The Toronto International Film Festival ended on the weekend after unspooling almost 300 feature films over 11 days of movie madness. The Canadian Press writers who covered the fest pick their favourite titles. Here they are (in alphabetical order):
"Dallas Buyers Club" — Matthew McConaughey is extraordinary in this unforgiving portrait of heterosexual, HIV-positive rodeo rider Ron Woodroof, who smuggled drugs from Mexico in a bid to help himself and fellow AIDS patients. Sure, McConaughey's much-publicized weight loss is impressive (the actor is practically unrecognizable in the role), but even more astonishing is his nuanced, warts-and-all portrayal of the rough-hewn Woodroof. The film's stunning look, meanwhile, is a testament to gutsy direction from Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallee. Jared Leto is heartbreaking as a dying drag-queen and Jennifer Garner shines as a compassionate doctor in this moving drama that lingers long after the credits roll.
"The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her" — Love stories rarely come this original or ambitious. Anchored by sensitive performances from Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy as a married couple struggling to move on after a shared tragedy, "Eleanor Rigby" is really two films probing the couple's opposing perspectives. The result is an insightful triumph from first-time writer-director Ned Benson that easily justifies its 190-minute combined running time.
"The Grand Seduction" — This charming Newfoundland-set comedy is that rare Canadian film that not only tickles a patriot's funnybone but offers mounds of cross-border appeal. Irish star Brendan Gleeson leads an otherwise homegrown cast as the reluctant mayor of a dying fishing harbour desperate to lure a lucrative factory. It all hinges on securing a town physician, so when a twist of fate brings a young, big-city doctor through the area, residents conspire to make sure he never wants to leave. As a perpetually drunk fisherman, Gordon Pinsent needs only a cockeyed glance to steal the show.
"Labor Day" — Critics at the festival were divided over this dreamy jailbird love story from "Up in the Air" director Jason Reitman. Naysayers (hard hearts?) derided the tale of a single mother (Kate Winslet) who falls for an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) as Nicholas Sparks-esque shlock. Those who have grown to love Reitman's melancholy, big-hearted style, however, felt they'd been given a beautifully drawn, end-of-summer cinematic gift.
"Like Father, Like Son" — Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-Eda's latest centres on two families — one an affluent clan living in a chic Tokyo high-rise, the other a loving if less-privileged lot living above an electronics shop on the outskirts of town — who realize that their respective six-year-old sons were swapped at birth. Favouring small moments over melodramatic fireworks, Kore-Eda offers an austere but profoundly moving exploration of family, nature vs. nurture and unconditional love.
"Prisoners" — Quebec director Denis Villeneuve is already known at home for being a master at slow-burn spine-chillers. Add a couple of zeroes to his budget and some A-list stars — not to mention the Coen brothers' cinematographer and Clint Eastwood's editors — and you get Villeneuve at the very top of his game for his first Hollywood feature. Hugh Jackman holds nothing back as a father driven to horrific measures when his daughter and her friend go missing. And Jake Gyllenhaal turns in a risky but powerful performance as a relentless cop who doggedly pursues leads both false and true.
"The F Word" — With its lightning-fast dialogue, sharp humour and standout performances, "The F Word" was much-needed and well-executed comic relief amid the searing and sweeping dramas of the fest. Harry Potter in a rom-com? Yes, Daniel Radcliffe not only proves he's funny in Elan Mastai's Toronto-set story that's directed by Michael Dowse, he also shows he can pull off a romantic lead with charm and ease. Zoe Kazan is sublimely sweet as his love interest, while Megan Park, Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis add standout idiosyncratic flair.
"Gravity" — Terror brews beneath the stunning landscape as the characters of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney become stranded in space. The big-screen superstars precisely pull off perfectly choreographed movements in roles that director co-writer Alfonso Cuaron has said were a gruelling physical test. Bullock adds to the realism and tension with a raw vulnerability, while Clooney breaks the stress with smooth humour. Cuaron's astounding effects and visuals will have viewers gripped and believing he really filmed high above Earth.
By Canadian Press film festival reporters Victoria Ahearn, Andrea Baillie, Nick Patch and Cassandra Szklarski.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled Ron Woodroof's surname.
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