TORONTO -- Monday is the day when journalists start to head home from the Toronto Film Festival since most all the major films have had at least one screening by this point. Consequently, Toronto's opening weekend is a pressure cooker of day-to-night screenings, forcing critics to go on little sleep or sustenance as they try to evaluate many, many would-be major films in a short amount of time. Personally, the films I'd seen thus far at Toronto had been a bit underwhelming, making me wonder if it was the films or if it was me. Was I tired? Was I missing something? Turns out I was just waiting for the right movie to blow my socks off. And then I saw "Shame" last night.
I'll save my full comments for later, but suffice it to say that director Steve McQueen ("Hunger") has made a thought-provoking, intense drama that's easily the best thing I've seen so far in Toronto and is also one of the best films of the year. Not only that, it touches on subject matter dealt with in other Toronto films and simply bulldozes over them. Playing a successful New York professional with deep sexual addictions, Michael Fassbender is a darker, more desperate character than even Woody Harrelson's dirty cop in "Rampart." The film's examination of shaky family bonds is even more mysterious and penetrating that those in the superb "The Descendants." And when it comes to Fassbender films about sexual perversity that are playing Toronto, it sure beats "A Dangerous Method."
I was as tired as any time I've been at Toronto when I went to see "Shame," but the movie's titanic force instantly woke me up. As a critic, I'm very sensitive to the idea that reviewers don't always see movies under ideal circumstances. (You had a bad day, you're getting over a cold, traffic to the screening room was just terrible.) And yet I think it's important to not let those factors affect your opinion of the film, even though that can be very hard to gauge. (Is this film slow, or am I just tired?) "Shame" reminded me that, while it's important to stay cognizant of those external factors, great movies are great movies no matter what. I now feel re-energized for the rest of my stay.
Today, I'm going to be checking out two films for sure, and they couldn't be any different. The first is "Albert Nobbs," the period drama starring Glenn Close as a 19th century woman disguised as a man. If you're the kind who gets invested in Oscar buzz, Close has been getting a lot of attention for this role, mostly because it's been a passion project of hers for years.
The second is "Alps," the follow-up film from "Dogtooth" director Yorgos Lanthimos. Here's the plot description: "A mysterious underground outfit, going by the name of ALPS, offers bereaved individuals a very unusual service: they stand in for their dearly departed." So, no, Lanthimos hasn't decided to go for a mainstream romantic comedy after his dark breakthrough success.
We'll see how the rest of the day goes from there. In the meantime, here's a ranking of the films I've seen at Toronto, including movies I screened before the festival. This is from worst to best....
14. "This Side of Resurrection"
11. "The Artist"
9. "Sarah Palin: You Betcha!"
8. "Damsels in Distress"
6. "A Dangerous Method"
4. "Take This Waltz"
3. "The Descendants"
Now that the premieres are over, it gives critics a chance to catch up on movies they haven't seen yet. That's a large, large list for me. If I get another "Shame" while I'm here, I'll consider myself one lucky guy.