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TIFF 2013: Thoughts on the Festival and “12 Years a Slave” for People’s Choice

September 16, 2013

By John Corrado

12 Years a Slave PosterHow do you discuss numerous films and days worth of experiences in a single article?  I have tried before, and often find myself met with a challenge.  But the just wrapped Toronto International Film Festival deserves a final send off, a wrap up of the events that took place mainly over the past eleven days.

This was the 38th edition of TIFF, a festival that opened on September 5th with the world premiere of Bill Condon’s WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate, the first of three films starring Benedict Cumberbatch that screened.  Before winding down on the 15th, we saw the premieres of some of the best movies of the year.

The festival wrapped up yesterday with the presentation of the BlackBerry People’s Choice Award, an honour that went to Steve McQueen’s powerful drama 12 Years a Slave, a film that we are going to be hearing about throughout awards season.  The two runner up spots for the top prize went to the critically lauded Philomena and the incredibly well crafted kidnapping thriller Prisoners.  The documentary branch of the People’s Choice Award went to The Square, and the award for Best Canadian Feature also deservingly went to a documentary, Alan Zweig’s interesting and entertaining When Jews Were Funny.

The final number of films that I saw was sixteen, fifteen of which I reviewed, a number which is quite respectable for my own schedule.  I had the privilege of screening seven of them before the festival even started, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon, an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable film with confident performances.  The first one that I saw during the festival itself was Tim’s Vermeer, an enchanting and entertaining documentary about how we constitute art, an experience that included a lively Q&A with Penn & Teller.

This awards season has barely started, but we already have some clear frontrunners, and the acting races are tighter than ever.  I was wowed by some of the performances that I saw, including the expert acting from literally everyone in the incredibly entertaining August: Osage County, which featured shining work from Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.  But the festival also served as a memorial for two actors who sadly passed away earlier in the year.  The spirit of James Gandolfini was felt during the premiere of Nicole Holofcenar’s enjoyable romantic comedy Enough Said, as the actor lit up the screen in one of his final roles.  Cory Monteith was one of the best parts of McCanick, a police drama which he completed before his tragic death in July.

This is no affront against the impeccable quality of the films, but TIFF seemed to be lacking something this year.  Maybe it was just me, but as I faced exhaustion from standing in the insanely long and sometimes poorly organized lines, there didn’t seem to be the same sense of excitement and enthusiasm in the air that I have felt over the past several years.  Maybe the festival has just gotten too big, with so many premieres happening at practically the same time, that it’s literally impossible to choose between them and see everything.  There were 289 feature films, 147 of those being world premieres.  This allows the bigger films to make a splash, while sadly forcing many of the smaller ones to get lost in the shuffle.

But even as the festival itself sometimes felt like they were just going through the motions, the movies were reason enough to keep going, and I can’t argue with the fact that I saw some of the best films of the year.  There were also some nice surprises, like when Jason Reitman showed up on Saturday night for the final show of Labor Day at the Ryerson, dedicating the screening to Roger Ebert and sticking around for an awesome Q&A.  He also reminded audiences of the legacy left behind by sound pioneer Ray Dolby who sadly passed away last week, prompting applause when the Dolby logo came up.  I’ve always been a big fan of Jason Reitman, and his latest work is a beautifully filmed and well acted adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s moving novel.

For me, the best overall day of the festival was last Monday, when I had the privilege of seeing a double bill of Rush at the Ryerson, followed by Gravity at the Princess of Wales.  With gripping racing scenes and excellent acting from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, Rush is compelling entertainment that sees director Ron Howard at the top of his game.  Watching the film provided a great kick off for things to come.  I spent the rest of TIFF singing the praises of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity to literally everyone I met, and for me it was the movie of the festival.  With a stunning performance from Sandra Bullock, this is a groundbreaking, breathtaking and deeply moving masterpiece that won’t soon be forgotten.

The fact that there are so many films I regret missing provides further proof of just how many notable titles were screened over the past eleven days.  Among many others, I already look forward to catching up with Can a Song Save Your Life?, Dallas Buyers Club, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her, The F Word and The Wind Rises once they hit theatres.  But I am thankful for the good experiences I was able to have and the films that I had the privilege of seeing.  So as we start the long countdown for next year’s festival, please see below for the complete list of everything I reviewed during TIFF 2013.

Thursday, September 5th

Devil’s Knot

Parkland

Don Jon

The Dick Knost Show

When Jews Were Funny

Saturday, September 7th

Tim’s Vermeer

12 Years a Slave

Enough Said

Monday, September 9th

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Gravity

Rush

McCanick

Saturday, September 14th

Prisoners

Labor Day

August: Osage County

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