The Highs, Lows, & Woes Of The Toronto International Film Festival

Photo: Andrew H Walker/REX USA.
After five days in Toronto watching multiple movies a day at the Toronto International Film Festival, I'm back in the U.S. and ready to do some reflecting.

My favorites were films I already had high hopes for: Spotlight and Room. The first is an exhilarating homage to the hard work involved in investigative journalism, telling the story of the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the depths of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal. The second showcases the talents of Brie Larson and eight-year-old Jacob Tremblay, focusing on a mother held captive who must protect her child from the outside world, then introduce him to it, all while dealing with her own trauma. The Danish Girl and The Martian were also near the top of my list, and I was happy that I found Sandra Bullock's Our Brand Is Crisis as enjoyable as I did — though I was a bit frustrated by its ending, which could have been a little bit more cynical for my taste.

Even though it may seem like it, TIFF isn't just full of major fall releases, and there were some films that I would recommend you check out further down the road. I thought Rebecca Miller's Maggie’s Plan was a fun, old school, screwball romantic comedy, with a hint of a Parent Trap-like plot and a gonzo performance from Julianne Moore as a pretentious Danish academic. (Greta Gerwig and Ethan Hawke give classic Gerwig/Hawke performances with Hawke in particular still working his sexy slacker dad thing.) I’m glad I squeezed in a screening of Into The Forest on my last morning of the festival. That movie finds Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood playing sisters who must learn to fend for themselves after an apocalyptic power outage. This is a practical vision of what might happen if the world goes dark, with a heavy focus on women’s bonds.

I wasn't as sold on other films. Drake Doremus (Like Crazy) once again proves his excellence at capturing on-screen infatuation in Equals, but the dystopian world inhabited by Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult felt like a more stylish version of the worlds we’ve seen in YA dystopias like The Giver. The movie is more artistically adept than those films, but the story about love in a world where emotions have been eradicated wasn’t all that different either. Black Mass wasn't quite the great Johnny Depp performance I was angling for — I still felt like he was hiding behind artifice (those contacts!). He Named Me Malala retold Malala Yousafzai's now familiar story, while advocating for her work.

About Ray isn't offensive in its handling of a trans subject, but a bunch of talented actresses, including Elle Fanning and Naomi Watts, couldn’t elevate the banality of the script. (Why would someone be at a doctor’s office at night?) The Dressmaker is bonkers; who would have expected so many gruesome deaths in this movie about a fashionista with a mysterious past who moves home?

The biggest disappointment was I Saw The Light. Both Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen gave their all in the Hank Williams biopic, but the film itself dragged on and gave no historical context for Williams' work.

At a festival as big as TIFF, you’re bound to miss some things and there were some films I want to see based on the chatter I heard, including: Miss You Already with Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore, The Meddler with Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne, Truth with Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford, and Charlie Kaufman's stop-motion Anomalisa. The J.G. Ballard adaptation High-Rise, featuring Hiddleston again, seems so weird it’s worth a watch just to get in on the conversation.

I’ll get to catch those soon, but now it’s on to the New York Film Festival, where I’m most excited to see Carol and Steve Jobs.
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