Best of the fest: Wrapping up TIFF 2011

Favourite movies, moments, surprises and more from the Toronto International Film Festival

The CBC Arts team shares favourite films, interviews, gossip and impressions about the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

Most controversial

It seems the Material Girl just can’t catch a break. In Venice ahead of TIFF, W.E. director Madonna was skewered for spurning a fan’s bouquet of hydrangeas (she loathes them, doncha know?) and poked fun at the incident in an online video.

Perhaps in an attempt to shake off her rep for imperious behaviour, she publicly thanked the Toronto festival’s army of volunteers at her film’s premiere in Toronto. That didn’t stop one of TIFF’s orange-shirted army from alleging (to the Globe and Mail) that that pop diva had requested the backstage helpers at her press conference turn and look away during her arrival – a report that Madge’s longtime publicist Liz Rosenberg refuted.

And then there was the incident of the sneaky Madonna fan who went undercover (as a TIFF volunteer, apparently) at the media conference and successfully scored an autograph, causing a subsequent mini tempest about security at the fest.

Sexiest Canadian film 

With I’m Yours, director Leonard Falinger and his stars Rossif Sutherland and Karine Vanasse prove that Canucks can indeed make movies that are romantic and sexy. While there’s often sex in Canadian films, somehow it’s mostly used in dark and nihilistic or comedic contexts. This film has an actual sexy love scene, says reporter Deana Sumanac. And Sutherland and Vanasse have great chemistry.

Films we loved

  • Headhunters: The violent, but fun — and slightly preposterous —Norwegian film featuring Game of Thrones actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau had me riveted from start to finish. (Ilana Banks)
  • Union Square: Went in with no expectations and came out speechless. What a beautiful, textured, emotional portrayal of sisters forced to confront life head-on to uncover their authentic selves. (Laura Thompson)
  • Café de Flore: With my soft spot for visuals and music used in full effect, Jean-Marc Vallée was playing my song from the get-go with his opus to eternal love. Still, many of my French  colleagues weren’t as taken and it’s certainly a film that will split a crowd. (Eli Glasner)
  • 360: Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles's globe-trotting omnibus ties characters from Slovakia, the UK, France and Brazil together in a tale about the perils as well as the incredible renewing powers of love and desire. Stars like Rachel Weisz and Anthony Hopkins mix seamlessly with lesser-known foreign actors and the tale conveys a message about love in a global society that feels both truthful and romantic. (Deana Sumanac)
  • Undefeated: Not one to be gaga for inspirational sports movies, I was surprised to be so moved by the doc. About a crappy high school football team in a poor area of Memphis, it has all kinds of heart. I sobbed. I wasn't the only one. (Arisa Cox)

Rock stars as movie stars 

Musicians Neil Young, left, and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. (Peter Bregg/Getty Images)

TIFF was jam-packed with musical heavyweights this year, thanks to the handful of high-profile music docs and Madonna’s newest film (W.E.) featured in its lineup. The red carpets saw everyone from U2’s Bono and The Edge (From the Sky Down) to Neil Young (Neil Young Journeys) and Daniel Lanois, the grunge icons of Pearl Jam (Pearl Jam Twenty) to Chris Cornell (who contributed to the soundtrack of Machine Gun Preacher).

Still, perhaps the coolest musical moment came when, at one of Pearl Jam’s two Toronto concerts during TIFF’s first weekend, the band paid tribute to Young by covering his Rockin’ in the Free World and the legendary musician — who was in the audience — returned the compliment by strolling up the aisle and joining in. 

Most dramatic TIFF follow-up 

Show business impresario Garth Drabinsky made the rounds at a few splashy events around town on the festival’s blockbuster first weekend, including Hollywood columnist George Christy’s invite-only, star-studded annual Four Seasons luncheon as well as the premiere of the Christopher Plummer-showcase Barrymore, which he produced. By Tuesday, Drabinsky and long-time business partner Myron Gottlieb traded in their formal wear for prison jumpsuits, when they surrendered themselves at Toronto’s Don Jail after the Appeal Court of Ontario rejected their appeal of the 2009 Livent fraud conviction.

Hottest celebrity hangout

One of TIFF’s most enviable elements is its exclusive nightlife. This year’s venue of choice for the stars was Grey Goose Soho House @ TIFF, a pop-up version of the private social club found in the U.K., Europe and the U.S.

"George Clooney shut the place down on the first weekend of TIFF. Ryan Gosling partied at the Soho for both The Ides of March and Drive. Madonna had her private dinner at the club. The list goes on. Twitter was filled with Soho House stories," said producer Ilana Banks, who managed to get past the velvet ropes and rub shoulders with the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Gerard Butler and Scott Speedman in the laid-back space, decorated with casually mismatched furniture and boasting a great DJ. "Really, no other party venue could touch it."

Ubiquitous party presence 

Geoffrey Rush was literally at every party reporter Deana Sumanac managed to get into and likely a whole lot more that she didn't. Though most often surrounded by company, if you managed to catch him walking himself, he'd smile, say hi and looked friendly, she said. Rush proves that TIFF partying is not just for the actors in their 20s.  He works hard and deserves to play hard.

Most surprising confession 

Without the blink of an eye, actress Abbie Cornish shared that she’s been rapping for 10 years. With a completely straight face, she admitted she loved "making beats." (Like, whaa?) It came up in her interview with reporter Arisa Cox and producer Laura Thompson. She told other outlets as well, because it made the papers the next day. When CBC interviewed her a couple years ago for Bright Star, this hip-hop hobby most certainly did not come up.

Most awkward moment 

Canadian actor and TIFF 2011 golden boy Ryan Gosling was walking toward a hotel lobby one day (with reporter Jelena Adzic close by), when suddenly a young girl shrieked his name. She was immediately clobbered by a giant, overly intense security guard and Gosling winced at the sight.

Most inspiring 

Filmmaking legend Francis Ford Coppola enchanted the audience at a Mavericks Q&A session by recounting how he navigated Marlon Brandon's shoddy memory for dialogue (gave him props to toy with), his secret to true film independence (start a winery) and his feelings about the current state of Hollywood (too many film industry wannabes, not enough cinema-lovers).

Most disappointing 

As inspiring as he was, Coppola's new movie Twixt is a mess, according to reporter Eli Glasner. An over-boiled Southern Gothic with pointless 3D and scary dead girls, Twixt would make Ed Wood proud.

Standout interview 

In the sea of A-list stars at TIFF, Erin Brockovich stood out for producer Laura Thompson as she helped promote the water crisis documentary Last Call at the Oasis. She was a powerful enough character to inspire a movie about her life more than a decade ago and she's no less motivated now. Asked why everyday people respond to her, she said matter-of-factly: "Because I give a damn."

Most emotional moment 

A tie between Machine Gun Preacher director Marc Forster’s tale of a Sudanese child soldier, who requested doctors leave some of the scars on his mutilated face during reconstructive surgery as a visual reminder of his experiences (says reporter Jelena Adzic), and Francis Ford Coppola’s brave admission to press that new film Twixt includes a cinematic exploration of his personal guilt over his son’s horrific and accidental death in the 1980s (says reporter Jessica Wong).

Clooney in control 

Watching the quick-thinking George Clooney handle a question about his dating life from a reporter was evidence the actor-filmmaker is a cool customer who likes to be in control. He turned the guns immediately on the fellow and didn't let up, no doubt embarrassing him. He threw down the gauntlet with style and showed he’s not a man to be messed with, said reporter Margo Kelly.

Celebrity we want to be friends with 

Though reporter Deana Sumanac never knew what to make of British actress Keira Knightley ("I’m as guilty as anyone for wondering if she's too skinny or looks like that girl who always wears black and reads Foucault for fun"), the actress proved friendly, chatty and intelligent.

"It was one of those interviews where 15 minutes seems like a very short time. We chatted about the research she did into the character of Sabina Spielrein (for David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method) and how she chose to portray the masochist mistress of Carl Jung in a non-victim way. And she wore a floral dress," Sumanac said. "Keira, anytime you're in town, we can go shopping together. Or read Foucault. Whatever."

Softest talker 

Though a master of fury onscreen, Ralph Fiennes is surprisingly quiet in person, according to reporter Eli Glasner. However, if you ask him a few questions about the Bard, he truly opens up.

Biggest misconception

After roles in Band of Brothers, 300, Inglourious Basterds, Jane Eyre, Hunger and now Shame, Michael Fassbender says the biggest misconception about him is that he’s intense and  intellectual, the actor told reporter Arisa Cox. Actually, he's a bit of a goof and really (really!) isn't afraid of Shame’s nudity and sex scenes.

He was so easy-going that Cox found the nerve to admit that, because of TIFF craziness, she only saw the last half-hour of the film and missed his already infamous full-frontal scene. "So I only saw the tip!" she called out over her shoulder as she left the interview room, sparking howls from the camera crew. "Did she just say ‘tip’?" Fassbender asked, laughing along in disbelief.   

Best cross-cultural hobnobbing

Away from the Hollywood buzz and in a sea of Argentines, reporter Jessica Wong found it illuminating to chat with hyper-stylish, Tarantinoesque female director Tamae Garateguy and a Buenos Aires-based journalist about the struggles facing Argentina’s indie filmmakers — including the difficulty persuading theatre owners to put homegrown productions onto the country's movie screens, which are dominated by Hollywood flicks. Hmm, sounds familiar.