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Toronto 2009: The Feminine Mystique

Toronto 2009: The Feminine Mystique (photo)

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It seemed appropriate that “The Young Victoria” closed out Toronto this year, considering that the festival turned out to be a coronation for women in film, in addition to being a celebration its host metropolis (a series of pre-screening clips from Toronto-based films honored the city’s 175th anniversary). Besides showcasing upcoming femme-centric fall releases as “Bright Star,” “An Education,” “Whip It!” and “Fish Tank,” the festival ended up bestowing audience awards upon the coming-of-age drama “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” and the doc “The Topp Twins,” which focuses on a pair of lesbian sisters and musicians who have been entertaining New Zealand for the past three decades. (A full list of winners can be found here.)

The best and the worst thing that can be said about “The Young Victoria” is that it left me wanting more. During a brisk 96 minutes, we witness the rise of Queen Victoria (Emily Blunt) from a shy, sheltered child who can’t walk up a flight of stairs without holding her mother’s hand to being a mother herself. Director Jean-Marc Vallée hits all the high points of the young monarch’s life and finds ample intrigue in the political and personal machinations that swirl around her to prevent her rise to the throne. What’s surprising is that Vallée and “Gosford Park” writer Julian Fellowes don’t take more advantage of Blunt, who demonstrates more vulnerability than she has in the past, but without much of the light charm that has been the foundation for her most memorable performances. She does conjure sparks with Rupert Friend, who plays her eventual husband Prince Albert, and a solid supporting cast that includes Paul Bettany and Mark Strong as Victoria’s rivals, and a bouffanted Jim Broadbent as a benevolent King William.

Within seconds of Rodrigo Garcia’s “Mother and Child,” you realize that the writer/director is in full command of both his noted intuition for women and his ability to tell simple but powerful stories that run deep with emotion. As we witness an elegant montage of a 14-year-old girl losing her virginity, getting pregnant and deciding to give the child up for adoption in a matter of minutes, Garcia uses no words, shows no judgment and lets the story tell itself. This is no minor accomplishment for the filmmaker, who’s previously constrained himself to features comprised of vignettes (“Nine Lives,” “Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her”) and HBO shows before things went haywire on last year’s Anne Hathaway psychological thriller “Passengers.” His films always have the odd paradox of features some of the most glamorous actresses around while making them utterly ordinary, and in his earlier work, he’d need them for only a few scenes to make his point and move on gracefully.

“Mother and Child” is only awkward when things become too pat in the story of the grown-up version of that 14-year-old (Annette Bening), the daughter she’s never met (Naomi Watts) and a woman looking to adopt since she can’t conceive (Kerry Washington). Rather than having the loose ends that his vignettes could afford, Garcia weaves a story in much the same style as the film’s executive producer Alejandro González Iñárritu, with the three strands converging towards a powerful conclusion. Like Iñárritu’s work, this occasionally leads to happenstance that doesn’t feel entirely real, something Garcia strives for, but gets at a larger truth.

Having Bening, Watts and Washington all at the top of their game, as well as unusually nuanced performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Jimmy Smits as the men in their lives, Garcia doesn’t have to force things — as much pain as his characters go through in navigating their daily lives, he’s able to find the nobility in their struggle. The best line in the film comes from Washington’s character Lucy, when she’s being interviewed by a pregnant teen (Shareeka Epps) to be a potential mom for her child. When asked why she isn’t giving the answers the teen would more likely want to hear, Lucy responds that “the truth is easier to remember.” For the same uncomfortable reasons, perhaps that’s why “Mother and Child” is still resonating days after I saw it.

Samantha Morton has said in interviews that her directorial debut, “The Unloved,” will probably be her only film behind the camera. If that’s true, it would be a shame, if also understandable, given that Morton had been storyboarding the loosely autobiographical film since she was 16 and living in a homeless shelter. With a visual style influenced by directors like Anton Corbijn and Lynne Ramsey, both of whom she’s worked with, Morton has poured everything into “The Unloved,” a drama that follows the plight of an 11-year-old girl named Lucy (Molly Windsor). Lucy passes through a home for child services, frightened by her surroundings and unable to pursue her absent mother (Susan Lynch) after a beating at the hands of her father (Robert Carlyle). After already airing on Channel 4 in the U.K. as a way to bring attention to flaws in the nation’s child care system, “The Unloved” could be the rare made-for-TV movie that’s also a work of art — inherently cinematic, Morton’s clear-eyed character study is poetic with its spare imagery, whether capturing Lucy as she sits alone in a crowded school cafeteria or walking amongst the tombstones on her eventual journey towards finding her mother. The film has been called “Ken Loach on downers” in its native England, but it’s surprisingly beautiful, and told with the uncompromising vision that audiences have come to expect from Morton in her acting work.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…