Like last year's Nicolas Cage retrospective, TIFF's Whoa: The Films Of Keanu Reeves feels a little like a dare that got out of control.
Starting this week and rolling almost every Friday through April 5, the Lightbox will screen 11 of the actor's films, including his collaborations with Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, February 8), Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, February 22), Francis Ford Coppola (Bram Stoker's Dracula, March 1) and Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly, April 5).
So it made sense to devote this week's Top 5 to Reeves's finest moments - whether or not they're actually included in the series.
1. Permanent Record (1988) Everyone remembers Reeves as the stoner hero of River's Edge, but he's much more affecting as a high school student shattered by an unexpected loss in Marisa Silver's virtually forgotten drama, which came out two years later. Regrettably not part of TIFF's retrospective, but well worth digging up on DVD.
2. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) Reeves doesn't do enough comedy, for my money; his blissful enthusiasm as time-travelling high school student Ted "Theodore" Logan is so perfect that people have spent more than two decades confusing the character and the actor. But pay close attention to the little head tilts and blinks and you'll see a fully realized comic turn by an actor who's much, much smarter than the dude he's playing. Screens February 1.
3. Little Buddha (1993) Bernardo Bertolucci's messy combination of lavish costume epic and contemporary drama is another Reeves title that didn't make it into TIFF's retrospective, probably because the present-day sequences (with Bridget Fonda and Chris Isaak discovering their kid might be the reincarnation of a holy monk) are terrible. But Reeves, who appears in a parallel storyline as Prince Siddhartha, commits so totally to the role of a young man on the path to enlightenment that the whole movie seems suffused with his spirit. This would have looked amazing in Cinema 1, dang it.
4. Speed (1994) Yeah, Reeves did the action thing in Point Break, but all the adrenaline in the world can't cover up how utterly, laughably ridiculous that movie is. The brilliantly stripped-down Speed dispenses with all that dopey character stuff to cast Reeves as a blank-faced SWAT cop who gets suckered into a battle of wills with a mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) on The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down. Also, Sandra Bullock is a more believable scene partner than Patrick Swayze. Screens March 15.
5. The Matrix (1999) The Wachowskis may have built their 21st-century sci-fi actioner out of Hong Kong shoot-'em-ups, Japanese anime and pieces of the Terminator franchise, but Reeves's evolution from confused sap to fledgling cyber-warrior to confident superman is the movie's real pleasure. He's just like us, waking up to new possibilities and embracing them rather than running in fear. Also, he knows kung fu. Screens March 22.