TIFF has come and gone, leaving moments of profound emotion, complexity, or amusement for those who chose particularly good films, or who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Choosing a few films out of an array of several hundred is often a crap-shoot. Without inside information about new movies, TIFF-goers read the blurbs and hope for the best. Debriefing with friends after the fact, I wonder if I should not have by-passed the obvious biggies that will get general release down the road, and chosen more of the films that may never return to North America. On the other hand, I like to get a heads-up on the season ahead.
So what are the must-sees? The People’s Choice Award this year, often an indicator of future Oscar success, went to The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley; a biopic of mathematician Alan Turing, who was recruited by the British government to break the German communications code “Enigma.” It is a real-life spy story and a human story of great genius and state-perpetrated tragedy that is shocking to contemporary sensibilities. Another biopic is The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne as cosmologist Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as his first wife, Jane. Although diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s motor neuron disease) and given two years to live, Hawking went on to make physics accessible to the masses and continues his research even today. Based on the memoirs of Jane Hawking, the movie shows us a love story which makes the personal and the professional more understandable. Turing and Hawking were both heroes of our times; these brilliant renditions of their stories are masterful and warrant our attention.
Other movies at TIFF are very highly recommended. Yet another biopic is Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner starring Timothy Spall as the irascible J.M.W. Turner, whose wonderful collection of paintings hangs in London’s Tate Gallery. The acting is superb and the visuals as rich as Turner’s paintings themselves. Reese Witherspoon in Wild, directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée, is outstanding in her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed who sought redemption by hiking 1600 kilometres of the Pacific Crest Trail on her own. Rosewater, comedian and “Daily Show” host, Jon Stewart’s début as writer and director, tells the story of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari’s imprisonment in Tehran with an amazing touch that is as compelling as it is affirming. After seeing this film, you may be as moved, as I was, by the need to ensure that we all act on behalf of political prisoners languishing abroad. Learning to Drive, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, was runner up for the People’s Choice Award. It is a charming take on contemporary issues with a cross-cultural twist which is heart-warming and delightful. The British movie Pride describes the interactions between a Gay and Lesbian Miners’ Support Group from London and the miners’ unions besieged by Thatcherism in the mid-1980s. As human as it is hilarious, the movie and the real people who were the heroes of the story, and who attended the Q and A, drew a prolonged and emotional standing ovation from the Toronto audience. The People’s Choice Documentary Award went to Beats of the Antonov by Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka. It tells how the locals use their traditional music to deal with contemporary civil war characterized by bombing by Russian-made Antonov aircraft. I didn’t see the movie but a friend who did was utterly mesmerized by it. Among the foreign-language movies, several different friends spoke very highly of the post-Second World War psychological thriller Phoenix by German director Christian Petzold.
Check out the TIFF website for a list of all movies shown at the festival. It can serve as a guide for movie-going in the year ahead.