This one’s for you, Mr. Grinch

Bah! Humbug! An alternative movie list for those not overly fond of the holiday season

This one’s for you, Mr. Grinch

Look, I get it, you don’t want to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life again. You’re too alternative for Christmas now that you’re in university and learning big words like ‘hegemony’ and ‘postmodernism.’

Join the club. Be a ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie watcher. Sip that eggnog and feel smug. Make a comment on your Instagram and Twitter that you, too, are resisting the commodification of Christmas.

So what is a ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie? It’s a movie set during Christmas which goes against normative assumptions of Christmas. While a movie like It’s a Wonderful Life might not have anything to do explicitly with Christmas lore, it still captures the spirit of Christmas.

The following movies are the antitheses to our preconceived notions of what a Christmas movie should be. Here are the candidates for ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movies for this holiday season:

1. Instead of thinking about world peace, get your dose of unnecessary violence and action with Die Hard, 1988.

This one is the original ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie. There’s something so cheeky about watching Bruce Willis blow things up when your neighbours are singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” around the Christmas tree.

2. Instead of holding hands around the Christmas tree and singing songs, explore the deepest trenches of alienation and loneliness in Dekalog: Three, 1989.

Poland has never been so lonely in the third episode of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s masterpiece Dekalog. Driving around the streets at night in a taxi, Dekalog: Three places us in the world outside of the brightly lit homes of the suburbs. Here, the inability to connect with other human beings runs rampant. Holiday depression is real, and Dekalog: Three sleigh rides deep in its depths.

3. Instead of enforcing heteronormativity, delve into the psychological tensions of a boy learning about his sexuality in The Long Day Closes, 1992.

Showcasing the pure poetry of subdued queer cinema, 11-year-old Bud (Leigh McCormack) sits alone on the stairs as his entire family eats a meal around the Christmas tree. His two brothers have recently gotten married, but Bud knows he does not fit in. He is becoming increasingly intertwined in a world of ambivalence and ambiguity as he discovers his sexuality in 1950s Liverpool.

4. Instead of romanticizing idyllic Christmas childhoods, dive deep into childhood trauma with Fanny and Alexander, 1982.

In lieu of the Toronto International Film Festival’s celebration of the Ingmar Bergman Centennial, I present to you Fanny and Alexander. This five-hour film — the theatrical cut is only three — is about the life of two siblings as they grow up in 1900s Sweden. Its colourful proclivity to red might appear in line with the Christmas spirit, but the way the film ruthlessly explores the inner traumas so often tucked away when representing childhood is what makes it so ‘not-Christmas.’ Seeing mommy kiss Santa Claus is the least of these kids’ troubles.

5. Instead of wholesome family fun, enjoy sex cults and spooky conspiracies with Eyes Wide Shut, 1999.

Stanley Kubrick’s last feature is so drenched in paranoia and weird sex things that it will make any family have a case of the fantods. But the film isn’t just purely decadent: deep down, it’s an authentic meditation on marriage that dares to go into the obsessional and unsettling elements of love.

6. Instead of going to your church’s yearly rendition of the nativity story, explore the most controversial telling of that story in Jean-Luc Godard’s Hail Mary, 1985.

This film is set in 1980s France and was criticized after its release for telling such an untraditional narrative of Mary’s life. In fact, it was condemned by Pope John Paul II and banned in Argentina and Brazil. Hail Mary dares to offend. It features several nude shots of the virgin Mary — albeit stripped of sexual content — and forces us to rethink discourses of the holy by integrating the divine into everyday life. Hail Mary presents such radical claims of the body, virtue, miracles, and God that it transcends any simple understanding of the ‘Christ’ category of Christmas.

7. Instead of engaging in sprees of consumerism, embrace an ironic attitude to the dystopia of modern culture in Brazil, 1985.

You didn’t know Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was set during Christmas? Surprise! It even features a scene of a drunk Santa in a wheelchair. This masterwork in satirizing office life, authoritarianism, and late-stage consumerism is a hilarious political dystopia that becomes more relevant every day.

8. Instead of resting at home, venture into the cold, outside world of rural Québec in Mon Oncle Antoine, 1971.

Claude Jutra sets this revered film in the Canadian canon on December 24. While you’re snug at home with hot chocolate and all, watch as 15-year-old Benoît (Jacques Gagnon) and his uncle Antoine (Jean Duceppe) wander around in the snow on a dead-body delivery. The movie is chilly and methodical. It’s a slow — or perhaps ‘snow’ — burner that gives you a picture of the delights and challenges of a world outside the comfy, heated city life that Torontonians associate with Christmas.

9. Instead of going on a holiday and taking time off work, climb the corporate ladder and achieve a state of late-capitalist loneliness in The Apartment, 1960.

Closing our ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas list is Billy Wilder’s romantic comedy The Apartment. Taking place during the holiday season, Jack Lemmon plays CC Baxter, a lonely office worker who loans out his apartment to his superiors so they can have adulterous affairs. Baxter is determined to get to the top of the corporate ladder, but that all changes when he meets Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).

Wilder understands that love shatters our expected course in life. He crafts a film where every line of witty dialogue is perfect in its place. The way Wilder plays with the corporate wishlist of success and the world-shattering gift of love perhaps, more than anything, captures the contradictory nature of Christmas. The Apartment is both one of the greatest ‘not-Christmas’ movies and also one the greatest Christmas movies.

Overlooked: Gerald’s Game

This film has the scariest monster of them all

Overlooked: <i>Gerald’s Game</i>

Content warning: references to sexual assault.

I love horror movies. I love everything from the super cheesy ’80s slasher flicks, to the most twisted and intense psychological horrors — provided, of course, that they don’t demonize people with mental illnesses.

But alas, my deep disappointment with horror is the treatment of women and sexual violence. Women’s bodies become ragdolls to be thrown around, either to fuel male emotion or for the sake of pure shock value. Women’s sexuality too often becomes the deciding factor in who gets to survive until the end, with the virginal ‘final girl’ rewarded for chastity while still being heavily sexualized.

Enter Gerald’s Game, the 2017 Netflix horror and thriller based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel of the same name. The setup is easy enough to follow: Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), decide to take a romantic vacation to a lake house in the middle of nowhere, as many ill-fated couples do.

The game in question comes when Gerald decides to put Jessie in a pair of handcuffs for some roleplaying. Jessie agrees, then becomes uncomfortable. The two argue and suddenly, Gerald drops dead.

Handcuffed to the bed and totally alone, Jessie could easily be the chained-up prey of any would-be killer from a film more entrenched in the stereotypes of the genre. Instead, Jessie is forced to confront the truth about her life: her failing marriage to Gerald, her history of being sexually abused as a child, and the silence with which she has endured all of it.

Rather than be an object of disgust, horror, or shock, Jessie’s trauma is simply presented as it is, with Jessie’s fear stemming from the silence she has been forced into all her life.

There are some old-fashioned scares as well, with Jessie hallucinating the ghost of her dead husband and being interrupted by a grave robber and serial killer in search of treasures, but ultimately, the movie is Jessie’s journey.

Gerald’s Game is an intensely realistic examination of memory and trauma. The lead female character is never an accessory to another’s story or shamed for her choices.

This is the kind of story we need right now, the kind that knows how to scare you without any cheap tricks or jump scares. The scary monster is, in the end, what Jessie has to live with: silence, shame, and trauma.

An alternative movie list for Halloween

Hereditary is going to be the next cult classic in the Halloween film genre

An alternative movie list for Halloween

Sometimes, we need to prepare ourselves to watch a movie. That’s why we marathon all eight Harry Potter movies before any new Fantastic Beasts release and why we watch all the Star Wars movies before a new addition to the franchise.

But when a new movie doesn’t come with others backing it up, we construct makeshift watchlists. Here is one to prepare you for Hereditary, a horror movie that is already out. Due to its success, it will most likely be one of the biggest Halloween-esque films in decades.

It is this standalone property that makes Hereditary, and movies like it, all the more special, so I made it a rule for this list.

I realized it would be much harder to compile a list when most films are either remakes, sequels, or prequels, but I stuck with it. Some honourable mentions that unfortunately didn’t fit the bill are the 2013 Evil Dead remake and 2016’s The Conjuring 2.

Three rules for this Hereditary pre-watch list: the film had to be released in the 2010s, it had to be a standalone, and it had to fit the horror genre — no thrillers. Sorry, you won’t find Green Room or Don’t Breathe on here.

1. The Babadook, 2014 — directed by Jennifer Kent, Australia

You’ve probably heard of The Babadook. In the four years since its release, it has acquired a sort of cult following. And for good reason. The Babadook follows a mother and son duo who find an eerie storybook on their doorstep one day. What ensues is a haunting by a boogeyman that makes for innovative scares.

One of the reasons I appreciate The Babadook as much as I do — and why I think it is perfect for this list — is that it really utilizes the most that it can within the film medium to make your body literally shiver from fright.

You cover your ears when you’re scared in anticipation of loud noise?

That’s fine; The Babadook has imagery that will tattoo itself onto your consciousness.

You cover your eyes when you’re scared in anticipation of such tantalizing imagery?

That’s fine; The Babadook arguably has the most unsettling sound effects that will condition you to grow anxious, like when you hear nails on a chalkboard.

And the best part? Absolutely no jump scares. All of the thrills in The Babadook are created thanks to tension and storyline.

Yes, it really is that good.

2. Under the Shadows, 2016 — directed by Babak Anvari, Iran

If The Babadook seems a little overwhelming to you, it’s best to start off with Under the Shadows, a simple yet effective Iranian horror movie that showcases its horror in the same manner, but in a significantly less intense way. In a war-torn Tehran in the ’80s, a mother and daughter must stick together and battle an evil that presents itself within their apartment building.

Not only is Under the Shadows an incredibly clear cultural vignette of a city divided by war, but it perfectly balances political commentary with complex family dynamics and good, old-fashioned horror. Under the Shadows is a lot easier to watch than The Babadook, but it is nonetheless an extremely effective horror movie.

3. The Witch, 2015 — directed by Robert Eggers, US

The Witch received a limited release in 2015; it was a revelation of a horror movie. The Witch is as much a period piece as it is a horror movie: set in 1630s Puritan New England, a family is plagued by a witch — or are they? — and they begin to grow distrustful of each other, leading to a horrifyingly memorable finale.

The Witch, like The Babadook and Under the Shadows, relies on a calculated storyline, a well-curated score, and cinematography to instill tension.

There are no jump scares or cheap loud noises. The fear is warranted. And don’t believe the buzz, because The Witch is incredibly watchable. You’ll be hooked from the first minute.

4. Raw, 2016 — directed by Julia Ducournau, France

I was a little hesitant about putting Raw on this list. On the surface, it doesn’t appear to have many fantastical aspects. But once you delve further into its reality and the story arcs that Julia Ducournau expertly builds, you come to find yourself facing a world that is nothing like our own, and yet eerily similar.

Raw follows a young girl, raised by a family of cult-like vegetarians, as she enters her first year of veterinarian school. There, she must wade through new and foreign temptations to find out who she really is.

Despite what the title may suggest, Raw is not solely a dissertation on vegetarianism. The film examines the awakening of identity and hunger, both literal and spiritual. It does so in such inconspicuous ways that the moral of the story hits you rudely only after you’ve finished watching.

What makes Raw so scary is that it is essentially the product of feeding Western society and norms through a distorted filter. It feels familiar but doesn’t look like it.

In short, Raw is the funhouse-mirror reflection of human nature and obsession, and if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

It’s also gory — beware.

5. The Wailing, 2016 — directed by Na Hong-jin, South Korea

I am not going to mince words or wax poetic. The Wailing is, by far, the scariest and the most astonishing movie I have ever seen. It is also criminally underrated, and so I hope that if you consider yourself even a slight horror fan, you’ll give this treasure a watch.

The Wailing has a runtime of two and a half hours and follows a detective in a small village in South Korea as he handles what can only be called a zombie-like disease outbreak. But this is not a zombie movie in the slightest. The villagers suspect that an old Japanese man, a recent immigrant, is the cause of the virus and, as you can predict, madness ensues.

The Wailing examines xenophobia and paranoia better than any political drama ever could. The film references the relations between Japan and South Korea, the use and reliance of shamans, and overall spirituality and religion in South Korean society. It forces you to become vulnerable, to give yourself up to the narrative and reality of the story. And once it makes you vulnerable, it bombards you with one horrific scene after another.

It is riveting and jaw-dropping, with no unnecessary jump scares. The Wailing is the perfect film to get you prepared for any further ­­— potential — horror you may see in Hereditary.

Overlooked: Mean Streets

Overlooked: Mean Streets

Overlooked: <i>Mean Streets</i>

The first time that I heard about Mean Streets, I didn’t even recognize it as a Martin Scorsese film, despite loving his later works. Often regarded as a crime movie, Mean Streets is that and so much more.

From the rawness of its characters, to its plot and setting, Mean Streets was an instant classic. Shot almost completely in Los Angeles, the film brings the murky, diabolical glow of Little Italy, New York to life through the God-fearing Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and the suicidal and reckless Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro). At its core, Mean Streets is Scorsese’s tribute to his city. It’s a tale of friendship, love, religion, but most of all, it’s a tale of New York.

Although Keitel and De Niro are now stalwarts of Hollywood, when this movie was filming, they were relatively unknown. We see De Niro especially unshackled by the gravitas of his later roles such as Taxi Driver. In Mean Streets, he often improvised his lines and really brought the rogue Johnny to life — and we love him for it, even though he is the problem that pushes the narrative forward.

The handheld, shaky cinematography further immerses the audience in the gritty world of low-level Italian mafia. A staple in his later works — Goodfellas and Raging Bull, to name a couple — Scorsese’s minimalist yet innovative camera techniques really come through in the famous pool table fight scene. Equal parts hilarious and violent, he strapped a camera to Keitel’s head to demonstrate his intoxicated state.

In a way, the lower budget paved the way for the film’s distinctive style, as the majority of the budget was spent on the soundtrack, with music composed by The Ronettes, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones.

Scorsese’s sharp script and sharper directing encapsulate his view of the world in a grand, two-hour long gangster epic that shouldn’t be buried in the stacks of time, but celebrated as a work of art that inspired thousands of filmmakers and told a story about the great city of New York.

Overlooked: Love Jones

Representation is important: Love Jones is the first Black romcom that feels more indie than commercial

Overlooked: <i>Love Jones</i>

I am a hopeless romantic. I love watching love, hearing about love, and reading about love.

My favourite type of romantic content are romantic dramas with heavy dialogue: movies that not only explore love, but the human condition in a meaningful way. From Before Sunrise to Under the Tuscan Sun, I can revel forever.

One such movie that is underrated is Love Jones, which follows the story of Darius Lovehall, played by Larenz Tate, and Nina Mosley, played by Nia Long. Nina is a photographer who has just left a long-term relationship with a neglectful boyfriend, while Darius is a poet and a hopeless romantic.

They meet at a nightclub where Darius is performing poetry and, unbeknownst to Nina, he dedicates a poem to her. From there, a relationship begins to bloom.

Although the premise is simple, the film is monumental.

While movies such as The Wood and The Best Man do explore the love lives of Black people, Love Jones is absolutely the first popular Black film that truly feels more indie than commercial.

Unlike the heavy dialogue, artistic shots, and meditation on the lives of twenty-somethings living in a big city in Before Sunrise, Love Jones has no big scenes or dramatic arcs.

Instead, this film is about love in all stages.

It demonstrates the ebb and flow of two people who love each other but struggle to be on the same page. They want to love and to know what love is, but they are torn by their professional pursuits. Watching this as a teenager, I did not understand the beauty of the film. I thought it was just about two people who couldn’t make up their minds.

But after rewatching it in my twenties, my perspective shifted. It’s now painfully familiar.

On top of that, the film has an incredible soundtrack with Lauryn Hill, Duke Ellington, and John Coltrane. If you really like that jazz club episode from The Proud Family or enjoy a beautifully filmed romantic drama, this film is for you.

TIFF 2018: Volunteering at one of the world’s largest film festivals

Volunteering allows you to learn about and support smaller independent films

TIFF 2018: Volunteering at one of the world’s largest film festivals

Sunday, September 16 marked the final day of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) — or, in other words, the final day that I could compulsively stalk any human person with a reputable IMDb page who was in the Toronto area while not appearing to be a complete psychopath.

This year, I had the pleasure of volunteering alongside TIFF’s remarkable staff, where I was granted behind the scenes, 3D, and high-definition access to one of the world’s largest and most prestigious film festivals.

You’re probably wondering how I, a small, doe-eyed liberal arts student from rural Ontario got the opportunity to work at an event with such high stakes.

It began when I heard that TIFF was looking for another batch of eager volunteers. As an aspiring filmmaker, actor, and director, I knew that I needed to play a part in this year’s festival.

Like every other millennial that had applied, I had stars in my eyes as I dreamed of meeting internationally renowned celebrities. Whether it was icon and multi-Academy Award winner Meryl Streep or heartthrob Timothée Chalamet, having the chance to meet any star would be a mission accomplished.

That being said, during volunteer training, we were told with utter transparency that ‘stargazing’ was strictly prohibited, and so, in a matter of seconds, they had shattered all my hopes and dreams.

As I sat in my room, digesting this information, I contemplated just forgetting about it all. Was it worth it to volunteer and not have the chance to meet celebrities?

In that moment, I had to think of what was best for me. I yearned for a signal from someone, from something. Then I recalled a famous lyric from pop queen Ariana Grande: “I’m so into you, I can barely breathe,” she whispered to me. I knew that she didn’t write “Into You” so I could just quit on this whole thing. I had to do it for her, but more importantly, for me.

After attending orientation, picking up my badge and t-shirt, and signing up for my shifts, I was officially a TIFF volunteer. I was ecstatic. At this point, my mentality was to enter the festival with high hopes and the willingness to learn more about the organization, and to support the smaller, independent films that were premiering.

If you were lucky, you could work in the cinemas and view the films. I was working at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which is a multi-screen venue, meaning that there were lots of opportunities for me to see a plethora of films that I would never have had the opportunity to see outside of TIFF.

On one of my earlier shifts, I was assigned to Cinema 4, where I viewed Bi Gan’s experimental Chinese film, Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

On my final shift, I had the pleasure of watching Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, which I can confidently say is my favourite film of the year, and cinematically one of my all-time favourites.

Sandwiched between these shifts is a day I will never forget.

This year at TIFF, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star is Born premiered. Not only was their film premiering on the same day that I was working, but they were also promoting it at a press conference on the same morning that I was in the venue.

Even with this knowledge burning in the back of my mind, I never thought anything of it, until a TIFF staff member approached me. “You and you, follow me.”  I was the chosen one. But for what?

We were told that we would be scanning press tickets for the conference, meaning that I would have a chance of seeing Lady Gaga, my gay icon and the forever love of my life.

At that moment, my 10-year-old self and my current self let out an internal scream. This is what I had been waiting for: the chance to meet the multifaceted, legendary songstress and activist who produced all of my favourite songs as an impressionable queer boy.

After learning how to operate our scanning devices, my friend and I headed downstairs to the gallery where the conference was being held.

My role model of so many years would be standing in the same room as me.

Breathing the same air as me.

I had to stay calm.

After anxiously waiting, another staff member with two volunteers caught my eye and sternly marched over to me. I was expecting to get a time check for when Lady Gaga would arrive, or the okay to start scanning press tickets, but instead, I was told to return back to my previous job.

I was quite disturbed by this request and I let it show on my face. However, I am not confrontational, so I silently cursed the boy who replaced me and returned to my station.

As the day went on, I forgot about the incident and, to my surprise, thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my shift. Near the end of the day though, I overheard a conversation between two other volunteers: “I don’t really get the hype about Lady Gaga anyway.”

“Okay,” I thought, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but how does one disregard her stellar performance in A Star is Born?”

I turned around to see who dared criticize my idol it was that volunteer who had replaced me earlier in the day.

I am a firm believer in good karma, and I know that, at some point in my life, I will be graced by Lady Gaga’s presence.

The best of TIFF 2018

Highlights from one of Toronto’s most famous yearly experiences

The best of TIFF 2018

In a city as massive and complex as Toronto, it’s hard for most people to choose one defining annual event. But for me — and admittedly, my cinephilia makes me biased — it’s always the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

The world-famous film festival, now 42 years old, boasted a typically jaw-dropping lineup this year. I had the pleasure of seeing a variety of movies, including inevitable Oscar favourites, future cult classics, and even two very memorable films with close-ups of semen.

Those were 10 hectic days, but below are some of the highlights of 2018’s TIFF.

For awards season followers: If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins has returned, his name omnipresent a few years ago with the breakthrough release Moonlight. His previous feature was confident, passionate, and mature. Yet as If Beale Street Could Talk proves, Jenkins’ Best Picture-winning work was just him finding his footing. His newest effort is a sensational ensemble drama, full of rich emotion and an endless barrage of breathtaking performances.

This is not merely some awards-hungry prestige picture; Jenkins has created a unique and bold human drama. With endless sincerity, his camera drifts through a lush and tender colour palette as Nicholas Britell’s string-heavy score washes over us. If Beale Street Could Talk is an earnest and important work from a filmmaker destined to be recalled as one of our era’s greats.

For sci-fi fanatics: High Life

At 72, there are few filmmakers who have performed with the consistency and genius of French auteur Claire Denis. She’s worked with a variety of gifted performers in a vast array of genres, from postcolonial dramas — Chocolat, for instance — to one of the most emotionally distressing horror films I’ve seen: Trouble Every Day.

Her latest movie continues to amaze audiences. High Life follows Monte (Robert Pattinson), a solitary man raising his daughter on an abandoned spaceship, hopelessly alienated from any civilization. What proceeds is a frenzy of ethical and metaphysical questions, with a finale of literally cosmic proportions. Told with ethereal beauty and haunting imagery, High Life is a worthy addition to the filmography of one of cinema’s most original artists.

For arthouse addicts: Ash Is Purest White

Jia Zhangke’s Ash Is Purest White is a lengthy, genre-switching, and emotional epic. It tries its hand as a crime film, an action, and a comedy, but ultimately settles for something a little more delicate and difficult to grasp.

The movie follows a woman who, after spending five years in prison for protecting her lover — a violent crime boss — struggles to readjust into a supposedly ‘free world.’ Spearheaded by a show-stopping performance from Zhao Tao, Ash Is Purest White questions our relationship with time and memory.

For Eurodrama enthusiasts: Transit

The textures, landscapes, and characters from Christian Petzold’s latest film, Transit, all seem familiar. On the surface, there is nothing earthshattering about its tale of a man’s attempt to escape fascism in Europe via migration. Yet Petzold’s handling of temporal relations is quietly innovative. Adapted from Anna Seghers’ 1942 novel Transit Visa, the film sets the narrative in a contemporary setting without changing any of the time-specific details from the source material.

The result is a movie that blends eras into one narrative. Is it the past? The present? A near future? The device is effective at pointing out the cyclical nature of time in a critique of the seemingly undying presence of fascism. Unfortunately, Transit’s subtlety may prevent some from detecting its creativity. This is definitely one of the year’s most expertly-crafted dramas.

For mystery lovers: Burning

Burning, Lee Chang-dong’s latest movie, is a slow-simmer mystery — a film where all answers are obscured behind dense layers of mist. Based off of Haruki Murakami’s “Barn Burning,” the adaptation follows a love triangle turned haywire when sinister intentions come into the mix.

Drenched in melancholic moods and set against bleak landscapes, Burning is a lonesome ambient-fuelled nightmare. Admittedly, the narrative buildup requires dedication and patience. However, once the jigsaw pieces are spread across the table, Burning’s energy drives it to a thrilling finale.

It’s an unconventional and slow-paced thriller, certain to satisfy fans of Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta or George Sluizer’s The VanishingBurning is an investment, but one that pays off in subsequent days of reflection.

For horror fiends: In Fabric

Like a giallo fever dream merged with a psychosexual extravaganza, Peter Strickland’s In Fabric had me in stitches. Likely the most bizarre addition to this year’s Midnight Madness lineup, the movie weaves together a tapestry of characters whose lives take a horrifying turn when they come into contact with a murderous dress.

Between its eerie department store to its evil washing machines, I was frequently in a state of delightful hysteria. Unfortunately, some of the movie’s genius is squandered in a second half that resorts to redundancies, only to recapture its mojo in the final minutes, climaxing in an unforgettable frenzy of cinematic madness.

For documentary devotees: Monrovia, Indiana

For 50 years, Frederick Wiseman has ventured around the world, exploring various settings ­— some renowned, some only remarkable for their lack of distinction. Monrovia, Indiana has him venturing right into the abyss: a nest of Trump supporters.

Remarkably, none of the subjects in this film seem to discuss politics. Instead, they simply drift through their daily routines. Wiseman’s camera captures the minute details of this lifestyle, from graphic surgery in a veterinarian’s office to peculiar mattress sales.

Wiseman’s films have always been about honestly summarizing his own experience of the space he studied, and here, he excels with flying colours.

For tearjerker admirers: An Elephant Sitting Still

After Hu Bo completed An Elephant Sitting Still, his first and only feature, Bo ended his life. I mention this because such a detail feels inseparable from the movie itself. Every scene revolves around a sense of disillusionment with existence; there’s a constant anguish for the entire four-hour runtime.

The spectre of death haunts every moment.

With its desaturated colours, An Elephant Sitting Still is a bleak and intimate epic. Certainly one of the festival’s most challenging movies and a colossal and rewarding achievement.

Beneath all of the grey layers of desperation is a sliver of beauty. This movie is the product of a rare and unique artistic voice.

For crime connoisseurs: Birds of Passage

With his new film, Ciro Guerra trades in the psychedelic atmosphere of Embrace of the Serpent for a grittier and more narrative-driven feature. The product is like a more spiritual Scarface. Both movies are bullet-ridden epics depicting how greed and excess trigger calamities.

Guerra is an immensely talented filmmaker, managing to hit the conventional milestones of crime film, while injecting it with a singular energy. Simultaneously beautiful and brutal, Birds of Passage is a superb Colombian gangster tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

For experimentalism experts: Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Word of Long Day’s Journey into Night’s unconventional structure has been circulating since its premiere at Cannes. To summarize: the film drops its opening title card 70 minutes in before switching to an hour-long 3D tracking shot for the remainder of the runtime.

Yet the film, Bi Gan’s sophomore feature, is more than just an awe-inspiring technical achievement. It’s also a tender and melancholic portrait of a man’s attempt to resurrect the past. Gan’s tender compositions toy with neo-noir tropes in a Tarkovsky-esque rumination on love.

In my opinion, this is the most beautiful and likely the greatest film that I saw at the festival; every frame sings like a celebration of the cinematic medium. It’s the perfect summation of what TIFF is all about.

TIFF 2018: Prosecuting Evil

Biopic of chief Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz also a tribute to the power of international law

TIFF 2018: <i> Prosecuting Evil </i>

Content warning: graphic descriptions of the Holocaust.

Ninety-eight-year-old Ben Ferencz is the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials. It’s been over 70 years since he condemned the Nazis in front of the entire world, but even today, his face lights up as he repeats, by memory, a line from his submissions at trial: “The case we present is a plea of humanity to law.”

Directed by Barry Avrich, Prosecuting Evil combines Ferencz’s firsthand accounts, primary source footage, and statements from human rights experts around the world. The film is a jarring reminder of the horror that can flow out of cavernous international divisions, and of the need to universally condemn hatred across jurisdictions.   

Born in Transylvania to a Hungarian Jewish family, Ferencz immigrated to the United States when he was young to escape antisemitic persecution. When war broke out, Ferencz was a young law student at Harvard who wanted nothing more than to find a way to sabotage the Germans. Ferencz enlisted in the army and spent the months following December 1945 visiting newly liberated concentration camps and collecting evidence.

Ferencz knew at the time that there would eventually be a trial, but he could not have imagined that he would be the one to lead it. He was only 27 years old when he took on the role of chief prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen trial: footage shows him baby-faced and fiercely determined, feet firmly planted on a stack of books so he could address the court without peering over the lectern. That young lawyer achieved the remarkable feat of looking evil in the eye: in front of the whole world, he demanded that Nazi Germany answer for its crimes. 

Nuremberg was a series of trials unlike any other. For the first time in history at such a scale, the proceedings sent a powerful message to the world that war crimes would be punished, and that evil could be prosecuted, even in times of war. Fortunately for the prosecution, there were mountains of documentary evidence, chillingly meticulous records of when, where, and how Holocaust victims had been murdered. And Nuremberg was after everyone, from the Nazi party leaders and senior officers, to the doctors who performed grotesque medical experiments, to the lawyers and judges who sullied the courts and the rule of law.

Prosecuting Evil is remarkable for allowing Ferencz to tell this story in his own words. Though his conviction for human rights and justice has never wavered, he retains complicated feelings about his time at Nuremberg to this day. Ferencz testifies to the devastatingly difficult work of visiting concentration camps and looking survivors in the eyes. To keep himself sane, he put up a mental screen and repeatedly told himself that what he was seeing was not real. Instead of calling for the death penalty, Ferencz had advocated for life in prison, but four of the defendants were hanged. These men slaughtered his people, but he still finds it alienating to be responsible for their deaths.

Hatred is an insidious force, and though Nuremberg provided some accountability, it did not lead to remorse. It is likely that the Nuremberg defendants honestly believed they were not guilty of wrongdoing; in their eyes, every murderous order they followed meant being one step closer to saving the Reich. When guilty verdicts were handed down, Nazis were marched to the prisons and the gallows with no words of apology. Hopeful for signs of closure, Ferencz visited one convicted defendant prior to his execution — only to hear, spat through the slats in the prison door, that the world would one day suffer for putting an end to the Nazi project.

By juxtaposing Ferencz’ storytelling with primary documentary footage from the Holocaust, Avrich gives the audience a small snapshot into what, as Ferencz puts it, is “incomprehensible to a natural human mind.” Viewers see the Holocaust as what it was: armies of Nazi soldiers pledging allegiance through extermination, gas chambers and tall towers of human bones, people dragged out of their homes and shot in the streets, and human beings with shaved heads and protruding ribcages, waiting for death.

In this way, the film is a testament to the power of documentary evidence in shaping the public conscience. No one can truly understand genocide without experiencing it firsthand. In a world that remains incredibly divided by conflict, it’s all the more important that film and storytelling bring former atrocities out of the shadows of history. 

As a complement to media, international law remains, at the least, a powerful communicative tool to respond to mass-scale tragedies. The horrors of World War II shocked the world into putting human rights instruments on the map. The dial in many parts of the world today moves toward isolationism, but we know all too well that Nuremberg did not put an end to international crimes. Remembering the Holocaust, and remembering Ferencz, can preserve what is left of our commitment to humanity.

“War will make mass murderers out of otherwise decent people.” Ferencz has seen it again and again over the course of his 98 years, and the only way out, he says, is law.