Dial M For Murder 3D Remastered (Alfred Hitchcock, US) The digitally remastered re-release of Alfred Hitchcock's only 3D production was introduced by none other than film historian David Bordwell, whose introductory textbooks Film Art (1979) and Film History (1994) have shaped countless film students. After an insightful Hitchcock introduction that left me feeling as if I had downloaded an entire book to my central nervous system in only 12 minutes, the 4K, 3D digital restoration began.
What was most exciting about this often-dismissed Hitchcock flick (aside from the highly effective 3D itself) was recognizing how incorrect critics in 1954 had been when they complained about how pathetic the 3D was utilized. Re-evaluating Dial M For Murder in the present 3D age, it is overwhelmingly clear that Hitchcock understood the complexity of his technique; instead of overusing the "in your face" gimmick he directed his attention toward utilizing the depth of the sets and perfectly placed props near the camera. Fifty-eight years later, even one of Hitchcock's "lesser" films (even according to himself) is still paving the road for future films and filmmakers.
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, US) The adorably awkward Greta Gerwig has been this generation's "It Girl" since arriving on the indie scene in 2006 by way of director Joe Swanberg's LOL. Frances Ha has given her what should prove to be her defining role in Noah Baumbach's equally effervescent effort.
Baumbach's mumblecore-anticipating, French New Wave-inspired films — Kicking and Screaming (1995), Mr. Jealousy (1997), The Squid and the Whale (2005), Margot at the Wedding (2007), and Greenberg (2010) — showcase flawed characters who some find so intolerable that watching a Baumbach film feels like getting stuck at an upper-class dinner party with the most unlikable people on the planet. But as in a Coen Brothers or Woody Allen film, these characters' ugly truths are the key to what makes them so memorable.
In fact, it's why all of Baumbach's films have struck such a chord with me for 15-plus years. I keep seeing my own personality pitfalls in these Gen X-ers' self-destructive decisions (I will literally say out loud, "I just pulled a Greenberg.") And Frances Ha's hilarious train-of-thought odyssey is as profound as it is whimsical. With a cast pulled straight out of Lena Dunham's HBO series Girls and added to the glorious black and white cinematography by Sam Levy (2008's Wendy and Lucy), this ode to Allen's Manhattan (1979) most definitely will make it to the top of a ton of critic's lists. But more importantly you'll find yourself thinking about the film as it relates to the most embarrassing moments of your own life.
The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark) Easily one of the most horrific and disturbing films ever made, and what's even more frightening is that it's a documentary. I have tried to explain this film to numerous people since being utterly transfixed and totally destroyed by it and often I see an odd glaze creep across the listener's eyes. Filmed over a six-year period in Indonesia by filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, The Act of Killing plays out like a misanthropic satire, where the characters are so honest about their pure apathy towards other human lives that you as a viewer become unaware of what psychological quicksand lies ahead.
Again, this is a documentary and as it painstakingly introduces you to a group of elders in a small Indonesian village, self-revered war heroes from the military coup of the Communist government in 1965. Their leader, Anwar, and his friends decide they don't want to just tell their war stories for a documentary, they want to re-enact each type of their actual killings in all the flair and glory of the movies that they grew up watching — John Wayne Westerns, extravagant musicals, and gangster epics like Scarface (1983). What ensues feels like Alfred Hitchcock's Murder! (1930) or even the third act of Hamlet and could leave you absolutely accosted, obliterated, and feeling an unwanted amount of affectionate understanding. Either way, you will never be the same after watching this movie.
Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, UK) My favorite film of the festival takes place on the post-production set of a Dario Argento-esque, Italian horror film in the late 1970s-early 80s. This hypnotic, nostalgic, and ultimately transcendental experimental exercise will test the patience of just about every audience member. But anyone who has worked at a job (much less on the production of a film) where the possibility of losing the concept of time, as well as one's grasp on reality, is a possibility may be able to conquer this monotonous, mind-bending ode to Brian De Palma's Blow Out (1981). (Actual quote from a fellow press member leaving the screening: "Are you kidding me?!")
Another quote — this one by filmmaker Paul Schrader, in his life-altering book Transcendental Style In Film (1972) — says it best: "I would rather do something really small of some value than do what Marty Scorsese's doing. I don't see the fun in that."
Top films of the 32 films I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival:
1. Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio (UK)
2. Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing (Denmark)
3. Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways (Canada)
4. Michael Haneke's Amour (Austria)
5. Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem (US)
6. Jun Lana's Bwakaw (Philippines)
7. Miguel Gomes' Tabu (Portugal)
8. Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha (US)
9. Brian De Palma's Passion (Germany/France)
10. Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths (UK)
11. Bahman Ghobadi's Rhino Season (Iran/Turkey)
12. Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur (India)
(Buzzed-about fest favorites that I was sadly unable to screen: David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, Ben Affleck's Argo, Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell, Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills, and Lee Daniels' The Paperboy).
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks is the Film History Coordinator at the Academy of Art University and hosts Midnites for Maniacs, a film series devoted to underrated, overlooked, and dismissed cinema.