
Sorry We Missed You
Although some would argue that British filmmaker Ken Loach may have peaked with his Palme d’Or winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley, this year’s Sorry We Missed You proves that he still has it as long as his writing partner Paul Laverty has something to say. This time, Loach and Laverty conquer the issues of the modern gig economy with the heartbreaking tale of a delivery driver father and his struggling family. Like much of Loach’s best work, this is an absolutely draining watch, but its examination of how the economy is taking advantage of the lower class couldn’t be more timely than it is now.
Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s feature debut Swallow is the best horror film of the year, offering a socially-conscious entry into the body horror genre, Mirabella-Davis’s script is both disturbing and darkly funny. Following a young housewife with a (shockingly existent) condition that compels her to swallow increasingly dangerous objects, this is a bizarre film, but one that you can’t spare to look away from. Haley Bennett impresses here, finally being given the opportunity to do something other than to be eye candy. Mirabella-Davis’s visual style is also very idiosyncratic, particularly his use of color, cementing him as one of this year’s big talents to watch.
Weathering with You
Although his last film Your Name. got much more widespread acclaim, Makoto Shinkai’s newest anime feature Weathering with You is extremely impressive. Although it admittedly can be a bit of a tear-jerker at times, the tremendously beautiful animation and sense of fantasy and wonder that flows through it make up for its shortcomings. Even more shocking is the fact that this is the rare anime where the dubbed version almost works better than the subbed version, with an English voice cast including Allison Brie, Riz Ahmed, and Lee Pace (although the original language cast is great too). Sadly, the unusual release patterns of anime in the United States makes this the only entry on this list that is not currently available to watch in some form.
A White, White Day
Hlynur Palmason’s Icelandic thriller A White, White Day is very different from any entry on this list. It’s both a meditative drama about grief and a revenge thriller showing a man hunting down the person who has wronged him. Unlike most films of the genre, the violence is not the focus here, brutality only used in short bursts to accent the emotion, with more emphasis being placed on the characters and their feelings. Palmason challenges a lot of conventions, but his compelling story, cold but picturesque cinematography, and a brilliant performance from Ingvar Sigurdsson make this one of the best films of the year yet.
While some of the most anticipated films of 2020 were delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with theaters hopefully reopening in August, many of them should make their way to the big (or small screen) by the end of the year. Still, one can expect some of these great pictures to repeat on that later list.
By Sean Boelman
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos received a great deal of attention as the director of the critical darling The Favourite, but even before that, he was an amazing filmmaker who defined an entire movement in Greek film. His first solo feature Kinetta is finally making its way to American audiences, so now seems to be the perfect time to trace the development of his unique and darkly comedic style of cinema.
The zany premises of Lanthimos’s movies are a big part of what has gained him such a big cult following. Over the course of his career, the concepts of his films have gotten more and more bizarre (and increasingly insightful, in effect), starting with Kinetta, his most grounded, all the way to The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which leans fully into fantasy. (The Favourite was not written by Lanthimos, hence its exclusion.)
Much of the charm of these dark satires lies in the fact that they are so unabashedly odd that they are impossible to ignore. There may or may not be reason to be concerned about the filmmaker’s state of mental health given some of the more disturbing and demented elements of some of his movies, but there is something impressive about the fact that he can find the humor in these dark situations.
Lanthimos’s solo debut Kinetta is undeniably his most subtle in terms of humor, but it still shows many of his hallmarks that would develop over the course of his filmography. The movie’s repeated use of purposefully rough film-within-a-film footage may be among the most disturbing moments of any of his movies (incest included), but there’s still something uncomfortably funny about it.
This would soon be taken to the extreme in his follow-up Dogtooth, which has the most taboo subject matter that Lanthimos has tackled to this point. Still, Lanthimos doesn’t shy away from mining the hilarity out of the awkward atmosphere, delivering situational humor that will linger for a long time in the mind of the viewer.
Dogtooth also shows how Lanthimos would eventually master the art of dialogue. The filmmaker’s gift with words is never more evident than when he inserts common words and phrases into sentences out-of-context to make the characters lovably out-of-touch. This simple but inspired action on his part goes to show how much of a comedic genius he really is.
When Lanthimos would truly become a master of dark absurdity is when he could translate it into topicality, and that happens in The Lobster. Although Kinetta, Dogtooth, and Alps all have something to say, The Lobster is his first film that feels urgent. It is the perfect culmination of all the humor he has been working up to build, all of it having started with three people in a Greek hotel.
It is interesting to see how Lanthimos evolved as a filmmaker from Kinetta through his English-language masterpieces. Each movie builds upon its predecessor, forming Yorgos Lanthimos into one of the most prolific voices working in film today, and hopefully, he has plenty more to say.
Yorgos Lanthimos’s solo directorial debut, Kinetta, is now streaming on Criterion Channel.
By Sean Boelman
Although the 2020 SXSW Film Festival was cancelled as a result of the global pandemic we are facing right now, that didn’t stop some of the filmmakers from sharing their films with critics in the hopes of building buzz for their eventual premiere when things blow over. While it’s sad that these filmmakers didn’t get to see their films premiere to packed houses in Austin, TX, they still have the honor of getting the recognition of being selected, and most of them won’t have a hard time finding another place to screen. Although there are plenty of great films in the lineup that already have distribution deals in place, those films have a list of their own. Instead, these are the films that would have had their world premiere at this year’s SXSW and need your help in driving up attention to get a distribution deal and/or a new festival home!
Best Summer Ever
Directed by Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli, Best Summer Ever is arguably the film that had the most to lose from the cancellation of the festival. A low-budget independent musical featuring an integrated cast of people with and without disabilities, this film is just an absolute ball of happiness and joy. Think Grease, but way more inclusive and wholesome, and that’s Best Summer Ever. The eight songs on the soundtrack are bright and catchy, and the script offers a tongue-in-cheek riff on teen comedy tropes (which won it the Final Draft Screenwriters’ Award). The film was set for a pretty prolific festival tour, but unfortunately, all of its screenings have been postponed for the time being. Still, it’s the type of crowd-pleasing movie that demands to be seen with an audience.
For Madmen Only
Heather Ross’s documentary For Madmen Only takes a look at the life and career of comedic mastermind Del Close. Although it is one of the safer and more conventional films to appear on this list, it earns its spot because of its entertaining and heartwarming approach to its story. Fans of the comedic medium will undoubtedly delight in getting to see footage of Close workshopping his magnum opus, the “Harold”, and interviews with various high-profile comedians who were inspired or mentored by the man himself. Because of how well-known the film’s subject and interviewees are, you can expect this film to find a home soon, as it is a good crowd-pleasing documentary.
The directorial debut of actor-turned-filmmaker John Leguizamo, Critical Thinking is an uplifting and inspiring tale of youth banding together to make the most of their situation. Although the film leans a bit too heavily on genre tropes at times, the phenomenal true story at the center of the film will allow it to connect with audiences of all ages and cultures. Even though the film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it offers plenty of laughs and an uplifting message. Leguizamo is at his career best as the teacher who serves as the mentor to these kids, and the cast also features some strong performances from the young actors in the chess team. Because of the crowd-pleasing nature of the film, and the star-power attached, this won’t have a hard time getting distribution, so you’ll get to see this film sooner rather than later.
Lindsay Lindenbaum’s music documentary Tomboy is probably one of the most refreshing films that audiences would have gotten the chance to see at this year’s SXSW had it been able to occur. Giving viewers an intimate look into the lives and work of four female drummers, the film presents an important perspective on a genre of music that is often male-dominated (or at least the men get a majority of the attention). Although the film does feature stories from well-known bands, the more effective portion of the film is arguably that which follows an extremely talented young woman as she forms a band of her own. With this, Lindenbaum is able to create a film that is a passionate love letter to music and creativity.
Having gotten the support of indie filmmaker Jay Duplass, young writer-director-star Cooper Raiff’s directorial debut Shithouse earned the Grand Jury Award in the Narrative Feature Competition (via virtual judging) at this year’s festival. With a unique and brutally honest perspective on a common genre, Raiff’s film is both a ton of fun to watch and surprisingly emotionally resonant. This lo-fi dramedy is a little rough around the edges, but that is part of its charm. The script is charming and often hilarious, thanks in part to excellent performances from Raiff and his co-star Dylan Gelula. Thanks to the names that have given their support to the film, and the acclaim it has been getting, expect this one to make its way to audiences pretty quickly.
Dark City Beneath the Beat
Baltimore musician TT the Artist shows that her talents also expand to a visual medium in her hybrid documentary Dark City Beneath the Beat. Part performance film, part visual essay on the history of Baltimore club music, and completely a love letter to the city that inspired her work (both this film and her music), this is one of the most interesting sensory experiences that viewers would have had at this year’s festival. The performances are intricately choreographed and beautifully-shot, and the interviews that stitch them together provide some great insight into the creative process. This isn’t an average documentary, but it sure is an enjoyable one, especially for any fans of music.
Jeremy Hersh’s directorial debut The Surrogate may be one of the least traditionally cinematic films that was set to debut at this year’s festival, that doesn’t prevent it from being one of the most riveting. An intense and emotional examination of its central ethical dilemma, this film is as thought-provoking as it comes. Although it’s overtly political nature may cause it to be divisive among closed-minded audiences, the film does a good job of addressing both sides of the very important discussion around which it is built. The film is also notable because its lead actress, Jasmine Batchelor, gives one of the best performances of the year so far. Though the challenging nature of this film means it will be hard for it to find a fitting home that can market it properly, it will be more than worth the wait.
Experimental filmmaker Marnie Ellen Hertzler has finally made the transition into long-form filmmaking with her ambitious avant garde documentary Crestone. Exploring the lives of a group of SoundCloud rappers as they go about their daily routine in the eponymous town, making music and smoking weed, Hertzler transports the viewer into the fantasy-like world the subjects have created for themselves with some surreal visuals and an unreal sound design. No one would’ve thought that a documentary about pot-smoking rappers would have been as profound as this, but here we are. This film will undoubtedly challenge audiences and their narrative expectations, but if viewers are able to get in tune with Hertzler and her film’s subjects early on, this film will have a surprising impact.
Another directorial debut, Noah Hutton’s film Lapsis was one of the more idiosyncratic films in this year’s festival lineup. Combining sci-fi with deadpan comedy and social commentary, the film feels like a cousin of Sorry to Bother You and other great works of sci-fi satire. Hutton’s film is one that will stick with viewers long after the credits roll, as its message about the modern economy, particularly when it comes to gig workers, is very profound. This is the type of smart and creative genre picture that festivals like SXSW were made to discover, and Hutton’s voice is that which festivals in general were made to project. Of any of the films that screened for press out of the lineup, Lapsis is the one that most screams that it will achieve a cult following if distributors will take a chance on it.
The Donut King
The first film in which cinematographer Alice Gu steps into the director’s chair, The Donut King is without a doubt the most impressive documentary that was supposed to debut at this year’s SXSW festival. Although the film is certainly admirable as a foodie movie (it features some gorgeous shots of the eponymous delicacy, coupled with some phenomenal editing), it is even more effective as a story of the American Dream. The film traces its subject as he goes from a Cambodian immigrant fleeing the oppression of the Khmer Rouge to the owner of an empire of donut shops in California. Executive produced by Ridley Scott, this is an entertaining and endearing documentary unlike any other in the lineup this year. If this film goes to the right home, expect it to become a sensation when it gets released.
All ten of these great films were set to debut at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival and are currently seeking distribution.
By Sean Boelman
The hustle and bustle in Park City is finally coming to a close as the two concurrent film festivals, Slamdance and Sundance, have wrapped up their 2020 editions. Both festivals were home to plenty of great films, some of which came out of the fest with distribution deals and many of which are still looking for homes to bring them out into the public.
Although there were also some great films to have shown at Slamdance and Sundance that had already debuted elsewhere (Pablo Larraín’s Ema is arguably the single best film to have shown in Park City), those films don’t appear on this list. Instead, this is the top four films that held their premieres at the Slamdance Film Festival or Sundance Film Festival.
4. Summer White
A Mexican coming-of-age tale written and directed by Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson, Summer White is a slow burn, but it is an effective one at that. Drawing the viewer into the world of the protagonist, Patterson is able to create a thoroughly immersive environment that allows the film to be absolutely shocking at times. Although the story is a tad predictable, the themes which Patterson explores are interesting enough to make the film stand out.
3. Acasa, My Home
A verite-style documentary following a Romanian family as they are displaced from their longtime home, Acasa, My Home may not be the most urgent documentary to play at this year’s festivals, but it is certainly one of the most affecting. Thanks to the film’s largely human-oriented approach, the film is packed with emotion. Even though some of the things that happen may not seem like they would be particularly cinematic on paper, they make for a fascinating documentary nevertheless.
Although it was met with mixed reviews by many, Jumbo earns a spot high on this list thanks to its charm and wit. While it is true that the film follows the beats of the genre to the tee, writer-director Zoé Wittock brings a unique visual style to the film that is undeniably impressive. Containing some absolutely gorgeous cinematography, and a performance from Noémie Merlant that is not to be missed, this is the type of quirky indie film that these festivals are meant to discover.
1. Jasper Mall
However surprising it may be, a documentary about a dying mall of all things was one of the best films to play at either festival, and ultimately the best film to make its premiere in Park City. Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb’s fly-on-the-wall Jasper Mall may have a simple set-up, but it uses it in an extremely interesting way to deliver commentary on the American economy. This thought-provoking documentary absolutely demands to be seen, and immediately.
The Slamdance Film Festival ran January 23-30 in Park City, UT and the Sundance Film Festival ran January 24 through February 2 in Park City, UT.
By Sean Boelman
On February 5, the SXSW Film Festival announced the remainder of the programming that will be screening at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 13-21 in Austin, TX. Among the films announced are those that will be screening as "Midnighters", "Festival Favorites", and "Special Events", in addition to other late-addition features and the shorts, title design, and virtual reality cinema competitions.
The "Midnighters" section is home to those films best seen after dark (and with a little bit of liquid fun, if you're lucky enough to be attending a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse), from horror features to bizarre and surreal comedies. This section always contains some of the lineup's most intriguing films, if only because they are usually the weirdest, and this year is no exception. Highlights include the social-media-inspired thriller Dembanger and the Blumhouse thriller Run Sweetheart Run.
In the "Festival Favorites" section, attendees will be able to see great films that have been gaining steady buzz on the festival circuit, including some from this year's Sundance Film Festival, which just ended. Arguably one of the most exciting films in the section is Charm City KIngs, a new coming-of-age tale with story by Moonlight writer-director Barry Jenkins. Festival-goers also won't want to miss deadpan buddy comedy The Climb, which has been nominated for Indie Spirit Awards.
The "Special Events" section features special screenings of films in a unique environment that only a festival like SXSW can provide. Festival-goers will be treated to screenings of films with new restorations or live score performances. Although these don't fall within the realm of traditional film screenings, attendees should definitely check these events out if they get the chance, because they certainly provide a unique experience.
As anyone who has been to SXSW will tell you, the announcement of the program is just the beginning. Now, attendees must get to work scheduling their stay at SXSW. Whether you are staying for the whole festival or only coming for part, it is nearly impossible to squeeze in everything because of the wealth of great films that will be showing. And of course, you have to leave room for some buzz screenings! Still, with plenty to choose from, this year's festival is sure to be a fun and cinema-packed week!
The 2020 SXSW Film Festival runs from March 12-21 in Austin, TX.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.