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The Martian and four more knockouts from the Toronto International Film Festival

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf

It's halftime at TIFF: For movie lovers, Canada's annual showcase is a one-stop shop. Virtually all the coming year's gems—from Oscar hopefuls to art-house stunners—take an early bow at the 10-day event. As always, Time Out is at the festival, getting an eyeful of cinema's near-future. What's good? You can see all of our daily dispatches here, with more reviews coming soon. At the midpoint, here are the five films that have made us sit up and take notice.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival

Screenwriter-director Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York) follows his distinctly neurotic muse down another rabbit hole, this one inhabited by stop-motion puppets who suffer as acutely as flesh and blood. Married Michael (voiced by Naked's David Thewlis) checks into a banal Cincinnati hotel for a sales conference. He transforms fellow attendee Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into his temporary dream girl.

Don't get angry if we can't quite explain—but still love—this nightmarish fantasy from France's Lucile Hadzihalilovic, a feminist storyteller of unchecked imagination. On a remote island, young boys scramble on the seaside rocks while their mothers keep a watchful eye and inject them nightly with mysterious shots. Utterly missing from the scenario are adult males. Ponder that.

An under-the-radar discovery that's knocked out this year's fest attendees, director Ilya Naishuller's midnight sensation is a gory first-person rush, in which the camera becomes a punching, kicking, wall-climbing action hero. It sounds like a stunt, but the flow of the film is relentless and impressive, with an unsurpassed body count. Already it feels like some kind of new classic.

The Martian
How glorious it's been to be able to announce that Ridley Scott, the former genius behind Alien and Blade Runner—but lately a lot of stinkers—is back in top sci-fi form with this near-perfect crowd-pleaser about a chatty botanist (Matt Damon) stranded on the Red Planet with only his wits to save him. A bit like Apollo 13 and Gravity, The Martian is its own beast, and an inspiring triumph of brains over fear.

Where to Invade Next
When Michael Moore has something new to screen, angry factions split apart immediately—a shame, since his latest, rousingly hopeful documentary turns out to be about a subject all working Americans can appreciate: We work too hard for too little. Travelling the world, Moore discovers generous vacation policies, inspiring teachers, debtless college students and cultures of decency.

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