The Toronto International Film Festival wrapped up over this past weekend, with the Grolsch People’s Choice Awards going to Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel Room, and — in the "Midnight Madness" category — Ilya Naishuller’s hyperactive first-person action picture Hardcore. (The runners-up in the respective categories were Tom McCarthy’s ripped-from-the-headlines newsroom drama Spotlight and Jeremy Saulnier’s brutal hostage thriller Green Room.)
But TIFF has never really been about awards. Over its 40 years of existence, the fest has built a reputation as the place where cinephiles get to keep up with the latest from the world’s best filmmakers, while the showbiz press tracks the movies that stand the best chance of being players in the various year-end awards races.
The 2015 edition of TIFF was a weird one in both regards. The art films were a little off this year, with few new directors breaking out and no consensus masterpieces from world cinema’s old guard. And while the mainstream fare was unusually strong, a lot of potential Oscar candidates took a pass on the festival circuit this fall, which left the press in Toronto to speculate on the prospects of a batch of long shots.
Nevertheless, at least once a day during its first week, the fest turned a spotlight on something magnificent. The 18 titles below — some flawed but interesting, some mostly good with a few outstanding elements, and a few truly great — are all the kind of movies that critics and film buffs gather in Toronto hoping to see every fall.
About half of these will be out by the end of the year, either in limited Oscar-qualifying runs or in multiplexes around the country. The rest will be playing a few more festivals before they get more widely distributed. But they’re all worth knowing about, and seeing whenever they start making their way around the country and the world.
A TIFF Top 9 (in order of release date)
Three standout performances
Great turns weren’t quite enough to save some mediocre movies in Toronto this year, but these three films — all decent to excellent to start with — are must-sees in large part because the lead actors are doing some of the best work of their formidable careers.
Three good docs
Toronto’s documentary program isn’t as strong as Sundance’s — or some other major international festivals — but this is a strong trio of films, which should get a lot of play over the next year, both at other fests and on home video.
Three freaky visions
Every year, in between all the awards-fodder, TIFF introduces films that present unique and daring visions of the world — some of which come from the experimental/avant-garde side of cinema, and some from the trashier B-movie side. The first two of the films below represent both of those disciplines, while the third falls squarely in between.
Films we missed but wanted to see
It’s impossible for one person to see every well-liked film at a festival — because so many of them screen at the same time. There were movies in Toronto this year that I regret missing. I would’ve liked to have seen Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl, and I definitely plan to catch up eventually with the Holocaust thriller Son of Saul, the absurdist romantic comedy The Lobster, and Guy Maddin’s densely allusive experimental epic The Forbidden Room.