TIFF 2014: Festival Wrap-up and 'Best of the Fest'

Wild is 'Best of the Fest' for TIFF 2014.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
That’s a wrap for TIFF 2014! This year’s Toronto International Film Festival was the craziest one yet. Covering the Festival with a press pass for the first time was a much different experience than previous editions of the Festival… mostly in a good way. Having the pass certainly facilitates a sense of discovery, as one can really walk into just about anything. Eliminating the financial factor of paying $25-45 dollars a ticket opens up the opportunity to try new things. And eliminating the two-hour plus line-ups at public screenings is a godsend. I still did about ten public screenings, though, since the pass affords a few ticket picks and same day options. (Anything except a ticket a Roy Thomson Hall, really.) It’s nice that TIFF allocates a few public tickets for P&I, since the thrill of seeing a film with the filmmakers and stars at the Festival is part of the overall experience. I even paid for a ticket to the Maps to the Stars Gala (albeit by trading in another public ticket and paying the difference) to get the most out of one of my most anticipated films of TIFF. It did not disappoint.

At the Maps to the Stars gala: Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson,
Sarah Gadon, Olivia Williams, Dawn Greenhalgh, and Evan Bird.
My TIFF wrap-up piece will be shorter than usual since I’ll be submitting a TIFF recap article for Point of View later in the fall. Covering the Festival on the doc front also eliminates much of the Oscar speculation I’ve come to enjoy at the Festival, although seeing a much more streamlined bunch of films than usual also tips me off to the redundancy of much Oscar prognostication at the Festival since it is literally impossible to see everything in the programme. Even seeing three or more films a day puts a festivalgoer at just over ten percent of the line-up. Luckily, though, I caught both the People’s Choice Award winners for drama and documentary, The Imitation Game and Beats of the Antonov, and think both are generally worthy films. I don’t think Imitation Game has everything it takes to win Best Picture (it’s no 12 Years a Slave), but it easily had one of the few P&I screenings murmuring with excitement. P&I screenings are generally filled with jaded industry types who spend more time checking their phones than watching the film, but The Imitation Game had a packed house in the biggest theatre at Scotiabank for the third P&I screening of the film, which was full at 9:00 am, no less! Only two other screenings I attended had turnaways for industry folks: Elephant Song and A Little Chaos, which I caught at their first screenings in comparatively smaller theatres.

It turns out that the best TIFF film I saw wasn’t one that I even saw at the Festival at all. That film is Jean-Marc Vallée’s Wild, which I caught the Tuesday before the Festival at a sneak screening for press doing a round table with Vallée and Laura Dern. (That feature will be posted later since we’re encouraged to save some coverage for the film’s release.) Perhaps it’s the thrill of getting the most out of a festival experience that leads me to pick Wild as “Best of the Fest,” but Wild was consistently the film I immediately mentioned to people as the best thing I’d seen at the Festival. I loved it. It’s just a perfect adaptation of Cheryl Strayed book, and Vallée’s phenomenal filmmaking makes it a thrill.
Mommy. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Close behind Wild—very close—is Xavier Dolan’s Mommy. I’d give Anne Dorval the vote for best performance at TIFF, though, because her searing turn as Die, the titular Mommy, had the most lasting effect on me in a festival filled with strong performances, especially strong female performances. Julianne Moore is a close second with her one-two punch of Still Alice and Maps to the Stars, the former of which easily puts her on track alongside Reese Witherspoon as an Oscar frontrunner. I was equally amazed by Kristen Stewart, who offered two revelatory supporting turns alongside Moore in Still Alice and Juliette Binoche in Clouds of Sils Maria. Binoche, finally, was a TIFF highlight of her own, as I caught her Mavericks conversation at the Glenn Gould studio where she chatted with TIFF Director Piers Handling about her remarkable career.

Another great conversation happened at the hidden gem of the Festival, Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which might easily be the best film-theatre hybrid I’ve ever seen. (I reviewed the film for POV, so I’ll post the link to that whenever they put it up.) Taymor chatted about the film with IndieWire’s Anne Thompson, and this illuminating discussion, like Binoche’s, is a great example of how the Mavericks programme might be the best slate of TIFF’s massive line-up. Having in-depth conversations with some of the most innovative voices in film is an experience unique to the Festival.
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream gets my runner-up pick on the doc front, while the exhilarating Sunshine Superman handily soars as the best non-fiction film I saw at TIFF. Marah Strauch’s breathtaking film is most beautiful and poetic of all the TIFF docs. Shout outs also go to The Wanted 18, Roger Waters The Wall, and Tales of the Grim Sleeper. On the other hand, the most acclaimed doc at TIFF, The Look of Silence, might be the most overhyped title at the fest. I think that Joshua Oppeneheimer’s follow up to The Act of Killing is a worthy successor, but the film simply doesn’t have the same degree of innovation that makes Killing so powerful. The Look of Silence seems to benefit from residual love from The Act of Killing, though, and it confronts a bold topic, so it’s probably one to watch in the months to come.
Sunshine Superman. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Anyhow, I look forward to discussing TIFF films and catching up with recommendations from friends in the months to come. I think the hardest part of doing the P&I side of the Festival is missing the communal part of the film experience, since I usually have a great group of festival friends with whom I enjoy some screenings. (We caught one film together, though, and compared notes at the end.) Going solo at TIFF let me see a grand total of 37 features and 42 shorts, and do 4 interviews. Not bad for a first-time presser, I think!

My picks for “Best of the Fest":

Top Ten Films of TIFF 2014 (in alphabetical order):
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Sunshine Superman

Top Ten Short Films of TIFF 2014 (in alphabetical order)

Best Film: Wild
Runner up: Mommy

Best Doc: Sunshine Superman
Runner up: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Runner up: The Wanted 18

Best First Feature: Sunshine Superman
Runner up: Wet Bum

Best Short: The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer
Runner up: Day 40

Best Actress: Anne Dorval, Mommy
Runner up: Julianne Moore, Still Alice and Maps to the Stars
Runner up: Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Best Actor: Tom Hardy, The Drop
Runner up: Al Pacino, Manglehorn

Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, Wild
Runner up: Kristen Stewart, Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria

Best Supporting Actor: Rocco the dog, The Drop

Best Screenplay: Bruce Wagner, Maps to the Stars
Runner up: Nick Hornby, Wild

Best Cinematography: André Turpin, Mommy
Best Film Editing: Jean-Marc Vallée (aka John Mac McMurphy) and Martin Pensa, Wild
Best Score: Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Worst Film: The Cobbler
Biggest Disappointment: Miss Julie
Most Pleasant Surprise: Sunshine Superman
Best Q&A: Julie Taymor and Anne Thompson, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Best Screening Intro: Programmer Dorota Lech for her story about how she basically carjacked someone en route to Tales of the Grim Sleeper (which is about an alleged serial killer who abducts women in his car)

More pictures may be found at the Cinemablographer Facebook page.

Thanks again to Marc and the team at POV, plus all the helpful publicists who arranged screeners/interviews, etc., and all the friends I met along the way for making this a great Festival! And extra special thanks to all the volunteers!

What are your best #TIFF14 moments?