09/03/2012 01:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Weird (and Potentially Wonderful) at the Toronto Film Festival


The Toronto International Film Festival, the world's second largest film festival, starts this week. This is a festival with a long history of introducing films that go on to be major critical and box-office hits. As many of them win Oscars the next year, it can also be said to mark the beginning of the lengthy awards season.

I've often thought it might be fun to write a column sending up film festivals, inventing ludicrous arthouse films from a make-believe festival with bizarro titles and even more bizarro concepts, mostly from nations that we only know about from patiently watching the Olympic opening ceremony.

Looking through the very busy program in Toronto, however, it's clearly not necessary. This might be a festival that attracts dozens of top Hollywood stars every year, a festival that will present Finding Nemo 3D, a festival whose audience choice award has gone four times to the film that would go on to be named Best Film at the Oscars. But it also has enough cinematic weirdness to make satire redundant.

If I wanted to make up a crazy film, what be the oddest nation for it? If I were trying to be humorous, I'd say North Korea. Just to make it even sillier, I'd write that it was the first North Korean feature film (apart from documentaries) made with US funds. As if such a film would be allowed.

But such a film somehow exists, and it's called Comrade Kim Goes Flying. For the record, it's about a young, pretty North Korean coal miner and her dreams of becoming a trapeze artist, despite the efforts of an arrogant trapeze star who thinks that our heroine should stay underground (physically, I mean). No, I didn't just invent that.

I'm tempted to see some films just because they have great titles, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which stars Emma Watson, so you'll be able to see it soon enough), My Awkward Sexual Adventure, The Pervert's Guide to Ideology and The mutability of all things and the possibility of changing some (yes, that's the title). Still, my award for best title goes to John Dies at the End. I don't want to give anything away about what happens in this film, but it's about sSoy sauce, a drug that promises an out-of-body experience, making users drift across times and dimensions, and occasionally return as alien beings who want to invade the world. Dammit, why didn't I think of that one? (I could have used it in a blog.)

Arty festival-goers don't need to limit themselves to such commercial enterprises as the star-studded movie version of Kerouac's On the Road, or the Wachowski siblings' latest epic Cloud Atlas (though both of those films might be as strange as anything else on the schedule). There are films that are suitably offbeat to win our attention. Wouldn't you like to see the Portuguese film Imagine, in which most of the cast is completely blind? How about The ABCs of Death, in which a "who's who" of the world's top horror movie directors (minus a few -- no Wes Craven, sorry) show 26 graphic death scenes -- in alphabetical order? It's described (by the publicity) as "a provocative, shocking and deadly funny compendium of carnage." Educational, as well.

For even more death, The Act of Killing is a documentary in which the unrepentant former members of Indonesian death squads are challenged to re-enact their murders in -- get ready for this -- the style of their favorite Hollywood movies. Produced by the Oscar-winning docu-director Errol Morris, it's presumably an anti-death film, but I'm worried that these assassins might be re-enacting their murders with the same artistic relish with which a top chef makes his signature dish.

If I need some light relief after that one, I can watch Making Chinatown, in which video artist Ming Wong recreates selected scenes from Polanski's classic Chinatown, except that he himself plays every role - Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston and everyone else.

Otherwise, I can watch Springtime, a silent, black-and-white film in which a Dutch daredevil performance artist covers himself with bees for 19 minutes. Or Thale (see video), which provides an elegant synopsis: "Two forensic clean-up men discover a deadly mythological siren hidden in the basement of a remote cabin in the Norwegian woods. Based on a true story." (Sorry, I added the "true story" bit.)

Will most of these films make it to the mainstream cinemas in the U.S.? Possibly. I recall watching The Artist at the New York Film Festival last year, and desperately wanting to tell everyone about it because, being a French film, mainly starring a cast we'd never heard of, it would probably have trouble finding a distributor. Oddly enough, what I thought would be a highly underrated film became so popular and acclaimed, with so many awards, that it was ultimately one of the most overrated films of the year. For next year's Oscars, I'm tipping Comrade Kim Goes Flying. It's a very bold prediction, considering I haven't even seen it yet (and the idea is pretty unlikely). But you never can tell.