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10 things we learned at the Toronto International Film Festival

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf

This year's Toronto International Film Festival is finally a thing of the past—honestly, we didn't watch anywhere close to the 288 features on display, but we did see several dozen of them. Our cinema picture for the coming months is a lot clearer. Here are 10 takeaways we've gleaned from #TIFF15:

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival

Michael Moore has a big heart
"I went there to pick the flowers, not the weeds," Moore told the world-premiere audience of Where to Invade Next which, despite its bellicose title, turned out to be a hopeful and celebratory showcase for the social policies of other nations (many of which owed their inspiration to U.S.). Generous annual vacations, free college educations, gentler cops, edible school lunches—these are the things foreigners take for granted while America bickers over guns and Donald Trump. The documentary ought to be a wake-up call to all presidential candidates: These are the issues we want addressed.—Joshua Rothkopf

Inside Out has some serious competition
Could two puppets having sex in a Cincinnati hotel room cost Pixar their latest (and seemingly easiest) Academy Award? It suddenly seems very possible given the rapturous reception that’s greeted Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa, a Lynchian stop-motion nightmare about a depressed customer service guru (voiced by Naked star David Thewlis) who falls in love with a woman whose voice stands out in a monotone world. As strange as Being John Malkovich and as sweet as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kaufman’s latest is an unexpectedly tender plunge down the rabbit hole of his neuroses.—David Ehrlich

Will Cate Blanchett split her own Oscar vote?
Earlier in the summer, Todd Haynes's magisterial melodrama Carol reminded us that Cate Blanchett remains the reigning queen of cinematic restraint. At TIFF, her latest film Truth argued just the reverse. This spiky newsroom tale stars Blanchett as Mary Mapes, the veteran 60 Minutes producer whose exposé of George W. Bush’s dubious service record wrecked her career. Slick, sharp-witted and strictly no-bullshit, Blanchett makes us feel every injustice piled upon this hardworking woman. Could she be looking at a double nomination?—Tom Huddleston

Sometimes the next big thing feels like a punch in the face
Down at the cavernous Ryerson Theatre on Toronto's opening Saturday, early word was explosive: Hardcore galvanized its first-in-the-world midnight crowd, spurred a multimillion-dollar bidding war and polarized critics (we loved it). It's a feature-length action sequence shot entirely from the first-person camera eye of its mute cyborg hero. Defiantly lunkheaded, the movie was also the most technically impressive title at the festival—you'll be hearing and seeing a lot of it in the coming months.—Joshua Rothkopf

Davis Guggenheim must be stopped
Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for filming someone else’s Powerpoint presentation with An Inconvenient Truth, is an activist who’s successfully deluded himself into thinking that he’s a filmmaker. His latest documentary, He Named Me Malala, a plea for the value of education that centers around the heroic efforts of Noble Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, is such a mediocre garble of good intentions that it ends up diluting its subject’s urgent message. The doc should be shown in grade schools all over the world, and absolutely nowhere else.—David Ehrlich

The musical is alive and well, and living in Hong Kong
One of the few wholly satisfying films at this year’s festival was Office, a satirical musical-melodrama mashup from Hong Kong action master Johnnie To. Scripted by leading lady Sylvia Chung—who co-stars with Chow Yun-Fat as the secretly entangled, openly warring bosses of a major import-export company—To’s film has much more to say about workplace politics, commercial culture and the roots of the financial crash than its gaudy, giddy exterior might suggest.—Tom Huddleston

Tom Hooper redeems himself
How do you follow up one of the worst movie musicals ever made? If you’re Les Misérables director Tom Hooper, you swing for the fences with your most shameless piece of Oscar bait to date (and this is the guy who made The King's Speech). And yet, The Danish Girl—a historical melodrama about one of the first male-to-female sex reassignment surgeries—is a relatively restrained and sensitive piece of work. Casting the cisgender Eddie Redmayne as Einar/Lily have been controversial, but his transition is movingly rendered, and its effect on his marriage (to breakout star Alicia Vikander) is heartbreaking.—David Ehrlich

Never count out Ridley Scott
He's been uneven of late (please don't ask us to relive Prometheus or Exodus: Gods and Kings), but with the satisfying sci-fi adventure The Martian, Scott reminded audiences of his stylish instincts and feel for whiz-bang spectacle. As the festival extended into a week of modest successes and mild disappointments, many viewers clung to memories of Mars—specifically Matt Damon's nerdy can-do survivor—and relished what was, pound for pound, the most perfectly realized title in the Toronto slate.—Joshua Rothkopf

Tom Hiddleston is here to stay
Any lingering doubts about British actor Tom Hiddleston’s adaptability outside of the louche aristocratic roles he’s made his stock-in-trade were swept away by I Saw the Light, in which he plays tragic country-music legend Hank Williams. Hiddleston’s performance is a joy, packed with soul, pathos and humor—it's a shame the film doesn’t really match up. His second TIFF turn, in the feisty, mind-expanding J.G. Ballard adaptation High-Rise, was less of a stretch: He plays a well-to-do doctor with a mean streak. It was all kinds of fun to see Hiddleston throw of the shackles of bourgeois respectability and get down and dirty.—Tom Huddleston

Don't place those Oscar bets quite yet
Carried forward by campaigns long in motion, Oscar hopefuls Black Mass, Room and Spotlight drew rabid crowds to their Toronto premieres—and did we sense the smallest hint of dissatisfaction? All three received a solid response, but only Spotlight had a reaction close to rapturous (though lacking a Best Picture's sentimental parting cry). Black Mass and Room drew raves for performances, but perhaps we still haven't seen the year's big enchilada. Pressure's on you, Danny Boyle: Steve Jobs (AWOL at Toronto) could be the missing link. It plays next at the New York Film Festival.—Joshua Rothkopf

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