TIFF 2014 Recap: After 19 Films in Toronto - Which Ones Stand Out?

September 12, 2014

Toronto Film Festival - Lightbox

At the end of another festival. Over the last weekend I traveled up to Toronto to attend my 8th year at TIFF, or the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the major festivals every fall. TIFF is now best known for scheduling over 300 films in their line-up, from tiny international discoveries to mainstream premieres, which means there's no way any hardcore critic/blogger/cinephile is missing this fest. There's just too many films to see, from various Sundance and Cannes holdovers that I've been waiting for, to major unveilings like the latest films from directors Jason Reitman and Mia Hansen-Løve. This year I was able to see 19 films as part of TIFF 2014, complimenting everything else from Cannes & Telluride. Which ones stand out?

To be honest, my selection of films does not fully represent everything playing at TIFF 2014. In fact, this is only my list of the 19 out of ~300 that I saw. Other big films that had tons of buzz at TIFF also screened at other festivals I attended previously - films like: The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch, Jon Stewart's directorial debut Rosewater, and Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild with Reese Witherspoon (these three first screened in Telluride). Plus there's Foxcatcher, Mommy and Force Majeure, which first screened in Cannes in May, as well as Whiplash from Sundance. It's impossible to see everything at TIFF, it's very hard to even see most of the films playing, but as a working writer, my goal is always to catch as much as I can in hopes of seeing great films, finding new discoveries, and just enjoying the experience of another fest.

"What have you liked so far?" is one of the most common questions I hear at film festivals. The films that come to mind first & foremost: Mia Hansen-Løve's Eden (hits a little too close to home for many reasons), Jason Reitman's sensual new film Men, Women & Children, Dan Gilroy's dark comedy Nightcrawler with Jake Gyllenhaal riding around the streets of Los Angeles, Isao Takahata's animated film The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and the Icelandic film Life in a Fishbowl. After eight years of covering film festivals I've learned that whatever remains strongest in your mind at the end, whatever they may be, those are the best films. Those are the ones that are worth mentioning because they stand out due to some deeper reason.

The ones that meant the most to me this year were the ones that surprised and delighted me. Eden was very much a reflective look back on my own life, while Nightcrawler was a look at a person that I don't ever want to be. The Tale of Princess Kaguya was much more charming than I expected, and Nightcrawler was much more serious than I expected for a dark comedy. Life in a Fishbowl was a fantastic late festival discovery, I'm so glad I went out of my way to see it. Reitman's new film is splitting critics down the middle, but it really connected with me. I even enjoyed the trippy, existential mind fuck that is A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence from Roy Andersson. It's actually a ton of cinematic fun, like nothing else out there.


As a final recap of all the films I saw at the festival, here are all of my tweets/thoughts posted after each screening for the 19 films I saw. These are embedded below in the chronological order in which I originally saw them throughout the festival in early September. I usually try to tweet a concise version of my thoughts and feelings for each film, as well as a bit of context on the story if possible. All tweets from @firstshowing:

The Equalizer - Directed by Antoine Fuqua - Liked It

The Drop - Directed by Michaël R. Roskam - Just Okay

Eden - Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve - Loved It [My Review]

What We Do in the Shadows - Directed by Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi - Loved It

The Dead Lands - Directed by Toa Fraser - Liked It

Men, Women & Children - Directed by Jason Reitman - Loved It [My Review]

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence - Directed by Roy Andersson - Whoa

The Tale of Princess Kaguya - Directed by Isao Takahata - Loved It [My Review]

Nightcrawler - Directed by Dan Gilroy - Loved It

Song of the Sea - Directed by Tomm Moore - Loved It

Manglehorn - Directed by David Gordon Green - Just Okay

While We're Young - Directed by Noah Baumbach - Liked It

While We're Young

Tusk - Directed by Kevin Smith - Liked It [My Review]

Pawn Sacrifice - Directed by Edward Zwick - Liked It [My Review]

The Theory of Everything - Directed by James Marsh - Liked It [My Review]

The Last 5 Years - Directed by Richard LaGravenese - Liked It

The Forger - Directed by Philip Martin - Liked It [My Review]

Ned Rifle - Directed by Hal Hartley - Hated It

Life in a Fishbowl - Directed by Baldvin Zophoníasson - Loved It [My Review]

The Theory of Everything

Why do I return to festivals? For the love of cinema. The late Roger Ebert said it best: "My legacy, if there is one, has to do with supporting films that people might not have seen: independent films, documentaries, first films by young directors, and foreign films. Because those are the ones people need to hear about."

Out of all the films I saw this year, the only one I hated was Ned Rifle. But then again, I am admittedly not that well-versed in Hal Hartley and it was an "I'll take a chance on this" screening, so I won't say much more than what I've already said (see the tweet). Generally I know what I'm getting into and I'll skip films that I have a good feeling I won't like (for whatever personal reason). This was one that I said beforehand that I knew I probably wouldn't like it, but I went anyway, to give it a shot. It was way worse than I was hoping, but that's just how it goes. You can't win everything. But you can find other great films and I did see many of them over the course of just a few days in Toronto. The life of a festival fanatic. While I wasn't fond of David Gordon Green's Manglehorn, at least it has a wacky Al Pacino performance – that's about it unfortunately.

One film that everyone will be talking about out of TIFF is The Theory of Everything, which I happily saw one afternoon. It's a beautiful and inspiring film, and will get many nominations/awards this season. I had some issues with style and pacing, but still enjoyed the lead performances - from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. I already made the comparison between The Theory of Everything, a biopic about English scientist Stephen Hawking, and The Imitation Game, a biopic about English mathematician Alan Turing, in my review but there's no doubt we'll see these two films battling each other this awards season. Cumberbatch as Turing, and Redmayne as Hawking, both give the best performances of their careers so far.

One of the mottos at TIFF 2014 was "this is your festival." Make the most of it. Go out into the world and take these experiences to heart. Discuss, argue, consider, and think about what you saw (or want to see). I kept thinking about one of my favorite quotes while in screenings this year: "Good films make your life better." They do indeed, and the more of those you see, the better off you'll be. TIFF allows everyone of all ages to experience great films first hand, and to spread the love. I'm always lucky to be a part of the crowd and to participate in the madness; to spread the word about films I love, because they do make your life better. They will make you appreciate life more: the small moments, the big ones and everything inbetween.

Find more posts: Editorial, Feat, Indies, TIFF 14



I am very excited for Jemaine Clement's film. It sounds great. // Thanks for bringing us readers all the coverage this year AB. I appreciate all the hard work you put into this site. Although getting to be an international jet setter to see films can't be all that bad, can it???!

DAVIDPD on Sep 12, 2014


It's not that bad, but the fest can be better. 🙂 Nah I just like seeing films, and TIFF always has plenty of films to offer. Always enjoy just going up there to see the films and be a part of the festival madness.

Alex Billington on Sep 14, 2014


From a lot of what I've read, it sounds like overall it's been a great festival. I was able to catch a grand total of one movie! Haha. I saw Foxcatcher and liked it quite a bit. Cool to see the director and cast show up and share some really neat behind the scenes info. Unfortunately I'm missing the last screening of Nightcrawler due to work, which was the one I was most looking forward to seeing. Been great reading the reviews thus far. Great stuff!

NathanDewey on Sep 12, 2014


Im still here taking in the atmosphere... the one film i wanted to catch was Chris Rock's 'Top 5'. Was hoping u saw it. Would of loved a review.

Duane on Sep 13, 2014


Yea that was one I kept hearing lots of buzz about but couldn't make it! Wish I could've seen it. Top 5 is definitely on my radar now, will catch it as soon as possible. Can't make everything... I have a big list of TIFF films to see that I missed and heard great things about.

Alex Billington on Sep 14, 2014


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