From an early age, I’ve loved movies. Growing up, it was the go-to entertainment for the Grubb family – including Christmas! My birthday is on December 25th and it was our tradition to go to a movie (my choice!) and then out for Chinese. It was awesome and I still see at least one movie on Christmas to this day (preferably I’ll hit two or three).

With such a movie obsession, it’s probably not surprising that attending a film festival has always been on my bucket list. I’m pleased to say I just returned from my 2nd Toronto International Film Festival! We saw 15 movies in 4 ½ days, focusing on smaller films vs. the big blockbusters (why see a Big Movie that I can see in NY later this fall?). Last year I offered up 6 recommendations. Read on for my top 6 recommended movies from the 2014 Toronto Film Festival:

Ranking

Rating Title Synopsis Comments

1

Val: A+    Beth: A+ Whiplash with J.K. Simmons (from Law & Order and Oz fame) – this movie won two top honors at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (Grand Jury and Audience Awards) Simmons is a famed brutal jazz conservatory instructor and the story centers around what one young man will do to gain 1st chair on drums. The physicality of this movie is brutal (as is the language – it’s rough) and Miles Teller’s performance on drums is astonishing. It’s a great movie of triumph and it would not surprise me it’s nominated for Oscars. RUN to see this movie.

2

Val: A    Beth: B+ Learning to Drive with Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley After 20+ years of marriage, Clarkson’s husband bails. As a born and bred NYer, she’s never learned to drive and is hell-bent on becoming self-sufficient. Enter Ben Kingsley’s driving instructor. I will definitely take Mom to see this movie. It’s just a lovely feel good darn funny movie! I laughed out loud most of the movie and thoroughly enjoyed the ride (forgive the pun). 

3

Val: A    Beth: A-
The Great Man (subtitled) – France When the film opens, we’re following two scouts from the French Foreign Legion in Afghanistan. Following a dishonorable discharge, one of the soldiers is reunited with his son who he hasn’t seen in 5 years. This movie kept me guessing on where the storyline would go next. It was interesting watching them navigate life after war. By the end of the movie, you’ll wander which of the soldiers is “The Great Man” (as they both seem to qualify).

4

Val: A-    Beth: B+
Cake with Jennifer Aniston Aniston is amazing as a depressed, pill-popping nasty bitch who becomes obsessed with the suicide of one of the women in her chronic-pain support group. If this sounds hard to watch, you’re right. And yes, we’ve seen this movie done before, but I felt this is Aniston’s best role ever and the movie offered a fresh spin (Anna Kendrick is fantastic in this movie).

5

Val: B+
Beth: fell asleep (late movie and we had cocktails earlier!)
The Vanishing Elephant (subtitled) –Peru (who knew they were making movies in Peru?!?) Crime novelist Edo Celeste is writing the final novel in his popular Felipe Aranda detective series when he receives a clue about the disappearance of his fiancé seven years earlier. Bring your A game when going to see this film noir as the lines blur between fiction and real-life. I never saw the ending coming (which doesn’t happen very often).

6

Val: B+
Beth: B+
Girlhood (subtitled) –France Amazing performance by Karidja Toure’ as a 16-yr old who falls in with three girlfriends after low grades prevent her from continuing her studies. It’s set against the housing projects outside of Paris. This film really drove home the lack of options when you don’t have an education and how what is available all kinda suck. You were really rooting for these young women though and that is what makes it so compelling.

 

2nd tier recommendations from the 2014 Toronto Film Festival:

  1. Meet Me in Montenegro (Val and Beth – B+): Quirky film about LA-based writer-filmmaker Anderson whose career has stalled while his obsession with Lina, a Norwegian dancer with whom he had a brief torrid affair in Montenegro, continues to smolder. For distraction, Anderson heads to Berlin to stay with friends and runs into Lina. The film is based on the true-story romance between the co-stars who also jointly direct the film. Must be why it feels so authentic!
  2. Adult Beginners (Val and Beth – B): Nick Kroll’s unlikeable yuppie character moves back to his childhood home after his product launch goes awry and loses $2+ million from investors. His pregnant sister now lives in the home with her husband (Bobby Cannavale) and their 3-year old son. It’s a funny romp with the brother and sister as they finally grow up.
  3. Infiltrant (Only Val saw this movie from the Netherlands – B): Sam, a police officer in Amsterdam, has seen first-hand the racist attitudes of the Dutch toward Moroccans as he himself is bi-racial (his mother is Dutch, his father Moroccan). After a domestic violence call goes awry, Sam is ordered to go undercover in a Moroccan drug family where he finds a sense of family and honor he’s never encountered before. The lead actor is fantastic.
  4. Foxcatcher (Val – B, Beth – B+): There was a lot to like about this movie as the story is really interesting (billionaire John du Pont’s obsession with two wrestlers in the ‘80’s) and the acting is superb (Steve Carrell is mesmerizing as du Pont and Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are excellent as brothers who both scored Gold in the 1984 Olympic). My only criticism was it felt about 30 minutes too long. Bennett Miller (the director) needed to trim the long camera shots and tighten things up.

RUN from these movies:

  1. Bird People (France – both Beth and Val gave it a D): – The maid turns in to a bird and Josh Charles (from The Good Wife fame) is woefully miscast in this tragedy. He should have stayed in The Good Wife.
  2. Hyena (UK – only Val saw this and I gave it a D): Compelling story to begin with as a dirty London cop gets himself wedged in between the Turkish and Albanian drug czars. Hardcore gore (Albanians clearly prefer cutting people up) and the director decided to not finish the film – the movie ends as the cop is preparing to go into an ambush to save his girlfriend and another woman.
  3. Manglehorn (Val – C, Beth – B): As you see, Beth and I were definitely at odds on this film. I found the story so lacking, it could not make up for Pacino’s performance (which was good). I don’t mind irredeemable characters (see Jennifer Aniston in Cake), but I do need something interesting to happen in their lives to keep me involved/interested. Alas, that never surfaced for me (although for Beth it did).
  4. While We’re Young (only Val saw this movie and I gave it a C): I loved Adam Driver in this movie, but the root of unhappiness for the forty-somethings (played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) just did not up for me. “No children” to director Noah Baumbach clearly equals an awful life (and barely worth living).

Not sure about:

  1. Good Kill (Val – B, Beth – B): I’m really tossed on whether to recommend this movie or not (even with a B rating). I thought the movie was a great depiction of the boredom experienced by a former fighter pilot Major Egan (Ethan Hawke) reduced to guiding drone strikes in Afghanistan from a shed-like structure on an Army base outside of Las Vegas. Based on a true story, Egan calls his work “cowardly” and he develops quite the taste for vodka straight from the bottle. It did feel really slow at times and Beth felt the film was missing an overall story-arch. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either.

Ahhh, so many movies, so little time…..it was sad to get back to reality upon returning to NY. Beth and I are already plotting out next year and we’re considering going for the full 10 days next year! Woo hoo!

Let me if you see any of these films if/when they come to your area! Would love to hear your rating as well!