TIFF 2014: The 10 Best Films of the Festival by MovieManMenzel

TIFF-2014

The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival has officially come to an end. This year the film selection was impressive with lots of big names both in front of the camera and behind. There were several films that I absolutely loved but there were a handful of others that I honestly wondered, “How the fuck did this get picked to play here?”

After going through all my notes, I have decided to create a list of the 10 best films that I saw at TIFF 2014. I am hoping that over the next few weeks, I will be able to do written reviews for most of the films, but for now this will serve as a quick recap of some of the highlights from the festival.

If you haven’t already done so, please head over to the We Live Film YouTube Channel to check our several video reviews that Nick and I shot during TIFF. These videos are reviews of most of the bigger titles that premiered at the festival. There are still a few reviews that haven’t been uploaded yet, but they will be uploaded to the channel within the next few days.

Please also check out the We Live Film Festivals channel where you can watch Q&As from some of the films that premiered at the festival. This year for some odd reason, TIFF wasn’t allowing video recording at all of the theaters but we did get to shoot several so whatever we could videotape is up on the channel.

Now without further ado, here are my top 10 picks of the films that played at the 39th Annual Toronto International Film Festival.

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game Movie New Pic (1)

I was seriously contemplating about skipping the Imitation Game but after hearing the hype that flooded the festival after the World Premiere, I decided to check it out at the second screening. I’ll be 100% honest, a film about a man cracking a code to stop Hitler and a war isn’t usually a film that ranks high up there on my must see list. The Imitation Game, however, is so much more than that. It is a historical drama, it is a comedy, it is a drama, and a character study about one incredible man that changed the world. The Imitation Game is an incredible film and Cumberbatch delivers a performance that I hope will win him best actor at the Oscars next year. The supporting cast that includes Mark Strong, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and various others are excellent as well. The writing is terrific and the direction is top notch capturing the true essence of the 50s. This is the type of film that will be nominated in several categories around award season and I can see it winning a ton of those awards. The Imitation Game is my favorite film coming out of TIFF 2014.

MovieManMenzel’s rating: 10/10

Men, Women, & Children

Men Women and Children

The more I think about Men, Women, and Children the more I like it. This is a character driven drama focusing on relationships and how Internet has changed and impacted our lives. The film is vignette of several stories featuring both notable actors such as Jennifer Gardner and Adam Sandler as well as several up and coming actors including Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever. The film discusses the concept of Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” which I felt added so much depth to the story. There are several points in this film where I was incredibly uncomfortable and while some of the storylines are more predictable than others, I think Reitman captures something that makes a huge statement about our society today. Men, Women, and Children is an important film to see simply because of how honest and raw it is. It is a film that will make you think about your life and make you feel uncomfortable in the process. The acting all around is amazing with several standout performances that including Gardner, Elgort, and Dever. I loved this film and I look forward to revisiting it once it is released into theaters.

MovieManMenzel’s rating: 9/10

Still Alice

Still Alice Movie TIFF

Another film that I was going to skip but am so thankful that I didn’t. Again, lets me be honest, the film’s plot description did very little to wow me, so I was shocked to learn that Still Alice was a raw, emotional, and honest look at the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Julianne Moore is the star of the show playing a brilliant linguistics professor that has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The lead performance from Moore might just win her an Oscar come award season and the supporting cast members do a great job holding their own with Kristen Stewart being the standout among the supporting cast. There is no denying that the film is incredibly hard to watch as Moore’s character deteriorates on-screen. This I think was one of the biggest surprises coming out of the festival as it was very widely received and even snagged a huge distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics. I can only hope that Sony Pictures Classic will do all they can to market this film in a way that it will get the attention that it so rightly deserves.

MovieManMenzel’s rating: 9/10

Nightcrawler

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Nightcrawler is a pitch black news media satire about just how far one man will go to get a headline that sells. After seeing Nightcrawler there is no denying Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the best and most underrated actors working today. His performance as Lou is dark, disturbing, and powerful. It almost seems that about half way through this film that Lou is not a human but rather an alien from another planet. Dan Gilroy’s script is sharp, intense, and funny. His direction keeps you on the edge of your seat while still requiring audiences to use their brain. If you are a fan of films that focus on the media industry or just simply like films that take chances, I think Nightcrawler is one hell of a good time.

MovieManMenzel’s rating: 9/10

Foxcatcher

FOXCATCHER

Foxcatcher was my number one must see film at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. The word of mouth prior to TIFF was nothing short of spectacular and the marketing campaign left me intrigued. There is no denying that this is one incredible film and Carell’s performance as John Du Pont is nothing short of Oscar Worthy. Foxcatcher, however, is what I would call a slow burn. It takes a while for me to become invested but once I was, I was hooked. I think Channing Tatum does a great job in the film, but during the first half doesn’t do much more than train and look angry. Where Tatum really shines, however, is in the film’s second half. There is one scene in particular that I would send him a nomination because of the rawness Tatum brought to the scene. Mark Ruffalo is also in the film playing Tatum’s older brother. Ruffalo is solid as per usual and brings a lot to the role. If you are a fan of Bennett Miller’s previous outings, Capote and Moneyball, I would be shocked if you don’t love this film. I think it oddly meshes those two films together and delivers something that will be getting a lot of attention around award season.

MovieManMenzel’s rating: 9/10

St. Vincent

Mailmaster

St. Vincent was a film that I figured would either be a hit or a miss. Luckily for Murray and McCarthy it is a hit and big one especially after hearing how much praise the film received at TIFF. I attended the World Premiere of St. Vincent and it was just a truly incredible experience. The film is what I would consider a near-perfect dramedy. It has several comedic moments but it also showcases real life. While I won’t deny that the performances by Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, and the little boy are incredible, I think Murray’’s performance is worthy of a nomination while its great to see McCarthy to domething that she hasn’t one before. What I find even more incredible, however, is that is a first time writer and director. There is a lot of passion and heart in this film and you can tell this meant to a lot to the directors name. I think this is a great feel good film that not only tickles the funny bone but also manages to strike an emotional chord with its audience.

MovieManMenzel’s rating: 9/10

The Voices

The Voices Movie

I originally saw The Voices at Sundance earlier this year and loved the shit out of it. The story written by Michael R. Perry is batshit crazy and incredibly demented. One can describe the film as an inside look at the life of a serial killer. The Voices stars Ryan Reynolds who I think gives best performance to date as Jerry. Both Anna Kendrick and Gemma Amnseton are welcomed additions to the cast and both add to the weirdness. Mr. Whiskers and Bosco, a cat and dog, are some of the many voices that Jerry hears. Mr. Whiskers steals the show whenever he appears on-screen. Lastly, directed by Marjane Satrapi, this may not be a film for everyone but those who like films that take chances and dare to be different; this is a must see. I loved being a part of a world filled with neon colors, blood, and a oh so hilarious musical rendition of “Sing a Happy Song.”

MovieManMenzel’s rating: 9/10

The Last 5 Years

Behind the scenes during the filming of "The Last 5 Years"

Based on an extremely popular Off-Broadway musical that I never heard of before, writer and director Richard brings one of his favorite musicals to the big screen. Being I am a huge fan of Broadway and Musical Theater, I was really surprised with how much I enjoyed watching The Last 5 Years on the big screen. Broadway adaptations have been hit or miss over the years, but I strongly believe that Last Five Years is and will be a hit once A24 releases the film next year. This is really a two person show and Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick bring the characters of jan and jane to life on the big screen. Jordan and Kendrick have incredible voices and sing their hearts out throughout the film’s short and sweet 90-minute runtime. The story focuses on the last five years of a young couple who falls in love, gets married, and struggles to try to keep it together while trying to manage their careers. It is smart, well acted, and realistic with the musical numbers being nothing short of delightful. If you are a fan of either actor involved or love musical theater, I think the The Last 5 Years will make your day.

MovieManMenzel’s rating: 8.5/10

Mommy

Mommy

I wonder if this is going to be a tradition that every year I attend TIFF, I am going to pick a French film for my best of list. Last year, I picked Blue is the Warmest Color and this year I was torn between Mommy and An Eye for Beauty. I picked Mommy because the film left more of a lasting impression on me. The way that Xavier Dolan shot this film was incredibly unique as it is shot in an 1:1 ratio. It also gives off the impression that you are watching a film as if it is filmed on a smartphone. Dolan’s story about a mother/son relationship is nothing short of weird yet it is brilliant at the same time. The performances by Anne DorvalAntoine-Olivier Pilon and Suzanne Clément are tremendously raw, emotional, and powerful. They are hands down award worthy and hopefully will get some attention in the foreign film categories during awards season. It also needs to be addressed that this is something that will stick with you for days after you view the film. It showcases how much a parent can love their child even if they are abused. It’s not something that you see everyday in a film and its one of several reasons why the film is oh so powerful to watch. 

MovieManMenzel’s rating: 8.5/10

The Keeping Room

The Keeping Room TIFF Movie

The Keeping Room follows three females as they struggle to survive during the end of the civil war. The film’s story is very unique in comparison to other “War” films simply because it is being told from a female point-of-view and not being shown from the front lines of the actual war going on. The female cast is terrific and is lead by the incredibly talented Brit Marling, who I would argue gives one of her finest performances to date. The film also brings in another unique perspective by incorporating slavery into the mix of the story. At it’s center, The Keeping Room is really a home invasion film set against the civil war. It is paced in a way that never drags and just flies by giving the story just enough steam to engage the viewer from beginning to end. Daniel Barber captures the era beautifully shot and he uses his settings in a way that allow you to appreciate his attention to detail. This is definitely a unique war tale and one that I admired greatly. We need to see more war films told from a different perspective and I am just thankful that Barber was able to make something like this with such a gifted cast attached. 

MovieManMenzel’s rating: 8.5/10

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