Now that the sun has set on the sensational 37th annual Vancouver International Film Festival (which ran from September 27th – October 12th, 2018), Taste of Cinema offers up our favorites from what was another bustling, exciting, and very impressive festival. As with previous years at VIFF, it was a very crowded field with so many movies vying for our attention (of course we didn’t see them all, and there’s many we’re sorry we missed), and charged with the task of picking our favorites was no easy affair.
The films on this list show a wide-ranging assortment including animation, auteur-driven films, populist fare, arthouse, genre goodies and more.
And now the festival roundup and until next year VIFF, we’ll catch you in the queue and we’ll save you a seat!
15. A Private War
Based on Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article “Marie Colvin’s Private War” this film stars Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl ) as Marie Colvin, a fearless war correspondent for The Sunday Times with a reputation for bravely plunging herself into the frontlines of deadly war zones across the globe in Cartel Land (2015) director Matthew Heineman’s narrative debut.
Pike gives a ferocious performance, leaving the rest of the ensemble cast (including Jamie Dornan, Faye Marsay and a wonderful Stanley Tucci) breathless to keep her pace.
Aided by celebrated cinematographer Robert Richardson (Hugo , Inglourious Basterds , Casino ), this gritty, chaotic, and impassioned film couldn’t be more timely when considering the Trump regime’s war on journalism. While didactic at times, A Private War is nonetheless a gripping tale of a heroic and larger than life woman. – SST
Awash in the familiar blues and greys of Polish cinema, Agnieszka Smoczynska’s Fugue follows up her lyrical fantasy The Lure (2015) with no less attention to the complexities of feminine identity. When Alicja (Gabriela Muskala) seemingly returns from the bowels of the earth with no recollection of her past, it’s up to her family to nurture her back to remembering the woman she once was and recollecting what happened.
Smoczynska’s slow burn drama examines the nature of guilt, identity, and the role of motherhood. Gabriela Muskala, both star and writer of the film, effectively portrays a woman who exists in two worlds with her detached coolness.
The most important conversations in Fugue are the ones that happen in the looks and silences between characters. Alicja’s husband, Krzysztof (Lukasz Simlat) waits in quiet desperation for her to return to a version of a wife she never really was, lost in his own guilt. Smoczynska uses sound wonderfully, amplifying natural bodily noises and using dream sequences deep in the earth to add to the discomfort and underlying eeriness. – BZ
13. Mori, The Artist’s Habitat
Sometimes the most rewarding kind of VIFF experience can be when you go to a film with the most modest of expectations and are completely taken off guard by something so unexpected and lovely that you barely knew what hit you. Such was the case with the new film from genre-defying director Okita Shûichi (The Mohican Comes Home , The Woodsman and the Rain ), Mori, The Artist’s Habitat.
A completely exquisite and offbeat comic affair, the film’s subject is the late reclusive artist Kumagai Morikazu (1880-1977), “Mori” for short, played to perfection by Yamazaki Tsutomu (Tampopo), ably backed by Kiki Kirin (Shoplifters) as his wife, Hideko, as we spend approximately 24 hours with the couple at their home in Ikebukuro, Tokyo.
Perhaps the less said about the events in the film, the better, as the film veers into any number of completely unpredictable, artful, and often lowkey hilarious instances. Suffice it to day that appearances from art fans, felines, praying mantises, the yakuza, and a transdimensional alien intelligence are amongst those who wish to take an audience with the artist and his delightful wife.
Utterly uncynical, and a delight from start to finish, an evening with Mori, The Artist’s Habitat is time gloriously spent. – SST
12. The Eyes of Orson Welles
With so many films screening in so fixed a time frame, hitting the essentials can be a massive challenge. While the latest documentary from film-critic-turned-filmmaker Mark Cousins (2016’s Stockholm, My Love) was already a blip on my radar, it wasn’t until I caught a Facebook post from VIFF Vancity programmer Tom Charity that really cinched it for me. And so, with Tom’s permission, here’s that post in full, and let me just add that every word is absolute truth and the film is a glittering jewel. – SST
“Dear Mark Cousins,” writes Mr. Charity, “I just watched your movie The Eyes of Orson Welles at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Thank you. What a joy to receive these lines – of charcoal and ink, of thought and curiosity. Your approach is inspired: forthright and insightful. It is so important to reclaim the radicalism of Orson’s art, his progressive convictions so closely tied (as he points out in your beautifully dreamed reply) to his romanticism, the love, ardour and passion for life which fuelled his imagination.
For too long people have reduced Welles, damned the later films with faint praise and complained about an inchoate and terminally incomplete career. Thank you for pointing out the richness and vitality of drawings and sketches which so many have glossed over; for revealing the consistency even in his inconsistencies, for reminding us how much this most beneficent artist gave of himself, for opening up these indelible movies anew. My own eyes are laced with tears.”
11. The Sisters Brothers
French filmmaker Jacques Audiard adeptly adapts Patrick deWitt’s beloved, prize-winning 2011 historical novel about a pair bickering siblings who earn a living as hitmen in the Wild West of the 1850’s.
Buoyed by some of the year’s very best casting, The Sisters Brothers features John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix are ideal as Eli and Charlie Sisters, hitmen hired by the Commodore (Rutger Hauer) to murder prospector Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed) who may just be in cahoots with a crooked detective named John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Audiard and cinematographer Benoît Debie (Enter the Void , Spring Breakers ) are a perfect pairing, not unlike Reilly with Phoenix, and such brotherly esprit de corps gives The Sisters Brothers a seeable splendour and a muscular poetry that muzzles the American West in ways we’ve not fully embraced since the genre’s heyday. – SST
10. Sicilian Ghost Story
Julia Jedlikowska wonderfully portrays Luna, a naive and tender teen, who pines for and later will try to extricate her dreamy classmate Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez), in Italian directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s haunting, rhythmic and slow burning film.
Inspired by a shocking real-life incident involving a teen’s 1996 abduction and murder by the Sicilian Mafia –– the teen’s father was a cooperating witness –– Sicilian Ghost Story casts a spectral and ghastly glow. Luna shares a psychic connection to Giuseppe and his absence from school provokes in her visions and waking fantasies of “things that might exist”, including his ghostly form.
Elegantly photographed by the brilliant cinematographer Luca Bigazzi (2013’s The Great Beauty), this is a chimera-like film, hypnotic, and languidly seductive, while remaining shockingly grim. – SST
9. Under the Silver Lake
“It’s silly wasting time on something that doesn’t matter,” says a dreamy young woman with a fondness for balloons (Grace Van Patten) to an embittered and unemployed young man turned would-be detective named Sam (Andrew Garfield) in writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s surreal Under the Silver Lake.
Sam isn’t a very likeable layabout, he’s months behind in his rent at a rather low-key lovely apartment complex in the trendy neighborhood of Silver Lake. When he’s not spying on his neighbors with high-powered binoculars, masturbating to vintage Playboys, distractedly screwing his kinda sorta actress girlfriend (Riki Lindhome), or watching old black-and-white movies, Sam is pining over his pretty and provocative neighbor, Sarah (Riley Keough).
Under the Silver Lake is dividing audiences down the middle, and that’s to be expected given that it offers an overlong study of self-important, wealthy, and white spoiled brats. These L.A. rats, each in a state of arrested adolescence, fixate on shiny surfaces and shallow beauty and the result is one of the most audacious, campy, and crass offerings of the year. – SST