'Killer' thriller: Matthew McConaughey is the seductively bad title character of William Friedkin's film, adapted from Tracy Letts' splendidly sordid play.
'Killer' thriller: Matthew McConaughey is the seductively bad title character of William Friedkin's film, adapted from Tracy Letts' splendidly sordid play. Skip Bolen
The Toronto International Film Festival doesn't have jury awards, which goes a long way toward making it one of the least insufferable film festivals around. Compare it to something like Cannes and you can see why: The jury there has to find a way to meaningfully compare non-narrative experimental art films with traditional Hollywood storytelling.
The only big prize in Toronto is the People's Choice Award, which the voting public will likely bestow upon The Descendants on Sunday — or maybe upon The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius' crowd-pleasing tribute to silent cinema.
But if Toronto avoids the awards trap, there's no reason I have to. So to wrap up my festival coverage, here's a list of superlatives covering my 25-movie slice of the fun:
Best Film Ruined By A Chicken Drumstick: William Friedkin's Killer Joe
For most of its duration, Killer Joe is a pleasantly nasty little noir that, along with The Lincoln Lawyer, continues Matthew McConaughey's career resurrection. McConaughey plays the titular cop-slash-hitman, who initially wants $25,000 up front to help a trailer-park family (Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church) cash in on a life-insurance policy. Instead of the cash, he settles for a few dozen pounds of flesh — their teen daughter (Juno Temple) as a "retainer."
McConaughey's familiar lover-man purr is here a terrifying instrument of corruption, drawing out other characters' darkest desires; he's a better Mephistopheles than the one in the actual Faust adaptation also screening here. Director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection) is an old hand at mounting tension and staging memorable chase scenes (here, there's a man on foot pursued by a pair of motorcyclists), while Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), adapting his own play, contributes dialogue with deep-fried Southern snap.
But an already unhinged film probably goes too far with a spectacularly unpleasant scene involving McConaughey, Gershon, and an act of degradation involving what the characters call "K Fried C." It's here that the movie crosses the fine line between edgy thrills and rank exploitation, souring an otherwise solid film.
Biggest Occupational Hazard for Film Journalists: Twitter-induced Stampede Deaths
It's hard enough to exit a theater via a narrow staircase packed with hundreds of people. It's downright dangerous when half of those people are stumbling over each other while attempting to get the first 140-character exegesis of a movie onto the Internet. Film critics would like you to believe that they're sophisticated, well-dressed founts of wisdom, but at heart we're all slightly more literate versions of YouTube commenters yammering "First!"
Best Free Food Handed Out at the Festival Press Room: The Korean Beef and Kimchi Sandwich
Or maybe it was the Prosciutto and Parmesan Artichoke Crepes! Or the Feta Cheese and Melon Fruit Salad! Or the hors d'oeuvres handed out by waitresses inexplicably dressed in Asian couture!
Worst Place For Journalists to Get Any Actual Work Done: The Festival Press Room
You guys, they're handing out free food!
Best Direction: Geraldo Naranjo's Miss Bala
Best Film: Asghar Farhadi's A Separation
Best Performance: Woody Harrelson, Rampart
Teaming up again with the director who helped him to his last Oscar nomination (for The Messenger), Woody Harrelson looks to be on track for another one for his raw purge of a performance in Oren Moverman's Rampart. The title refers to the LAPD division that was caught in a massive corruption scandal during the late '90s, but Moverman is less interested in the history of that case than in the psychology of one particular piece-of-work cop involved.
Harrison's "Date Rape" Dave — so nicknamed for his suspected but unproven murder of a rape suspect years ago — has all the hallmarks of your typical corrupt screen cop. He womanizes constantly, spews racist vitriol and brutally beats bystanders who get in his way, but what's unique is his skillful ability to defy Internal Affairs with his network of contacts and mastery of legal loopholes.
He eventually goes too far with an unprovoked shooting, but he'd rather dive into a self-destructive spiral than change his ways; he's too addicted to the rush of living above the system to ever submit to it. That's a resonant idea in many ways for the current moment, and Harrelson's clenched sneer is a powerful representation of that kind of defiance. Moverman also impresses with a newly expressive directorial style after the relative simplicity of The Messenger; if it's a bit strange that an old-school traditionalist like Dave ends up at a rave late in the film, the jarring edits and assaultive lights and music serve as a representation of one man's ugly soul.