Film

TIFF 2016: 'Denial', 'La La Land' and 'Jackie'

Tom Wilkinson in Denial (2016)

Best Picture and Best Actress nominees? Day 5 dipped into 20th century history for Holocaust deniers, musicals and a famous First Lady.

Part of the challenge of festivals is attempting to work out which films will pack in pass holders and which ones can be breezed into with a minute to spare. Day 5 at the Toronto International Film Festival had a bit of everything on that front, and a very high standard across three films that all dipped back into the 20th century.

First up was Denial, playing in the morning in the biggest screen. It was hardly a packed house, but those that did show got very solid entertainment. It’s the story of the trial that finally broke any remaining credibility disgraced British historian and Holocaust denier David Irving had. He brought the action, as well. After calling him out in her book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1994), American historian Deborah Lipstadt found herself taken to court in London for libel. If she were to lose, the claims of Irving and those like him could have gained acceptability.

Adapted from her own account by playwright David Hare, a top draw cast assembles including Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt, Timothy Spall as Irving, and Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott as the key figures in her legal team. There are a few moments of forced drama along the way, and Lipstadt as a character struggles, given her largely passive position during the trial itself, but the court scenes are thrilling, as are several of the more intimate moments. Without being a world-beater, it’s still an accomplished work.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land (2016)

Now to a film that many expect to be a world-beater. La La Land has had people talking for some time, even more so since its triumphant premiere in Venice. It also saw people queuing around several blocks to get in, something I discovered after having to walk what seemed like half the city just to find the back of the line. There was still plenty of space for me in the theater, thankfully, because the film is a real treat.

This is Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash, and he keeps the musical theme here while creating an entirely different film. Musical is the right word because that’s exactly what La La Land is; a throwback to the golden age of Hollywood. Characters dance and sing across scenes of Los Angeles, colors pop, everyone moves in step and the camera waltzes around it all.

There’s a love story in the middle between Emma Stone’s aspiring actress and Ryan Gosling’s obstinate jazz pianist, but narrative matters little compared to spectacle. Set in the modern day, Chazelle throws in countless film references, great musical numbers backed by sterling choreography, and screwball comedy dialogue. People complain they don’t make em like they used to. Well, they can’t say that, anymore.

Natalie Portman in Jackie (2016)

The day concluded with a quick march to the main set of screening venues for Jackie, Pablo Larraín’s biopic of Jackie Kennedy. Natalie Portman brings the former First Lady to life in the days immediately after her husband’s assassination. The film is certainly appealing, but it’s no easy-going glossy Hollywood biopic. Thus, it came as something of a surprise to find the venue packed at such an early hour. In the time it took me to buy a cheeseburger from the stall a few feet away, the queue dividers filled completely. It's the only screening I’ve been to where staff forced people to stop holding seats.

Indeed, expectations for this film were certainly high, given the fight to get in, though I suspect partly this was just a lot of delegates with time on their hands following the conclusion of La La Land. Jackie is not a straightforward film. Noah Oppenheim’s screenplay, a deserving winner at the Venice Film Festival, shows her public and private sides in the immediate aftermath of JFK's death. He uses an interview with Billy Crudrup’s journalist as a framing device, and a conversation with John Hurt’s priest for similar purposes, while dipping back into her actions at the time.

The film looks as if it were shot in the ‘60s, and comes with an eerie score from Mica Levi. At the centre is Portman, who adopts Jackie’s mannerisms and voice, and draws out her carefully commanding side even while she’s wracked with grief and confusion. It’s unorthodox but good approach to telling her story.

I expect after today’s viewing we have seen Best Picture and Best Actress nominees. Mind you, I don’t have a great track record with predictions. Right now though, La La Land is a decent bet to go all the way.

Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Music

Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".

Film

The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.

Music

July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.

Music

With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.

Film

Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.

Music

MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.

Books

Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.

Film

Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.

Music

John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Books

'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.