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Canadian doc takes charge in pre-TIFF cocktail party talk

'It certainly offers a much grander scale than maybe anything you're likely to see here.'
Images of humanity's massive re-engineering of the planet run rampant in critics' favorite, 'Anthropocene: The Human Epoch,' one of nearly 300 films being shown at the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival. (Image courtesy of TIFF)

TORONTO -- “Most Popular Drink” was the theme cocktail at Wednesday night’s Toronto Film Critics Association’s annual “Critical Drinking Pre-Fest Fiesta,” always held in honor of visiting press on hand for the oncoming storm, which this year is called the 43rd annual Toronto International Film Festival.

Naturally, we again chose to seek out the “Most Popular Movie,” at least when it concerns TFCA members, who always enjoy a hometown advantage by getting to preview a slew of festival goodies well ahead of the media hordes from all over the world.

For the first time ever, though, our fifth year of informally polling our Canadian hosts was not such an easy chore. It seems that, perhaps with the big number of world premieres featured at this year’s TIFF (Sept. 6-16), reviewers here simply have not been offered as many pre-festival screenings to view. (Or maybe they purposely stayed away from that Cleveland guy who always asks, “So, what have you seen so far that’s really good?”)

That means our results won’t contain any Oscar-winning “Spotlight” or “Moonlight,” which took home TFCA honors in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and not even a “Call Me by Your Name,” which won plaudits at this party a year ago and then later earned a measly Best Picture nomination, too.

Perhaps the closest we came was a mention for If Beale Street Could Talk. Respected Toronto broadcaster-turned freelancer Bonnie Laufer Krebs called it director Barry Jenkins’ “fine follow-up to ‘Moonlight,’ with excellent performances, especially by Toronto’s own Stephan James.”

Longtime TFCA President Peter Howell, who doubles as longtime reviewer at the Toronto Star, named a trio of “very good films.” They included the Korean thriller Burning; the heartbreaking Capernaum, from Lebanese director Nadine Labacki; and a Canadian ditty called The Grizzlies, which Howell described as “To Sir with Love goes to Nunavut” (which actually is the name of Canada’s northern-most province).

Jim Slotek, the ex-Toronto Sun scribe now contributing to “Original Cin,” a film web site, said he enjoyed Endzeit, a chilling zombie movie from Germany. Asked to describe it, Slotek quoted a line from the film, “Mother Earth serves an eviction notice.”

Among a slew of other one-vote wonders, Robert Redford’s last movie, Old Man & The Gun; Beautiful Boy (with Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet); Wild Rose, the country-singer dramedy (starring 2017 TIFF Rising Star Jessie Buckley); and Jacque Audiard’s English-language debut, The Sisters Brothers (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix), were among the most recognizable titles.

No other movie, however, came close to the cocktail crowd’s three-vote favorite, which – drum roll, please – comes in the form of the apparently dazzling documentary from Canadian artist/photographer Edward Burtynski, who has won legitimate TIFF awards before for “Manufactured Landscapes” (2006) and “Watermark” (2013).

Burtynski’s latest, co-directed with two others, is called Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, which retired Macleans magazine film-writing maestro and first TFCA president Brian D. Johnson lauded “as a step above.”

“It certainly offers a much grander scale than maybe anything you’re likely to see here,” Johnson said.

Now that the drinking and discussion has ended, it’s time to watch some movies. You can catch up with all the names mentioned above at www.tiff.net, and be sure to return here Friday for details of Opening Night festivities at North America’s largest film festival.