Adam Nayman

Take These Broken Wings: Kelly Reichardt on “Showing Up”

“We thought we were writing a film that was partly comedic in tone. I can find a lot to laugh at with liberal arts while still believing liberal arts are super-important. Some of the situations in Showing Up are comical, but the people aren’t stereotypes—we really tried to stay away from that.”
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TIFF 2022 | Nightalk (Donald Shebib, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman A baffling yet not altogether unenjoyable exercise in late style, Nightalk finds the now-84-year-old Don Shebib working—incongruously to say the least—in Brian De Palma mode. An early dream sequence set on a hurtling TTC subway car and featuring a lurking, faceless assailant evokes the ambient psychosexual menace of Dressed to Kill (1980);…
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TIFF 2022 | Until Branches Bend (Sophie Jarvis, Canada) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman A lot of peaches were harmed in the making of Sophie Jarvis’ Until Branches Bend, in which an Okanagan Eden gets infested from the inside-out. After discovering a mysterious bug inside some recently picked fruit, Robin (Grace Glowicki) raises the alarm with her boss and finds herself ostracized by a community whose…
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TIFF 2022 | A Gaza Weekend (Basil Khalil, Palestine/UK) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman “The virus can’t tell the difference between Jews and Arabs,” exclaims a character early on in A Gaza Weekend, giving British-Palestinian director Basil Khalil’s wearyingly zany plague comedy a low-calorie humanistic thesis statement. The idea that the Gaza would, by nature of its enclosure, represent a safe harbour in the midst of…
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TIFF 2022 | Subtraction (Mani Haghigi, Iran/ France) — Platform

By Adam Nayman It’s typical for the makers of thrillers to conceptualize themselves into a corner; what distinguishes veteran Iranian director Mani Haghigi’s work in Subtraction is what he does once he’s got his own back against the wall. About halfway through the film, it’s confirmed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that married, pregnant…
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TIFF 2022 | The Kingdom Exodus (Lars Von Trier, Denmark) — Primetime

By Adam Nayman Where Lars von Trier once stood in front of his goofy hospital Gothic—literally appearing onscreen in a tuxedo during each episode’s end credits to recap the action and flash his shit-eating, Danish-scum-of-the-earth grin—Exodus finds him stepping into the background. Casting himself wizard-like as the proverbial man behind the curtain (aka The Boss…
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TIFF 2022 | Fixation (Mercedes Bryce Morgan, Canada/US/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman Reality, said that 21st-century media guru Nathan Fielder, is what you make of it, and the villainous headshrinker in the Sudbury-shot Fixation advocates what can only be called a Fielderian methodology. Entrusted with a disturbed client who can’t remember her violent crimes (or the reasons for them)—and who is facing a potentially…
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TIFF 2022 | Other People’s Children (Rebecca Zlotowski, France) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Call her The Best Person in the World: dedicated teacher, doting daughter, supportive sister, and successfully, sexily single in the City of Lights, Rachel (Virginie Efira) lives a semi-charmed kind of life, punctuated by irised-in transitions that remind us we’re watching a breezy French festival movie. Every so often, her kindly gynecologist…
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TIFF 2022 | Queens of the Qing Dynasty (Ashley McKenzie, Canada) — Wavelengths 

By Adam Nayman  Published in Cinema Scope #90 (Spring 2022) Intense duets are at the centre of Ashley McKenzie’s cinema. Her 2016 debut Werewolf portrayed a pair of emotionally conjoined drug users, juxtaposing devotion and addiction as two sides of the same coin. In her follow-up, Queens of the King Dynasty, which recently premiered in…
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TIFF 2022 | Nanny (Nikyatu Jusu, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman A horror movie so elevated it rises above any pressing need to be scary, Nikayatu Jusu’s Nanny concerns a Senegalse woman, Aisha (Anna Diop), who takes a well-paid gig as a semi-live-in caregiver for a wealthy New York couple. Her employers are, obviously, less perfect than they seem: the  family’s SUV-sized refrigerator,…
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Hit the Road (Panah Panahi, Iran)

Many years ago, I sat down for a festival screening of an Iranian film next to another local Toronto critic whose pugnacious reputation preceded him. Unsolicited and not-so-rhetorically, he asked me if the long scenes of rural driving native to so many of that country’s arthouse exports were—and here I am quoting from memory—somehow equivalent to the action scenes in Hollywood releases. It wasn’t a serious question, of course, just a bit of sarcastic saber-rattling before the lights went down.
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Tales from the Unama’ki Hospital: Ashley McKenzie on Queens of the Qing Dynasty 

Intense duets are at the centre of Ashley McKenzie’s cinema. Her 2016 debut Werewolf portrayed a pair of emotionally conjoined drug users, juxtaposing devotion and addiction as two sides of the same coin. In her follow-up, Queens of the King Dynasty,which recently premiered in Berlin’s Encounters competition,a young psychiatric patient and her volunteer caregiver form a codependent relationship with shifting emotional and power dynamics.
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Show Biz Kids: Paul Thomas Anderson on Licorice Pizza

By Adam Nayman Paul Thomas Anderson loves start-up entrepreneurs and fly-by-night schemes: you could run a straight line between There Will Be Blood’s (2007) oil magnate Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Punch-Drunk Love’s (2002) humble toilet-plunger impresario Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) just as easily as you could imagine the latter signing up for one of…
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Revising Revisionism—Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel

“This is the unwieldy version of the movie,” said Quentin Tarantino on the Pure Cinema podcast in June about his new 400-page novelization of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019). “Unwieldy” is indeed the right adjective for QT’s new make-work project, and it’s also probably the last word on his creative sensibility.
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TIFF 2021 | Sundown (Michel Franco, Mexico)

By Adam Nayman The indefatigable Michel Franco is back on his grind with Sundown, a companion piece to last year’s accomplished or objectionable (depending on who you ask) New Order. Both films—one a thriller, the other a character study, both set in the director’s native Mexico—could  broadly be said to be about “wealth inequality.” Careful…
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TIFF 2021 | The Wheel (Steve Pink, USA)

By Adam Nayman From the director of both Hot Tub Time Machine movies (there was a sequel, remember) comes a probing, emotional relationship drama. “What if it doesn’t work?” asks Albee (Amber Midthunder) about the step-by-step, relationship-saving experiment proposed by her husband Walker (Taylor Gray), and the only thing really pressurizing the 83 more or…
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TIFF 2021 | The Middle Man (Bent Hamer, Norway/Germany/ Denmark/Canada)

By Adam Nayman Tapped for a spectacularly thankless civil service gig in a dilapidated Ontario backwater, Frank (Sverre Hagen) interviews for the job in front of a panel that includes Don McKellar and Paul Gross. The Canadiana couldn’t be thicker, but as writer-director Bent Hamer actually hails from historic Sandefjord, Norway—a one-time Viking stronghold and…
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New Order (Michel Franco, Mexico/France)

“Mexico’s upper classes are asking for trouble,” Michel Franco told Variety last fall. With New Order,trouble has found them. The deep-crimson dress selected by prosperous newlywed Marianne (Naian González Norvind) for the lavish post-wedding party at her family’s spotless steel-and-glass estate is couture at its most ominous; don’t look now, but there will be blood.
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Minority Report: Armond White Wants to Make Spielberg Great Again

By Adam Nayman The “About the Author” section of Armond White’s new critical anthology does not disappoint. In the space of four short paragraphs, White is identified as “esteemed, controversial and brilliantly independent” as well as “The Last Honest Film Critic in America”; his résumé comprises “auspicious tomes” that are “essential for anyone who loves…
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I Lost It at the Movies: Charlie Kaufman’s Antkind and I’m Thinking of Ending Things

“It’s all planned, but it isn’t thought out,” wrote Pauline Kael in her review of A Woman Under the Influence (1974), a nifty bit of critical jiu-jitsu turning John Cassavetes’ much-theorized—and, during Kael’s reign at The New Yorker, much-derided—technique of spontaneous improvisation within a dramatic framework against him.
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TIFF 2020: Point and Line to Plane (Sofia Bohdanowicz, Canada)

By Adam Nayman The sterile, corkscrew expanse of the Guggenheim is a concrete geometric presence in Point and Line to Plane, which takes its title from a 1947 book of art theory by Wassily Kandinsky and is punctuated by images of his abstract canvases, as well as those of his lesser-known predecessor Hilma af Klint.…
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TIFF 2020: Rules for Werewolves (Jeremy Schaulin-Roux, Canada)

By Adam Nayman Having not read Kirk Lynn’s 2015 novel about a feral cult of squatters, I can’t say if Rules for Werewolves qualifies as a proper adaptation or a literary riff in miniature: the snaky long take narrating the desecration of a sprawling but sterile suburban mansion unfolds in sync to the author’s ramblingly…
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TIFF 2020: Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman, US/Canada)

By Adam Nayman The title character of Canadian director Emma Seligman’s feature debut is technically the 18-month-old blonde moppet sired by affluent nebbish Max (Danny Deferrari) and his shiksa-goddess wife Kim (Dianna Agron), a miniature avatar of assimilation yelping up a storm amidst a company of black-clad mourners. Symbolically, though, the title refers to tousled,…
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TIFF 2020: Still Processing (Sophy Romvari, Canada)

By Adam Nayman “A moment stopped would burn like a frame of film, blocked before the furnace of the projector,” intones Alexandra Stewart in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983), testifying to the essential fluidity of time versus the fixity of photography. Marker’s point seems to be that to disproportionately privilege still images, in cinema as…
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TIFF 2020: Violation (Madeleine Sims-Fewer & Dusty Mancinelli, Canada)

By Adam Nayman If you believe that the worst thing a movie can do is pass unnoticed, then Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s Violation might be for you. Deliberately taking its formal and tonal cues from certain filmmakers occupying the endurance-test wing of the art/grindhouse—specifically the cabin-in-the-woods incarnations of Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier—Violation…
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TIFF 2020: Inconvenient Indian (Michelle Latimer, Canada)

By Adam Nayman Toronto’s Fox Theatre plays itself in Inconvenient Indian, which opens by sending Thomas King—author of the 2012 critical study that give the film its title and rhetorical spine—to the cinema. Sitting in the dark before clips from Nanook of the North, a man watches a movie, and the critic must acknowledge that…
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TIFF 2020: Every Day’s Like This (Lev Lewis, Canada)

By Adam Nayman The one direct allusion to assisted suicide in Every Day’s Like This is filtered through movie madness: discussing a potential date for the euthanasia of their terminally ill matriarch, a father and his two young-adult children agree that it would be best not to do it before the Oscars. Lev Lewis’ mournful…
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TIFF 2020: Beans (Tracey Deer, Canada)

By Adam Nayman “Fuck you,” whispers 12-year old Beans (Kiawentiio) to her reflection in the mirror, a playful gesture of self-deprecation that’s also a rehearsal for external clashes. It’s July 1990 in Oka, and if a preteen Mohawk girl is going to get through a summer of standoffs in one piece—or fit in with the…
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TIFF 2020: As Spring Comes (Marie-Ève Juste, Canada)

By Adam Nayman Metaphor blooms in As Spring Comes, which reconfigures a frosbitten ice-fishing shack into a literal hothouse. Sheltered inside with her lover in what seems to be a mutually understood ritual, a young woman photogenically mutates—evolves? reverts?—from fauna to flora. Typically, a little magic realism goes a long way, and thankfully, French-Canadian director…
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TIFF 2020: The Archivists (Igor Drljaca, Canada)

By Adam Nayman A significant change of pace for Bosnian-Canadian filmmaker Igor Drljaca after a run of Balkan-themed hybrid fictions and docs, the sci-fi-inflected The Archivists concerns a trio of future-shocked musicologists trying to reconstruct an I-Love-the-’80s hit, using improvised instruments in an abandoned country home. The theme is the durability and necessity of art…
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TIFF 2020: Akilla’s Escape (Charles Officer, Canada)

By Adam Nayman A weary, wary weed dealer with decades on his odometer, Akilla (Saul Williams) operates self-effacingly under cover of the Toronto night; staring down the barrel of a gun aimed by Jamaican gangbanger Sheppard (Thamela Mpumlwana), he decides to try to save a wayward boy who could be his mirror. The structural gimmick…
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The Math of Love Triangles: Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Trigonometry

The most arresting image in the new BBC Studios series Trigonometry (airing in the US this summer on HBO Max and in Canada on CBC Gem) comes in the fifth episode, when restaurateur Gemma (Thalissa Teixeira), in the middle of a difficult Nordic honeymoon getaway with her new husband Kieran (Gary Carr), goes on an evening field trip to see the Northern Lights. As Kieran sulks back at the hotel, she gazes up at a display that imbues the uncanny sensation—for the character, as well as the audience—of a planetarium-show special effect despite its you-are-there authenticity.
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Long Live the New Flesh: The Decade in Canadian Cinema

Let’s get it right out of the way: by any non-subjective metric—which is to say in spite of my own personal opinion—the Canadian filmmaker of the decade is Xavier Dolan, who placed six features (including two major Competition prizewinners) at Cannes between 2009 (let’s give him a one-year head start) and 2019, all before turning 30. Prodigies are as prodigies do, and debating Dolan’s gifts as a transnational melodramatist and zeitgeist-tapperis a mug’s game, one that I’ve already played in these pages.
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Anything Is Possible: Josh and Benny Safdie on Uncut Gems

At this point, the Safdies are young masters of their own aesthetic, which was in formation at the time of Daddy Longlegs but felt more fully realized in Heaven Knows What:a roving, probing, pulsating audiovisual weave that doesn’t so much privilege pace over clarity as locate one in the other. Their movies can be exhausting, enervating, and even annoying (and Sandler, to his credit, achieves genuine annoyance in many passages here), but they’re never confusing, and the lucidity of their storytelling—which never wavers even when their characters have no earthly idea what they’re doing—has become one of contemporary American cinema’s true and distinctive marvels.
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Golden Eighties: J. Hoberman’s Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan

The news cycle waits for no one, not even J. Hoberman. Opening up the former Village Voice critic’s new book Make My Day—the conclusion, following The Dream Life and An Army of Phantoms, of his “Found Illusions” trilogy, which traces the intersection of Hollywood fantasies and American political reality in the transformative decades after World War II—on the same day that The Atlantic published an article detailing Ronald Reagan’s appalling comments to Richard Nixon about the members of a Tanzanian delegation to the United Nations in 1971, I couldn’t help but lament the anecdote’s lack of inclusion in Hoberman’s otherwise comprehensively withering mock-hagiography of the 40th Commander in Chief.
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Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman With five minutes to go in Jojo Rabbit, I laughed out loud. One of the actors (not one of the famous ones) got off a good line reading, and my response, fully audible and totally involuntary, filled me with shame. (I actually apologized to my seatmate, who will remain nameless but successfully…
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Color Out of Space (Richard Stanley, US) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman The stories of H.P. Lovecraft teem and crawl with terrifyingly malleable creations, yet paradoxically resist cinematic adaptation; more than most weird tales, they exist to be beheld in the mind’s eye. Richard Stanley’s go at Lovecraft’s 1927 chestnut “The Color Out of Space” eschews the original’s turn-of-the-century setting and repertorial framing device…
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Clifton Hill (Albert Shin, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Good thrillers live or die by their specifics, and Clifton Hill is nothing if not precise about its tourist-trap environment (the Canadian side of Niagara Falls) and its inhabitants, including trashy gambling addicts, possibly psychopathic land developers, French-Canadian husband-and-wife tiger-trainers, and—if you hadn’t already heard—David Cronenberg emerging like Ursula Andress (except fully…
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Tammy’s Always Dying (Amy Jo Johnson, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman Tammy’s also always yelling—and cursing, and drinking, and threatening suicide, and making a messy spectacle of herself in public and private. That’s just who Tammy is, and it’s also just the sort of movie that Tammy’s Always Dying is trying to be: a smile-through-tears comedy-drama about the need to hold our loved…
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Guest of Honour (Atom Egoyan, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman The subtext of Atom Egoyan’s latest mid-late-career work is that you shouldn’t be mean to people online—a plaint that looks retrospectively prophetic in light of the film’s Venice reception, which included an attempted murder in the pages of Variety. Suffice it to say that Guest of Honour is not nearly so bad…
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Waves (Trey Edward Shults, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman With Waves, Trey Edward Shults goes for broke; another way to put it is that he’s writing cheques that his filmmaking can’t cash. Even leaving aside the question (which I’m assuming will be asked at some point by somebody not otherwise participating in a standing ovation) about a white filmmaker aggressively melodramatizing…
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Sea Fever (Neasa Hardiman, Ireland/Sweden/Belgium/UK) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman You learn something new every day: for instance, I didn’t know that redheads were considered bad luck on the open seas, hence the chilly reception for bookish ginger Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) aboard the trawler that’s hosting her solo marine-biological expedition. (“You need to get your hands dirty,” says a supervisor, foreshadowing plenty…
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Castle in the Ground (Joey Klein, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman The swift, ruinous descent from normalcy into substance abuse is hardly a subject lacking for cinematic treatment, and Joey Klein’s Castle in the Ground offers one more. In terms of casting, this Sudbury-set feature is above reproach, juxtaposing sad-eyed Henry (Alex Wolff, already an old hand at being put through the physical…
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The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman That Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe mutually lose their shit over the duration of The Lighthouse is not a spoiler: sequestered together off the coast of Nova Scotia in a lighthouse (also not a spoiler) with little more than a pot to piss in (and there is a lot of pissing in…
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The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson, US) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman The more things change, the more they stay the same, and the conspiracy-minded 1950s resonate in a zeitgeist in which everything feels accessible and occluded at the same time. Between the suspicious suicide of Jeffrey Epstein and its ostensible connections to the making of Eyes Wide Shut (and the death of Stanley…
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The Hottest August (Brett Story, Canada/US)

It is, it seems, the End of the World as We Know It. Forty-two years after R.E.M. wrote the West’s definitive apocalypse-now anthem, the song’s essentially optimistic subtext has become even more sharply double-edged; its parenthetical proviso can be interpreted as much as a sign of denial as resignation, a means of keeping any anticipatory psychic torment at bay.
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Audrey II: Sofia Bohdanowicz and Deragh Campbell’s MS Slavic 7

Canadians don’t do sequels. Or at least we don’t do them that often: Don Shebib went Down the Road Again again in 2011, and Bruce McDonald got the band back together for Hard Core Logo 2 (2010); commercially oriented hits like Fubar (2002) and Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006) have been profitable enough to justify follow-ups.
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Soft and Hard: Claire Denis on High Life

By Adam Nayman  There is a shot of an infant being carried by its father in Claire Denis’ L’intrus (2004) that may be the most rapt and tender image of its kind I’ve ever seen in a film. The first ten minutes of the director’s new High Life offer an extension and an elaboration of…
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Tous les garçons et les filles: Philippe Lesage’s Genèse and Les démons

By Adam Nayman On the basis of Les démons (2015) and his latest film Genèse—I haven’t caught up yet with Copenhague, a Love Story (2016) or his documentaries—Saint-Apagit-born writer-director Philippe Lesage is already one of the strongest stylists in Canadian cinema, cultivating, in collaboration with the gifted cinematographer Nicolas Canniccioni, a distanced, gliding camera style…
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The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (Xavier Dolan, Canada/UK) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman It’s a bittersweet symphony, this life: that’s the thesis (and arguably the most expensive-to-license hook, assuming friend-of-the-director Adele offered hers for free) in Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. A famously troubled production that fired one of its two biggest stars via Instagram and betrays scars of that…
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High Life (Claire Denis, Germany/ France/US/UK/Poland) — Gala Presentations

By Adam Nayman There is a shot of an infant being carried by its father in Claire Denis’ L’intrus that may be the most rapt and tender image of its kind I’ve ever seen in a film. The first ten minutes of High Life are an extension and an elaboration of that shot, observing Monte…
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Freaks (Zach Lipovsky & Adam Stein, Canada) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman Too grim for a straight-up YA audience and too goofy to be taken too seriously, Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein’s Freaks at leads owns its curious at-oddsness: it’s a weird, scrappy, palpably Canadian mutant that’s actually more likeable for not quite passing as mainstream fare. That earnest-misfit ethos begins with its seven-year-old…
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The Front Runner (Jason Reitman, US) —Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman The second movie in as many award-season cycles to feature scenes depicting the inner workings of The Washington Post, The Front Runner stakes out its distance from Steven Spielberg by painting even charter members of the fourth estate as carrion-scarfing jackals; (insanely) cast as Ben Bradlee, Alfred Molina cynically justifies his newspaper’s…
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Duelles (Olivier Masset-Depasse, Belgium/France) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Or, Bad Mamans. There’s a genuinely intriguing idea at the centre of Duelles, in which a pair of suburban mothers as well-manicured as their respective lawns engage in an escalating game of psychological warfare (and worse) in the wake of a tragedy that, in the eyes of the suffering party, could not…
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Destroyer (Karyn Kusama, US) — Platform

By Adam Nayman Playing a weathered LAPD lifer in Destroyer, Nicole Kidman looks like she’s been Dragged Across Concrete; her Erin Bell is the kind of hard-driving, harder-drinking detective who sleeps in her clothes in her car and flips off superiors at the scene of the crime. In other words, she’s a cliché, and if…
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Firecrackers (Jasmin Mozzafari, Canada) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman It’s a town full of losers and they’re pulling out of there to win: that’s the premise of Jasmin Mozzafari’s Firecrackers, which expands the director’s 2013 short of the same name into a conspicuously stylish, intermittently impressive debut that feels very much of the moment in young Canadian cinema, like a faster,…
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Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, US) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman The red, white and blue split-screen that showcases the horny, house-partying girls of Assassination Nation is the first—and maybe best—bit of neo-Godardian gamesmanship in Sam (son of Barry) Levinson’s state-of-the-union horror comedy. Suffice it to say that there are more plausible candidates to make satire great again than the guy who directed…
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Rojo (Benjamin Naishtat, Argentina/Brazil/France/ Netherlands/Germany) — Platform

By Adam Nayman The De Palmia-ish split diopter shot in the opening sequence of Rojo is an allusion that also suggests its own distinctive usage. Positioning the camera just behind the balding pate of small-town lawyer Claudio (Dario Grandinetti), as he gazes angrily at a long-haired restaurant patron who’s taken his reservation, uncomfortably aligns us…
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Exchange Rate: The Silent Partner at 40

By Adam Nayman “I think Toronto is a wonderful town, smart and up to date, just like a good American city…makes me feel like I’m back home in Cleveland.” These words, spoken by a “Mr. Chester Vanderwick” (an apparently authentic Midwesterner, although I’ve always thought he looks and sounds like a bad actor) sum up…
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The Uses of Disenchantment: Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water

By Adam Nayman Accepting the Golden Lion at Venice for The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro magnanimously offered this piece of advice to young filmmakers: “Have faith in whatever you have faith in.” This bit of winner’s-circle tautology was surely not meant to be condescending. As with his fellow awards-ceremony-orator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s observation at…
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The New Workout Plan: Denis Côté’s Ta peau si lisse

By Adam Nayman William K.L. Dickson’s Sandow (1894) is a three-part documentary study of the Prussian muscleman Friedrich Wilhelm Muller, who adopted the more flamboyant nom de plume after he dodged the draft and joined the circus. Sandow’s placement on undergraduate film studies curriculums the world over owes to its unique historical value: it was…
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The Carter Effect (Sean Menard, Canada/USA) — TIFF Docs

By Adam Nayman Filming Drake (billed as a “rapper/actor,” in a nod to his Degrassi stint) in front of some dinosaur skeletons at the Royal Ontario Museum is the wittiest touch in Sean Menard’s barely feature-length, sure-to-be-bought-for-television account of Vince Carter’s tumultuous tenure with the Toronto Raptors, not that said tumultuousness is really given its…
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The Children Act (Richard Eyre, UK) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Ian McEwan specializes in preposterous plots, and The Children Act is as contrived as anything in his posh, voluminous, award-winning repertoire. (I don’t have an official number, but I’m guessing this is something like the 85th film made from one of his novels). Shortly after receiving a your-job-or-our-marriage ultimatum from her perennially…
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The Lodgers (Brian O’Malley, Ireland) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman Things creak in The Lodgers, a painfully genteel Irish horror movie haunted by the spirits of superior ghost stories, from The Innocents to The Others. It’s not that director Brian O’Malley is unaware of (or not duly reverent to) the old-dark-house tradition that he’s working in, it’s just that he doesn’t add…
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Bodied (Joseph Kahn, USA) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman Or: Do the Wrong Thing. The protagonist of Joseph “Look What You Made Me Do” Kahn’s Eminem-produced 8 Mile satire (scripted by Toronto-area rapper Kid Twist) is a slim, shady grad student writing a dissertation on the subaltern subversiveness of clandestine rap battles. After some encouragement from a legendary (black) rapper—who tells…
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Suburbicon (George Clooney, USA) — Galas

By Adam Nayman On paper (where it was doubtlessly first written, probably with a typewriter, 30 years ago) Joel and Ethan Coen’s script for Suburbicon evokes sinister, postwar domestic melodramas like Shadow of a Doubt and Bigger Than Life. On screen, as directed by George Clooney, it evokes—or, more accurately, pilfers, poorly and to no…
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Three Peaks (Jan Zabeil, Germany/Italy) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Three Peaks opens with a man and a child struggling to hold a conversation underwater in a fancy resort swimming pool; it’s a witty visual pun pointing to submerged motivations and difficult intergenerational communication. Jan Zabeil’s film is filled with such touches, and as they add up, you could be forgiven for…
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Valley of Shadows (Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen, Norway) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman The other clog doesn’t drop for a good long time in Valley of Shadows, a half-enchanting, half-enervating Norwegian feature whose director tries to have his horror tropes and transcend them too. That it takes Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen a while to really indicate what kind of movie he’s making could be taken as…
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Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, UK) — Special Event

By Adam Nayman He just can’t help himself. Unless my memory is failing me, Memento-style, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is the first World War II movie — and I suppose, provided we keep the designation relatively straightforward, the first war movie, period — that’s been deliberately crafted as a puzzle box. The relationship of form to…
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The Disaster Artist (James Franco, USA) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman The pivotal moment in The Disaster Artist—James Franco’s absorbing, hall-of-mirrors adaptation of Greg Sestero’s combination memoir/tell-all about his participation in the making of The Room, which some have called the worst movie ever made—comes when oddball-narcissist-auteur-polymath Tommy Wiseau (played, naturally, by oddball-narcissist-auteur-polymath Franco) is humiliated at a Hollywood restaurant by a powerful…
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High Fantasy (Jenna Bass, South Africa) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman The ’80s-style Hollywood body-swap comedy gets a purposeful and political makeover in High Fantasy, an inventive and entertaining South African feature that cleverly yokes heavy subject matter to an agile DIY aesthetic. Shot entirely on iPhones wielded by its adolescent cast members (who also wrote the script), the film takes the form…
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Pyewacket (Adam MacDonald, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman The hands-down winner of the TIFF 2017 “Google the title to understand it” award, Pyewacket finds Adam MacDonald—who came to the festival in 2014 with a tough, impressive little thriller called Backcountry—swapping generic models, trading survivalist realism for occult-tinged horror. It’s a lateral move, and also not an improvement (albeit one that’s…
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Ta peau si lisse (Denis Côté, Canada/Switzerland) — Wavelengths

By Adam Nayman Published in Cinema Scope 72 (Fall 2017) William K.L. Dickson’s Sandow (1894) is a three-part documentary study of the Prussian muscleman Friedrich Wilhelm Muller, who adopted the more flamboyant nom de plume after he dodged the draft and joined the circus. Sandow’s placement on undergraduate film studies curriculums the world over owes…
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The Insult (Ziad Doueiri, France/Lebanon) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman. Call it Two Angry Men: Ziad Doueiri’s courtroom drama applies a stolid, old-fangled Sidney Lumet-ness to a geographically and historically disparate cultural context. The setting is Beirut, a city riven with ethnic and religious tensions. In the opening scene, mechanic Tony (Adel Karam) attends a rally of the Christian Party, whose conservative,…
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Mary Goes Round (Molly McGlynn, Canada) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman “Are you a piece of shit?” This is the question being pondered by 29-year-old Mary (Aya Cash), who suspects that she might be and knows for a fact that she’s a hypocrite, peddling substance abuse-program platitudes at her day job while getting fucked up by night (and in the afternoon, and on…
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That Day, on the Beach: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk

By Adam Nayman He just can’t help himself. Unless my memory is failing me, Memento-style, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is the first World War II movie — and I suppose, provided we keep the designation relatively straightforward, the first war movie, period — that’s been deliberately crafted as a puzzle box. The relationship of form to…
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Sandy Wexler (Steven Brill, US)

By Adam Nayman At the end of Sandy Wexler, the film’s eponymous Hollywood talent manager (Adam Sandler), who has come out the other end of a heart attack, grabs the microphone at a party filled with his showbiz family and belts out a nasal, atonal rendition of Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”…
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Deaths of Cinema | Nothing Will Die: John Hurt, 1940–2017 

By Adam Nayman  It’s all in the wrist. Buried beneath layers of latex as John Merrick in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980), the only part of John Hurt that is visibly untouched by disfiguring makeup is his left arm, which the actor wields with the precision and grace of a sabre. It’s both an…
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Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie, Canada)

By Adam Nayman How in the world did Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves) win the Best Canadian Feature prize this year at TIFF? I’m wondering this not because I think the film is unworthy, or necessarily…
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Jackie (Pablo Larraín, US/UK/France)

By Adam Nayman In In the Line of Fire (1993), John Malkovich’s crack-shot-slash-crackpot gets off a wickedly funny line about JFK, gloating that the 35th Commander-in-Chief’s favourite poem was Alan Seeger’s “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” which, he adds, “is not a good poem.” It’s a bad-taste joke touching on the verboten notion that…
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We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice (Alanis Obomsawin, Canada) — Masters

By Adam Nayman There is a moment near the end of Alanis Obomsawin’s purposefully epic-length courtroom-procedural documentary We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice where the camera catches a lawyer’s convictions wilting—he can’t even really make eye contact with the tribunal he’s trying to convince, much less sell them on the idea that the Canadian…
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(Re)Assignment (Walter Hill, Canada/France/US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman A potential powder keg of (trans)gender politics provided anybody ever actually sees it after its TIFF premiere, Walter Hill’s (Re)Assignment is sort of two movies in one: a low-rent, bullet-in-the-head revenge thriller that embraces clichés like long-lost friends, and an inconngrously high-minded disquisition on style that cribs from Shakespeare and Poe en…
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Below Her Mouth (April Mullen, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Nomi Malone’s swimming-pool gyrations in Showgirls (1995) have nothing on the scene in Below Her Mouth where fashion editor Jasmine (Natalie Krill) brings herself to orgasm via a full-blast bathtub faucet while perched perilously over the porcelain basin; if nothing else, it’s quite a display of upper-body strength. So, credit director April…
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Trespass Against Us (Adam Smith, UK) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman In a film filled with significant canines—from an accidentally immolated mutt to a prize police-unit sniffer to a redemptive purebred puppy—Michael Fassbender’s hangdog eyes are best in show: after all, acting Shame is right in our hero’s wheelhouse. As Chad, a reckless, criminally-inclined traveller caught somewhere between his firebrand father’s (Brendan Gleeson)…
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Weirdos (Bruce McDonald, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Having given Bruce McDonald a pretty rough ride in this space last year for the so-bad-it-had-to-be-contractually-obligated horror movie Hellions, I’m inclined to go easier on Weirdos, which has the same rambling, open-road sensibility of the director’s very best movies. Not that this gentle period comedy (dateline: Antigonish, 1976) ever really challenges the…
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The Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Let’s stick to what’s on screen here, and say that Nate Parker isn’t the first multi-hyphenate to conflate artistic megalomania with authentic heroism—a pre-damage control Mel Gibson got an Academy Award for it, for instance. At the risk of praising with faint damnation, The Birth of a Nation is roughly on a…
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American Pastoral (Ewan McGregor, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Only Philip Roth could conceive an epic in which a Jewish patriarch is literally blameless and figuratively guilty for the sins of the Greatest Generation—self-flattery and self-flagellation conveniently interlaced. That said Jew is played, in this new cinematization of Roth’s American Pastoral, by the Scots-born Ewan McGregor (pulling double duty behind the…
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Interchange (Dain Iskandar Said, Indonesia/Malaysia) — Vanguard

By Adam Nayman The supernaturally-inflected police procedural is a subgenre with international traction (as evidenced by the recent success of The Wailing), but while there’s surely something trendy about Malaysian director Dain Iskandar Said’s new thriller, it draws on local culture in a way that suggests its inspirations predate and supersede True Detective. Said shows…
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L’Avenir (Mia Hansen-Løve, France)

By Adam Nayman A decade after her youthful debut Tout est pardonné (2007), the now-35-year-old Mia Hansen-Løve has become a veteran. But she’s always been an old soul. Her films are rife with scenes of teenagers being forced to confront hypocrisy and loss well ahead of schedule, and she’s very good at capturing the split-seconds…
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Denial (Mick Jackson, US/UK) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman As the notorious and famously discredited Holocaust denier David Irving in Denial, Timothy Spall deadens his eyes, twitches his jowls, masticates his dialogue and scrunches himself into truly ghoulish configurations. Not since Jeremy Irons played Claus Von Bulow has a gifted English actor thrown himself so bodily into a role as a…
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Hello Destroyer (Kevan Funk, Canada) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman It’s either genuinely ballsy or calculatedly smart for a young Canadian director to attack the culture and codes of junior hockey. The fact is that Kevan Funk’s Hello Destroyer is set to get a lot of attention at TIFF and beyond, and it’s constructed sturdily enough to stand up to any forthcoming…
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The Fixer (Adrian Sitaru, Romania) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman “The Romanian Nightcrawler” is probably not the most accurate description of Adrian Sitaru’s new film, but it captures something of its commitment to attacking present-tense fifth-estate ethics. The media critique is a sub-genre that’s historically been the sole provenance of American filmmakers, but The Fixer makes a valid claim on the territory.…
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Prevenge (Alice Lowe, UK) — Vanguard

By Adam Nayman In Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers (2012), Alice Lowe created a role and gave a brilliant performance as a woman slowly but enthusiastically embracing her own latent psychosis – going crazy as a state of grace. Her feature directorial debut Prevenge mines similar territory with less robust but still relatively healthy returns. Lowe’s thing…
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Werewolf (Ashley McKenzie, Canada) — Discovery

By Adam Nayman The title’s a metaphor, of course. New Waterford-based Ashley McKenzie’s feature debut, after a string of sterling shorts, tracks two methadone-swigging wastrels whose chemical dependencies have them eking out a feral existence in small-town Nova Scotia. The narrative materials are generic—plenty of down-in-the-mouth Canadiana out there—but the filmmaking is vivid and specific.…
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Christine (Antonio Campos, US) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman A perfect exemplar of a bad good movie, Antonio Campos’ Christine traps (an excellent) Rebecca Hall in a series of impeccably composed frames as the famously ill-fated Sarasota local news anchor Christine Chubbuck. One good way to gauge your patience for this exercise in high-handed dread is how you react to seeing…
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American Honey (Andrea Arnold, UK/USA) — Special Presentations

By Adam Nayman Following Andrea Arnold’s third consecutive Cannes Grand Prix, allow me to suggest another award, this one for lifetime achievement: Most Literal-minded Use of Pop Music. Determined to top the deployment of Nas’ “Life’s a Bitch” at the climax of the 2009 Fish Tank (in which life was a bitch), Arnold kicks off…
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X Quinientos (Juan Andrés Arango, Canada/Colombia/ Mexico) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Adam Nayman The sinister shadow of Iñárritu hangs over Juan Andrés Arango’s tripartite character study, which doesn’t explicitly interconnect its stories Babel-style but nevertheless seems similarly intended as a commentary on universal issues of displacement and alienation (sans international movie stars, of course; this is a Canadian co-production after all). As such, it’s pretty…
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It’s Only the End of the World (Xavier Dolan, Canada/France) — Special Presentations

  By Adam Nayman As in Tom at the Farm (2013), It’s Only the End of the World finds Xavier Dolan more or less on his best behaviour, humbly (as much as that’s possible for him) adapting a pre-existing play (by the late Québécois writer Jean-Marc Lagarce) rather than weaving his melodrama out of whole…
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