RSS
Toronto International Film Festival: 7 more movies you should know about
Reviews from the second half of the annual film festival, including 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and more
 
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a free man forced back into slavery in 12 Years a Slave.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a free man forced back into slavery in 12 Years a Slave. Fox Searchlight

TORONTO, CANADA — After a week and a half of non-stop screenings, the 38th installment of the Toronto International Film Festival has finally ended. (Read our round-up of 9 films you should know about from the first half of the festival here.) The festival juries awarded top prizes to films like The Amazing Catfish and When Jews Were Funny, while the People's Choice Awards noticed some of the festival's most buzzed-about features, like Stephen Frears' Philomena, Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners, and the film many critics are calling a "sure bet" at the Academy Awards, Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave. Read on to learn more about McQueen's powerful film and six other films from TIFF that you should know about:

1. 12 Years a Slave
Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, and more

What is it?
Based on Solomon Northrup's once-forgotten autobiography, 12 Years a Slaveis a harrowing exploration of Northrup's experience as a man forced into slavery. Before the Civil War, Northrup was living as a free man in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., when men lured him to Washington to perform on the violin — a ruse to facilitate his kidnapping and sale into slavery. For 12 years, Northup faced slave owners both kindly passive (Benedict Cumberbatch) and unhinged (Michael Fassbender) as he struggled to stay alive and find a way back to his family and freedom.

Should you see it?
Absolutely. McQueen's third feature flat-out refuses to follow the epic grandeur normally seen in films focused on the slavery-plagued pre-war South. There is no regal score as the camera pans over gorgeous landscapes with slaves in the distance, nor awe-inspiring introductions to massive and beautiful plantations or gentility. The focus is always on the slaves. McQueen tears into the weakness of slave owners — both those who are uncomfortable yet too weak to fight it, and those whose cruelty is informed by feelings of inferiority. Ejiofor is commanding as Northrup, and is well-teamed with a parade of top Hollywood talent and newcomers like scene-stealing Nyong'o — who will be a force to be reckoned with, if she's lucky enough to find more roles of this caliber.



2. Gravity
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney



What is it?
A crew, including medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalsky (Clooney), are repairing the Hubble telescope when the destruction of a satellite turns their mission into a fight for survival so harrowing that it makes most of cinema's usual dangers look like child's play.

Should you see it?
Yes. Gravity is a wild ride, and one that had many critics gushing hyperbolic praise. But let's be clear: The film is one theater of moving seats away from actually being a ride. Long, CG-laden shots make even the humans look motion-captured at times. They joke and chat until everything goes wrong and chaos descends as the film's focus spins to and fro to dizzying effect. Unfortunately, the story is wildly on-the-nose, ignoring subtlety for audacity, and substituting artificial tension for nuance. Gravity is an all-in-caps type of story that's eager to make you FEEL HOW EPIC IT IS. Between its weak script and so-so CG, it's not exactly a perfect film — but it is, without a doubt, one hell of a ride.

3. The Last of Robin Hood
Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
Starring Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning, and Susan Sarandon



What is it?
Iconic 1930s actor Errol Flynn (Kline) was a swashbuckler on-screen and a pervy ladies' man off. Shortly before his death, he fell for 15-year-old Beverly Aadland (Fanning) and started a romance with her that would last until his death in her arms. The film follows their meeting and Aadland's struggles once she was thrust into the tabloid spotlight after his death, as her drunken show-mother (Sarandon) tells the whole story to anyone who will listen.

Should you see it?
Unfortunately, no — even though this is the role Kevin Kline was born to play, and likely his last chance (he's pushing 70 to Flynn's 50). Kline is the spitting image of the late Flynn, with the same showman charisma he boasted on both stage and screen. Sadly, the film is nothing more than a glossy telling of the story, free of any exploration of emotion, the darkness to the tale, or even Flynn's charismatic magic. Bare-bones sets give the film a made-for-TV cheap feel, pushing the hands-off story into tabloid-crazy biopic territory. There's no sense of passion or chemistry between Kline and Fanning, which is good for viewers unsettled by their extreme age difference — though, thankfully, she is a legal adult — but bad for the film.



4. Labor Day
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and Dylan Minnette



What is it?
In this adaptation from To Die Forscribe Joyce Maynard's 2009 novel, Reitman recounts one man's memories of the Labor Day when he was 13. He convinces his agoraphobic mother Adele to leave the house for a shopping trip, and at the store, they meet an intimidating, bleeding man who insists on coming home with them. At home, the hostage scenario quickly twists into the warm and happy family Henry and his mother have longed for. Frank teaches them how to bake, dances with mom in the kitchen, and plays catch with Henry in the yard. But the man is also a convicted murderer on the run, and the family is torn between the happiness Frank has brought and the dangers he presents.

Should you see it?
Yes, but with reservations. Reitman's film is beautiful, thoughtfully exploring the dynamics between a woman damaged by life and the young son who is desperate to make her happy, along with the gray area that prompts good people to do bad and bad to do good. It is also, however, yet another tale of a damaged woman falling for a domestic abuser. Frank is Adele's savior, and her health and well-being are wholly dependent on his presence in her life. It is easy to get swept up in the romanticism, but there is that genuinely problematic undercurrent that makes any positive resolution equally devastating.

5. Dom Hemingway
Directed by Richard Shepard
Starring Jude Law and Richard E. Grant



What is it?
Dom Hemingway has just spent 12 years in jail, and he wants just two things: Revenge on the man who shacked up with his wife, and payment from the boss he protected. He gets both, but Dom Hemingway also has the world's worst luck — which means that in a flash, he's back to where he started, broke and 12 years older, without a wife and hated by his now-adult daughter.

Should you see it?
Meh. The movie begins as a sort of modern riff on Reservoir Dogs, with Law's Dom waxing philosophic about his penis in a long, masculine monologue. But the conceit doesn't last. The film dovetails between shiny, slickly shot adventures and sappily scored dramatic moments where Dom tries to reconnect with his daughter. The unevenness is the film's downfall, which masks its best element: Jude Law, who's a pleasure to watch as the absurdly macho henchman — so much so that one might even wonder what he would've done not as Watson, but Sherlock Holmes.

6. The Grand Seduction
Directed by Don McKellar
Starring Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch



What is it?
A decade after Jean-Francois Pouliot's Quebec film La grande seductionmade waves at Cannes and Sundance, Don McKellar adapts the film into the story of a Newfoundland fishing harbor trying to stay alive as its residents head "to town" (the city of St. John's) to make ends meet. Gleeson's Murray is a local fisherman angered by the town's dwindling numbers, and he pulls everyone together with a purpose — to entice an oil company to build a processing plant in their neighborhood in order to get the residents back into work and off welfare. The only problem: The town doesn't have a doctor, and the company won't entertain their bid without one. The stodgy old fisherman must, therefore, pull off a grand seduction, making a fancy doctor (Taylor Kitsch) — sneakily blackmailed into spending a month in the area — fall in love with the place and want to stay.

Should you see it?
Yes. The Grand Seduction is a super-sweet community tale sparked by the inclusion of McKellar's wry humor. It's a film overflowing with charm from end to end: The ladies who spy on the doctor to figure out what might entice him to stay; Gleeson, who makes the heart-warming affair both sweet and grounded; and Kitsch, who should put aside the blockbuster and pick up more interpersonal cinema like this.

7. The Double
Directed by Richard Ayoade
Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska



What is it?
The I.T. Crowd star and Submarine director Ayoade takes on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's iconic and well-traveled novella, The Double, which explores an awkward clerk who becomes unhinged when a Doppelganger begins to take over his life. An industrial dystopia merges with Ayoade's offbeat humor as everything works against Eisenberg's Simon: Doors close as he tries to enter them, his boss (Wallace Shawn) ignores all of his good work, and a man with his face takes his place, his work, and the girl he's in love with.

Should you see it?
Definitely. There's nothing new to the story, as it's inspired television and film time and time again, but there's a nostalgic delight that fuels The Double. Rather than modernize the story, Ayoade morphs it into a retro, Brazil-meets-1984 world of stark, almost Lynchian strangeness whose roots rest in practicality. All of the strangeness comes from typical, almost mundane pieces of life — rude servers, work politics, and maddening bureaucracy — which makes the film both wildly absurd and intriguingly recognizable.

 
Monika Bartyzel is a freelance writer and creator of Girls on Film, a weekly look at femme-centric film news and concerns, now appearing at TheWeek.com. Her work has been published on sites including The Atlantic, Movies.com, Moviefone, Collider, and the now-defunct Cinematical, where she was a lead writer and assignment editor.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week