' ' Cinema Romantico: 10 Not-at-TIFF Movies to Watch

Thursday, September 07, 2023

10 Not-at-TIFF Movies to Watch

The Toronto International Film Festival does not so much kick off today as semi-quietly commence. Typically, the jewel in the fall film festival season, starting gun for the ultramarathon that is awards season, the 48th edition has lost much of its glow given the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike that has essentially ground Tinseltown to a halt. There will be far fewer stars on hand to promotionally walk the red carpet, and most who do will have to be granted waivers by their guild to do so, almost making TIFF feel like a USO show, running concurrent to a cold war, which is kind of what it is, labor vs the nominal shepherds of the movies who exclusively see movies through the eyes of pissant shareholders, the only people that truly count in modern society anymore, the rest of us chess pieces for maximizing profits. Still, Not-at-TIFF, our annual alternate film festival for those unable to attend the real thing, must go on, even though as the sole programmer, juror, and judge (which is why “Michael Clayton” always wins the jury prize even though it has never been screened at the festival), this programming list is mostly just an excuse for me to talk about things that have been on my mind.

10 Not-at-TIFF Movies to Watch

Real TIFF concludes with “Sly,” a documentary about Sylvester Stallone, so Not-at-TIFF begins with “Cliffhanger,” a Sylvester Stallone movie. Not to honor Sly, however, no shade at Stallone, but to honor director Renny Harlin. Sam Adams recently wrote a piece for Slate asking the movie industry to bring back the hack, though hack in his formulation is akin to a journeyman, to put it less cruelly, and Harlin was among our foremost journeymen during a more journeyman-forward age. As such, Not-at-TIFF opening night will honor Harlin with the Garage Sale Chafing Dish Journeyman Award of Excellence. 

Free Solo. Sylvester Stallone serves as executive producer on “Sly,” which concerns me, sorta like how most sports documentaries these days about athletes tend to have those athletes serve as executive producers, meaning they tend to be made in the image the subject wants to project. These movies, then, become all about access and intent rather than, like, you know, aesthetic. Ah, but “Free Solo” was one of the recent exceptions. It had access to its subject, free solo climber Alex Honnold, but Honnold was not a producer, and the very ideas of access and intent became intertwined with the purpose of the movie, one that turned its breathtaking images of rock climbing into equally breathtaking portraits of isolation. As good as the genre gets. All directors currently in pre-production on sports documentaries get free admission and a free notebook to take notes. 

Return of the Secaucus 7. Too much mountaineering? Sorry. Oversight on my part. Let’s dial it back with a ground-based drama that’s just people talking. After all, it might be the 40th anniversary of “The Big Chill,” but the real ones, the Sayles-heads, know the Secaucus 7 threw the best baby boomer get together. 

The Dish & the Spoon. Given the massive success of her “Barbie,” if not the slightly more modest successes of her previous “Little Women” and “Ladybird,” I can only hope the yutes who now stan for Greta Gerwig are checking out her back catalogue. And though I do maintain that “Mistress America” is both the apex and culmination of the first act of her career, and though I feel like “Hannah Takes the Stairs” would be a good one to show people unfamiliar with her earliest, experimental work, it’s “The Dish & the Spoon” where Greta is just absolutely going for it, a figurative wire walker. So, let’s screen this one and blow some damn minds, like playing “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” for somebody who only knows “Born in the U.S.A.” 

The Day After Tomorrow. When I read that California was under its first-ever tropical storm warning in advance of Hurricane Hilary, I thought how much it sounded like a line from Roland Emmerich’s 2004 climate disaster movie, akin to that scene in a snowy New Delhi. And though “The Day After Tomorrow” was predictably lambasted at the time by critics from the Neil deGrasse Tyson School of Film Criticism for spectacularly bad science, I thought that was a necessary byproduct, that the only way to caution a disinterested public about the perils of climate change was by preaching through speakers turned to 11. But now, even as “The Day After Tomorrow”-ish scenarios play out routinely, and we here in America, at least, seem to be grappling with the impending climate disaster the same way we grappled with one million COVID-19 deaths and a literal insurrection of the U.S. Capitol by not grappling with it at all, insisting on normalcy by putting on blinders, man, I’m starting to think that Roland Emmerich, of all people, did not go far enough.

Jackie Brown. I have been watching “Justified: City Primeval,” featuring the return of Timothy Olyphant as Marshal Raylan Givens and based on a pair of Elmore Leonard books, and so when I noticed Quentin Tarantino’s own Leonard adaptation “Jackie Brown” was streaming, I watched what I really do think has settled as my second favorite Q.T. after “Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.” I also watched it for the first time since surpassing Jackie Brown’s age of 44, an age that flew over my head the first time I saw it as much as the idea of “starting over,” and watching a movie in which the climax takes place at the former epicenter of American life The Mall, boy, it was like feeling summer give way to autumn in my mind. Not that this is mere whining about how time comes for us all. No, Timothy Olyphant is 55 and have you seen his grey-streaked hair in “Justified: City Primeval?” Damn. My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife wants to be Emma Thompson when she grows up; I want to have Timothy Olyphant’s hair.

A Place in the Sun. My native state of Iowa has lost the plot for some time now, evoked in a book banning bill signed into law by Governor Kim Reynolds. Deviously and intentionally vague, the law has left schools to decide what books to ban, and as if concocting a double stuffed Oreo of asininity, Mason City schools utilized ChatGPT to determine what books to ban. That ban included Buzz Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights,” a decision so mouth-droppingly stupid it was quickly reversed. Best we can tell, the rest of the 18 books are still on the ban list, including Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy,” basis for George Stevens’ “A Place in the Sun.” Because only Woke people enjoy having carnal knowledge, I guess, these books were banned for containing descriptions or depictions of sex acts and, baby, there ain’t no depiction of a sex act like a close-up of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Our Not-at-TIFF screening will save a seat for Governor Reynolds, though we can’t say for certain the seat won’t have a whoopee cushion filled with cow manure. 

And on the 8th day of Not-at-TIFF, as always, we rest, to watch Kylie Minogue videos, in this case. Because did you hear? Kylie Jenner is trying to trademark her first name again. Listen, Kylie, Kylie Jenner, because that is your name, Kylie Jenner, the one true Kylie was dropping bombtracks a decade before you were born. Eat Kylie’s gold shorts, man. 

Picture Perfect. I was going to say I don’t want to step in it, but then half this post has been me stepping in it, so let’s plunge our foot a little further and observe that the kidz seem to be trying to Cancel Jennifer Aniston. Look, I have thoughts on Cancelation as a cultural concept (and whether cancelation should be spelled with one l or two ls), never mind thoughts on whether someone worth an estimated $300 million can even be Canceled to begin with, but no desire to get into it here. No, Not-at-TIFF is just taking a 35mm print of “Picture Perfect,” blowing that sucker up to 70mm, and locking the doors ‘til the screening finishes. Also, Texas. You can say what you want about Jennifer Aniston, but it won’t change my mind. 

Runaway Jury. The faux fest opened with a journeyman, and it will close with a journeyman, Gary Fleder, who directed the greatest modern middling thriller, of course. Indeed, it is the 20th anniversary of the greatest modern middling thriller, which is why it gets the hammer. Unfortunately, in a manner of speaking, the labor strike makes it so that none of the cast can honor our invitations to attend this screening, though to be honest, only Jennifer Beals and Leland Orser had RSVPd so far anyway. 

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