The stars have packed up, the ticket lines have disappeared, and the TIFF screening rooms are empty. After cramming a hefty lineup of movies under my belt, I can confidently say that it was one of the finest TIFF’s I’ve ever attended. Perhaps I just made the right choices, but the batting average of the fest’s movies that flickered in front of my eyes was pretty high. There were few disappointments, even less outright failures, and a couple of movies worthy of throwing around descriptions like “masterpiece.” So despite the sleep deprivation and irremovable popcorn stench on all of my clothes, I must say that I’m pretty pleased. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed my ramblings and earmarked a couple of titles to check out as they start tumbling into theatres this fall.

Today, I’m signing off my TIFF13 coverage with two movies that are finales themselves: legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s final film The Wind Rises and TIFF’s closing gala Life Of Crime. By the time you read this, I will be in a coma attempting to squeeze in all of the sleep that I missed over the last 10 days.

The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki is one of those rare filmmakers whose work is so distinct that he’s become a brand name. Through titles like Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro, Miyazaki helped elevate Japanese anime from comic book stores into multiplexes. He even picked up an Oscar for his troubles. So at this point, anytime the man makes a new film, it’s an event in world cinema. However, that’s particularly true of his latest feature The Wind Rises for a specific reason. Shortly before TIFF kicked off this year, Miyazaki announced that this newest release would be his last. After over 30 years, film lovers only have one Miyazaki movie left to look forward to. It would be nice to say that his final achievement is his greatest but that wouldn’t be true. It is, however, a wonderful movie that’s moving in all the ways we’ve come to expect from Miyazaki. It’s also, oddly, a realistic story from a master fantasist. That was certainly an unexpected way to go out, but the story makes it clear why the filmmaker considered it a grace note.

The film is about Jiro Horikoshi, a legendary designer who created one of the most beautiful aircrafts in history for the Japanese army during World War 2. Miyazaki follows Horikoshi from the beginning of his career until the launch of the greatest creation. Along the way we also see a passionate, tragic love story between the designer and his only non-plane love, as well as few mild fantasy sequences in which Horikoshi interacts with his aviation idol (I guess Miyazaki couldn’t help himself even in his most realistic tale). It’s a very sweet, heartfelt, and inspiring story. What it’s not is as wildly imaginative or thrilling as the director’s usual fair. That actually might have been a reason for the filmmaker’s retirement. The Wind Rises feels like an old man’s movie. Not in a bad way, but if the guy who made Spirited Away has moved onto something like this, clearly he’s changed a great deal and is possibly no longer interested in the work that made him so beloved. So there’s that and there’s also the potentially autobiographical component.

The Wind Rises plays like a personal film on many levels. Aside from being about a person who Miyazaki has idolized since childhood, the film is also very much about the creative process. It’s about the dedication, struggle, mild insanity and immense satisfaction that comes from discovering a life goal and seeing it through. There are many virtues to this movie from the stunning animation (particularly during an early earthquake sequence) to the quirky character work or the surprisingly subtle love story. However, what resonates most deeply are the themes of creation and the long journey to success. It’s as if Miyazaki processed his own life and career through Horikoshi’s life story and the result is undeniably moving.

Would it have been nice for Miyazaki to go out on something as unique, gorgeous and slightly insane as Spirited Away? Well, sure. But the film suggests that Miyazaki has moved on from that work and is now in a reflective phase. With that in mind, The Wind Rises is a nice cap to Miyazaki’s career. So even though it’s sad to see him go, at least the director did it in style. Hopefully, he’ll still keep a creative position as a producer/executive at Studio Ghibli. The animation studio has become one of the finest in the world thanks largely to the work of Miyazaki and it would be real tragedy to see Ghibli fade out along with him.


'Life of Crime' with Mos Def and Jennifer AnistonLife Of Crime

Life Of Crime is certainly a surprising choice to conclude this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. That’s not to say that it’s a bad movie by any means. It’s a solid and entertaining Elmore Leonard adaptation, easily the best of its kind since the ’90s. However, like all Elmore Leonard movies, that means it’s a low-key crime comedy and with few exceptions, that genre doesn’t exactly crank out masterpieces. However, I suppose it’s nice that after a whirlwind few weeks of films, TIFF is bowing out with a low-key movie that won’t strain sleep deprived brains, but will send viewers out of the theatre with a big dopey grin.

Life Of Crime is a peculiar film as far as Elmore Leonard adaptations go, since it’s based on the novel The Switch, which features oft repeated characters Ordell and Louis (memorably played by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert DeNiro in Jackie Brown). With a ’70s setting and similarly reverent approach to Leonard’s writing, Life Of Crime can often feel like a prequel of sorts to Jackie Brown in a sweet homage-y way that no doubt both Leonard and Tarantino would approve. The plot is one of Leonard’s usual crime comedies of errors. Ordell (Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes) decide to kidnap the wife (Jennifer Aniston) of a dimwitted real estate tycoon (Tim Robbins) for the dated ransom sum of $1 million. Despite having an eccentric neo-Nazi accomplice, the kidnapping itself goes smoothly. The only trouble is that Robbins was already planning on divorcing Aniston, so he’s actually grateful that’s she’s gone and isn’t too interested in losing a million bucks.

Writer/director Daniel Schechter sticks remarkably close to Leonard’s book, even lifting most of the dialogue word for word. That’s the way to go with this sort of thing, giving the movie a relaxed, yet high stakes vibe that’s filled with wonderful dialogue, quirky performances, and big laughs. It’s ultimately all just a little bit of fun, but with a cast this good and writing that’s even better, that fun is spread throughout the entire running time. Given all of the terrible Elmore Leonard adaptations to come out since the ’90s, it’s nice that one of the finest adaptations of his work has come along just after his death to serve as a reminder of his remarkable talent. The film still probably ranks just below Out Of Sight, Jackie Brown and Get Shorty, but the fact that there’s even one more Leonard adaptation that can be ranked alongside those is a great thing. If the flick is successful enough to kick off another wave of Elmore Leonard adaptations, even better. The crime comedy isn’t exactly thriving as a genre right now, so it would be nice for the master to help bring it back from beyond the grave.

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