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The Best of Toronto International Film Festival 2011

Written by , on September 22, 2011 at 1:08 pm 

After ten days of watching nearly 70 films and conducting a handful of interviews, the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival has concluded. While we just hit our three-year anniversary, it was actually my fifth year at the festival and it remains one of my favorite experiences of the year. While it is more straight-to-business than something like Sundance, the breadth of films available is stunning.

We covered as much as possible from upcoming major releases to indies that may never get distribution here in the US. I’ve rounded up everything below, starting off with our top favorites. Note that I didn’t include Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Drive since it is now in wide release, but it surely would have made the top 10 and you can read our review here. Click the titles of films to check out our full reviews.

The Best

50/50 (Jonathan Levine)

Drawing from a dark time in his own life, first-time screenwriter Will Reiser translates the good, the bad and the goofy elements of his battle with a rare and deadly form of cancer to the big screen in 50/50The film, which is produced and co-star’s Reiser’s longtime friend Seth Rogen, blends the dark subject matter of death and disease with a defiant and daring sense of humor to create something emotionally fraught yet deeply funny. – Kristy Puchko

Chicken with Plums (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud)

While most feature animations deal with talking animals and anthropomorphized toys, it was joy when we received Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud‘s deeply personal, auto-biographical Persepolis. Brimming with inventiveness, the 2007 black-and-white animation not only provided comedy the medium is accustomed to, but added a layer of social awareness and history I never expected. The grueling process didn’t sway the filmmakers from tackling something in an even larger scope, as they step into live-action with the delightful and emotionally effective Chicken with Plums. – Jordan Raup

The Descendants (Alexander Payne)

Delivering his most emotionally-mature film yet, Alexander Payne examines the importance of family with The Descendants. It is a welcome return for the filmmaker, who is able to present each situation with mellow humanity as he tackles big issues (loss, death, grief, love) in subtlety effective ways. Usually comfortable with his stoic and suave roles, George Clooney opens up like never before as Matt King, a father whose life is spiraling out of control in Hawaii. – Jordan Raup

Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)

A travelogue of sorts, Werner Herzog has created an engaging and mesmerizing film with his death row documentary Into the Abyss. The truth of the film exists within the film: manipulated by a music score and shot selection as all film is, Herzog remains a master, providing us humanity, which is far more complex – and troubling than the facts. – John Fink

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)

In watching Martha Marcy May Marlene, I found myself in such disbelief that is director Sean Durkin’s feature debut; so beautifully shot, so masterfully paced, so intriguingly mysterious. The film moves forwards and backwards in time, using interesting connectors to link the points; her (Elizabeth Olsen) sipping a beverage at a house party may cut to one of her drinking at the farm. As the film progresses, the separation between the two worlds begins to blur. Do the sound of rocks hitting outside her window represent the other communes coming to get her, or are Martha’s delusions getting the best of her. Durkin has proven to be a man of mystery, and keeps you guessing right to the end. – Kristen Coates

Melancholia (Lars von Trier)

It’s through Lars von Trier’s gravitas—his orchestral apocalypse we’re sprinting towards with our acceptance of evil and fear—that we discover our own impending doom. Book-ended with examples of cinema’s overwhelming ability to powerfully take our souls and crush them in visual splendor and deafening tones, Melancholia is a glimpse at humanity’s own lack of desire. It is false hope tempered with the reality of hubris. It is the ulterior motives of those we hold dear and the lack of power to protect each other from death’s cold impartiality. In the end, no one survives. We all become ash in the inferno of flames before us. What we do is meaningless when we’re powerless to prevent our destruction, so all that’s left is manufactured joy to help us slog through the pain. Perhaps we have failed; maybe we could have done better. Hopefully there is still time to change. – Jared Mobarak

Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier)

Memory and nostalgia—these are the things Joachim Trier sought when creating his dark, hopeful and depressing love letter to his hometown. Rather than use that word, however, he made a point in his Q&A at the Toronto International Film Festival to call it the place he was born. Every city in the world is remembered by its citizens and ex-pats. They reminiscence about good times, how they felt, or how they miss it. The opening to Oslo, August 31st is a collection of these tales—memories and recollections associated when hearing the city’s name. A montage of home videos and footage from some of Trier’s favorite Norwegian films set to the words of interviewees fondly looking back, we become set at ease awaiting a sweet story to unfold. But Trier and Eskil Vogt’s script, based on the novel Le feu follet by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, has a different idea as a parallel path towards melancholy unfolds.  – Jared Mobarak

Shame (Steven McQueen)

Three years after their first collaboration—and the director’s debut film—Steve McQueen and star Michael Fassbender return with the viscerally intense Shame. To call a movie assured to receive an NC-17 rating more mainstream than their previous Hunger is insane, but it’s true. Whereas that film took a more formal approach to the medium, leaving us in a visually stunning world without introducing the lead character until about a third of the way in, Shame definitely has more of a narrative voice. With that said, however, McQueen’s improved aesthetic style has remained. Utilizing the same masterful strokes of mise en scène, he transports us into Brandon’s (Fassbender) unstable existence. – Jared Mobarak

Whore’s Glory (Michael Glawogger)

Concluding a trilogy that goes places even Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs could never go (not on a basic cable anyway), Michael Glawogger’s Whore’s Glory is lucid, exotic and heartbreaking, tracking the world’s oldest profession in three segments from Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico. The film is fascinating yet problematic: instead of hiring actors as some filmmakers choose to do, Glawogger hires the folks he has been documenting to participate in recreations of their lives. – John Fink

Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold)

After Cary Fukunaga‘s Jane Eyre earlier this year, Andrea Arnold’s take on Wuthering Heights has set another benchmark for adapting classic literature. The Fish Tank director paints this world with a deft touch, crafting tightly focused close-ups to convey emotion rather than words. Establishing shots only open wide a handful of times, instead opting for a beetle crawling through the grass or a spiderweb oscillating in the cold wind. These little touches build the world more than any sort of exposition could dream to do. – Jordan Raup

The Rest

The Honorable Mentions: A Letter to Momo, The Artist, The Deep Blue Sea, Friends with Kids, The Ides of March, Lipstikka, Pariah, Take Shelter, The Skin I Live In, Sleepless Night, Wetlands, Your Sister’s Sister

The Good: 11 Flowers, Coriolanus, A Dangerous Method, Death of a Superhero, From Up on Poppy HillGod Bless America, The Hunter, Kill List, Lena, Le Havre, A Monster in Paris, Moneyball, Romeo Eleven, Random, Role Model, Sarah Palin – You Betcha!, Smuggler, Think of Me, Trishna, You’re Next

The So-So: Alois NebelAlps, The Cat Vanishes, The Education of Auma Obama, EllesExtraterrestrial, The Flying Machine, Goon, Habibi, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Last Winter, The Odds, Page Eight, Pina, Rampart, Violet & Daisy

The Bad: Albert Nobbs, Hick, Killer Joe, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, Restless, Trespass, Twixt, Union Square

Interviews

Director and Producers Talk Martha Marcy May Marlene

Director Nicolas Winding Refn on Drive

Albert Brooks Discusses Drive

Christina Hendricks Talks Drive and Mad Men

Willem Dafoe and Director Daniel Nettheim on The Hunter

Click the link below for our complete coverage and we’ll see you next year!


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