September 8, 2011
By Marc Glassman
The lifeblood of TIFF are the Galas. They pulse with the same colour as the red carpets, which stars tread on throughout the ten days of the Festival. Without the glitz and the glamour of the galas, TIFF wouldn’t command attention around the world.
Look at a small sample of the absurdly–and gloriously–long TIFF guest list: U2, Catherine Deneuve, Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, Salman Rushdie, Salma Hayek, George Clooney, Carey Mulligan, Ryan Gosling, Wim Wenders, Albert Maysles, Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley, Tilda Swinton, Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed, Antonio Banderas and Jon Hamm.
True, not all of these eminent individuals are in Galas this year. But most have been in Galas before–and more to the point, the atmosphere created by having prestigious films, huge stars and famous directors every year has made the TIFF juggernaut unstoppable. And that rarified air has been created by the Galas.
This year’s Opening Night Gala was a complete surprise to Festival-watchers. Instead of a Canadian film or a major drama, TIFF chose a music documentary, although with a gala title, From the Sky Down. U2 are rock royalty; Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. hobnob with the rich and powerful or take on causes in Somalia. Since The Joshua Tree, their epoch-making album of the ’80s, the group has been able to set its own agenda.
Davis Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director of the “Al Gore film,” An Inconvenient Truth worked with The Edge on It Might Get Loud, a guitar-heavy doc, which also featured Jimmy Page and Jack White. He is the right director for the film. Guggenheim isn’t easily intimidated; he was able to follow his instincts to craft the doc.
From the Sky Down tells the story of how U2 made Achtung Baby, as a follow up to the Joshua Tree. Instead of drifting apart, the band dealt with a huge success and reinvented themselves. Using archival footage and interviews with such luminaries as Eno and Daniel Lanois, this is one doc that should impress an opening night crowd.
If From the Sky Down seems like a slam-dunk, an obvious doc hit, Moneyball is a bit of a surprise. Readers of Michael Lewis’ bestselling real life story will remember how Oakland A’s baseball general manager Billy Beane was able to use statistics to turn his underfinanced team into playoff performers with a nearly frightening consistency. Along with his nerd discovery Paul DePodesta, Beane became an advocate for sabermetrics, a method of looking at baseball statistically rather than from the heart. Challenging clichés, the duo changed how baseball was perceived. Suddenly, not-so-athletic players became stars because they had one or two special skills that could be exploited.
Filmmaker Bennett Miller envisioned Moneyball as a comedy–and it works. His casting is inspired. Brad Pitt is raunchy and confident as Beane and he works well with the very funny–and quite chubby—Jonah Hill as the second-in-command “Peter Brand,” a composite figure who seems a lot like DePodesta. With Philip Seymour Hoffman as the old crusty manager, Moneyball is another strong baseball movie.
David Cronenberg and Gala are words that always sound right when spoken together. A Dangerous Method is a departure for Cronenberg; the script by Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons dangereuses) is based on his play “The Talking Cure.” It’s full of talk and the question du jour at Venice, where the film had its debut last week, is “how much cinema has Cronenberg allowed himself?”, given the topic and the script.
The story is about a real psychological ménage-a-trois between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and their gorgeous patient and future psychologist, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Did Jung sleep with Spielrein? How interested was Freud in her?
Spielrein believed that the sex drive was both a destructive instinct and one that could be transformative. Given Freud’s theory of the “death drive” and Jung’s notions of “transformation” come after they met Spielrein, might this obscure figure have changed the course of psychology?
With Cronenberg, Galas aren’t just about glitz and glamour!