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Nine Women That Will Rule This Year’s Toronto Film Festival

Nine Women That Will Rule This Year’s Toronto Film Festival (photo)

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The Toronto Film Festival starts today and throughout the festival, we’ll be providing updates, interviews and reviews, but in scrolling through the massive schedule — 300-plus films in 11 days — there’s a noticeable case of gender inequality. Yes, following rave reception in Telluride, a new king is expected to be crowned with a stuttering Colin Firth in the British historical dramedy “The King’s Speech,” while James Franco appears to have capped off a year of ubiquity with Danny Boyle’s latest “127 Hours,” which recounts the harrowing survival of rock climber Aron Ralston during five excruciating days in which his arm was stuck under a boulder. (On a less serious note, or too serious perhaps, “I’m Still Here” star Joaquin Phoenix and Vincent Gallo, who is in Canada with not one but two new films, should bring as much attention as they do the crazy.)

However, judging by many of this year’s most anticipated titles, this year’s festival threatens to be taken over by a group of very prodigious ladies. Up-and-comers Juno Temple (“Dirty Girl,” “Kaboom”), Kate Mara (“127 Hours,” “Peep World”) and Emma Roberts (“It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” “What’s Wrong With Virginia”) each could have their own double bills alone, but it is mostly a group of veterans in their prime who look ready to make the most impact. While we’ll be writing at length about some of these films further in the days to come, here’s a primer on which women to watch out for.

Lubna Azabal

If the true mark of a great actress is not knowing her identity until well after the end credits roll, Azabal certainly fits the bill. Born in Brussels, but of Moroccan descent, Azabal might be remembered best for her role in 2006’s Palestinean drama “Paradise Now,” yet it’s likely one won’t realize the same person appears in the British drama “I Am Slave” and French-Canadian helmer Denis Villeneuve’s highly touted multi-stranded “Incendies.” Using her distinctive cultural background to slide seamlessly between roles as a cold Arab slave owner in contemporary England in “I Am Slave” and the stoic heroine who braves the hardships of war in “Incendies,” Azabal speaks minimally in both films, yet says volumes with mere glances.

Susanne Bier

While American productions have fumbled in translating the Danish director’s “Brothers” (made last year under the auspices of Jim Sheridan) and “Open Hearts” (which has languished in development since Zach Braff took a shine to it years ago), Bier returns to her native country after her own foray into Hollywood with “Things We Lost in the Fire” for “In a Better World.” Once again collaborating with “Brothers” screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, Bier tells the story of a friendship between two 10-year-old boys who bring their families together and could pull them apart in response to a violent incident. The film was preemptively was picked up by Sony Classics, though it won’t hit theaters until 2011, giving Toronto audiences a head start.

Catherine Deneuve

The legendary French actress is never ever out of style, but she’ll be particularly in vogue in Toronto where she will be featured in “Potiche,” “8 Women” director Francois Ozon’s return to farce that promises a reunion with “Changing Times” co-star Gerard Depardieu and a chance to take charge as a long-neglected trophy wife who proves she can run her husband’s company while he’s said to be taken hostage by some striking workers. Deneuve will also appear with “Heartbreaker” star Romain Duris in “The Big Picture,” a drama about a successful attorney who has to reinvent his entire persona when tragedy strikes, offering a show of range perhaps on par with Deneuve’s glorious 1967 of “Belle de Jour” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort.”

Rebecca Hall

Since last year’s Toronto premiere of “Dorian Gray,” Hall has had a pretty spectacular 2010, first making the most of one of her juiciest roles to date in Nicole Holofcener’s “Please Give” and now returns to the festival with a pair of films that have her holding her own against the likes of Jon Hamm, Ben Affleck and Will Ferrell. In “The Town,” Hall co-stars as a bank teller who finds herself drawn to both the FBI investigator (Hamm) and his target, one of the men responsible for robbing her bank (Affleck), while she helps bring out Will Ferrell’s more dramatic side in “Everything Must Go,” the directorial debut of commercial director Dan Rush based on the Raymond Carver short story “Why Don’t You Dance?” about a man who loses his job and his wife on the same day and decides to set up shop on his lawn for a pity party. Hall plays his pregnant neighbor who could inspire him out of his stupor (or vice versa), something the actress may be doing quite a bit of during the fest as a whole.

Sally Hawkins

The “Happy Go Lucky” star will be nearly everywhere you look in Toronto, likely to inspire the most talk with her turn in “Made in Dagenham,” in which she plays an unlikely crusader for equal pay for women during the 1960s as Rita O’Grady, a “Norma Rae”-esque rabblerouser at a Ford plant in the UK. However, equal attention should be paid to Hawkins’ other two films at the festival: “Never Let Me Go,” in which she has a pivotal turn not unlike her haunting appearance in last year’s “An Education,” and the Ben Stiller-produced coming-of-age comedy “Submarine,” which has sleeper potential written all over it as the feature directorial debut of Richard Ayoade, a star of “The IT Crowd.” Hawkins plays the mother of a 15-year-old who spends the summer trying to keep her from having an affair with her capoeira instructor while trying to lose his virginity to an eccentric classmate.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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