Best of Toronto International Film Festival: Part One by Jeff Mitchell

Best of TIFF 2018 – Part One


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As noted on the Toronto International Film Festival’s or TIFF’s website, this movie celebration “is dedicated to presenting the best of international and Canadian cinema and creating transformational experiences for film lovers and creators of all ages and backgrounds.”  From firsthand experience, this critic concurs. 


Certainly, TIFF is a mammoth 11-day event, but this proud Toronto jewel also carries an equally strong qualitative core of personable and efficient touches, not unlike our own Phoenix Film Festival.  Well, this proud Phoenician arrived in Toronto on Sept. 5 to attend this year’s TIFF and caught 26 movies so far (as of Sept. 13).  Yes, watching so many movies can be a dizzying experience, but I paused for a few moments to jot down five of the very best films that I have seen so far.  On Sept. 21, I’ll add an additional five in a “Best of TIFF 2018 – Part Two” article.



“Capernaum” – Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), a 12-year-old, sues his parents for bringing him into this world.  Over the course of director Nadine Labaki’s two-hour movie, the audience will discover Zain’s heartbreaking reasons.  Told in retrospect, Zain runs away from home and lives on the streets of Beirut, but even worse, he – somehow - becomes a caretaker to a baby.  As the two trudge from one brutal circumstance to the next, Labaki must carry remarkable patience when filming the untrained actors during their hopeless journey.  “Capernaum” rips at your core and leaves you exhausted, as evidenced at a TIFF screening.  Just after the film ended, a woman sitting next to this particular critic said, “This movie destroyed me.”  Completely agree. 


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“Cold War” –  Music director Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) meets Zula (Joanna Kulig) during a tryout for a new song and dance ensemble in 1949 Poland, and soon after, they start a fervent love affair in the most beautifully-shot movie of the year…so far.  Although their on-again, off-again relationship – admittedly - carries familiar beats, director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida” (2014)) captures and documents the couple’s emotional devotion, even when they live apart.  The score, cinematography and camerawork develop into the film’s third, fourth and fifth main characters, as the gorgeous black and white picture tempts one to walk up to the big screen and swim in Pawlikowski’s post-WWII cinematic triumph. 


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“If Beale Street Could Talk” – Director Barry Jenkins adapts James Baldwin’s novel into a film of dreamy beauty and rich textures but also weaves a troubling narrative that feels all-too-common in the United States of America.  Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) have been friends since childhood, but their relationship grows romantic as adults.  They are young – 19 and 22 years-old – but Tish’s parents and Fonny’s father joyfully offer their love and encouragement.  Unfortunately, life can often meddle with our perfectly-designed plans, and this young woman and man become its latest victims.  Several strong supporting performances bolster Layne and James, led by Teyonah Parris as Tish’s sister and Brian Tyree Henry as Fonny’s friend.



“Transit” – Writer/director Christian Petzold’s latest is a surreal puzzler that begins two moves ahead of us, and then we play catch-up for most of the 101-minute runtime.  Georg (Franz Rogowski) is on the run!  He’s a German living in Paris but needs to quickly flee the city and country.  He’s close to his escape while hiding in Marseille and waiting for his getaway-ship to arrive.  As Georg lingers in this seaside city, one might wonder why the events mirror WWII, but everything on-screen looks like 2018.  Meanwhile a mysterious woman (Paula Beer) repeatedly appears in Georg’s life for a few seconds at a time and then scurries away.  It is not important to actively investigate your questions during Petzold’s film, but rather, let the narrative run through you.  



“Widows” – The best ensemble cast of the year stars in the best crime film of the far.  Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki play widows who attempt a heist, even though they have zero armed-robbery experience.  This layered and stressful picture from Steve McQueen (“Shame” (2011), “12 Years a Slave” (2013)) meticulously plunges into lawbreaking, politics and family with stylish, violent action sequences and affecting sentiment of personal loss.  McQueen delivers thrills and yanks on heartstrings in an experience that hoists you onto a dangerous ride and dazzles with highly-memorable characters and several moving parts.  Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, and Robert Duvall co-star.


Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.