The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is an eleven-day marathon of international feature films and documentaries. Every September hundreds of celebrities and directors and thousands of cinephiles flock to theatres all over Toronto, Canada, to celebrate the premieres of up to 300 world-class films across all genres.
Since its relatively small beginnings in 1976 in a downtown Toronto hotel, TIFF has grown beyond a unique Canadian festival to include premieres of some of the most critically-acclaimed international films. Some noteworthy movies that had their first outing at TIFF were American Beauty, Black Swan, and Slumdog Millionaire; just a select few that have gone on to become modern classics.
The festival is only getting bigger. In 2014, TIFF included official selections starring actors such as Adam Sandler, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Keira Knightley. TIFF has been dubbed “the Festival of Festivals”but it’s also the people’s festival, one where locals, Canadians, and international film lovers not only get to experience new cinematic works of art, but have their say to distinguish the best. The People’s Choice Awards for both documentary and feature film are among ten award categories and two of the highest honours at TIFF.
Since TIFF ended last Sunday, the results are in and the awards have been announced. Based on 2014’s award-winning films, we present the top 10 best movies from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival – these are ten of the best movies to look out for in the coming year.
10. May Allah Bless France!
What do you get when a spoken word artist makes his own documentary? You get May Allah Bless France!, the winner of the Best Film in the Discovery Programme award. Abd Al Malik adapted his autobiography of the same name into a documentary that focuses on his upbringing of crime and drug-addiction in dangerous streets. By day he is a dedicated student and by night he is a drug dealer. His documentary is shot in black and white with a truly compelling and interesting subject: the director himself.
9. Time Out of Mind
Time Out of Mind explores society’s outsiders and how those people try to reconnect with the ones they love. Richard Gere, in an atypical role for the actor, stars as a disconnected man forced into a homeless shelter as he tries to rekindle his relationship with his daughter. The film was written and directed by Oren Moverman (The Messenger) who brings the desperate struggle of one man to the forefront of audiences, forcing them to face hidden struggles that most people seldom think about. It won the award for Best Film in the Special Presentations Programme.
8. A Single Body
Short films garner just as much respect and admiration as feature-lengths at the world’s leading film festivals, and this one made a splash at TIFF. A Single Body won the award for Best International Short Film and is one of the greatest works of French director Sotiris Dounoukos. The film tells the story of two males who befriend each other in an unlikely and rather disturbing setting: an abattoir (slaughter house). While there, the men’s friendship develops as they master their trade and plan to open their own butcher shop business.
7. The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer
One of three award categories for Canadian film, the Best Canadian Short Film was awarded to The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer, directed by Randall Okita. Okie blends live action with digital animation to tell of story of two brothers with very different memories of the same past. Otika’s short film was acclaimed for its bold and touching portrayal of family and the psychology of memory.
6. Bang, Bang Baby
Jeffrey St. Jules breaks out with his first feature film that has been called “brazenly original”. His short films often feature highly stylized and unusual visuals that surprise the eye, and this style adapted into long-form seems to have been successful. Bang, Bang Baby is set in 1963 and features the story of a girl who looks out for her alcoholic father and dreams of a better life beyond the small Canadian town of Lonely Arms. Stepphy, played by Jane Levy, fights off the shackles of her family and small-town life to pursue her dreams. St. Jules captivated critics with his first feature that won the award for Best Canadian First Feature Film.
5. Felix and Meira
The Best Canadian Feature Film was won by Felix and Meira. Director Maxime Giroux focuses on a young couple who meet in the same neighbourhood but who come from very different worlds. Meira is a young Orthodox Jew in Montreal who begins to rebel against her religion. She meets Felix who is not only non-Jewish, but secular. They begin to develop an unusual secret bond as Meira begins to betray not only her religion, but her marriage. Felix and Meira has been described by reviewer Jordan Adler as a ‘unique look at love, freedom and religious identity’.
4. Margarita, with a Straw
Toronto prides itself on being one of the most multicultural cities in the world and TIFF is no different. With their inclusion of international films they award the Best Asian Film. This year’s winner was Margarita, With a Straw from India, directed by Shonali Bose and starring Kalki Koechlin. This is a movie about love set in New Dheli and New York. Laila is a student who falls in love with another woman when she leaves India to go to New York and pursue her passion for the arts. Daring and bold, Margarita, With a Straw intersects art, love and personal exploration.
3. What Do We Do in the Shadows
This film is not for the faint of heart or those who fear the sight of blood. It’s an odd choice for actor/co-director Jemaine Clement who got his fame from the musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords. The film follows the lives of three roommate vampires who must attempt to live a normal life the 21st century. When one of the three turns a young hipster into a vampire, they must assimilate the new recruit into their undead lifestyle. A successful comedy horror, What Do We Do in the Shadows took the award for People’s Choice at Midnight Madness beating out high-profile entries like Kevin Smith’s ‘Tusk’ starring Justin Long.
2. Beats of the Antonov
Documentaries have incredible power to transform their subjects and the people who experience them. The People’s Choice Award for Documentary at TIFF 2014 went to Beats of the Antonov directed by Hajooj Kuka. The separation of Sudan into two states is explored through the documentary which looks at the longest African civil war. Kuka documented the lives of every-day people in Africa since 2012 as they struggle to survive among political upheaval and the death of their family members. Beats of the Antonov brought their story to life at TIFF to much praise from critics and the public alike.
1. The Imitation Game
TIFF has become a formidable arena for international films to ensure distribution deals: After that, the coveted Oscars could be awaiting the movie in the next year. The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, is one of those films that swept through TIFF like a wild fire, winning the People’s Choice Award. Directed by Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game is about two brilliant British scientists who take on the almost impossible task of World War 2 code breaking. The two scientists meet, fall in love, and marry, but one of them is not what they appear. Combining thrilling suspense and struggles with personal identity, this year’s People’s Choice Award winner earns the title of best movie at TIFF and the biggest one to keep an eye out for in the coming year.