The Toronto International Film Festival has become the launching pad for the best of international, Hollywood and Canadian cinema, and is recognized as the most important film festival after Cannes. The unofficial kick off to the fall festival season (and award season pre cursor), TIFF 2014 once again brings an eclectic program of International cinema to one of the world’s most artistic and beautiful cities.
The following list is a highly subjective look at 10(.5) films that have caught our eye at this years festival. Representing a slew of ideas, locales and subjects, the films on this list are sure to have a long life into the next year with many soon-to-be classics included. Sit back and keep an eye out for these, and all, the film’s playing this one of a kind event which takes place at various Toronto venues between September 4-14, 2014.
In 2009, Iranian Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari was covering Iran’s volatile elections. One of the few reporters living there with access to US media, he also appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in a taped interview with comedian Jason Jones. The interview was intended as satire, but if the Tehran authorities got the joke they didn’t like it — and that bit of comedy would come back to haunt Bahari when he was rousted from his family home and thrown into prison.
Many will see this as the film which launched “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” (based on Oliver’s stellar hosting job in Stewart’s The Daily Show with John Stewart summer 2013 absence), however the story behind the film is as riveting as anything contemporary Middle Eastern geopolitics has produced thus far.
2. The Look of Silence
Joshua Oppenheimer’s genre-transcending look at Indonesian genocide The Act of Killing has rightfully taken its place amongst the most formidable examples of the documentary medium (as well as having a distinct honor of unquestionable Academy Award snub). The film won International acclaim for reopening a forgotten chapter of history and caused an unprecedented wave of national re-examination within Indonesia. Now Oppenheimer delves further into the country’s dark legacy with The Look of Silence, this time focusing on the perspective of victims rather than victors.
Pier Paolo Pasolini is a figure Italians still struggle to come to terms with. Poet, novelist, agitator, journalist, filmmaker, playwright, actor, painter, philosopher, communist, Catholic, homosexual; these descriptors do not fully contain the depth and scope of the man’s restless genius. American director Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, King of New York), another outlaw talent, has clearly found a soulmate in Pasolini. Starring Willem Dafoe, a dead ringer for Pasolini, Pasolini offers a kaleidoscopic view of the last day of the artist’s life, in 1975.
Electronic dance music is the rock ‘n’ roll of our time. And the jazz. And the punk. Whichever your frame of reference, EDM calls to mind stories of creative genius and staggering fame — but also of lives lost and abandoned in the night. It’s not easy to capture the texture of this culture on film, but writer-director Mia Hansen-Love has found an ideal approach. Drawing on the story of her own brother Sven, with whom she co-wrote the screenplay, Hansen-Love has created what you could call a low-key epic. Yes, the film captures the rise of dance music in Paris, Chicago, and New York — but via intimate moments in the company of young people who didn’t become Daft Punk. Instead, they gave everything in search of that intoxicating cocktail of euphoria and melancholy so often found in the club.
5. The Face of an Angel
Kate Beckinsale and Daniel Brühl (Rush, Inglourious Basterds) star in this fictionalized version of the notorious Amanda Knox murder case from ever-adventurous director Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, In This World, 24 Hour Party People). Winterbottom explores, with his singular approach, ideas of truth, objectivity, and the way narratives are constructed; his ever-active mind moves effortlessly among the many competing stories and emotions that comprise The Face of an Angel.
6. Revenge of the Green Dragons
In 2007, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It was an adaptation of Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs. Now, Scorsese returns the favour, acting as executive producer for Lau’s latest project. Co-directed by Lau and Andrew Loo, and inspired by the true-crime tale of the titular gang that terrorized New York City’s Chinese communities throughout the 1980s, Revenge of the Green Dragons represents the spectacular collision of Eastern and Western gangster film traditions. This fusion of Chinese and American genre influences is thrilling to see, but also entirely apt. Revenge of the Green Dragons is an inherently Chinese-American story premised, like so many classic crime dramas, on a violent misapprehension of the American dream.
7. Ned Rifle
American indie icon Hal Hartley completes the trilogy he began with Henry Fool and Fay Grim in this delightfully off beat tale about Henry and Fay’s teenage son Ned, who emerges from a witness protection program with a single, fixed purpose: to kill his father for ruining his mother’s life. The artist, the outsider, the renegade have all intrigued Hartley over the years, but it is his quizzical sense of life’s vagaries that has marked his individuality. All of these qualities are on full display in this welcome return to form. Hartley’s direction is razor sharp, the performances are classically dry, and the script is a master class in precise dialogue.
8. Good Kill
In such films as Gattaca, S1m0ne, and Lord of War, writer-director Andrew Niccol thoughtfully considered the human costs of advanced technology. With his new film, Good Kill, he offers a chilling inside look at drone warfare and its collateral damage — not just abroad, but on the home front, where soldiers succumb to PTSD without even setting foot on a battlefield. Bringing intelligence and compassion to a story about ordinary people caught up in global conflicts beyond their comprehension, Good Kill is a bold and troubling film, raising urgent moral questions that all of us need to reckon with.
9. While We’re Young
While We’re Young is Noah Baumbach’s sparkling follow-up to his 2012 hit Frances Ha. Where that film was a delightful, minimalist screwball comedy, this look at New York’s creative class is a more openly funny social portrait. No film has better captured the weird, upended logic of urban sophisticates: the older ones embrace their iPads and Netflix, the young ones crave vinyl records and vintage VHS tapes.
Powered by Ben Stiller’s note-perfect lead performance and loose, comic turns by Naomi Watts and Amanda Seyfried, While We’re Young is a complete pleasure to watch.
10. Clouds of Sils Maria
A veteran stage star (Juliette Binoche) turns to her assistant (Kristen Stewart) for solace as she jousts with an arrogant younger actress (Chloë Grace Moretz), in the brilliant new film from French auteur Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours, Something in the Air). Delving into the female psyche through not just one but three women, Assayas presents a film that is at once urgent and magisterial.
…and one more for good measure
Arnold Schwarzenegger watches over his daughter as she transforms into a flesh eating Zombie…’nuff said.
– Steve Rickinson (with additional words by TIFF programming staff)