Friday, July 30, 2010

Fantasia 2010 wrap-up and report card

Dead soldiers and the one that got away
(the free pass in exchange for the missed Blades of Blood that I never exchanged)

I had a great time at Fantasia this year. Things looked a little down after the second week and I was disappointed with the Hong Kong offerings this year, but the last week came home strong with a wide range of excellent North American horror and thriller films. While I didn't take advantage of any of them this year, it is exciting to see the festival evolve and provide some events that aren't just movies. It sounds like they were quite successful. Socially, though my one friend with whom I usually see a lot of movies wasn't around as much (having just moved, a new job and a new child), my wife did a good showing and I got to meet some cool people involved with the festival itself as well as some of the hardcore old-schoolers. I'm really satisfied with the blogging I did. For me, the internet has become a big part of the fun of the festival and this year I actually contributed rather than just consuming the work of others. It also helped me to get to meet some people.

The Movies
Movie-wise, it was an interesting year. My slightly gloomy prognosis at the beginning of the festival turned out to be not totally off-base. There really was no movie that completely surprised me, took me somewhere I haven't been before or just blew the back of my mind out with its intensity. However, there was such a rich collection of well-crafted, intelligent and thoughtful movies, that the lack of novelty, innovation and extreme weirdness was mitigated to the point that I didn't even notice it. I was too busy thinking about religious fundamentalism, post-trauma healing and puzzling out how a filmmaker is even supposed to construct a third-act in today's post torture-porn extreme-gore environment.

Thematically, religion was a big theme this year. The Devils, Black Death and the Last Exorcism were the films that addressed this directly, but it seemed to be hanging around in general. Psychological healing was another big theme, especially with the two documentaries I saw, Marwencol and Feast of the Assumption: BTK and the Otero Murders. In general, there seemed to be a strange hesitation this year, an avoidance of the traditional satisfying, crowd-pleasing decision. Even the relatively big budget Centurion didn't really have a true antagonist. On the one hand, it's a sign of smarter movies, but on the other there may be a little too much self-awareness going on. Sometimes you just really want the badguy to get smashed in the face.

I noticed this particularly in what I'll call the third act problem. There was some criticism in the way many of the movies ended this year, in particular Black Death and the Last Exorcism. They built up such a beautiful approach and then never really exploded. As I was watching the movies, I shared a similar sense of dissatisfaction as I was watching the movies, but I also really enjoyed the endings. I almost think the dissatisfaction is because we've been so trained to receive the orgasmic money-shot conclusion, that is either some explosively dramatic resolution of the narrative or extreme violence or gore that has surpassed what has gone on before. The problem is that, at least for the violence and gore, we've all already gotten it all. So far, in terms of pure martial arts awesomeness, where do we go after Ong Bak? And extreme gore is now a genre in and of itself. I think torture porn is very much the result of a cinema reaching out for greater and greater shocks because we've shown every other possible form of violence on the screen. So you can't finish a film with some ones head blowing up or a beautifully choreographed fight scene where the good guy just manages to beat the bad guy. What's a director to do?

What I saw that they were doing this year was taking a step back from the spectacle and taking the time to play out the theme of the movie, to address the issues that had been brought up. Black Death, with the shifting of audience sympathy and the dark coda, is the obvious example of this. But I think Revenants did this as well, pushing the story to its logical conclusion in an ending that many felt was unnecessary and drawn out (too many screenwriting classes, methinks). The Last Exorcism entirely avoided an expected special effects showdown for a quick conclusion that completely turned everything on its head and perhaps even made a statement in favour of religious fundamentalism. I appreciate a bit more intellectualism of this kind (which could also be a manifestation of the greater trend of genre films and arthouse films overlapping), but I also like a good, simplistic and satisfying ending. Too much thinking in movies can lead to boringness and moral relativism (a looming danger as evinced by the embarrassing praise of critics towards A Serbian Film). We are walking a narrow path in very interesting times for the range of once-marginalized cinema sub-genres that Fantasia does such a fantastic job of collecting. How can you be subversive and transgressive when you can leap from reading this to goat clown porn with the click of a mouse? [Wait, don't go yet, I'm almost done!]


Programming: B
First of all, it's really easy to give out a grade to a group of people who worked their asses off and clearly put their heart and soul in to seeking out the best movies every year. I recognize that a big part of this slightly disappointing grade is a function of the state of genre cinema itself. I'm not so in the scene that I actually know this, but I highly doubt there was anything better out there. As I said before, a really strong slate of interesting, well-crafted films, but nothing that blew my mind. And there are two areas that could be improved. I felt the midnight movies have been not great in the last two years. A big part of it again is my personal taste, but I feel like there is too much reliance on Japanese extreme gore. Re-Animator was a great choice and I probably should have gone and seen Birdemic, but over all there just was nothing really out there. My major criticism, though, is the lack of classic kung fu movies. I'll get into that more at the end. So still a rock solid year, but with room for improvement. (Also, note that I am comparing this year against past Fantasia's, not against other film festivals. Fantasia simply blows the curve out of the water and would get an A++++ every time, so it's useless to put it up against mediocre mainstream media wankfests like TIFF or Cannes).

Operations: A
Everything about the festival this year has improved significantly. The website is always solid, but the downloadable calendar additions is a huge improvement. The online and phone ticket service doesn't have the personality of the 8-hour wait in the Hall building, but that's a sacrifice I'll take. The second ticket booth over at [REDACTED-INFO NOT TO BE SHARED] is a huge win. Every single movie I went to started on time this year, except where the situation was out of Fantasia staff's control (the double evacs in da Sève and VivaFilm and Universal's marketing paranoia clusterfuck). The staff and volunteers were uniformly efficient, helpful and friendly. Projection, lighting and sound quality were all rock solid. CJLO rocked as usual with finally some hip-hop (keep Mister Vee in the line-up for next year!). The website was rock solid and very active. Really the only reason this category doesn't get an A+ is because I want to push the staff to get a bit tougher with big-name guests like VivaFilm for them to get their shit together. Really, though, ongratulations due all around.

Internet Participation: B-
This category is kind of fluid and tough to grade because there are so many disparate parties. It encompasses all the stuff I like to do on the internet during Fantasia when I'm not actually at the movies. A big part of the fun for me is reading other people's reviews and experiences, arguing about movies, and so on. I have to say that while there were some bright spots, I was a bit disappointed this year. First of all, if I am actually posting more quantity (not to say any of it is any good) than major sights (who send multiple correspondents and get press passes), then something is wrong. Twitch Films, The Gazette, zTele just really didn't offer much beyond brief capsule reviews. And what happened to Dread Central? They used to have the best social coverage, with great wrap-ups of each day, pictures from the afterparties as well as very thorough reviews. There were some bright spots though. Jay's Movie Blog did a man's job. Sinistreblog as well, in french, kept it coming (and were great about responding to comments). Sound on Sight is a real discovery, with a great range of articles on Fantasia (not just reviews) and a thorough and entertaining podcast. Finally, and this is nobody's fault, I really long for a centralized discussion site where Fantasia fans can just really interact and talk about the movies.

Movies I wish I'd bought tickets for
Rubber, The Loved Ones, [Rec] 2, Castaway on the Moon, Merentau, Little Soldier

Best Audience Moment
Tie between Daniel proposing and the drunk angry nerd hugging it out with the director of the original I Spit on your Grave

Best Starfucking Moment
Alan Tudyk showing me pictures on his iPhone of the wall in his Hollywood home made of antique yardsticks. Eat your heart out, Browncoats!

My recommendations for 2011
1) BRING BACK CLASSIC KUNG FU FLICKS! Is this not obvious? Why have these great Shaw Brothers movies been taken off the slate? The fans love them, they play great on the weekend days, bringing in families and older people from the Chinese community as well as the kung fu geeks. I spoke with King Wei-Hu who is the martial arts programmer and he said this decision is entirely in the hands of Pierre Corbeil, the festival director. Pierre, if you are listening, kung fu is the heart and soul and the foundation of Fantasia. They are also great movies, exciting, beautiful to look at, full of movement and colour. You don't notice how much everyone loves the trailers for them? Please bring these back.

2) DO SOMETHING ABOUT TEXTING DURING THE MOVIE!! This is not Fantasia's fault, but it is starting to become a real problem. I would ask that maybe the organizers think about making an announcement or perhaps throwing in a fun short film/PSA about them at the beginning of the movies. It's not simply a question of people being rude. Some people actually think it's okay and get angry when you ask them to stop. Warning to those of you who will open your cellphone around me, I will escalate.

My Heartfelt Thanks!
All in all, another fantastic year. I had a total blast. A huge thanks to everyone involved with Fantasia, from top to bottom. Whatever brief rest you get, you have earned it. You did a top-notch job once again. One more fully-connecting roundhouse kick to all the other pretender film festivals out there, reminding them that Fantasia is boss! You are one of the major highlights of my life (which is already pretty awesome) here in Montreal, so I really do appreciate all the work that you do.

My Final Movie Rankings
(The list I keep on the right during the festival is going to be taken off, so I'll post it down here for future reference.)
  1. The Last Exorcism

  2. The Housemaid

  3. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

  4. The Disappearance of Alice Creed

  5. The Shrine

  6. Gallants

  7. The Revenant

  8. Marwencol

  9. Vampires

  10. The Devils

  11. Woochi

  12. Black Death

  13. Mesrine:  L’ennemi public n°1

  14. The Perfect Host

  15. Centurion

  16. Ip Man 2

  17. Secret Reunion

  18. I Spit on Your Grave

  19. The Feast of the Assumption

  20. Re-Animator

  21. We Are What We Are

  22. Mesrine: L'instinct de mort

  23. Raging Phoenix

  24. High School

  25. At World's End

  26. Lemmy

  27. Accident

  28. La Meute

  29. Bodyguards & Assassins

  30. The Clash

  31. If a Tree Falls

Thanks for reading, Fantasia fans. Stick around if you want, as I resume my normal meanderings on life in Montreal, being an anglo in Quebec, Canadian politics and the occasional rant against the cellphone companies.


Sinistre Blogzine said...

Merci pour les bons mots à notre égard! Even if we had kind a wrong start (misunderstanding happens), it was fun to exchange a bit on twitter!

Couldn't agree more about texting and cell phones. Man, Am I annoyed by this too! Not to mention people who are eating pizza and taouk...

Nonetheless, this 14th edition was a blast!

OlmanFeelyus said...

I am really to blame for the wrong start and I appreciate your graciousness about it. It was a good thing, because your blog was my regular stop in french and I took the time to read the reviews and articles even though I can be lazy about reading in french sometimes. You were one of the few who was actually critical of A Serbian Film, which I also appreciated! I look forward to seeing what Sinistre Blog has to report for the rest of the year.