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Don’t miss these gems

Each year, more than 300 feature films are released in Toronto, so evenattentive viewers could be forgiven for letting worthy titles slipthrough the cracks.

Each year, more than 300 feature films are released in Toronto, so even attentive viewers could be forgiven for letting worthy titles slip through the cracks.

With that in mind, here are five superb 2009 efforts worth searching out on DVD. Don’t make your personal end-of-year lists without them.

Act of God Jennifer Baichwal’s multifaceted documentary on the effects of being struck by lightning didn’t get half as much attention as her previous Manufactured Landscapes, but it’s a comparably poetic and adventurous piece of work. The furiously-edited climax offers a dazzling fusion of image (storms in the Ontario wilds), music (improvised guitar thrashing) and voice (Paul Auster’s mesmerizing recollection of a close encounter with a bolt from above).

A Perfect Getaway Dismissed as a late-summer multiplex throwaway, David Twohy’s island-set thriller is actually a sly, cutting commentary on class-hopping ambition. It also manages the nifty trick of simultaneously honoring and tweaking genre clichés: the home stretch is unapologetically propulsive, visceral action filmmaking.

Special kudos to Steve Zahn, Mila Jovovich, Kiele Sanchez and a never-better Timothy Olyphant: Oscar hype be damned, this was the year’s best ensemble cast.

Polytechnique Far from the exercise in style many feared it might be, Quebecois auteur Denis Villeneuve’s vision of the Montreal massacre gradually reveals itself as a deeply compassionate gesture of remembrance, both towards the victims and to those laid low by survivor guilt.

Beneath its meticulously chilly black-and-white surfaces lies a warm and beating heart.

Tokyo Sonata A genius of tone and texture who often has trouble sustaining narrative momentum, Kiyoshi Kurosawa is the sort of master who never makes masterpieces — until now. The final scene of this kamikaze family melodrama is the year’s most sublime screen moment, as a gesture of unequivocal beauty (a teenaged piano prodigy’s performance of Debussy) leaves a classroom mute with reverence — or is that the sound of dread?

Tulpan The wind-whipped Kazakh desert is a character in Sergei Dvortsevoy’s debut feature, a comedy of survival about a hapless shepherd chasing unrequited love on the Hunger Steppe. The charming but unsentimental narrative plays out in a series of astonishing, documentary-style long takes in which humans and animals (namely sheep and camels) become intertwined.

 
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