There is a mystique that surrounds film festivals like Cannes and Toronto — the assumption that just because a movie is part of a film fest that it's worth seeing. However, the truth of the matter is that for every great flick at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival (and there are plenty), there are also dozens of forgettable or otherwise bad movies.
Here are a several films that came to TIFF 2012 with a lot of hype behind them and left the fest having experienced varying degrees of success.
"Hyde Park on Hudson"
One movie that had a lot of buzz coming into TIFF was Roger Michell's FDR biopic "Hyde Park on Hudson." Bill Murray's performance as President Franklin Roosevelt is sure to nab him an Academy Award nomination, but beyond his performance, the film is startlingly light and oppressively bland. As great as Murray is (and he is very good), Roosevelt takes a back seat to others for the majority of the movie. With King George VI and his wife the Queen Mother taking up pivotal parts of the movie, "Hyde Park on Hudson" feels more like "The King's Speech — Part 2" at times.
Instead of focusing the film on the high stakes U.S.-U.K. diplomacy and politicking, Michell focuses the pre-Second World War drama on FDR's distant cousin, Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), with whom the President has a brief affair. Their strange tryst distracts from what should be the real meat of the movie, and Linney's nostalgic narration of the events alludes to an air of charming romanticism that the Depression-era movie can never really match. Verdict: Miss
With provocative promotional images showing leading ladies Rachel McAdams ("The Notebook") and Noomi Rapace ("Prometheus") about to lock lips, director Brian De Palma's remake of the French film "Love Crime" arrived in Toronto with plenty of people talking about it. The erotic thriller about a pair of ambitious ad women competing in business and the bedroom is a throwback to the trashy but well-produced fare that got De Palma noticed by critics in the first place -- dutch camera angles, double-crosses, split-screen setups, murders and all.
Crossing into parody territory, "Passion" is De Palma's attempt at making a "De Palma" movie. If brainy trash-meister Paul Verhoeven ("Robocop," "Showgirls") had made a self-referential film like "Passion," people would be hailing him as a genius. By contrast, it still feels as though audiences haven't given the once very commercial De Palma (having directed hit movies like "The Untouchables" and "Mission: Impossible") permission to poke fun at himself and/or the thriller genre like this. It's not for everyone, but "Passion" is a return to subversive, cinema-loving form for the director. Verdict: Hit
Thanks to his stylish neo-noir movie "Drive," Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn ("Bronson," "Valhalla Rising") was one of the stars of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. So when it was announced that the Refn-produced British remake of his 1996 film "Pusher" would be part of the 2012 lineup, festival goers took notice. Unfortunately, director Luis Prieto's hyped-up take on Refn's first feature only serves as a reminder of how great the original was.
Like the first "Pusher," Prieto's version tells the story of a very bad week in the life of mid-level drug dealer named Frank (Richard Coyle). After a deal goes south, Frank finds himself in debt to Milo (played by Zlatko Burić, who reprises the role from Refn's "Pusher" trilogy), a dangerous gangster determined to get back the money Frank owes him. On a basic level, Prieto's "Pusher" is a competent enough remake, but for anyone who has seen Refn's far superior version it will feel completely redundant. The overplayed Guy Ritchie-style Brit gangster schtick adds nothing to the movie and actually destroys what little sympathy you have for the characters with flashy action and blaring dubstep. Verdict: Miss
As the son of one of Canada's most beloved filmmakers, the pressure was certainly on for "Antiviral" director Brandon Cronenberg at his hometown film festival. Ably shot and impressively assembled, full of big ideas and tiny horrors, Cronenberg's sci-fi film is definitely cut from the same cloth as some of his father's earliest work.
The vicious satire follows Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), an employee of the celebrity disease peddling Lucas Clinic. For a premium, patrons of the clinic can be infected with A-list illnesses and ailments in order to feel closer to their celebrity idols. Unfortunately, March soon finds that he's become a collector's item for fans after he himself gets infected by an "exclusive" disease that sickened starlet Hannah Geist (Toronto's Sarah Gadon). The world Cronenberg crafts in the film is a pretty damning indictment of society's obsession with celebrities, and one that creepily doesn't seem so far removed from our own.
Cronenberg's first feature film goes a long way towards proving that some talents are inherited. Body horror is in his blood! "Antiviral" is by no means a perfect film — it suffers from some pacing issues and a slightly disjointed third act — but the movie's overall success heralds the arrival of a promising new Canadian filmmaker. Verdict: Hit