clock menu more-arrow no yes

5 movies critics loved from the Toronto International Film Festival

TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey attends the TIFF Awards Brunch during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival at the InterContinental Toronto Centre Hotel on September 14, 2014 in Toronto, Canada.
TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey attends the TIFF Awards Brunch during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival at the InterContinental Toronto Centre Hotel on September 14, 2014 in Toronto, Canada.
(Sonia Recchia/WireImage/Getty)

The 39th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) came to a close yesterday, but the films that debuted there will be with us for months to come. TIFF is often an important launching pad for Oscar contenders.

In all, TIFF screened 285 features and 108 shorts. Here are the ones that stood out.

Here are 5 films critics loved

1) The Theory of Everything

Release date: November 2014

Eddie Redmayne stars as a young Stephen Hawking, and his performance has earned positive reviews from most critics, including Variety and Hollywood Reporter. Redmayne's performance "towers," writes The Guardian:

This is an astonishing, genuinely visceral performance which bears comparison with Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. His Hawking starts askew — the glasses, maybe the shoulders a touch — and over the course of two hours contorts and buckles into a figure at once instantly familiar and fresh. This is more than just skillful impersonation — it's inhabitation. To look on as his face and body distort is to feel, yourself, discomforted, even queasy.

2) The Imitation Game

Release date: November 21, 2014

Because TIFF isn't a competitive festival, the only awards handed out are People's Choice Awards. The highest of these honors, which are determined based on audience ratings, went to Morten Tydlum's The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as gay British mathematician Alan Turing, the man who was an important early figure in the development of the computer. Everything Cumberbatch touches turns to gold, and this film is no exception.

From the Hollywood Reporter:

Engrossing, nicely textured and sadly tragic, The Imitation Game is overly reluctant to dive into the nitty gritty of how the man who's often called the father of artificial intelligence accomplished what he did, while the matter of his eventual arrest for homosexuality provides a potent and topical framing device.

3) Phoenix

Acquired by Sundance Selects after TIFF premiere, but a US release date has not been announced

The synopsis of Phoenix is certainly grabbing: "A concentration-camp survivor (Nina Hoss) searches ravaged postwar Berlin for the husband who might have betrayed her to the Nazis." Writing for the AV ClubIgnatiy Vishnevetsky said it was the best film he saw at 2014's TIFF.

"Phoenix," writes Trevor Hogg, "is a slow-burn which allows the action to unfold rather than force plot points at certain time frames."

Filmmaker Christian Petzold (The State I Am In) has crafted carefully composed shots and gradually shows the reconstructed face as it begins to heal. There is no sense of hurry; however, the plot always seems to be going forward. The twist on the Pygmalion (1938) storyline adds a level of intrigue, and the final scene is priceless for the reaction of the various characters as Phoenix reaches its climatic conclusion on a high note.

4) Foxcatcher

Release date: November 14, 2014

Us Weekly called Foxcatcher "a surefire Oscar contender," and that's probably right. The film, which originally premiered at Cannes, is about the 1996 murder of former Olympics wrestler Dave Schultz, played by Mark Ruffalo. Foxcatcher also stars Channing Tatum as Schultz's brother and Steve Carrell as multimillionaire coach John du Pont.

"Rarely onscreen," writes Variety, "has the art of wrestling, centered around the violent yet intimate spectacle of men's bodies in furious collision, provided so transfixing a metaphor for the emotional undercurrents raging beneath the surface."

Here's how IGN reviews it:

There's no fluff in Foxcatcher. It's bleak by design, dense, and, at times, intentionally impenetrable. Rob Simonsen's delicate score strings an elegy across a Hell of dampened interiors and blue-hued vistas. Tatum and Ruffalo entangle on the wrestling mat, stand up and shake hands afterward, but their fight never ends. When they step on to the grounds of Foxcatcher Farms, they enter John du Pont's cult, become his pawns. There's not a hint of fantasy in Foxcatcher and it's still the scariest monster movie of the year.

5) Still Alice

Release date: Fall 2014

Still Alice stars the always captivating Julianne Moore as a college professor diagnosed with early-onset Familial Alzheimer's. The Telegraph called it "magisterial," saying of Moore:

Her close-ups are minutely calibrated, even by this actress's celebrated, unshowy standards. The increments of the performance are tiny marvels. It's these that make the precipitous then-and-now of this iBook face-off shattering to behold.

Here are 5 films critics didn't love

1) Wasteland

A US release date has not been announced

This film tells the story of a Belgian homicide detective who has vowed to his expectant partner to give up detective work after he solves one final murder. The acting is great, but that's not the problem with this film, as Alexander Huls explains:

The problem is it wants to get to a dramatic place without putting in work like character development, or even basic explanations of why this case unspools this detective. The effect amounts to listening to someone deliver an academic conference lecture on fascism while mispronouncing the word the whole time.

2) Miss Julie

A US release date has not been announced

Critics weren't thrilled with Miss Julie, the film adaptation of the 19th-century play of the same name by August Strindberg. The film stars Colin Farrell, who normally shines in his roles, but, writes Gregory Ellwood, "thanks to the [script] he's about as engaging as nails on a chalkboard."

3) The Judge

Release date: October 10, 2014

HitFix's Drew McWeeny didn't like this film, which stars Robert Downey Jr. as an attorney tasked with defending his father from murder charges. McWeeny called the film "a perfect encapsulation of how phony a star vehicle can be," and even went so far as to call it the "Tropic Thunder parody of a courtroom drama." RogerEbert.com didn't give it a very favorable review, either. Paste called the film "well-made hokum," alleging that "even if you end up liking The Judge, you may hate yourself later for falling for it."

4) Men, Women, and Children

Release date: October 17, 2014

Variety's chief film critic Justin Chang called this film "a carefully diagrammed thesis movie about The Way We Live Now." That's because this film reads like a PSA for smartphone addiction. And while the performances are undeniably good, Chang's main frustration is the script:

Unfolding as a series of loosely connected cautionary tales on the perils of excessive phone, Internet and social-media use, this painfully well-meaning but largely unpersuasive bid for cross-generational understanding feels at once of-the-moment and too obvious by half, like a less overblown version of "Crash" for the information superhighway. Relatability often being a more reliable conversation-starter than quality, the film's universally applicable message, savvy packaging and excellent cast could inspire audiences to log on to the Oct. 17 Paramount release.

5) The Cobbler

A US release date has not been announced

Critics don't love this film, which is about the titular cobbler being able to turn into anyone whose shoes he dons, but star Adam Sandler doesn't seem to be the one to blame for it. "Of the many things that go horribly wrong with … The Cobbler," writes the Boston Herald, "none are even remotely [Sandler's] fault."

Indiewire's Kevin Jagernauth writes that the film doesn't really know what it wants to be.

Is it a zany comedy? An earnest attempt at a contemporary fable? A straight fantasy? Ultimately, the film tries to be all three, but winds up being none. Devoid of laughs, hokey and plodding, "The Cobbler" miss its marks wide and often, almost from the first frame. To say that it's in need of repair would only be the start of addressing the multitude of problems the picture presents, because what it actually needs is a little more soul.

Here are two bizarre films just because

1)Tusk

Release date: September 19, 2014

Kevin Smith's horror-comedy Tusk, which is about a psychopath who kidnaps young men and turns them into walruses — yes, walruses — also showed at TIFF. The Toronto Star called it "a creepy, funny, utterly messed-up head trip, the oddest Canadian-flavoured melange since fries, cheese curds, and gravy."

2) Bang Bang Baby

A US release date has not been announced

This is a sci-fi musical. 'Nuff said. Here's the trailer.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.