TIFF 2014 Wrap-up & Top 10!

Hard as it is to believe, but the 2014 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival is already over and done with. Whew! Even though this was my sixth time attending the festival on behalf of JoBlo.com, I have to say that this might have been my busiest year ever as there was just so much to see. I ended up reviewing thirty-six films and I still know for a fact I still missed a few good ones. There just aren’t enough hours in the day…

Nevertheless, of all the fests I’ve attended, this was probably the most fun I’ve ever had covering a festival thanks to an amazing lineup, which included several big movies which are bound to get a lot of play this Oscar season. While I don’t think there’s any real clear-cut frontrunner like last year’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE or GRAVITY, movies like THE IMITATION GAME or THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING feel like good bets come Oscar time. The following are my TOP 10 picks of the fest, and they don’t include my reviews of WHIPLASH and THE GUEST, both of which I saw at Sundance and surely would have found their way onto my Top 10 here if I hadn’t already covered them. Read on!


1. Nightcrawler

Ya know, I went into NIGHTCRAWLER expecting it to be good. The way Jake Gyllenhaal’s been handling his career lately with movies like PRISONERS and ENEMY, how could it not be? That said, I wasn’t expecting it to be the best film of the festival, but maybe I should have (after all – PRISONERS was my number one pick for 2013). While it’s not going to be for everyone, NIGHTCRAWLER is dark, challenging entertainment that satisfies on many levels. It is all-at-once an intriguing character study, a tour-de-force for Gyllenhaal as a performer (as well as Rene Russo), a spectacular-looking film, and a solid action thriller (with a car-chase in the finale that’ll knock your socks off). It’s like AMERICAN PSYCHO meets DRIVE. Mark your calendars!

2. 99 Homes

99 HOMES is probably the most uncomfortably relevant film to play at TIFF this year. I’m sure many of us have had our own financial troubles over-the-years, and one thing this post-recession world has taught us is that no one’s ever truly secure. The comfort we take for granted could disappear in an instant. 99 HOMES is not only about that fear, but also about the sharks that take advantage of that, turning one person’s nightmare into their own gain. It’s an epic melodrama anchored by possible career-best performances by Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield. Hopefully this one won’t get overlooked by audiences once it hits theaters in 2015.

3. The Imitation Game

THE IMITATION GAME walked away with TIFF’s hottest prize, The People’s Choice Award. Now, what exactly does that mean? Well, here are a few other People’s Choice Winners: PRECIOUS, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, THE KING’S SPEECH, 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Yup, THE IMITATION GAME has just entered the 2014 Oscar race in a big way. Star Benedict Cumberbatch seems like a sure bet for a best actor nomination with him starring as WW2 code breaker Alan Turning. This movie has everything and if indeed it does end up with some Oscar gold, it’ll be richly deserved.

4. Foxcatcher

FOXCATCHER went into TIFF with the benefit of already having played to raves at the Cannes Film Festival, so everyone knew it had to be good. Sure enough, Bennett Miller is now three-for-three, with this his third near-masterpiece in-a-row following CAPOTE and MONEYBALL. Steve Carell’s performance as the mentally ill and murderous John Du Pont is a game-changer, with him proving himself so adept with drama that it wouldn’t be a shock if parts like this wound up his focus from now on. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo also shouldn’t be overlooked as the two real-life Olympic wrestler brothers who unknowingly found themselves working for a madman.

8. Love & Mercy

As a massive Beach Boys fan, I’m happy to say that LOVE AND MERCY satisfies in every way. While I wasn’t sure casting two actors to play Brian Wilson, with Paul Dano playing him younger, and John Cusack playing him older, was such a hot idea it can’t be denied that it worked well. Both actors do stand-out work. While Dano is probably going to walk away with most of the acclaim, John Cusack also is tremendous, as is the always-good Elizabeth Banks as the woman who helped give the ailing Wilson back his sanity during his darkest days.

9. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

OK, so I’ll admit I was an easy sell for ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS. I grew up on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’ cheesy output of Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson movies. Naturally, this all made for a tremendously fun doc, with my only caveat being that not enough attention was paid to the actual “good” movies Cannon made, although at least RUNAWAY TRAIN gets its due. Still, that’s a minor criticism, and I have my fingers crossed for a three-hour director’s cut someday.

10. Tusk

I walked in to TUSK not knowing quite what to expect. I wasn’t at all hot on RED STATE, but I was intrigued by the early trailers for TUSK suggesting Kevin Smith was making something really wild for his tremendous return to TIFF’s Midnight Madness. Sure enough, TUSK was absolutely bug-nuts crazy but in the best way possible. It’s the wildest ninety minutes you’re likely to spend in movie theaters this year, and it demands to be seen with a wild, rowdy crowd. This is the type of movie Midnight Madness was made for! Watch my video review below!

5. The Equalizer

Slick genre fare often gets overlooked at TIFF in favor of the artier, more Oscar-friendly films to hit town, but don’t be fooled, THE EQUALIZER is as good as anything that played the fest this year. Like I said in my review, it’s one of the best American action films in a long time, with enough carnage to satisfy anyone but also a strong, emotional story at its core. Denzel Washington is cast to perfection. Check out my video review below!

6. While We're Young

While I’ve long been a fan of Noah Baumbach (FRANCES HA, THE SQUID & THE WHALE) I didn’t expect his latest comedy, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG to be such a warm, lovable film. A sharp, knowing satire of the generational divide between twenty and forty-somethings, (not to mention forty and sixty-somethings), Ben Stiller gets his best role in years as the harried, wannabe documentarian embarking on a turbulent bromance with his twenty-something admirer, played by Adam Driver. WHILE WE’RE YOUNG also features standout work by Naomi Watts as Stiller’s wife, Amanda Seyfried, and the great Charles Grodin, who steals every scene he’s in.

7. '71

Like I said in my review, lightning struck twice at TIFF, with rising star Jack O’Connell once again showing up in the quiet, last few days of TIFF with a sleeper hit that wound up being one of the best movies of the fest. Last year, that movie was STARRED UP, and this year it’s ’71, which is like THE BOURNE IDENTITY if it was set in Ireland at the height of “The Troubles” in 1971. ’71 works on many levels, both as an action-thriller and a compassionate, non-judgmental historical drama. This is not to be missed, and hopefully it’ll get the theatrical release it deserves. It’s a polished and as thrilling as anything out there.

Tags: TIFF, TIFF 2014

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