Toronto Film Festival 2011: The Best of the Fest

Toronto Film Festival 2011
The Toronto International Film Festival has officially been over for a couple of days now and we wanted to give a quick look back at some of our favorite movies we saw there for those who haven't been following our daily coverage.

It was an interesting year for the festival because there seemed to be a lot more front-loading than usual with many of the big movies playing on Friday through Monday and then very little of note after that, which is a shame, but it also felt a bit more down-key than previous years with no movies really jumping out as a potential "Best Picture" winner. That wasn't the case in previous years when The Hurt Locker, No Country for Old Men, Crash and The King's Speech all had their North American premieres at TIFF, so there certainly is presence.

Then again, we didn't get to see nearly as many movies as we normally do at film festivals because we got caught up in doing interviews and weren't able to make it to many "Midnight Madness" screenings, so we missed quite a few movies that we had heard a lot of great things about. The ones we were really hoping to see include Hunger director Steve McQueen's Shame, a movie which might finally get Michael Fassbender his first Oscar nomination; Rodrigo Garcia's Albert Nobbs which may do the same for Glenn Close, and Luc Besson's The Lady, starring Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis.

We've heard nothing but raves for two foreign films we missed but hope to catch at the New York Film Festival, Asghar Farhadi's A Separation from Iran and Joseph Cedar's Footnote from Israel. We also heard great things about Gareth Evans' The Raid and Ben Wheatley's Kill List, which played in the "Midnight Madness" slate, so hopefully they'll be released soon.

Note that when putting together our list of faves, we also didn't include movies we already had seen and loved at Sundance, including Sean Durkin'Martha Marcy May Marlene, Drake Doremus' Like Crazy, Dee Rees' Pariah and Jeff Nicholls' Take Shelter. All of these come out in the next month or two, so make sure you stay tuned to some of the interviews we've done for them.

Toronto Film Festival 2011: The Best of the Fest

 50 501. 50/50 (Summit Entertainment) - It's somewhat of a shame that a movie I saw way back in June ended up being my favorite movie at this year's TIFF, but this dramedy directed by Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) from Will Reiser's personal story of fighting cancer, really is one of those wonderful movies that only comes along once in a while. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is just as good in this as he was in (500) Days of Summer and Seth Rogen brings an interesting dynamic to the story as does Anna Kendrick as an eager but inexperienced therapist. The movie is funny and touching and one of those movies that you know you'll enjoy watching it whenever it's on TV, which is quite a remarkable quality for any movie. It opens nationwide on September 30.

2. The Artist (The Weinstein Company) - We haven't gotten around to reviewing the movie yet--we want to see it again before writing about it--but Michel Hazanavicius' silent black and white film is quite an extraordinary achievement, not only due to its nostalgic look back at the days when movies were transitioning from silent to sound, but also due to the fantastic performances by France's Jean Dujardin and Argentine actress Berenice Bejo who give two of the best performances of the year without uttering a word. It's absolutely amazing.

3. Anonymous (Sony) - We're also likely to see this again before writing a review because Roland Emmerich's period drama exposé about the real man who wrote the plays for which William Shakespeare took credit, is such a fantastically complex tale of royals and thespians, featuring an amazing performance by Rhys Ifans, and another typically great one by Vanessa Redgrave, who joins the long list of actresses playing Queen Elizabeth, sharing the role in Emmerich's movie with her daughter Joely Richardson, both whom are terrific.

4. Drive (FilmDistrict) - On the other hand, not only can you read our review of Nicolas Refn's thriller here, but it also opened this past weekend, so you can actually see how great it is for yourself. It's a fantastic crime-thriller in the vein of Davids Cronenberg and Lynch that starts out slow and moody and then gets violent and crazy, and it's easily one of the most distinctively cool movies you'll see this year.

5. Take This Waltz - I'm quite shocked that Sarah Polley's follow-up to her Oscar-nominated Away from Her hasn't been picked up yet for distribution, because it's almost guaranteed to get another nomination for Michelle Williams as a woman unhappy in her marriage who sees an opportunity when she meets her neighbor, played by Luke Kirby. Though this is a serious drama, there's also a great deal of humor, although it doesn't come from Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman, who play uncharacteristically dramatic roles as her husband and sister-in-law, respectively.

Rampart6. Rampart - Likewise, Oren Moverman's follow-up to The Messenger features such a fantastic performance by Woody Harrelson as a dirty cop that any studio who picks this up is almost guaranteed a foot in the door of that year's Oscar race. Rampart isn't much like other bad cop dramas we've already seen before, and there have been a lot, definitely taking more of an artsy fly-on-the-wall approach to telling the story, but there's no denying that Moverman was able to get more awards-worthy performances and having a screenplay co-written by L.A. crime expert James Ellroy certainly doesn't hurt.

7. Your Sister's Sister (IFC Films) - Lynn Shelton's follow-up to Humpday features a great trio of actors in Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mark Duplass, puts them together in a house on a remote island and watches the dynamics between their characters fly as Duplass' character Jack sleeps with Blunt's character's sister but has to keep it a secret from her. It's a movie that's hard to pinpoint why it works so well but a lot of it comes down to Shelton's cast.

8. The Ides of March (Sony) - George Clooney's fourth movie as a director isn't quite up to the perfection that was Good Night, And Good Luck, but it's definitely a step back in the right direction with a character-driven thriller set in the world of politics. Adapted from the play "Farragut North," it features Ryan Gosling as the press officer for Clooney's governor running for the Democratic candidate for President, who stumbles upon a secret being kept by an intern played by Evan Rachel Wood. It's another great cast, including Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman, doing some of their best work, and it's certainly a film that will solidify Clooney's position as a filmmaker of prestige.

9. Butter (The Weinstein Company) - Jim Field Smith's edgy comedy may only touch upon the politics of Clooney's movie, but it's a very funny premise involving a competition between Jennifer Garner and a ten-year-old black girl to become the Iowa butter-carving champ. Making things more interesting is the stripper/prostitute, played by Olivia Wilde in an outrageously hilarious way, who slept with Garner's husband (the former champ, played by recent Emmy winner Ty Burrell) and wants to get paid for her efforts.

10. From the Sky Down (Showtime) – Davis Guggenheim's portrait of Irish rockers U2 during the time leading up to and during the recording of their pivotal album "Achtung Baby" in Berlin, a time when the band was looking to redefine themselves and learn to have fun after being pegged as an activist band. (We didn't see Cameron Crowe's Pearl Jam Twenty at TIFF, but there's something quite stirring about having two movies exploring the differing path of two rock bands during the early '90s.)

11. Friends with Kids (Lionsgate) - Jennifer Westfelt's situational comedy stars herself and Adam Scott as best friends who decide to have a kid together despite not being in love and not wanting to get married. It's a warm and funny comedy that showcases two underrated talents, and they're surrounded pretty much by the cast of Bridesmaids with Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm and Chris O'Dowd playing their dysfunctional married friends.

Moneyball12. Moneyball (Sony) - Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Bennett Miller team to bring Michael Lewis' bestselling book about baseball stats and team-building as used by Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) and his numbers man Peter Brand (Hill). It's a drama with tinges of humor and a rather unconventional baseball movie that takes place more in the back offices than on the field. Since this opens on Friday, you'll have a chance to see it yourself soon enough.

13. The Descendants (Fox Searchlight) - Like with Moneyball, I really wanted to like Alexander Payne's new movie more than I actually did, and maybe it's a movie that will grow on me over time, but there are definitely aspects of this film that follows Clooney's character Matt King as he tries to come to terms with his dying wife by looking for the man she was cheating on him with. It's a great script and Clooney gives another memorable performance, but we were more impressed with newcomer Shailene Woodley and the terrific performances by Robert Forster and Judy Greer in smaller roles. Like I said, I have a feeling this one will grow on me as most of Payne's movies have.

14. Chicken with Plums - A pleasant surprise from the filmmakers behind the Oscar-nominated animated film Persepolis, Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, this one's also based on a graphic novel by Satrapi, but his one is a live action movie starring Mathieu Amalric as a musician whose prize violin is broken by his wife (Maria De Medeiros, who starred in Pulp Fiction) and he goes off with his son to try to find a replacement. I was a bit too tired to review this but it's a quirky and inventive film that features one of the best end sequences we've seen, one that made us as teary-eyed as the famed silent montage from Up. Here's hoping someone picks this up. We think Music Box Films could do well by it.

15. A Dangerous Method (Sony Pictures Classics) - On the other hand, I may have liked David Cronenberg's new movie more than some of my colleagues and that was mainly due to the performance by Keira Knightley, which takes some getting used to, but really is a fantastic role for the actress. The movie as a whole may not be as accessible as Cronenberg's previous films and by that we mean it doesn't have lots of gore or violence, but it's an interesting look at the relationship between Freud and Jung (played by Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender) that allows Cronenberg to play with period-based drama.

We also give an honorable mention to Gary McKendry's action thriller Killer Elite (Open Road), starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro, which we're already covering a lot on the site this week.

And that's it for now, but hopefully, we'll be back for TIFF next year, and you'll get a chance to see some if not all of these movies in the coming months. You can read the rest of our Toronto International Film Festival coverage on the TIFF Blog

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