On behalf of the other mem­bers of the CAST junta, I’m very pleased to announce the res­ults of the 5th edi­tion of the CAST Awards. I received 38 com­pleted bal­lots from film lovers in the Greater Toronto Area. Here are the CAST Top 25 voted from among all films that had a the­at­rical or fest­ival release in Toronto during 2014. Voters ranked up to 10 films on their ballot from top to bottom, with first choices receiving 10 points, second choices 9, etc. The Points column lists the total score for each film, the Mentions column indic­ates the number of bal­lots it appeared on, and the First column indic­ates the total number of voters who chose the film as their top choice. We are very proud of the group of critics we’ve gathered, even though I’ve described us else­where as “a ragtag group of semi-professional film blog­gers, pod­casters, tweeters and Lightbox lobby loiterers.” 142 dif­ferent films received at least one men­tion this year, although 81 of those received only one mention.

Boyhood - Richard Linklater
The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes AndersonWhiplash - Damian Chazelle
Nightcrawler - Dan GilroyUnder the Skin - Jonathan GlazerBirdman - Alejandro González Iñárritu
Gone Girl - David FincherMommy - Xavier DolanInherent Vice - Paul Thomas AndersonForce Majeure - Ruben Östlund

FILM TITLE
POINTS
MENTIONS
FIRST
1. Boyhood 138 19 7
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel 136 21 6
3. Whiplash 93 14 2
4. Nightcrawler 88 15 0
5. Under the Skin 76 10 3
6. Birdman 76 10 1
7. Gone Girl 74 14 1
8. Mommy 60 8 4
9. Inherent Vice 52 10 0
10. Force Majeure 47 11 1
11. The LEGO Movie 43 8 2
12. Wild 41 7 1
13. Horse Money 34 4 2
14. Interstellar 32 4 1
15. Enemy 32 5 0
16. Snowpiercer 29 6 0
17. Only Lovers Left Alive 28 6 0
18. The Overnighters 27 7 0
19. Mr. Turner 25 4 0
20. Citizenfour 25 5 0
21. Leviathan 23 4 0
21. Foxcatcher 23 4 0
23. What We Do In The Shadows 22 4 1
24. Dear White People 21 3 0
25. The Immigrant 21 4 0
25. Winter Sleep 21 4 0


Participants:

Here is a PDF with each person’s ballot and the col­lated res­ults, with a few more inter­esting stats included.

And here is a very nice list on Letterboxd of the entire list of films, roughly ranked.
And for those still reading, here is my very own CAST ballot, with my top ten from 2014.

My CAST Ballot

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  2. Inherent Vice
  3. Actress
  4. Nightcrawler
  5. Under the Skin
  6. The Overnighters
  7. Mommy
  8. We Are The Best!
  9. Song of the Sea
  10. Rich Hill

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Hu Wei (Butter Lamp)
UPDATE (January 15, 2015): Butter Lamp has been nom­in­ated for an Academy Award in the cat­egory of Best Live-Action Short. Best of luck to Hu Wei and the rest of his team!

One of the most impressive short films I saw during my visit to the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival last January was Hu Wei’s La lampe au beurre de yak (Butter Lamp). In fact, I wasn’t the only one impressed; the film won the Grand Prix. I was tre­mend­ously pleased, there­fore, to be able to bring it to Shorts That Are Not Pants this past October. The film has scooped up a slew of other awards as well, and it seems destined to become a short film classic. Director Hu Wei gra­ciously answered a few ques­tions about the film recently.

Where did the idea for the film come from?

The idea has existed for a long time, but it was not until 2008 at the FIAC Paris when I saw Michael Nash’s pho­to­graph “Warsaw 1946,” that I finally decided to write the script. In this pho­to­graph, a pho­to­grapher uses a back­drop with some rural scenery to mask the war ruins while shooting a por­trait for a woman, in Warsaw in November of 1946. This dif­fer­en­ti­ation of space presented in one pho­to­graph has really impressed me and I think that is sort of a common agree­ment between Western cul­ture and Eastern. After that I fin­ished the screen­play of Butter Lamp.

Where was the film shot?

In the Tibetan region, in Sichuan, China.

Is the film a doc­u­mentary, or was some of it scripted?

This film is entirely scripted.

The use of per­spective is very clever in the film — we see only what the camera lens sees. What were the reasons for this?

We are unable to per­ceive the com­plete world; not even in reality. I wish to create a rel­at­ively enclosed space in the film; every one of the back­drops rep­res­ents a Utopia of some sort. I was trying to con­struct a “happy” atmo­sphere at the begin­ning of the film; as time goes by and each of the back­drop unfolds, and till we are brought back to the real world, the dif­fer­ence between the dream worlds and the reality is finally revealed.

Still from Butter Lamp

Were your Tibetan actors all nomadic, like the char­ac­ters they play? Where did you find them?

The actors who appeared in the film are all local Tibetan nomads. We went into the moun­tains, vis­iting one vil­lage after another in search of the actors.

How do you feel the Tibetan nomads relate to the woman in Michael Nash’s photograph?

I think that for the Tibetans, the woman is the pho­to­graph, they are all just people who have dreams.

Did you encounter any dif­fi­culties while filming? How were they overcome?

First of all, it is a short film and in China there is no spe­cific filming permit [avail­able] for shorts. As a result, we had many troubles during filming because we did not have a filming permit; espe­cially for a pro­duc­tion team con­sisting of for­eign mem­bers [Editor’s Note: the film was a co-production with France]. Secondly, the entire filming pro­cess was con­ducted on the plateau of over 4,000 meters alti­tude, and that cre­ated both phys­ical and mental chal­lenges for most of the crew mem­bers from the flat­lands. And lastly we had prob­lems com­mu­nic­ating with the Tibetans, they were nomads and non-professional actors and that was another bar­rier we exper­i­enced. It was time that over­came all the difficulties.

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Song of the Sea
Song of the Sea opens Friday December 19th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. See it on the biggest screen possible.

Song of the Sea (Director: Tomm Moore): As a huge fan of Tomm Moore’s pre­vious film, The Secret of Kells, I was eagerly looking for­ward to seeing Song of the Sea. And I do mean seeing, since Moore’s work as an anim­ator is grounded in a lush yet spare drawing style that is simply gor­geous to look at. And true to form, every frame of the new film is as visu­ally stun­ning as a painting. What I wasn’t pre­pared for was how much of an emo­tional wallop the film packs.

Though I’m a true lover of cinema, there are times when I’m grateful that I don’t have to make my living writing about films. This is def­in­itely one of those times. Instead of bashing out my 300 words trying to slot this into some cat­egories (anim­a­tion, family films) and per­haps musing about its poten­tial box office num­bers before moving on the next week to whatever the media fire­hose belches forth, I can take my time a little. I can write about this film simply because it mat­ters to me, and I can write about it in whatever way that I can express that.

I’ll begin by pointing out that Moore and his pro­duc­tion com­pany, Cartoon Saloon, have been working on Song of the Sea for more than five years, on a budget a frac­tion of what a com­pany like Pixar would have avail­able. Without dis­par­aging any other anim­ated fea­ture films out there, this cer­tainly speaks to the level of craft and love for the medium that Moore and his col­leagues share. Operating out­side of the Hollywood industry, Cartoon Saloon is more like an Irish ver­sion of the late, great Studio Ghibli.

The film begins with a few lines from W.B. Yeats’ “The Stolen Child,” a poem which has par­tic­ular meaning for me, a trans­planted Irishman. I chose it to be a part of my father’s memorial ser­vice a few years ago, and I’ve always found The Waterboys’ song based on it to be incred­ibly moving. It’s the story of a child being lured away from “a world full of weeping” by faeries.

It’s won­derful to see Moore return to the Irish myth­o­logy which The Secret of Kells brought to life so mem­or­ably. This time it’s a story about selkies, creatures who exist as seals in the water but as humans on dry land. Sometimes they take human spouses, but these unions often end tra­gic­ally when the selkies return to their true home, the sea.

Song of the Sea

On the night that young Saoirse is born, her mother Bronach dis­ap­pears, leaving hus­band Conor the light­house keeper heart­broken and son Ben bitter and angry at his baby sister. As she grows up, she remains mute and Ben con­tinues to reject her. One night she dis­covers a spe­cial coat and wades into the sea where she is trans­formed into a seal and swims hap­pily with a group of her own kind. But when her vis­iting grand­mother finds her washed up on shore, she takes both Saoirse and Ben to live in the city, away from the dangers of the sea and their dis­tracted father.

Being away from the sea and her spe­cial coat weakens Saoirse and Ben begins to show more sym­pathy for her. As well, he quickly dis­covers that all of the stories about faeries and witches that his mother told him before she dis­ap­peared are true. Soon the sib­lings are caught up in a life and death struggle to save Saoirse’s life and to restore a whole pop­u­la­tion of faery creatures who have been turned to stone by the witch Macha.

The emo­tional core of the film is lit­er­ally about having an emo­tional core. The “vil­lain” (who is really just unable to cope with her own pain) tries to lure Ben by asking him to forget his pain and bottle up (again, quite lit­er­ally) his feel­ings in jars. But this well-meaning coping strategy has turned all of the faeries into stone, including Macha’s beloved son, the giant Mac Lir. In her mis­guided desire to rescue him from heart­break, Macha instead stole her own son’s lifeblood. There’s a very clever pairing of human and faery char­ac­ters in the story as well, which makes the myth­ical stories much more immediate.

The mes­sage of feeling your feel­ings, even when they’re painful, was not lost on me. I’ve gone through more than my fair share of per­sonal tra­gedies this year. I cry much more easily now. I spent more than half of the film a quiv­ering, sniff­ling wreck, and it felt won­derful. Although this is a film that deserves a huge audi­ence, in many ways it felt like Tomm Moore made it just for me. And that is the highest praise I can bestow.

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The Irish Pub

by James McNally on October 21, 2014

in Documentaries

The Irish Pub
The Irish Pub plays from October 24–30 at the Carlton Cinemas and the Kingsway Theatre in Toronto.

The Irish Pub (Director: Alex Fegan): I was born in Ireland and although my par­ents brought me to Canada when I was just a tod­dler, I’ve been back more than a dozen times in my life­time, and have some great memories of time spent in tra­di­tional Irish pubs. So it wasn’t too dif­fi­cult to con­vince me to watch this new doc­u­mentary about these unique places. Director Fegan takes his camera around Ireland and spends most of his time in country towns where the pubs have often done double duty as gro­cery stores (and in one case, even as an undertaker’s). That should give you an idea of how essen­tial these places have been in the his­tory of the country. Far more than just a place to drink, the pub has been at the centre of social life for the com­munity, including the arts for which Ireland has become famous. It seems that every pub in this film is filled with storytellers and musi­cians. In one case, a pub­lican became a rather well-known play­wright even as his cus­tomers knew that most of the plots had been lifted almost dir­ectly from the con­ver­sa­tions he’d over­heard through the years.

The film allows many of the pub’s owners and cus­tomers to relate some of the stories that have made each one unique. In a few places, there are (largely unne­ces­sary) sub­titles. Many of the pubs are set in post­card gor­geous set­tings. The camera lingers lov­ingly on items of bric-a-brac, and on faces. It’s a leisurely-paced film with no real struc­ture, and no grand thesis. Instead, it simply aims to doc­u­ment people and places that seem in danger of dis­ap­pearing forever. As such, it’s a pleasant exper­i­ence, although surely a bit roman­ti­cized. I’d have liked to hear how the pubs were also hives of polit­ical res­ist­ance and act­ivism during the years of English rule. Or hear more about the pub’s rela­tion­ship with that other insti­tu­tion of Irish life, the Catholic Church. Alcoholism and oppressive reli­gion and eco­nomic des­pair are also a huge part of Irish his­tory, and the pub could be a divisive as well as a uni­fying force.

That being said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this film a lot. To hear the sort of stories told in darkened pubs in a variety of charming brogues would put a smile on anyone’s face. And you’ll meet a whole cast of charming char­ac­ters, from Athy to Ballylongford, from Clonakilty to Dingle, and beyond.

Lately, I’ve been watching a reality tele­vi­sion show called Bar Rescue, in which a brash con­sultant tries to “turn around” failing bars in a few days. Often he berates bar owners for not chan­ging their decor, or not upselling cus­tomers to more expensive drinks. This film, and its name­sake the tra­di­tional Irish pub, is just about the com­plete opposite of the new ideal for bars and pubs. But I’d argue that it’s what the Irish call “the craic” that people are looking for when they walk into a bar. This film gives that dif­fi­cult to define term a bit more sub­stance, and makes for a healthy cor­rective to the relent­less cyn­icism of reality TV.

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UPDATE (September 23, 2014): Due to an over­sight, one ballot that was sub­mitted on time wasn’t tab­u­lated. I’ve adjusted the res­ults accord­ingly, and there have been some changes to the Top 10. My apo­lo­gies for the inconvenience.
I’d like to ded­icate this edi­tion of the CAST Awards to our friend Peter Chu (@pchu1234), who passed away in June. His favourite film from last year’s TIFF was Gravity and his Twitter avatar was the poster image from The Tree of Life and I don’t think I can add any­thing to that.

For the third year in a row, I’ve com­piled a spe­cial edi­tion of the CAST Awards, just based on what people saw during the Toronto International Film Festival. Here are the CAST Top 10 based on the votes of 29 sub­mitted bal­lots. Voters ranked up to 10 films on their ballot from top to bottom, with first choices receiving 10 points, second choices 9, etc. The Points column lists the total score for each film, Mentions indic­ates how many voters included it in their Top Ten, Average is the average point score, and Firsts shows how many voters chose it as their favourite TIFF film.

In the case of points ties, the film with the higher number of first-place votes is listed first, then by highest average score. Because our sample size is quite small, these “rank­ings” don’t actu­ally mean much, but I thought it would give a good idea of what this par­tic­ular group of fest­ival­goers enjoyed this year. I’m curious to see how many of these show up in our reg­ular year-end CAST ballot and how they do.

Nightcrawler - Tony Gilroy
The Look of Silence - Joshua OppenheimerWhiplash - Damian Chazelle
Mommy - Xavier DolanThe Duke of Burgundy - Peter StricklandClouds of Sils Maria - Olivier Assayas
What We Do in the Shadows - Taika WaititiForce Majeure - Ruben OstlundTop Five - Chris RockThe Guest - Adam Wingard

FILM TITLE
POINTS
MENTIONS
AVERAGE
FIRSTS
1. Nightcrawler 69 9 7.67 2
2. The Look of Silence 52 6 8.67 4
3. Whiplash 50 6 8.33 0
4. Mommy 49 5 9.8 4
5. The Duke of Burgundy 49 7 7.0 2
6. Clouds of Sils Maria 49 7 7.0 1
7. What We Do in the Shadows 41 7 5.86 1
8. Force Majeure 40 6 6.67 1
9. Top Five 37 5 7.4 1
10. The Guest 36 9 4.0 0

Participants:

Here is a PDF with each person’s ballot and the full col­lated res­ults, with a few more inter­esting stats included.

And for those still reading, here is my final TIFF CAST ballot. There are only 7 films because that’s all I was able to see this year:

My TIFF CAST Ballot

  1. The Look of Silence
  2. Mommy
  3. Clouds of Sils Maria
  4. Behavior
  5. 1001 Grams
  6. Natural Resistance
  7. National Diploma

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