TIFF SPECIAL: The top 5 most stylish films

Story by Justine Iaboni. Natalie Portman in Black Swan/all photography courtesy of TIFF.

Ever since Tom Ford ruled the celluloid catwalk with last year’s A Single Man, I’ve been waiting for the chance to applaud a handful of films solely for their ability to be stylish. This isn’t like some best costume award—I’m talking pure aesthetic bliss, that may or may not manifest itself in a sequined, off-the-shoulder dress and a crisp tux or two.

1. Black Swan (2010) U.S.A.

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder.

There are many reasons why Black Swan will undoubtedly be a festival favourite this year—early buzz from Venice, top tier performances, and a seriously stylish pedigree. Aronofsky thrusts his drop-dead gorgeous cast into a grotesque vision of the performer’s psyche; everything we see on screen is increasingly imbued by this motif, including the costumes. Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind Rodarte, designed all the ballet costumes, which seem to be right on the mark considering the dichotomies that run through the film between the white swan and the black swan; innocence and subterfuge; Portman and Kunis. Rodarte’s collections have always balanced soft, pastel fabrics and often whimsical designs with a darker, edgier aesthetic employing spikes and knits with lots of runs in them—perfect for a dancer’s attire.

Director Darren Aronofsky, on the set of Black Swan.

2. L’amour fou (2009), France

Director: Pierre Thoretton

Biopic featuring the late Yves Saint Laurent and his lifetime partner, Pierre Bergé.

Following a recent upsurge in fashion designer biopics, L’Amour Fou takes an in-depth look at the life and times of Yves Saint Laurent as he is most fondly remembered by lifetime (and business) partner, Pierre Bergé.  You’ll want to watch this film because of all the rare fashion footage from the ’60s and ’70s depicting Saint Laurent smoking backstage, making final adjustments to a model’s Le Smoking, and unveiling a ready-to-wear tuxedo to the forever-beholden women of the world. A catalogue of YSL’s entire runway opus as well as his personal art collection (which provides a secondary context for the film),  L’amour fou will save you a trip to style.com, the MoMA, and the Louvre.

3. Break Up Club (2010), Hong Kong

Director: Barbara Wong

Starring: Jaycee Chan, Fiona Sit, Patrick Tang, Bonnie Xian, and Hiro Hayama.

Barbara Wong’s latest film is ostensibly about a break-up. I wouldn’t know for sure because I haven’t seen it yet. What I have seen, however, are a handful of stills from the movie and I’ve paid a few visits to the fan pages of the film’s stars, Hong Kong pop icons Jaycee and Fiona. Wong’s ultra-modern, doc-style aesthetic complements her cast both on and off-screen as she shines a spotlight on Hong Kong’s youth in love. The film is on my style roster because it’s LookBook.nu turned motion picture; real people street-style meets the big screen.

4. Viva Riva! (2010) Democratic Republic of Congo

Director: Djo Tunda Wa Munga

Starring: Patsha Bay, Manie Malone, Hoji Fortuna, Marlene Longange, Alex Herabo and Diplome Amekindra.

A glossy gangster film, Viva Riva!, is easily one of the top five stylish films at TIFF 2010. Munga’s decision to shoot in hi-def, coupled with an impeccably dressed bad guy is like flipping through a bright editorial of one of those $20 magazines with king-sized pages. Not to mention, the impeccably dressed bad guy’s girlfriend, Nora, who looks Dream Girls-worthy in gold satin sheets and a sequined dress worn in the many nightclub shots. Although the adoption of a glamorous Hollywood aesthetic by foreign cinemas is sometimes met with heavy criticism, when Cesar points his gun directly at the viewer one cannot help but shift their eyes from the gun’s ominous barrel to the fascinating floral pattern on his crisp, white shirt.

5. The Housemaid (2010) South Korea

Director: Im Sang-soo

Starring: Jeon Do-youn, Lee Jung-jae, Youn Yuh-jung and Seo Woo.

I must admit it was a toss-up between this film and Behind Blue Skies, the Swedish rendition of yet another drug cartel story from ’75. And although I, for one, am a sucker for daisy dukes and polyester tees, Sang-soo’s decadent minimalism ultimately lead me to chose The Housemaid as the final film on my top 5 list. This modern remake of a 1960s South Korean film with the same title is about a love triangle that ensues between master, mistress, and maid. Sang-soo’s version however, is characterized by visual motifs of red blood, red wine, red lips, and black and white at every turn. What particularly caught my eye, however, is the maid’s uniform. Sang-soo uses the streamlined yet elegant uniform to illustrate both virtuous obedience and adulterous transgression throughout the film. The stiff white collar, buttoned up all the way, is almost suffocating at times; at others, the too-short jumper reveals a slippery, wet thigh as our protagonist washes the bath. Perhaps a cliché of Single White Female proportions, I still think a well-played cliché deserves a tip of the hat every now and then, especially when it’s this stylish.

Want more TIFF 2010? Read Leanne Delap’s first TIFF column, and check out our picks for the fest’s hottest parties. Torontoist’s complete coverage of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is all right here.

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