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TIFF Movie Reviews: The Highlights of the Festival

Sep 13 2013 - 9:29am

This year's Toronto International Film Festival [1] has been showing off lots of new movies — ones that already have people talking about award season — and we're giving you our thoughts on all the big festival films. 12 Years a Slave is already making a big impact, Meryl Streep [2] and Julia Roberts [3] serve up emotional turmoil in August: Osage County, Matthew McConaughey [4] and Jared Leto [5] expand their range in Dallas Buyers Club, and we're giving you our first impressions of these movies and more when you click through. See our brief reviews on TIFF movies now, and start placing your Oscar bets.

Additional reporting by Lindsay Miller


Prisoners is hugely entertaining — but the abduction drama is one of the most intense films I've seen all year, and I found some of the scenes hard to watch. That being said, I couldn't keep my eyes off the screen, both because of the riveting story of two girls gone missing and because of Hugh Jackman [6]'s masterful performance as a grieving and fiercely protective father. Jake Gyllenhaal [7], as the detective on the case, also gives one of the best performances of his career.

Kill Your Darlings

Daniel Radcliffe [8] is impressive in one of his first post-Harry Potter roles, and he really takes risks, portraying a young Allen Ginsberg and his first experencies with drugs and gay sex. But it's Dane DeHaan who steals the scenes — and, effectively, the movie — as the troubled but charismatic Lucien. His performance makes you understand why anyone would become fascinated by the character.

Made in America

This documentary about Jay Z's Summer Made in America festival is produced by the rapper and directed by Ron Howard, and there are some rocking concert performances and funny, insightful anecdotes from festival acts like Run-D.M.C. and Janelle Monáe. However, I was left wanting more from each documentary subject, especially Jay Z, who only opens up a little about his background and his very different life now.

Labor Day

Director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) usually injects more humor into his films, but Labor Day is much more serious fare. But what the movie lacks in a sense of humor, it makes up for in depth as the tale of an ex-convict (Josh Brolin [9]) hiding out with a single mother (Kate Winslet [10]) unfolds. Their contentious meeting evolves into a romance over the course of the next few days, and we get a lesson in loneliness, love, and loss. Winslet is at her usual best as a mother with her own demons, but the most memorable thing about this movie is the surprisingly electric chemistry she shares with Brolin.

The Fifth Estate

Director Bill Condon translates two books about the rise of WikiLeaks and its mercurial founder, Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch), to the big screen. The tightly wound story smartly focuses much more on people than policy and politics, and Cumberbatch gives a compelling performance as Assange that transcends what could have become a bad SNL impression in the hands of a less capable actor. Still, The Fifth Estate's conclusion is unavoidably unsatisfying, given that Assange's real-life tale is still in the process of unfolding.

Enough Said

In one of James Gandolfini's final roles, he plays a man romancing Julia Louis-Dreyfus [11]'s masseuse character, Eva. The catch is that Eva realizes that he's actually the ex-husband of her new friend and client (Catherine Keener), who's telling her all the downsides of her new boyfriend. The premise is pretty screwball, but the execution is wickedly funny, thanks to the script by director Nicole Holofcener — and the on-point delivery by Louis-Dreyfus. The movie is also relatable and has tons of heart, which largely comes from Gandolfini. It's a lovely way to say goodbye.

Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey [12]'s performance as AIDS-afflicted '80s cowboy Ron Woodroof is stunning. His weight loss is just a small part of his disappearance into the role, which has McConaughey transform into a hard-living, homophobic, shady man-about-town who turns desperate but never pitiful in his fight against a disease (and the FDA's arbitrary laws), which was still quite new to the world at the time. And Jared Leto [13] is exceptional as Ron's cross-dressing business partner, who helps Ron distribute unapproved AIDS treatments to other patients. It's not just the fact that he's almost unrecognizable; Leto is truly heartbreaking at points.


George Clooney [14] and Sandra Bullock [15]'s astronaut characters get lost in space when their craft gets destroyed by debris, and don't worry — these two have enough charisma to keep you entertained even when it's just the two of them. Admittedly, Clooney feels like he's just playing himself, but Bullock brings an emotional core to the thriller. However, the real star here is the visual effects. Director Alfonso Cuarón has created a dazzling setting in a film that takes your breath away — both in awe and because you're holding your breath because the movie is so nerve-racking.

Life of Crime

In this crime caper, Jennifer Aniston [16] plays a woman who gets kidnapped and held for ransom by two small-time criminal partners (John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey) — only her jerk of a husband (Tim Robbins) doesn't want to pay up. Hawkes and Bey (aka Mos Def) are a funny pair, and the plot, based on an Elmore Leonard novel, makes you smirk as it plays out. It's not the festival's most memorable film, but it's an entertaining black comedy with a few good moments.

Source: Abbolita Procuctions [17]


Director Ron Howard tackles the real-life tale of F1 racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), who shared a notorious rivalry during their heyday in the 1970s. Howard's adrenaline-spiking, expertly executed race sequences are a highlight here. Still, despite strong performances by Hemsworth and Brühl, the often stilted dialogue and Howard's decision to intercut some of the film's scenes with footage of the real Lauda and Hunt are likely to take the audience out of the movie in some of the moments when it most counts.

August: Osage County

Things get ugly and uncomfortable in this portrait of an Oklahoma family who has to come together when the patriarch dies, but every minute is absorbing. Somehow Meryl Streep [18] manages to top herself as a pill-popping mother who has a nasty (or "truth-telling," according to her) side that makes you cringe . . . and sometimes smirk. Julia Roberts [19] is at the top of her game too as a daughter who's bitter, but in pain. The rest of the cast is nothing to slouch at, either; Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson, and Chris Cooper also shine.

12 Years a Slave

Director Steve McQueen brings us the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man in New York who's tricked and sold into slavery. He spends years away from his family in the possession of different slave owners — the worst being Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). McQueen gives us a powerful and unflinchingly brutal portrayal of slavery and Solomon's treatment, forcing you to experience every injustice inflicted on the enslaved man. Ejiofor deserves much of the credit for the movie's strength — his performance is phenomenal, while Fassbender is also frighteningly good.

The F Word

This quirky, clever comedy recalls (500) Days of Summer — but it's lighter and funnier. Daniel Radcliffe [20] plays a single guy who meets his dreamgirl (Zoe Kazan), except when she already has a boyfriend, they navigate a platonic friendship that still sparks. It's frothy, silly, and fun — plus it has Adam Driver and makes Radcliffe into kind of a sexy leading man.

Source: CBS Films [21]

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