The Toronto Film Festival has long been considered one of the most reputable first stops on any great film’s exhaustive and nail-biting ride to an Oscar nomination, and this year’s showcase is no exception. While big-name directors from around the world vie for their films to open at TIFF, the festival is also known for its particularly vibrant features by Canadian filmmakers. This is well evidenced by the fact that three of the six films we believe are most noteworthy are the visions of Canadian directors. See our selections below.
The Dallas Buyers Club
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Powerfully performed—by waves heartbreaking, by waves hilarious—Dallas Buyer’s Club stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff, a Texan rodeo man in the mid-1980s. Homophobic for most of his life, Woodruff is medically and socially marginalized when he is diagnosed with AIDS and finds himself in an unlikely alliance with another AIDS patient, a transgender woman named Rayon (played with tender abandon by Jared Leto). The two of them start an operation to smuggle HIV/AIDS drugs over the border to sell to other AIDS sufferers, and in the process form a friendship that shakes and fuses them together at their respective cores.
12 Years a Slave
Directed by Steve McQueen
A biopic of immense gravitas, this film about one man’s experience of slavery in the 1840s and 1850s is palpably painful and illuminating. The true story follows the journey of Solomon Northrop (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was born a free man in New York, but is kidnapped and sold back into slavery as a grown man. The brutal rendering of his desperate struggle to return to his family is not only career-defining for Ejiofor, but history-defining for its depiction of slavery in Hollywood to date. Other applause-worthy performances in the film include Michael Fassbender as Northrops’ demented owner, and Lupita Nyong’o, whose breakout performance as a beautiful young slave girl at the mercy of her master will certainly garner her much attention.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
The gripping journey of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski’s (played by George Clooney) last flight before retirement with medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) on her first mission to space captivates from beginning to end. When catastrophe strikes and their shuttle gets destroyed, Stone must defy all odds to return home, while floating untethered in the void of outer space. Bullock’s solitary performance is a career landmark, as she grapples with the realities of her circumstance, and the limits of human control in the face of nature’s apathy to us.
Directed by Dennis Villeneuve
Enemy stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell—a college history professor who feels as if his life has gotten stuck in a rut of monotony. When Bell stumbles across his döppleganger in a movie, he becomes determined to find his double. After meeting, the men’s lives intertwine in sinister ways as the two become more and more obsessed with each other. Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve has created a truly provocative psychological thriller that will keep its audience white-knuckling until it’s terrifying conclusion.
The F Word
Directed by Michael Dowse
Everyone around medical dropout Wallace, as played by Daniel Radcliffe, seems to be finding the love of their life. When he decides to put romance on the back burner, he of course meets Chantry (Mackenzie Davis), who lives with her longtime boyfriend Ben. The pair form an instant connection and quickly foster a close friendship. Making use of much witty repartee and quirky observations in the Garden State tradition, Canadian director Michael Dowse’s charming romantic comedy follows the relationship between Wallace and Chantry, making them (and all of us) wonder, what if the love of your life happens to be your best friend?
Directed by Louise Archambault
This heartwarming and emotionally wrenching drama stars Gabrielle Marion-Rivard as Gabrielle—a young, musically gifted woman living with Williams syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder. While preparing for an upcoming performance in her choir for developmentally disabled adults, Gabrielle begins a romance with her choir mate, Martin (played by Alexandre Landry). Their unlikely love story is propelled by Gabrielle’s exuberance and determination at claiming some snippet of normalcy in their lives, despite the prejudices she and Martin face in the hopes of experiencing love. Directed by Louise Archambault, this film is Canada’s official Best Foreign Film nomination for the 2014 Academy Awards.