Far from Men – From What Is Before – The Duke of Burgundy – Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait – The Judge – The Tribe – Wild

People's Choice Award Winner and Runners-Up:
The Imitation Game, UK/USA, dir. Morten Tyldum
Learning to Drive, UK/USA, dir. Isabel Coixet
St. Vincent, USA, dir. Theodore Melfi

Films I Screened in Toronto:
Ranked in order of preference
Check out the prep work I did on some of these directors' past films.

My Vote for People's Choice
Silvered Water: Syrian Self Portrait (TIFF Docs; Syria, dirs. Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan) - Artists' anguished epistolary and citizens' hand-made archive of three years of Syrian inferno.

Iraqi Odyssey (TIFF Docs; Iraq/Switzerland, dir. Samir) - History of 20th century Iraq as Homeric family saga. Acute meditation on paradox. Modest but rich new flexing of 3D.

National Gallery (TIFF Docs; USA, dir. Frederick Wiseman) - Less admin than you'd expect; squarer focus on arts and detailed labors of many kinds. Such edits! Exhilarating.

The Tribe (Discovery; Ukraine, dir. Myroslav Slaboshpitskiy) - Sign-language idiom endemic to plot, theme, yet story holds up in any context. Bold, muscular, and politically resonant.

Li'l Quinquin (Contemporary World Cinema; France, dir. Bruno Dumont) - Peter Sellers in pastoral France? Did Dumont take a bet to remake Se7en after a Kaurismäki bender? If so: nailed it!

Goodbye to Language 3D (Masters; France/Switzerland, dir. Jean-Luc Godard) - 3D unbound. Godard swipes your iPhone, converts it to a fully live lunar module, hands it back to you, sneers.

Timbuktu (Masters; Mauritania/France, dir. Abderrahmane Sissako) - Eloquent, somber, and visually gripping. Opens out Sissako's style for wider consumption without yielding a simple film.

From What Is Before (Wavelengths; The Philippines, dir. Lav Diaz) - Less audacious than Norte, but "novelistic" in the best sense. Builds strongly. Ravishing, silvery monochrome.

Eden (Special Presentations; France, dir. Mia Hansen-Løve) - Hello, first love! Adores music, characters without wholly sentimentalizing them. A canny group portrait, intimate yet aloof.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Masters; Sweden, dir. Roy Andersson) - Frontloaded with most brilliant vignettes; tapers off a bit. Such droll humanism.

The Princess of France (Wavelengths; Argentina, dir. Matías Piñeiro) - Yet again, like seeing an intricate cut-paper playhouse pop up between two leaves of a thick scholarly book.

Jauja (Wavelengths; Argentina, dir. Lisandro Alonso) - Engagingly odd. An imperial tale and a critique of one, as surveyor strays from soldiers' band, solipsizing land as he goes.

It Follows (Midnight Madness; USA, dir. David Robert Mitchell) - Seat-gripping horror that swiftly sets out tricky conceit; sustains it well, with welcome humor and mystery. Ace score.

Girlhood (Contemporary World Cinema; France, dir. Céline Sciamma) - Nimble, multifaceted: apt pair with Boyhood or Pariah or 400 Blows. Evokes adolescent confusion without seeming confused.

Amour fou (Contemporary World Cinema; Austria, dir. Jessica Hausner) - Reverses heat-beneath-decorum tropes of period drama. Instead exhumes philosophical coolness in tale of passionate will.

The Valley (Contemporary World Cinema; France/Lebanon, dir. Ghassan Salhab) - Tough, slow sit, but it uses duration, visual tension to evoke dread as normative state in Lebanon. Expert sound design.

Horse Money (Wavelengths; Portugal, dir. Pedro Costa) - Imagine final shots of Tsai's Stray Dogs adapted as full Portuguese feature. Visual experiments almost overwhelm ideas.

Still the Water (Contemporary World Cinema; Japan, dir. Naomi Kawase) - Cannes Competition maybe not ideal place to meet this somewhat conventional but sensitive, moving small-town drama.

Hill of Freedom (Masters; South Korea, dir. Hong Sang-soo) - Hong's latest jewel-cut doodle charms, especially amid heavy festival environment. He repeats himself but so do we.

Wild Tales (Special Presentations; Argentina, dir. Damián Szifron) - A director sat in Argentina reflecting on Pulp Fiction. And on Argentina as charred accident, rigged game, brutal union.

Red Amnesia (Special Presentations; China, dir. Wang Xiaoshuai) - Caché-meets-The Whisperers mystery. She did Something Nasty During the Cultural Revolution. Now, it follows. Unnerving.

Maidan (Wavelengths; Ukraine, dir. Sergei Loznitsa) - Valuable series of static, Wiseman-like panoramas of buildup and conflict—a style with pros and cons for filming revolution.

Bird People (Contemporary World Cinema; France, dir. Pascale Ferran) - Winsome but not frivolous fable about freedoms we envy, imagine, and maybe enjoy. Stiff at times but glides at others.

Red Rose (Contemporary World Cinema; Iran/France, dir. Sepideh Farsi) - Rich, surprisingly sexual drama of Iran's 2009 Green protests explores seductive pulls of both revolution and complacency.

Far from Men (Special Presentations; France, dir. David Oelhoffen) - Short Camus tale becomes well-shot, well-paced, Stagecoachy two-man Algerian Western. Classic style, laudable clarity.

The Duke of Burgundy (Vanguard; UK, dir. Peter Strickland) - As ever, Strickland yields voluptuous sounds and images. But wit and fun again get lost in arbitrary spirals.

Heaven Knows What (Wavelengths; USA, dirs. Josh and Benny Safdie) - Bombastic yet credible insiders' view of addicts' amour fou. Often amateurish, then suddenly assured. The music!

Trick or Treaty? (Masters; Canada, dir. Alanis Obomsawin) - First 60, last 30 minutes awkwardly joined but feed movie's point about changing demographics and protest tactics.

Foxcatcher (Gala Presentations; USA, dir. Bennett Miller) - Solid cast, suffocating direction. Clear, repetitive audience cues. Overblown tragic tenor. Like Nolan doing Quiz Show.

Still Alice (Special Presentations; USA, dirs. Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland) - Moore is good; scenes with Stewart, Baldwin, Kunken all show promise. Pace off. Images say too little, score too much.

Mommy (Special Presentations; Canada, dir. Xavier Dolan) - Local beats and long arcs are earnest but rote. Remaking She's So Lovely with teen boy as Sean Penn is an odd bid for growth.

The Search (Special Presentations; France, dir. Michel Hazanavicius) - I felt defensive on this sincere if unadventurous film's behalf. but Bejo's thread keeps worsening. Just sturdy enough.

Clouds of Sils Maria (Special Presentations; France, dir. Olivier Assayas) - Directed with Assayas' usual lightness but script underscores concepts that feel plenty clear. Disappointing.

Miss Julie (Special Presentations; Norway/Ireland, dir. Liv Ullmann) - Was it perhaps shot in sequence? Garish, unconfident acting and directing through first hour but then it finds its feet.

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Contemporary World Cinema; Israel, dirs. Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz) - Even most intriguing ironies are badly encumbered by stultifying images and repetitive scenario.

Whiplash, Based on the TV Precious' Mom Threw Down the Stairwell (Special Presentations; USA, dir. Damien Chazelle) - Blunt direction pummels home confused story and characterizations.

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