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PARAMOUNT PICTURES FILE PHOTO Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider in the 2006 movie version of Charlotte’s Web.
CANADA’S TOP TEN SHORTS: TIFF Bell Lightbox begins the year on a patriotic note with screenings and events dedicated to Canada’s Top Ten, TIFF’s annual summation of the best in Canadian film. While it’s always welcome to see local faves like David Cronenberg, Deepa Mehta and Sarah Polley get some love during the series, which runs Jan. 4 to 12, it would be a shame to let the higher-profile feature efforts outshine the shorts that have also been cited. The 10 honoured for 2012 screen this weekend and the contents are as diverse as you might expect, ranging from the comedic likes of Crackin’ Down Hard, an increasingly nutty vignette by Trailer Park Boys vet Mike Clattenburg, to more sombre selections like Old Growth, a haunting eco-themed parable by Toronto’s Tess Girard. Helping further Canada’s rep as a hotbed of animation innovation, Patrick Bouchard’s Bydlo is a stunning stop-motion piece that repurposes an excerpt of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in a mud-strewn metaphor of toil and suffering. Two other standouts are harder to classify. The latest marvel by Toronto artist and production designer Phillip Barker, Malody, sets a hallucinatory depiction of a woman’s illness in an ingeniously stylized version of Dupont St. greasy spoon Vesta Lunch. The winner of the Best Canadian Short prize at TIFF last September, Keep a Modest Head is a playful and profane tribute to Quebec-born surrealist Jean Benoît that also serves as a testament to the imaginative powers of the film’s own creator, Winnipeg’s Deco Dawson. The two shorts programs play the Canada’s Top Ten series on Jan. 6 at 7 and 9:30 p.m.
PORTRAIT OF WALLY: Originally painted by Egon Schiele in 1912 and one of many works by the Viennese artist to depict his teenage lover Valerie “Wally” Neuzil, Portrait of Wally has had an eventful history. Seized by a Nazi art dealer from the apartment of its original owner, a Jewish gallery owner, it was eventually acquired by Rudolf Leopold, founder of Vienna’s Leopold Museum and an influential promoter of Schiele in the postwar art world. Yet the painting’s appearance at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in the late 1990s set off a chain of events that would bring new attention to the fate of thousands of works that were stolen by the Third Reich only to end up in some of the world’s foremost collections. Portrait of Wally’s tumultuous history makes for a gripping tale in the doc that bears its name. Returning to Toronto after screenings at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and the Projection Booth last summer, Andrew Shea’s film plays Hot Docs’ Doc Soup at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Jan. 9 at 6:30 and 9:15 p.m., and Jan. 10 at 6:45 p.m. Shea will be on hand for all three screenings.
CHARLOTTE’S WEB + LABYRINTH: Families still hunting for holiday-break filmgoing options need not fret. On Jan. 5 at 11 a.m., Cineplex’s Family Favourites program continues with Charlotte’s Web, director Gary Winick’s 2006 remount of E.B. White’s classic tale of a good-hearted pig. Participating theatres include Yorkdale and Fairview Mall. Then on Jan. 5 and 6 at 2 p.m., the Royal has Labyrinth, Muppet master Jim Henson’s 1986 fantasy flick about a girl’s quest to rescue her infant brother from a mullet-wearing goblin king who looks and sounds suspiciously like David Bowie. Egads.
BERLIOZ’S LES TROYENS LIVE AT THE MET: Spanning five acts and five hours, Berlioz’s Trojan War-inspired masterwork Les Troyens remains one of the most ambitious operas ever mounted. Last performed by the Metropolitan Opera in 2003, it has returned for a new run featuring famed soprano Deborah Voigt and tenor Bryan Hamel. Cineplex and the Live at the Met series present a live HD simulcast on Jan. 5 at noon at 18 area theatres, including the Beach Cinemas, the Scotiabank Theatre and the Queensway.
WOODY ALLEN LECTURE SERIES: Local critic Kevin Courrier puts the former Allan Stewart Konigsberg under the proverbial microscope in “Woody Allen: Past and Present,” a five-week lecture series at the Miles Nadal JCC. The opening lecture on Jan. 14 starts with an overview on the themes that have permeated Allen’s comedies and dramas alike. The series then delves into his early career as a standup, his many exercises in nostalgia and the many filmmaking highs and lows since his 1980s creative peak. Courrier’s series runs on Mondays to Feb. 11 and costs $ 12 for single tickets (or $ 6 for students and TJFF members) and $ 56 for the whole shebang. C’mon, who could kvetch over those prices?
DOCTORS OF THE DARK SIDE: This month’s instalment in the Bloor’s Cinema Politica program, Doctors of the Dark Side, examines the role of American medical professionals in the development and deployment of some of the most controversial practices in the war on terror. The ethical quandaries faced (or sidestepped) by psychologists and physicians in the military’s employ are of paramount concern to director Martha Davis and many of her film’s interview subjects. Doctors of the Dark Side plays Jan. 8 at 6:45 p.m. Admission is by donation with a Q&A to follow.
Note: This story has been edited from a previous version.