Michelle Williams in a still from Wendy And Lucy
Full disclosure: Earlier this year, I was elected the vice-president and secretary of the Toronto Film Critics Association, so it's with considerable pride that I direct your attention to the announcement earlier this week of our 2008 awards.
I've been a champion of Kelly Reichardt's Wendy And Lucy since I saw it at Cannes earlier this year, so it's my pleasure to be part of an organization that named it the year's Best Picture, and honoured Michelle Williams' exceptional work with the Best Female Performance award it deserves.
Honestly, though, I'd have been entirely fine with either of the Best Picture runners-up, Rachel Getting Married and WALL*E, winning the day - and WALL*E did fine for itself, claiming Best Animated Feature.
Can't really argue with the acting nods to Mickey Rourke and Heath Ledger; their work in The Wrestler and The Dark Knight is amazing. And Rosemarie DeWitt's supporting turn in Rachel Getting Married grew even more impressive when someone told me I'd first encountered DeWitt as Mad Men's boho goddess Midge earlier this year. (I had no idea that was the same person.)
The screenwriting and directing awards for Rachel Getting Married seem eminently reasonable, too; a lot of that film's success is wrapped up in the way Jonathan Demme navigates the dramatic landscape that Jenny Lumet had laid out for him. And while I'm not quite as over the moon about Man On Wire as some of my colleagues, it's a fine selection for Best Documentary Feature.
If you have a chance to catch our Best First Feature and Best Foreign-Language Film winners on a big screen in the weeks to come, take it. Both Ballast and Let The Right One In are sterling examples of their chosen genres; Lance Hammer's desolate Mississippi Delta drama brings the austerity of Robert Bresson into the widescreen present, while Tomas Alfredson's eerie, almost crushingly intimate tale of a bullied boy and the winsome vampire next door finds a new spin on an old narrative.
Still left to be decided is our Canadian prize, which is to be voted on just before our big awards dinner in the New Year. The contenders are Stéphane Lafleur's Continental: A Film Without Guns, Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg and Yung Chang's Up The Yangtze.
What, you were expecting Passchendaele or Blindness to elbow their way onto the short list? Or even, ahem, Toronto Stories? No luck there. But I must admit I was surprised that none of those made it onto Canada's Top Ten, which was announced on the same day as the TFCA's winners.
Administered by the Toronto International Film Festival Group, and voted on by a selection of filmmakers, critics and industry professionals - including, this year, NOW's own Associate Entertainment Editor, Glenn Sumi - Canada's Top Ten works a little differently.
It's somewhat more boosterish than a critics' organization, frequently endorsing films before they've opened to the public. (All three of the TFCA's Canadian Film nominees appeared on the 2007 Top Ten, but didn't open commercially in Toronto until 2008.) And it tends to favour, well, favourites; when David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Denys Arcand, Deepa Mehta or Bruce McDonald makes a movie, it usually ends up making the list; in fact, I can't think of an occasion when one hasn't.
Therefore, it's doubly surprising when titles like Blindness and Passchendaele - the most incessantly hyped Canadian productions at Cannes and Toronto, respectively - fail to register. Pushback from jurors tired of being ordered to support local talent? Or just a flat refusal to consider movies that don't merit inclusion on any list purporting to evaluate quality? Either way, it was the right choice, and the list is better for it.
Adoration is still on it, but, you know. Baby steps.
In addition to organizing the Canada's Top Ten vote, the TIFF Group does lots of other stuff, too - like running the Sprockets children's film festival every spring. Sprockets is currently taking applications from kids aged 8 to 12 to sit on its Young People's Juries; the festival is also accepting submissions from Ontario student filmmakers (grades 3 through 12) for the Jump Cuts Young Filmmakers Showcase. Full details and entry forms are available at sprockets.ca.
Oh, and if your family's nonstop holiday merry-making has put you in a stabbier mood than usual, drop by the Bloor Cinema at 9:30 pm Tuesday (December 23) for a screening of the 1980 slasher chestnut Christmas Evil. (Director Lewis Jackson will be in attendance with rare deleted scenes.) I don't know about you, but nothing fills me with cheer faster than watching a horror movie with a hundred or so really enthusiastic companions.
Well, Die Hard works, too. But they ran that last week.