Toronto - Day Three (2017)

I smashed it today, with a pretty formidable line up of movies.

Last night I was at Midnight Madness, the fevered late night cult screening strand that has legendary status worldwide for genre fans. I saw Bodied, an Eminem-produced rap comedy about a white grad student at Berkeley falling into battle rapping while researching his thesis. Not quite sure what the critics will think if but it was a lot of fun, or that's certainly the opinion of the whooping and hollering fanboy crowd I saw it with. A playful satire on the music, the film also explores the more unsavoury aspects of rap lyrics, such as casual misogyny, homophobia and racism. It’s Scott Pilgrim meets 8 Mile, in a way. And, in a way that recalls Dear White People, a broader debate permeates the film with black versus white culture and racial privilege.

Cut from the same saddle cloth as Curzon's own Lean On Pete, (the new film from 45 Years' director Andrew Haigh) The Rider also has UK distribution (through Altitude) - and will be released next year. Recalling early David Gordon Green films (particularly in the excellent use of non-actors to authentically portray the working class American heartland), this is the assured 2nd feature from Chloé Zhao. It already has a Cannes award (CICE) and, like Lean On Pete, a 4-star Guardian review to its credit. Newcomer Brady Jandreau (he doesn’t even have an IMDb pic, bless his cotton socks) plays a young show rider and horse trainer whose dreams of becoming a rodeo star are brutally cut short by a horrific head injury. Faced with the challenge of making ends meet without rodeo income and silently straining under pressure from doctors, family and friends, the film hinges on how Brady will react to the realisation that he may never ride again. Really powerful stuff that has at its core a performance from Jandreau, a genuine find, that is quiet, laconic and utterly convincing. 

The Rider : quiet, laconic and utterly convincing.

The Rider: quiet, laconic and utterly convincing.

Recalling arthouse Westerns The Proposition and last year's hugely underrated Bone Tomahawk, Sweet Country is an Australian period Western with an ensemble cast that includes Sam Neill and a lesser spotted Bryan Brown (somewhat dustier than his Cocktail days). It's from the director of 2010's Samson and Delilah. If Mudbound gave me dirty fingernails, Sweet Country left me with blistered lips, sand in my shoes and a gunshot wound in my gut. Set in the sun-bleached outback of the 1920s, an Aborigine farmhand shoots a “whitefella” in self defence, sparking a manhunt across tribal territory. It's beautiful (cinematographically), violent and brilliant. 

One of the bravest films in Toronto has to be Apostasy, from British filmmaker Dan Kokotajlo. Kokotajlo, raised a Jehovah's Witness in Manchester, has risked the wrath of his own community by pulling the curtain back on their world with a brilliant debut drama. It's another gem from the iFeatures scheme, which is very much at the forefront of an exciting renaissance in new British cinema, personified in recent indie hits Lady Macbeth and God's Own Country. The film is marked by some fine performances, not least from veteran TV actress Siobhan Finneran (last seen in Happy Valley) as a single mum and true believer trying to reconcile her faith with the practicalities of raising two teenage girls.

Finished the day by going underground with the locals, at a dive bar called Get Well in Little Portugal. Upfront they serve great beer and out back there's a pizza shop that sells coffee table-sized pan pizzas. Hiding your festival pass to blend in is a common trick, but borrowing a baseball cap was possibly a step too far.

Jon Wood