The 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival is a wrap, but for me the festival ended on Saturday. Due to some personal commitments, I wasn’t able to attend the remaining days of the festival which was a real shame as I wanted to see LOVE IN THE BUFF, CHAINED, DESPITE THE GODS, TOY MASTERS, VULGARIA and HIDDEN IN THE WOODS, not to mention whatever other gems I may have caught along the way. Alas, I will have to settle with my memories of the 28 films I did manage to see during the past two weeks and be content that there were several four-star classics in the bunch, many of which will undoubtedly find their way onto my “Top 10 of 2012” list come the end of the year.

I went into Fantasia this year thinking that things were going to be different and with the festival behind me, I more or less feel the same way.

Overall, I felt the programming was quite strong this year.

I was especially happy to see Canadian feature films being slotted in more “fan-friendly” timeslots than they’re usually put in. With weekend screenings at 4pm and 7pm respectively, films like LLOYD THE CONQUEROR and ROLLER TOWN played to sold-out crowds who discovered just how genuinely talented and fucking funny Canadians really are.

On the subject of “comedy,” these films were generally the most well-received of the festival this year. I’m always amazed at this, particularly given the fact that Montreal is a predominantly Francophone city and most of these comedies are in English or screened with English subtitles. Films like A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING, JUAN OF THE DEAD and GAME OF WEREWOLVES were real crowd-pleasers and with good reason, sharply written scripts, strong performances and a dash of the macabre made for winning combinations.

There was also a greater sense of variety this year with films from nearly every major (and minor) country in the world being represented. I had a blast at India’s SINGHAM, a.k.a. the Bollywood musical “remake” of DIRTY HARRY. If you ever wanted to see the true potential for action/comedy cinema along with how “alive” a film can really be when a strong filmmaking team who are inspired by the dazzling and vivacious culture that spawned them is at the helm, SINGHAM is the film for you.

William Friedkin made the mother of all comebacks with his brilliant black comedy, KILLER JOE. When a guy who can watch a triple-feature of IRREVERSIBLE, MARTYRS and NEKROMANTIK and still be in the mood to make love to his fiancee like me, can get disturbed by watching a “standard” scene like a 12-year old girl getting raped by a man three times her age, you know a film has real power.

Hong Kong proved once again why they’re the most consistent providers of top-notch genre cinema be it martial arts (DRAGON) or WW II sniper dramas (COLD STEEL), while the Thailand/South Korean co-production, THE KICK, stole the show this year as being one of the most energetic, entertaining and absolutely thrilling martial arts films in recent years.

On the other hand, hyperbole strike hard and fierce this year with EXCISION being the worst offender of the bunch. It’s no secret that the programmers at Fantasia want the screenings of films they’ve programmed to sell out and sell out quickly. So year after year, audiences are subjected to write-ups in the program which don’t so much tell you what the film is about, inasmuch as they tell you how the world as you know it has shattered at the seams to the groundbreaking and mind-blowing nature of the picture. With all the “groundbreaking” films being shown at Fantasia this year, I’m surprised we still have an Earth to walk upon. EXCISION was probably the most overhyped film this year and as predicted, it did not live up to the promise of the program. A film that relied on bullshit shock dream sequences, blatant stunt casting which caused more distractions than anything else and a plot and characterization straight out of a far superior film called MAY, EXCISION is a film that may have been forgivable had the festival not blown its reputation out of proportion.

Other duds included the overlong and uber-boring, UNDER THE BED, the tacky unfunny and unscary, MEMORY OF THE DEAD, the real “Never-Ending Story,” THE TALL MAN and Takashi Miike’s latest stinker, FOR LOVE’S SAKE.

The two biggest disappointments this year were TOAD ROAD and LES AVENTURES DE CHATRAN. Both films subscribed to the “Ruggero Deodato circa CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST School of Irresponsible Filmmaking.” If you hadn’t stayed for the Q&A, you might have come out of TOAD ROAD thinking it was a modern-day masterpiece that brilliantly combined the aesthetics of Gus Van Sant, Larry Clark and David Lynch. However, if you did stay for the Q&A, you certainly came out feeling very disappointed and angry that a filmmaker in today’s day and age would take advantage of non-professional actors and have them consume copious amount of drugs and alcohol and subject themselves to real-live beatings all in the name of “art.”

However, at least those kids consented to doing this, which isn’t something you can say about the poor animals in LES AVENTURES DE CHATRAN. Here was a film that was supposed to be the cute and cuddly entry this year, but ended up being the most controversial film played in recent memory. The premise of the piece was that the filmmaker filmed the animals on his private island for a period of five years and then cut together the footage he had shot. The only thing is he deliberately placed these animals in harm’s way resulting in some truly horrendous sequences that made you cry out for these defenseless creatures, whether or not you are a vegan, vegetarian and/or animal rights activist.

At any rate, another Fantasia is in the books and I want to thank the good folks over at Exploitation Retrospect and Rogue Cinema for allowing me to cover the festival for them this year. I got to walk around showing off my official press pass, which gave me satisfaction in large amounts. It also gave me a chance to take a chance on some films that I may have otherwise not gone to see due to lack of funds.

So without any further Apu, allow me to list my “Top 10 Favorite Films of Fantasia 2012” followed by my “Bottom 5, a.k.a. The Worst of the Worst, The Most Hated and Cursed.”

Top 10 Favorite Films of Fantasia 2012

1. KILLER JOE (2011) – directed by William Friedkin (USA)
2. SINGHAM (2011) – directed by Rohit Shetty (India)
3. ROLLER TOWN (2012) – directed by Andrew Bush (Canada)
4. LLOYD THE CONQUEROR (2011) – directed by Michael Peterson (Canada)
5. YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE (2011) – directed by Giddens Ko (Taiwan)
6. THE KICK (2011) – directed by Prachya Pinkaew (Thailand / South Korea)
7. A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING (2012) – directed by Crispian Mills and Chris Hopewell (UK)
8. JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011) – directed by Alejandro Brugués (Spain / Cuba)
9. GAME OF WEREWOLVES (2011) – directed by Juan Martínez Moreno (Spain)
10. ROBO-G (2012) – directed by Shinobu Yaguchi (Japan)

Bottom 5 a.k.a. “The Worst of the Worst, The Most Hated and Cursed!”

1. LES AVENTURES DE CHATRAN (1986) – directed by Masanori Hata (Japan)
2. TOAD ROAD (2012) – directed by Jason Banker (USA)
3. BLOOD-C: THE LAST DARK (2012) – directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani (Japan)
4. MEMORY OF THE DEAD (2011) – directed by Valentín Javier Diment (Argentina)
5. FOR LOVE’S SAKE (2012) – directed by Takashi Miike (Japan)

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