It's been four years of avid movie-watching shared with my fellow Torontonian film lovers at the Toronto International Film Festival. As a senior, I intended to make my last fest count, and I could not have been more satisfied by the diverse, beautiful and most notably female-driven selection of TIFF 2012.
Day 1: With the TIFF youth committee I am a part of, I arrive opening night at the beautiful Roy Thompson Hall to see Looper, where, to be honest, I was more excited about seeing Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt than seeing the movie. I'm not a huge sci-fi fan. But not only am I completely thrown off by the intelligence and deep thought put into the story, I'm also overwhelmed by the strength and importance of Blunt's character. She is no typical hot bond girl. She can always win me over in any performance, but writer/director Rian Johnson creates one of the most meaningful and multilayered female characters in an "action" film, which only cements Looper's realism.
Day 2: Spring Breakers. The only thing I can say is WTF, for reasons that I cannot tell whether they are good or bad. The movie is beyond anything you have ever seen, which is evident through writer/director Harmony Korine's beautiful cinematography and trance-like editing mixed with Skrillex's intense electronic pop. What drives this already intriguing movie though is the impressive improvisation and realistic portrayals from four semi-Disney stars, including Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, who are anything but Disney-appropriate in this film.
Day 4: The Impossible. A true story of the horrific 2004 tsunami that caught a family of tourists in its wrath is brought to screen from Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona. The film includes strong performances all-around, including performances from newcomer Tom Holland and Ewan McGregor as the father. Naomi Watts, who resembles a sort of tall unearthly goddess in real life, has the majority of screen time. We see her through sickening injury after injury while still staying strong for her son, though she is losing blood and life by the second. When the credits rolled, every woman had ruined their makeup and every man had given up their masculinity for two hours. But more importantly, a beautiful moment was shared two feet in front of me when every cast member hugged each member of the family. This made up for the lack of a Q&A -- that and the fact that I got to shake the director's hand.
Day 6: Inch'Allah tells the story of a French-Canadian doctor working at a refugee camp in Palestine and staying with a Jewish friend in Israel. Aside from the intense impact left on you from the film's realism and most subtle form of activism, Inch'Allah thrives on its Academy Award-worthy performance from Evelyne Brochu. Watching her torn between two sides, we feel her pain throughout every pulse and it uncontrollably hurts. Deeply affected, my friend and I forced ourselves to approach writer/director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, who lived in Israel for 15 years. While thanking her for the life-changing experience, I starting crying in front of everyone -- her, Brochu and the two producers. They looked a little scared when I proclaimed "I'm Jewish and my friend here is Palestinian. We needed to see this movie together and I'm so glad we did." Hopefully their shock was more appreciative than troubled.
Day 7: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, better known for her action-filled roles in Sky High, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and most recently Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, takes a turn with indie Sundance favourite Smashed. Her character is Kate, an alcoholic elementary school teacher who takes on the less-inspiring and more realistically problematical task of getting sober. The hot name that will bring your attention to the film will probably be Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul. It is Winstead, however, that steals the show with her realistic, charming and simultaneously off-putting performance that only reminds me of the same feelings I felt about Anne Hathaway's acclaimed role in Rachel Getting Married. The film itself is quite similar to 50/50, taking a realistically humorous approach to a very dark subject.
Day 9: English writer/director Sally Porter stems from her youth and creates one of the most visually delicate portrayals of the 1960s in Ginger and Rosa, a tale of two 17-year-olds growing up in London during the cold war. In addition to the understated setting, with simple jazz music and timeless costumes, the carefully crafted story is carried by the most talented young actress Hollywood has ever seen, Elle Fanning. Though she was 13 while playing the role, the audience easily believes her to be four years senior, as her mature presence and immense talent brings her above many of her older peers. She even manages to sometimes steal the screen away from the powerful performances of Annette Benning, Christina Hendricks, Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall.
Day 10: Twice Born. It stars Penelope Cruz. That's all you really need to know. Though the film, directed by Sergio Castellitto, is poetic, deeply disturbing and aesthetically innovative, set against the backdrop of the Bosnian genocide, it is Cruz's performance that tortures your heart and connects you to the unimaginable story.
With that, I say goodbye to the festival that raised and educated me on the world's finest cinema and the enthusiastic audiences that appreciate it. I'll miss you dearly, TIFF.