Now that the sun has set on the sensational 39th annual Vancouver International Film Festival (which ran from September 24th – October 7th, 2020), Taste of Cinema offers up our favorites from what was another exciting, and very impressive festival and being charged with the task of picking our 15 favorites was no easy affair.
The films on this list show a wide-ranging assortment including auteur-driven films, populist fare, arthouse, genre films, and some truly stunning documentaries as well.
And now the festival roundup and until next year VIFF, we’ll catch you in the queue!
15. Another Round
It’s great to see Thomas Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen in cahoots once again and they should definitely be doing so more often. And while Another Round doesn’t quite deliver the provocation of their last collaboration The Hunt (2012), this one still holds several bright, dazzling, and drunkenly funny moments.
Also nice to see is Vinterberg regular Thomas Bo Larsen as gym teacher Tommy, and for my money it was his character’s aging and arthritic doggo named Laban that warmed my cockles the most.
A fiercely funny and perilously sad picture, Another Round surprisingly doesn’t say or stammer anything that’s new, even though the slyly genius premise of a group of teachers challenging each other to stay half in the bag for an extended stretch to solve their life’s woes should be more revelatory then it is. And coming from Vinterberg, one who is so regularly associated with making provocations, I found that to be the film’s most sobering conceit. Still recommending this one rather enthusiastically but it could have been a far sight better.
14. Caught in the Net
This flawlessly executed and bravely realized documentary examining the revolting world of online sexual abuse is simultaneously engrossing and execrable.
The prolific and provocative filmmaker Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) cnce again reteams with his current mainstay and ready muse Willem Dafoe in Siberia, a surreal digression that feels like a subarctic delineation of James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” and is also perhaps just as polarizing.
As Ferrara’s allegorical and byzantine-like film unfolds, it becomes the kind of deep dive where it’s very easy to lose track of all the narrative threads and that may well be part of it’s elaborate duplicity. Dafoe’s many doppelgängers, brushes with sorcerers, lactating women and naked dwarves all depose such fascinations.
Is it pretentious? Absolutely. Is that a problem? For some, maybe, but not for this writer. Admittedly I could seldom make sense of what was happening on screen much of the time, but I didn’t let that dampen the enjoyment I felt splashing around in these strangely surreal waters with the consistently wonderful Dafoe and the odd assortment of dreamlike no-goodniks, alluring sirens and dangerous visions that suck him and us into the sly abyss. It’s a dark deathtrip and some kind of vivid and sequential coup d’etat.
12. Into the Storm
Beautifully shot and truly touching, this Peruvian surfing documentary from Adam Brown was filmed over 5 years and coincidentally it made me ugly cry about 5 times.
11. Last and First Men
Perhaps best known for his incredibly moving minimalist score for Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016), amongst others, Icelandic composer and filmmaker Jóhan Jóhannsson’s Last and First Men, released posthumously, makes for one haunting, honey of a post-apocalyptic parting gift.
Beautiful black-and-white imagery, filmed in stunning 16mm by cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (Victoria), combined with fittingly chilly narration from Tilda Swinton, evoke the final gasps of a lost utopia in an entirely immersive and cerebral essay film. It’s a somber yet intricate sci-fi spectacle that lands somewhere between Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — in fact, Arthur C. Clarke read Stapleton’s novel at a very impressionable age, inspiring not only his short story “The Sentinel” but the monoliths therein that would become the most iconic imagery in Kubrick’s adaptation and overall oeuvre.
This is a dreamy and dazzling final statement on ephemerality and extinction from a remarkable polymath artist we were only just getting to know. Highly recommended.
Director Tracey Deer, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Meredith Vuchnich, presents a poignant, powerful, and very Canadian tale of recent history in Bean. What could have been, in lesser hands, a preachy history lesson is instead a deeply felt and firsthand tale set during the 78-day Oka crisis from 1990.
Deer delivers more than a moving, maddening and personal story, but one rife with evocation and feeling while also showcasing the incredible talents of its young star, Kiawentiio as Tekehentahkhwa, a young Mohawk girl coming-of-age amidst agonizing social oppression and upheaval.
Perhaps the most important Canadian film of the last 10 years or so, Beans is a beautiful and distressing portrait of racism, injustice and family.
9. Twilight’s Kiss
Proving again and again throughout Twilight’s Kiss to be a melacholic poet of the highest order, writer-director Ray Yeung (Front Cover) presents a stirring queer romance between two seniors; a taxi driver named Pak (Tai Bo) and recently divorced Hoi (Ben Yuen). An aching tale of acceptance and experience, this is a fascinating film flush with delicate observational beauty and charm. Recommended.