TIFF Files: Wrapping Things Up
Highlights from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival
With more than 300 films screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, where I spent 8 days and saw about 25 movies, it's foolish to make any generalities about the festival's offerings. Such abundance is a large part of what makes TIFF so wonderful, however. What I present below are a few random notes in no particular pecking order.
Comedians Make Waves
Top Five: Chris Rock wrote, stars in, and directed this acquisition title that fetched the largest purse at the festival: reportedly $12.5 million. It's the best film work Rock has done, playing a character not too unlike himself, and features a fine performance by Rosario Dawson. The only sticking point is that the plot hinges on a couple of details that will require a conscious suspension of disbelief for any viewer aware of how The New York Times operates.
Rosewater: Jon Stewart makes his debut as a filmmaker in this film adaptation he wrote and directed, based on the book by Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned by the Taliban in Iran due, in large measure, to a satirical skit he appeared in with The Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones. Stewart ably leavens the story's dark center with lighter touches and is greatly aided by a terrific performance by Gael García Bernal.
While We're Young: Ben Stiller stars in Noah Baumbach's latest, along with Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, and Amanda Seyfried. As one half of a couple approaching middle age, Stiller delivers his best work in a while, while Watts also reveals a humorous side that she's heretofore kept hidden.
Actors Strut Their Stuff
St. Vincent: The great Bill Murray stars as the curmudgeon who lives next door to a newly divorced mom (Melissa McCarthy) and her son (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher). Everyone is delightful to watch in this dramedy that sometimes pushes a few too many buttons, but it's nice to see McCarthy doing something other than her now-standard crass routine, and Naomi Watts shows up again as a nearly unrecognizable Russian prostitute.
Love & Mercy: Paul Dano is transcendant as the younger Brian Wilson in this film about the Beach Boys' musical genius. John Cusack, playing Wilson as an older man, not so much. Watching Dano as Wilson direct studio musicians through the creation of Pet Sounds and Smile captures a real sense of how the mind's imaginings can be made tangible.
Still Alice: Julianne Moore as a woman forced to reckon with early-onset Alzheimer's is a stunning study – the only film I saw in Toronto that brought a tear to my eye.
Austin in the Great White North
Manglehorn: David Gordon Green's new film stars Al Pacino as a locksmith hung up on a woman from his past. Even though Pacino is working in a less-blustery register than is usual for him, and the always-engaging Holly Hunter co-stars, the film never escapes its minor, one-note key.
Men, Women & Children: Canadian homeboy Jason Reitman filmed this dramedy about modern technology's effect on our emotional lives right here in Austin, although despite a stellar cast, the film never really cuts the muster.
A correction has been made to this story since original publication.