1. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón). I generally avoid the Hollywood blockbusters at TIFF (because why waste a film festival ticket on something that will be released within a few weeks) but this year I admit, sheepishly, that Gravity was more exciting, by a wide margin, than anything else I saw at the Festival. This is a tour de force by Sandra Bullock — George Clooney has just a supporting role and other actors are hardly seen at all. The visual effects are more impressive than any other 3D movie, ever. Gravity is easily the most provocative, and engaging, depiction of space travel since 2001: A Space Odyssey.
2. The Past [Le Passé] (dir. Asghar Farhadi). I thoroughly enjoyed this follow-up to A Separation, set in France.
3. I Am Yours [Jeg er din] (dir. Iram Haq). Norway’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar, a moving and engaging depiction of a single mom (played by Amrita Acharia of Game of Thrones) whose life spirals out of control.
4. Ilo Ilo (dir. Anthony Chen). Singapore's submission for the foreign-language Oscar (although much of the dialogue is in English, so it might be disqualified), Ilo Ilo showcases great performances by Koh Jia Ler as a ten-year-old boy and Angeli Bayani as his nanny.
5. Amazonia (dir. Thierry Ragobert). I am in awe of this achievement; I have no idea how the filmmakers obtained such a great performance from the lead “actor”, a capuchin monkey. Humans have just a minute or two of screen time in this stunning 3D story of a circus monkey stranded alone in the wild. Perhaps comparable to The Incredible Journey or The Bear, we have a coherent narrative consisting of encounters with all sort of animals I have never before seen on film, and still don’t know what they are called. You can see this film just for the astonishing 3D nature cinematography, but the story is also compelling.
Other films I saw at TIFF that I liked (alphabetically):
- Ain’t Misbehavin’ [Un voyageur] (dir. Marcel Ophüls). Film-lovers in particular will like this autobiographical documentary about Marcel Ophüls (known in particular for The Sorrow and the Pity) and his father, Max Ophüls (known for La Ronde and many other classic European and American movies).
- Blue Is the Warmest Colour [La Vie d’Adèle chapitres 1 & 2] (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche). Although not nearly as good as Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain [La Graine et le Mulet], his latest film, Blue Is the Warmest Colour, which won the Palme d’Or and attracted some controversy because of explicit lesbian sex scenes and some public sniping between the director and actors (clarified today), is worth seeing primarily for Adèle Exarchopoulos’s great performance. The plot is engaging enough but not memorable; the sex scenes are mostly boring.
- The Dinner [Het Diner] (dir. Menno Meyjes). I tried to finish the novel before seeing the movie, but didn’t quite make it and finished the book afterward. The movie is okay, but the novel is much better. The movie falls back on using voice-over to read some of the best lines in the book, and omits some of the subplots that make the book so interesting.
- Exit Marrakech (dir. Caroline Link).
- Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story (dir. Barry Avrich). The only Canadian film I saw at TIFF this year, this documentary about the publisher of Penthouse was pretty interesting for a while, especially in its characterization of Penthouse as Pepsi (in relation to Playboy as Coke).
- Friends From France [Les Interdits] (dirs. Anne Weil and Philippe Kotlarski).
- Night Moves (dir. Kelly Reichardt). I thought that Peter Sarsgaard had finally broken out of his typecasting in Blue Jasmine, where he played a character that doesn’t turn out to be evil, but he sort of returns to it in Night Moves where he plays a domestic terrorist along with Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning.
- October November [Oktober November] (dir. Götz Spielmann).
- Of Good Report (dir. Jahmil X.T. Qubeka). A highly successful experimental thriller, Of Good Report was originally banned in its native South Africa for sex, but in fact it is more notable for its violence. I’m not saying the violence is gratuitous; just avoid this if you have a weak stomach for gore. Otherwise I strongly recommend it for the originality of its filmmaking style.
- Sex, Drugs & Taxation [Spies & Glistrup] (dir. Christoffer Boe).
- This Is Sanlitun (dir. Róbert I. Douglas). Mockumentary that takes place in Beijing but is mostly in English. The premise basically is, what if Ricky Gervais's character from The Office went to China to sell a hair-growth product. Watch the trailers.
The remaining films I saw at TIFF (alphabetically):
- Abuse of Weakness [Abus de faiblesse] (dir. Catherine Breillat).
- Borgman (dir. Alex van Warmerdam). I loved the first 15 minutes of this film, but it just didn’t deliver on that promise.
- Child's Pose [Poziţia copilului] (dir. Calin Peter Netzer).
- Hotell (dir. Lisa Langseth). Really wanted to like this, and Alicia Vikander is easy to watch, but the film got lost in its own ridiculousness.
- The Immoral [De Umoralske] (dir. Lars Daniel Krutzkoff Jacobsen).
- Miss Violence (dir. Alexandros Avranas).
- R100 (dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto).
- The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears [L'Étrange Couleur des larmes de ton corps] (dirs. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani). Inspired in part by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, this is the sort of movie you will love if you loved Berberian Sound Studio, but not if you didn’t.
- The Strange Little Cat [Das merkwürdige Kätzchen] (dir. Ramon Zürcher). The Q&A with the director and his identical twin (the producer) was more interesting than the movie.
- Trap Street [Shuiyin jie] (dir. Vivian Qu). An interesting idea, with a few flaws in the execution.