North America’s largest film festival, TIFF, celebrated its 40th anniversary by unleashing a prodigious 399 films on the city of Toronto. With only 10 days and 240 hours to take them all in, missing out on a few highly anticipated movies is part of the festival experience — I was disappointed that I didn’t have the chance to catch The Lobster, Green Room, and Dheepan. Even the savviest film critic can’t stay on top of every film playing at the festival, and every year I’m blown away by at least a few hidden gems that always seem to creep in under my radar. This year there were a couple of films that snuck up on me, a couple that were as great as I had hoped, and one that rose above my lofty expectation. The following is a list of the films that resonated with me the most during TIFF 2015.
Honourable Mention –WHERE TO INVADE NEXT Release Date: 2 October 2015 (USA)
Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next, is his most entertaining film to date. Moore unshackles himself from the heavier subject matter of his past films and the result is a movie with a lighter tone. Moore infuses the film with yet still manages to hit on several hot-button issues that are drifting through the political zeitgeist. Moore’s film is accessible, informative, and laugh out loud funny.
5-THE WITCH Release Date: TBD
“Atmospheric, slow burn horror, capable of instilling a sense of dread that lingers with the viewer long after the film is over.” Those were the words I kept hearing for the nine months preceding my screening of The Witch. That’s a lot for a horror movie to live up to and somehow the film doesn’t disappoint. From its washed out color scheme to its bloodcurdling score, The Witch possesses all the right fear-inducing elements and lives up to the hype.
4- MEN & CHICKEN Release Date: 5 February 2015 (Denmark)
Film’s like Men & Chicken are the reason that I go to TIFF. TIFF is filled with box-office monsters like Sicario and Black Mass, and critical darlings like Dheepan, but it’s the small, unheralded films that come out of nowhere which make the festival a special experience. Hailing from Denmark, Men & Chicken is an utterly bizarre black comedy, packed with slapstick humor, and also beautiful and touching. The film’s twisted take on a group of adopted brothers incorporates lessons of self-discovery, belonging, and what it means to be a family which ties into a deeper philosophical discussion on what makes us human. Men & Chicken is one of the rare movies that makes me want to go and binge everything in the director’s filmography.
3-SPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES Release Date: 18 June 2015 (China)
I’m a fan of movies where men jump kick each other in the face. Tony Jaa is one of the most accomplished human beings on the planet at making movies about jump kicking men in the face, and somehow, going into TIFF this movie wasn’t on my radar. I shuffled into SPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES!!!! (the film’s title demands to be written in capitals) because another film got canceled. I now truly believe that the cancellation was just one of many steps involved in a whimsical universe realignment that occurred in order to sheppard me towards the film.
SPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES!!! is a mind-blowing film. I watched the movie at three in the afternoon in a half-full theater and SPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES!!! raised the energy in the room — at one point people in the audience began jumping up and shouting at the screen as though we were at a midnight madness screening. The film is an amazing rush of bullets, martial arts, and of course, jump kicks to the face. It also has a man crush his hand in a vice grip in order to escape a pair of handcuffs. So there’s that. If you like movies, and you like having fun, go see it.
2-BEASTS OF NO NATION Release Date: 16 October 2015 (USA)
Cary Fukunaga is a star. Fukunaga takes the haunting style he used to capture the Lousiana bayous in True Detective and transposes it onto West Africa. The film is visually stunning. Fukunaga creates a series of sweeping imagery so captivating (like the soft glow of morning sunlight creeping through the West African jungle’s tree tops) that still frames of this film wouldn’t be out of place hanging on a wall in the Louvre. The beauty of the Beasts cinematography serves as a stark contrast to the horrors within its bloody narrative. First-time actor Abraham Attah is a natural onscreen and Idris Elba shows up and delivers a magnetic performance as a charismatic warlord. Beasts of No Nation debuts on Netflix next month, but I can’t stress enough that anyone who has the opportunity to view this movie in a theatre should do so.
First off: Chiwetel Ejiofor. I would watch that man clean dirt from under his nails for 90-minutes. He’s in the film, so that makes The Martian an automatic must see. Matt Damon turns in an Oscar worthy performance that solidifies him in the pantheon of the Hollywood Elite. Ridley Scott absolutely nails The Martian on every level. The Martian is a sci-fi story grounded in reality but expansive in imagination. The Martian is beautifully shot, gut-wrenchingly suspenseful, and life-affirming — during my screening there were people in the theater crying only half way through the film.
The Martian also makes being smart sexy. The characters are confident, cool, and well adjusted geniuses who use their big beautiful brains to solve a series of escalating problems. In my youth, after watching The Karate Kid I begged my parents to take me to martial arts classes. After watching The Martian, a whole generation of kids will be begging their parents to sign them up for space camp — but first they’ll have to get in line behind me.