Toronto International Film Festival: 6 movies you should know about

Reviews of the biggest and buzziest movies from the annual festival, including Nightcrawler, The Imitation Game, and The Last 5 Years

1. Still Alice

Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash WestmorelandStarring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, and Kate Bosworth

What's it about? Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a renowned linguist, discovers that she has early onset Alzheimer's. Her affliction is rare; it's hitting her rapidly at the early age of 50, and it's the result of a deterministic gene — which means that her children have a 50-50 chance of having the gene, too. As her condition worsens, Alice struggles to hold on to her memories, and tries to plan for the future as her family grapples with her mortality and their own.

Should you see it? Definitely. When Moore starred in Todd Haynes' Safe, she proved to be a master at portraying wordless, inner torment. Nearly 20 years later, she's once again extraordinary in portraying Alice's battle with her deteriorating mind. Still Alice thoughtfully and adeptly balances Alice's struggle with the experiences of those around her — the Catch-22 of a husband (Alec Baldwin, rekindling the chemistry he and Moore shared in 30 Rock) who wants to be supportive but needs to keep the family afloat; the "good" children who follow the rules but are clueless about how to help their mother; and the actress daughter (Kristen Stewart), whose worldview is precisely wrong for Alice, but just what she needs to help manage and cope with the disease.

2. Nightcrawler

Directed by Dan GilroyStarring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, and Riz Ahmed

What's it about? Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a slimy and unhinged opportunist, is looking for a big break when he discovers the world of "nightcrawling" — the video paparazzi of deadly and dangerous news stories. With an eagerness that might be inspiring in a less-creepy context, Lou researches everything there is to know about filming scenes of violence in an all-encompassing attempt to take over the market. Bloom's methods are as unsettling as they are effective — but when he misses a big story, he goes to great and dangerous lengths to capture (and perhaps create) a possible career-maker.

Should you see it? Yes, if you're a fan of Gyllenhaal's early work. After a long and tumultuous foray in to mainstream cinema (and a welcome return to indies with Prisoners and Enemy), Gyllenhaal is finally in another wildly idiosyncratic role — one that feels like the dirty, lecherous uncle of Donnie Darko. His performance is enough to cover up for the occasional flaws of a film that mixes wild narrative leaps with cinematic contrivances.

3. The Riot Club

Directed by Lone ScherfigStarring Max Irons and Sam Claflin

What's it about? Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin) have just started at Oxford when they are targeted by the university's secret society, The Riot Club — made up of the school's 10 "brightest, boldest, best" male students who relish excessive indulgence. It all seems like fun and games for the newbies until they hit an unwitting country pub for their yearly destructive celebration and explore the depths of their entitlement over a single night.

Should you see it? Yes. The Riot Club explores the power born in fear, loyalty, and adolescence; it's hard to watch, but a worthwhile, visceral reminder of how power can destroy others while protecting its own. Instead of exploring a world in which people are simply good and bad, The Riot Club explores the many manifestations of authority and influence. These are boys with all the smarts and opportunities in the world, but they can't understand the gravity of their actions — from the passive boy who remembers right from wrong but won't act on it, to the extremes of fortune that breed disdain and true cruelty in some of his friends.

4. The Imitation Game

Directed by Morten TyldumStarring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, and Mark Strong

What's it about? During World War II, famed mathematician and "father of artificial intelligence" Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) offered his services to the British government to help crack Nazi Germany's coded radio messages and figure out the secret to their "Enigma" machine. The Imitation Game follows his struggle as an antisocial and hyper-literal man clashing with everyone except Knightley's Joan Clarke, a keen mind and kindred spirit caught between her role as a mathematician and woman.

Should you see it? Absolutely. The Imitation Game might appear to be a straightforward, by-the-numbers drama — a well-made but familiar story of WWII heroism before post-war politics erased many heroes from the record. But its timing gives the film another intriguing dimension. This is an exploration of the father of A.I. at a time of great robotic advancement; a look at a man whose life was ruined for his homosexuality at a time when gay rights are just starting to become law; and a look at how sexism silenced brilliant female minds just as female achievements are finding their way back into history. The film is at once reflective and timely.

5. Gemma Bovery

Directed by Anne FontaineStarring Fabrice Luchini and Gemma Arterton

What's it about? A faithful adaptation of Posy Simmonds' graphic novel, Gemma Bovery follows Martin, an ex-Parisian obsessed with Gustave Flaubert. The baker is over the moon when he discovers that his new neighbors are named Gemma and Charlie Bovery — just a smidge off from the players in his favorite novel, Madame Bovary. He becomes the Wizard to Gemma's Oz, pointing out similarities between her life and Emma Bovary's, and forcing some by his own hand — which becomes dangerous the more her life starts to reflect that of the doomed heroine's.

Should you see it? Yes. Gemma Bovery is a comedic and clever exploration of male fantasy. You don't learn a lot about Gemma beyond her relation to men because this is about how they see her, and how drastically they inform her life: the ex-lover who jilted her but still holds a torch, the husband who loves her but doesn't connect with her, and the neighbor who is obsessed with her. Gemma is clay that the men, especially Martin, manipulate for their own passions.

6. The Last 5 Years

Directed by Richard LaGraveneseStarring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan

What's it about? Based on the musical of the same name, The Last 5 Years is about the rise and fall of one relationship, inspired by playwright Jason Robert Brown's own failed marriage. It's a story we know well: flirtation leads to commitment and marriage, but job stress and life pull the characters in different directions, alongside the typical romantic tropes of the wife's resentment and the husband's straying eye.

Should you see it? Only if you're really into showtunes. Save for a few spoken words here and there, the entire film is sung through a number of musical genres. The story is rather basic — tiresomely so — but The Last 5 Years cleverly plays with structure, with scenes jumping back and forth in time and perspective. It starts with her view of the end of the relationship and his view of the start, and ends with her view of the beginning and his of the end. Unfortunately, the mixed chronologies provide the sole connective flow; matched with often flat or blurry camera work, it feels like a recording of a stage production with a slightly more three-dimensional world.


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