Anyone who knows me knows that I love movies. A LOT. Although a previous post “Like Mother, Like Daughter” highlighted a few similarities, my weekly sojourn to the cinema did NOT come from my mom. Her idea of a good film doesn’t extend much beyond Disney or Pixar (and even then, many do not meet her standards of no violence, limited kissing and nothing too loud).

With such divergent views on movies, it wasn’t even a vague notion to include mom when my friend, Beth Harrison, mentioned going to the 2013 Toronto Film Festival (September 5 – 15). Although there are literally hundreds of film festivals around the world, since the early ’90′s, Toronto has become an equally important festival to Cannes, running over 300 screenings (yea, it’s a moviegoers nirvana!). Through my research, I discovered that Toronto has become one of the few unmissable film festivals in world. How could I resist?

TIFFSave for two or three selections, we shied away from big Hollywood movies (we saw 15 in 6 days) and instead focused on smaller films that may or may not make it to the big screen, even in NYC.  Here are my top 6 picks that I recommend unequivocally:

Ranking

Rating Title Synopsis Comments

1

Val: A+    Beth: A+ Railway Man; Colin Firth & Nicole Kidman Oscar worthy perf by Firth as a man coming to terms with his demons after brutal torture during WWII. Based on a true story, this is Big Hollywood at its finest .

2

Val: A    Beth: A+ Omar (subtitled); debut of Adam Bakri in title role Childhood friends are separated by more than the wall cutting thru the West Bank. Palestinian movie based on a true story.  Hard to tell the good guys from the bad in this affecting story that highlights “no good comes from doing bad things.” 

3

Val: A    Beth: n/a Gloria (subtitled); In title role, it’s easy to see why Paulina Garcia won Silver Bear Award at Berlin Festival for her perf. Savvy and vivacious, Gloria is navigating love in her late 50’s while never compromising who she is and what she wants out of life and friends. Vibrant soundtrack drives this Chilean film.  As great as it is to find someone to dance with, there is nothing quite as liberating as learning to dance on one’s own.

4

Val: A-    Beth: A- Half of a Yellow Sun; Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newman, Anika Noni Rose Adapted from book of the same name, 2 sisters’ navigating life and love following Nigeria’s independence from England, then a brutal war when a southern republic in Nigeria attempts to succeed (short-lived Biafra) Sweeping tale following a turbulent time in Nigeria’s history.  Particularly fascinating is that it’s still happening in countries around the world: some dude decides he wants power and then all hell breaks loose.  Sad but true.

5

Val: A-    Beth: B Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her;John McAvoy & Jessica Chastain with strong supporting cast: Ciaran Hinds, Viola Davis, William Hurt Interesting take on same (sad) story of the demise of a marriage, told twice thru “him” and “her” perspectives. Felt like it was the 1st time I had seen this technique which made it interesting. At 3+ hours, thus film needs some serious editing before it will be picked up for the big screen.  Tightening up scenes will only help this already good movie get even better.

6

Val: A-    Beth: A Burt’s Buzz; documentary on Burt Shavitz of Burt’s Bees fame Much more to Burt and the story behind the billion-dollar company that bears his likeness including the contentious relationship with co-founder (to whom he signed over his shares years ago for little to no $) I’m not a huge documentary sort, but Burt and his story was pretty fascinating.  Key take-away: do NOT sign documents without getting your own lawyer! 

2nd tier recommendations (B rating from Val):

Blood Ties – French Director Canet channels Scorsese in this movie about two brothers (one a cop, the other a criminal) in the mean streets of NY in the mid-seventies.
Young and Beautiful (France) – Unaffected 17-year-old becomes a prostitute.
American Dreams in China (China) – Likened to The Social Network, this film shows how business success can trample on the friendships between three men.
Art of the Steal (US) – More of a Netflix rental, I did laugh out loud in several places (and I just cannot resist Kurt Russell).

Films we saw that we would NOT recommend:

Devil’s Knot – An overblown Lifetime dramatization of West Memphis, Arkansas killing of three young boys.
Third Person – What’s real and what’s imagined in this movie is anyone’s guess – the real challenge is will you care?
Break Loose (Russia) – Loud, obnoxious view from the trenches of the chaos that was Russia at the time of the power exchange between Russian President Yeltsin and Putin on December 31, 1999.
Stranger by the Lake (France) – Porn disguised as an “art house” movie.

Recommended smaller films (that we didn’t get in to see) but garnered significant buzz:

Blue is the Warmest Color
Like Father, Like Son
Only Lovers Left Alive
Dom Hemmingway

Recommended “bigger” budget films (that we didn’t get to see) but received rave reviews and are considered early Oscar contenders:

Enough Said
Fifth Estate
12 Years a Slave
Gravity
Prisoners
August: Osage County
Dallas Buyers Club
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Labor Day
Rush
So many more films that could/should be listed, but alas, I must cut it off at some point. If you’re a movie buff like me, I would highly recommend this Festival! After 6 days, I was peaked out on movies and popcorn. Well, at least for 48 hours anyway (off to see The Butler this evening)!