Packaged Goods: The Year’s Best at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

Photo credit: Tom Kuntz for MJZ _Grey New York.

Ah, the holidays – a time for eyeing and buying all that glitters, amazes or comes with surround sound. Even the grinchiest grinch, the snarkiest of cynics, can stand to admit some of the ads and videos that send us running to the mall can still be looked at as works of art.

Yes, we are too obsessed with material things. We lose sight of other kinds of gifts – like ideas and ingenuity. Ironically, marketing has always been an inseparable mix of capitalistic greed and something more intangible… That ever-elusive spark of a creative mind. To dismiss all advertising as crass and tawdry would mean overlooking some very fine work, by some very fine minds.

This Wednesday night is the perfect time to cool your heals and nestle into a cozy cinema seat, to watch some marketing magic at its best on the big screen. Packaged Goods: The Year’s Best, playing at the TIFF Lightbox Theatre at 7 p.m., is a worthwhile collection of award-winning and crowd-pleasing ads and music videos from around the globe. The compilation has a good variety of genres, covering comical ads all the way through to poignant social commentary. The moods and styles of the pieces range from gritty realism to dreamy waterscapes.

The screening starts with some of the most remarkable commercials of the year. I guarantee a chuckle for John Cleese, living it up poolside and tickling our brains with wordplay (all in the name of cable TV, of course). We are treated to a stunning human kaleidoscope from a Dubai company, a sarcastic UK feminine hygiene spokesperson, and a sweet, daydream of an ad by Tropicana. Sure to tug at heartstrings is a short glimpse into the life of Linda, on her anxious but happy first day of retirement. And I can’t say I didn’t cry for a dad’s unique and moving narration of his mixed emotions, on his way to California for his daughter’s wedding.

Soon we are watching mostly music videos, of equally wide variety and even more compelling. Let me start with a disclaimer: you will not find the Belgium band Willow, nor their wonderfully infectious songs anywhere on iTunes – much to our collective lament. Let that be a testament to the video you’ll be seeing: the lead singer, with the help of a projector, turns a small white room into a fun, fantastical, ever-changing landscape, in perfect time to a genuinely great song.

K-Swiss‘ “MFCEO” Kenny Powers introduces the latest running shoe with the help of strippers, cheetahs and Bruce Lee; while an Argentinean air conditioner company examines the junk in the proverbial trunks of Dads In Briefs. A TV station celebrates the strength and determination of Paralympians, while a retelling of the Three Little Pigs fable tells a tale of the media’s role in communication, discussion and reform.

A slow, swaying song from Beirut is perfectly matched to the rhythmic waves beneath a boat traveling through the day and into dusk, as the seascape is transformed by swirling, vibrant colour. Woodkid treats us to a heart-thumping beat and a black-and white epic, with the best visual effects of the bunch. A scared running boy turns to warrior, as blackbirds circle, strange beasts emerge and endlessly tall cities loom. No description could give the cinematic beauty of this video justice.

Delicate strings, chimes and trip hop loops fade in and out, as the ethereal music of Flying Lotus appears to transform a bloody scene of gangland violence by freezing time, and then making it move backwards. Lighter fare includes baby-faced Canadian singer Grimes, as inexplicably charming as her low-budget (but strangely catchy) video.

M.I.A. brings outrageous outfits and hip hop hi-jinx to the Middle East, although she disappoints somewhat, hinting at the notion of women bound by tradition suddenly letting loose – and then doesn’t follow through with it. Although the rest of the video is more about men letting loose and doing cool maneuvers with cars, (while M.I.A. is perhaps liberated because she gets to sit on top of the car?), it’s still infectious, well-executed and original.

Which brings me to a video for British band Spiritualized: the best and also the most heartbreaking to watch. For those looking for the heart and soul of a music video, far beyond the marketing of pop tarts and choreographed routines, this is your reward. Neck in neck with the best pieces of short film out there today, this is an honest, moving and intimate portrait of a transgendered single parent, struggling to raise a family while working as a prostitute.

I didn’t love every single one, there were some in the set that were just “good”. But this collection of ads and videos has enough unique and memorable pieces to be well worth taking a break from the holiday frenzy, especially with the added treat of seeing them on the big screen.

Packaged Goods: The Year’s Best is playing at the TIFF Lightbox Theatre on Wednesday December 12 at 7:00 p.m.

Photo credit: Tom Kuntz for MJZ _Grey New York.

Isabel Cupryn

About Isabel Cupryn

Isabel Cupryn is a freelance writer and film blogger in Toronto.