Tag Archives: Lists

Top 10 Movies of 2016 (so far)

We’re now certainly past the halfway mark of 2016, but I wanted to take a moment to recognize some of the best movies I’ve seen from the first six months of the year. I know things are looking pretty bleak in terms of blockbuster fare right now, but if you’re looking in the right places, there’s been a lot of really good stuff this year. Here’s a look at my 10 favourites, so far.

Regrets on ones I’ve missed: Sunset Song, The Neon Demon, The Invitation, Hail Caesar

Love and Friendship

10. Love & Friendship

After watching Whit Stilman’s hyper-acerbic Damsels in Distress from a few years back, he never would have been the name I’d attach to a Jane Austen adaptation. But, as Love & Friendship shows, he actually might be the perfect person to take on the charm and subtle sass of Austen’s work. Whitman has a field day here loosely adapting one of the author’s early novellas, casting muse Kate Beckinsale as a self-serving widow who strikes up a friendship with a younger man (Xavier Samuel). The film is modern without feeling distractingly out-of-time and it manages to be both charming and scathing in nearly equal measure. Tom Bennett is particularly funny as the would-be paramour of Beckinsale’s daughter, but the whole cast here seems to embrace Stillman’s sly, cynical wit. Whether you love Austen or are decidedly anti-costume drama, there’s probably something for you in this unlikely crowd-pleaser.

Born to Be Blue

9. Born to Be Blue

Skittering just on the line of typical biopic fare, Born to Be Blue avoids succumbing to the worn-out tropes of similarly-themed films like Walk the Line and Ray. The film follows Chet Baker as he’s washed-up and looking for a come-back, and it succeeds partially because it focuses on such a specific time in the musician’s life. Writer-director Robert Budreau has a clear, melancholy handle on the material, and he does an excellent job of painting Baker as a fully-formed person, and not just a clichéd “troubled musical genius”. On top of that, Ethan Hawke’s performance as Baker is magenetic, and the film’s experimental, partially-fictionalized flourishes make it well worth watching. And that gut-punch of an ending? Most biopics would never have the nerve to end on such a dour, intimately authentic note.

Wiener-Dog

8. Wiener-Dog

Todd Solondz’ distinctive brand of miserabilist comedy won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and in fact, I didn’t think it would be mine until I made my first foray into his work with Wiener-Dog. Told in four distinct parts, the film follows its titular wiener dog through various stages of life and as she gets passed around to different owners. It’s a bizarre, dark, and frequently funny film, but I was surprised by the amount of heart it had, as well. Solondz’ insights on humanity obviously lean towards the cynical, but the empathy he shows his characters is what prevents the film from veering into the mean-spirited. This is especially apparent in the portion with Greta Gerwig and a never-better Kieran Culkin, which, as well as serving as a quasi-sequel to Solondz’ own Welcome to the Dollhouse, shows the depth of the director’s emotional insight.

Eye in the Sky

7. Eye in the Sky

Precise and even-keeled, one could almost accuse Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky of being boring. But his multi-layered look at drone warfare is an example of such tight storytelling that Hood somehow makes a film largely about military conference calls into an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Eye in the Sky takes place over the course of one day, showing how one seemingly small decision affects a huge swath of people – partly because it’s a decision that no one actually wants to take the responsibility to make. Is the film’s message subtle? No, not exactly. But with such taut storytelling conveyed by the likes of Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Barkhad Abdi, and Aaron Paul, the results are thrilling, often unexpected, and surprisingly affecting.

A Bigger Splash

6. A Bigger Splash

Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash feels like it could be a stage play. It’s extremely character-driven and anchored by four very strong central performers (Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Dakota Johnson), exploring heady themes and doing so without a lot of visual pyrotechnics. But then again, if you were watching this story on a stage, you wouldn’t get the backdrop of the gorgeous Italian countryside. And you certainly wouldn’t get flair and whimsy of Guadagnino’s camerawork, which really brings the film to life. This is a film that is moving not because of its relatively well-worn story about disaffected rich people who can’t get their personal relationships in order, but because of the way that story is told. And what a journey it is.

10 Cloverfield Lane

5. 10 Cloverfield Lane

Most people seem to agree that it’s been a real dismal year for blockbusters so far. But while 10 Cloverfield Lane’s relatively scant $15 million budget doesn’t exactly make it a blockbuster, it’s easily one of the best things that’s passed through the multiplexes this year. There are lots of fantastic things about this movie, not least of which is the fact that what is essentially an indie-minded cinematic chamber piece made over $100 million at the box office. 10 Cloverfield Lane is thoughtfully written, compelling, tense, and wonderfully acted. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much all I want when I go see a blockbuster, and it seems like audiences and critics were also fully on board. Perhaps Hollywood should take note.

Dheepan

4. Dheepan

After pulling off a surprise Palme d’Or win at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Jacques Audiard’s latest, Dheepan, opened to surprisingly little fanfare stateside back in the spring. (To date, its total U.S. gross is a paltry $240,000.) This is a real shame, because I actually found Dheepan to be far more accessible than I was expecting. Granted, I realize that a French film about Sri Lanken immigrants (yes, there are subtitles) is going to be a tough sell to North American audiences. It was never going to be a big hit. But Audiard takes such a soulful and deeply engrossing look at the life of the titular Dheepan and his makeshift family as they start a new life together that I was completely sucked in from the start.

The Wait

3. The Wait

Juliette Binoche is always fabulous, and her performance in her latest European arthouse offering is no exception. The Wait marks the directorial debut of Piero Messina, who was perhaps previously best known for serving as assistant director on Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. Messina proves to be a more than capable director in his own right here, making the most of his two lead actresses (up-and-comer Lou de Laage holds her own opposite Binoche, helping to turn the film into an enchanting two-hander), as well as the gorgeous setting that imbues the quiet film with a sort of haunting quality. I saw the film at TIFF last year, but it received such a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical release back in April that I won’t begrudge anyone who missed it entirely. But it’s certainly worth seeking out.

Green Room

2. Green Room

Okay, I’ll admit that my movie taste definitely trends on the side of indie. Some might call it character-driven. Some might call it boring. But even though Green Room is in some ways very much an indie film, it also in other ways very much IS NOT. This is a film that’s gritty and gruesome, taking a certain type of pride in the destructive path it leaves behind. It’s actually pretty difficult to classify, not quite falling under the “horror” title, but certainly influenced by many a cult film that has come before. Despite getting a fairly wide release, it never found much of an audience, which is a shame, as I really do feel like it would appeal to a surprisingly large variety of viewers. Rare is the film that manages to be both thoughtful and filled to the brim with thrills, but Green Room artfully and entertainingly strikes that balance.

Louder Than Bombs

1. Louder Than Bombs

At the risk of seeming too predictable – yes, here is another cerebral Jesse Eisenberg film at the top of my best-movies-of the-year list (see also: The End of the Tour in 2015, Night Moves in 2014, and The Social Network in 2010). And obviously, some of that does have to do with Eisenberg himself, who I like a lot as an actor (and he does turn in one of his most nuanced performances yet in Louder Than Bombs). But more than anything, I think he just happens to pick a lot of the types of movies that I’m drawn to. And Louder Than Bombs had a lot going for it for me from the start, being the English-language debut of Norwegian director Joachim Trier, whose 2008 debut, Reprise, I absolutely adore. He does it again here, telling an emotionally intricate tale of a family frayed at the edges. Gabriel Byrne is excellent as the family’s conflicted patriarch, as is newcomer Devin Druid, playing the petulant teenage son. Despite overall getting strong reviews, few seemed to love this movie as much as I did, but Louder Than Bombs has haunted me since I saw it at TIFF last September.

 

Best Movies of 2015

It’s January 2, but top ten lists are still cool, right? Here are my favourite films of 2015.

The Keeping Room

10. The Keeping Room

I was surprised how much The Keeping Room stuck with me after seeing it at TIFF 2014, since it is in some ways not much beyond a standard home invasion thriller. But something about the setting, the actresses, and the tone left this one lodged in my brain all year. Director Daniel Barber creates a tense thriller that also manages to be a slow-burner, which is always a combination that I admire. Meanwhile, screenwriter Julia Hart crafts a script more nuanced and revealing than the film’s plot-driven story should allow. Combine all of that with the film’s absolutely gorgeous use of lighting and you’ve got an atmospheric and unforgettable cinematic experience.

LA

9. Little Accidents

I watched Little Accidents relatively early in the year and really enjoyed it. I was surprised to find how much it stuck with me as the year progressed, from Boyd Holbrook’s breathtaking performance to director Sara Colangelo’s delicate handling of material that could have become very melodramatic. I really don’t understand the largely negative reviews.

Peace Officer

8. Peace Officer

I saw documentaries about Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin this year (both of which were excellent), yet the most captivating and charismatic non-fiction subject of 2015 for me was easily Peace Officer’s William “Dub” Lawrence. (Dub is pictured above in his younger days.) The hook of Peace Officer is that Dub is a former sheriff who instituted Utah’s first SWAT team… and then 30 years later watched that SWAT unit kill his own son-in-law. However, the film spends relatively little time on that incident, then branching out to explore the drastic increase of police militarization in the United States. It’s a captivating and extremely timely exploration, and also extremely strong as far as documentary filmmaking goes. I personally left the theatre shaken, and I can only hope that more people will check out this vital film.

Sils Maria

7. Clouds of Sils Maria

What a wonderfully beguiling film from the great Olivier Assayas. I’m not sure there’s another working director this good at exploring the process of aging and what it can do to a people at any stage in life. Clouds of Sils Maria covers that territory more obliquely than Summer Hours or Something in the Air, but it’s no less captivating. It may be his best film yet.

Eden 2015

6. Eden

One thing that struck me about Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden, having seen it over a year ago at TIFF 2014, is how difficult it is to represent out of context. None of the publicity stills from the film do it justice (luckily I found the website of the film’s still photographer, Carole Bethuel, for some lovely images that do capture the tone of the film), and the trailer seemed to be hinting at some sort of Greta Gerwig-driven romance film that just doesn’t exist. And indeed, listening to the synopsis about a drug-fuelled DJ from the ‘90s, nothing about Eden sounds spectacular. But with her third film, Hansen-Love crafts something that feels both sweepingly epic in its timeframe and achingly intimate in its scope. This is not a movie about the ‘90s house scene, but rather a love letter to the music from one (fictional) player within in the movement.

Far From the Madding Crowd 2015

5. Far from the Madding Crowd

Can all period pieces be directed by Thomas Vinterberg? At face value, Far From the Madding Crowd seems like it fits the costume drama formula, but Vinterberg offers his own subtle flavour. I loved everything about the film’s visual style, and it’s so much less stuffy than this adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel could have been. Romantic, dramatic, and smart.

Tom at the Farm

4. Tom at the Farm

This Xavier Dolan film has been kicking around for a while, but finally got a U.S. theatrical release after the success of his last film, Mommy. It’s funny that this is the one Dolan entry that struggled to find distribution, as it’s arguably his most accessible film yet. It’s my personal favourite of all his work, combining his visual flair with a Hitchcockian slow-burn thriller. The atmosphere makes it an edge of your seat psychological thriller, despite the fact that not all that much is happening. Whether you’re a Dolan fan or decidedly not a Dolan fan, don’t let this one slip by.

Mustang 2015

3. Mustang

I’ve already written about Mustang at length, but Deniz Gamze Erguven’s debut feature is one of the year’s absolute best. It also makes an interesting companion piece with Crystal Mozelle’s documentary, The Wolfpack, also from this year, as both films explore groups of siblings coming of age in an oppressive household. Both movies are worth checking out, but despite being fictional, Mustang is the one with true, haunting emotional resonance, as well as a sly sense of humour.

99 Homes

2. 99 Homes

It seems that a running theme of this list is “unlikely thrill ride”, and 99 Homes follows that trend. From the intense eviction sequence early on straight through to the end of the film, director Ramin Bahrani crafts so much genuine tension from what is essentially a human interest story. The way he sets up the cat-and-mouse dynamic is so taught that I felt like I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. With Michael Shannon deservedly scooping up some Oscar buzz for his performance, hopefully 99 Homes will gain the audience it deserves.

The End of the Tour

1. The End of the Tour

This film is in no way a “thrill ride” in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, it is virtually plotless and mostly is about two neurotic men having a few conversations with each other. However, I didn’t have a more captivating and ultimately moving film-watching experience in 2015 than I did with The End of the Tour. I could write a few thousand words on why I liked this movie so much, but for the sake of keeping things relatively brief, I’ll just say that everything – from Jason Segal’s revelatory to performance as David Foster Wallace to the film’s little gut-punch of a coda – is perfect in my eyes.

Most Anticipated Films of 2014

Out with 2013, and in with 2014 (finally). There are so many great-looking movies coming out this year that I had trouble narrowing down my list (hence why you’re getting a top 15 instead of a top 10), but here are the ones I’m most excited about.

(Note: I’ve already seen Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves and David Gordon Green’s Joe, or else they would definitely be on the list.)

15. The Skeleton Twins

It feels like I’ve been hearing about this Kristen Wiig/Bill Hader family drama for a long time now, but it’ll finally make its debut this year at Sundance. I think director Craig Johnson‘s previous film, True Adolescents (starring Mark Duplass, who executive produces here with brother Jay), was an overlooked little gem, so I’m excited to see what he’ll bring with this sophomore feature.

14. 99 Homes

I thought director Ramin Bahrani‘s last venture into Hollywood territory, At Any Price, was a bit of a disaster. However, I still have hope for this family drama, which stars Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, and Laura Dern. After all of this Spider-Man fanfare, it’ll be nice to see Garfield get back to low-key dramas. (Unless this turns out like At Any Price. Then it won’t be nice.)

13. Mojave

William Monahan has written films like Kingdom of Heaven and The Departed and now he steps behind the camera for the second time with this trippy-sounding thriller about a man who meets his dangerous doppelganger in the desert. It also stars two of the most interesting young actors working (and Inside Llewyn Davis co-stars), Garrett Hedlund and Oscar Isaac, which is reason enough to pique my interest.

12. Posh

Lone Scherfig‘s An Education was a delectable study of, among other things, class divisions and the education system in England. Now, it looks like she’s back at that familiar territory with Posh, a tale of students at Oxford University who join the school’s legendary Riot Club. It also happens to star all of your favourite young, classy Brits, including Sam Claflin, Natalie Dormer, and Max Irons.


11. A Most Wanted Man

One of my favourite movies of the past decade was the moody Joy Division biopic, Control. Now director Anton Corbijn is back with this moody thriller that stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Bruhl, Robin Wright, and Willem Dafoe. It’s based on a John le Carre novel, who also penned Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, so get ready to pay attention.

10. Unbroken

Angelina Jolie makes her directorial follow-up to In the Land of Blood and Honey with this intense-sounding drama about an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces at the height of WWII. With the Coen Brothers contributing to the script and Roger Deakins as cinematographer, it’s got a nice pedigree. However, Deakins’ camerawork won’t be the only nice thing to look at on screen, as the up-and-coming young cast includes Garrett Hedlund, Jack O’Connell, Jai Courtney, Domhnall Gleeson, Alex Russell, Luke Treadaway, John Magaro, and Finn Wittrock.

9. Sils Maria

Olivier Assayas is a director that I really respect, and my admiration only grew with last year’s Something in the Air. Now, he returns with this mysterious project that stars Chloe Moretz, Kristen
Stewart, Juliette Binoche, Brady Corbet, and British folk singer Johnny Flynn. The plot is still undisclosed and I’m not even much of a fan of Moretz, but I’m certainly interested to see how Assayas will handle his first film with such a high level of star calibre.

8. Transcendence

Wally Pfister has made a name for himself as the DP on all of Christopher Nolan’s recent films, and now he’s stepping in as director for the first time for this Inception-like movie about artificial intelligence. With a top-notch cast that includes Rebecca Hall, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, and Morgan Freeman, it looks like a moody and intelligent thriller. I’m excited to see Pfister’s directorial chops, and this will also provide the first opportunity to see Depp in a “serious” role in what feels like a very long time.

7. Suite Francaise

Based on the acclaimed WWII-era novel, this drama by Saul Dibb (The Duchess) stars Michelle Williams, Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone), Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street), Sam Riley (On the Road), Ruth Wilson (Luther), and Kristen Scott Thomas. I tend to trust Williams’ role choices, and I’m intrigued by this one.

6. Godzilla

I’m surprised this is on here, too. But the trailer really impressed me, making it look as though the film will take a more serious, somewhat character-driven taken on the “monster movie” trope. Director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) and stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, and David Strathairn also give me hope.

5. Brooklyn

Based on the Colm Toibin novel and with a screenplay by Nick Hornby, Brooklyn tells the tale of a young Irish immigrant who comes to New York in the 1950s. It stars Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, and Domhnall Gleeson, and if that’s not a likeable cast, I don’t know what is. Also, since seeing Beneath the Harvest Sky (and, to a lesser extent, The Place Beyond the Pines) I sang the praises of Emory Cohen and here he’ll have a chance to show his stuff once again. Also working in Brooklyn‘s favour is that it’s directed by John Crowley, the director of Boy A, a wonderful little underseen gem that helped launch Andrew Garfield.

4. Interstellar

I’ll admit that the teaser trailer didn’t fully capture my interest, but this latest space-themed project from Christopher Nolan still sounds very intriguing. Like Inception, it has a top-notch cast, including Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burstyn, and Michael Caine. Now, it’s possible that all that starpower could cause the whole thing to self-destruct, but Nolan has proven to be one of the few directors who can actually handle a huge, star-studded cast successfully.

3. Midnight Special

As soon as I saw “Jeff Nichols” and “Michael Shannon“, I knew this was going to fall right near the top of my list. The director and actor have teamed up several times before and their last project, Mud, was my second-favourite film of last year. This time, they explore the story of a man who goes on the run when he finds out that his son has special powers. Who knows if Nichols will be able to keep his impressive directorial streak going, but with a film that also stars Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, and Adam Driver, I’d say there’s a good chance he will.

2. Untitled Cameron Crowe Project

Cameron Crowe is one of my favourite directors, so he was guaranteed a spot on the list. However, the cast here is what really put it over the top: Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper, Jay Baruchel, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, and Danny McBride. (Personally, I could take or leave Rachel McAdams and Alec Baldwin.) Not much is known about the film at this point, but apparently it’s a comedy about a military man re-connecting with a former love while also falling for an Air Force watch-dog who has been assigned to cover him.

1. Inherent Vice

In just about any other year, Cameron Crowe’s movie would take the top spot on this list, but when there’s a new Paul Thomas Anderson film on the horizon, you can’t deny it. (Especially so soon after his last project!) The movie is based on the book of the same name by the great Thomas Pynchon and it stars Joaquin Phoenix as a drugged-out 1970s detective. The supporting cast includes Owen Wilson, Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Reece Witherspoon, and Maya Rudolph. If PTA’s past work has been any indication, we’re in for a pretty interesting ride.

This is just a small selection of the great-looking movies on tap for 2014. I’ll give honorable mentions to Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah which looks kind of awful but could turn out to be spectacular, Maleficent for bringing a spat of interesting actors (Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley, Juno Temple, and Angelina Jolie) into a dark Disney world, and Slow West for giving us these magnificent set photos (and for pairing up Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn).

There are tons of other intriguing projects slated for 2014 release, and these are just my personal selections, so feel free to sound off in the comments about which upcoming movie you’re most looking forward to!

Top 10 Movies of 2013

Alright, so there’s still a lot from 2013 that I haven’t yet seen. BUT I’ve also seen some fantastic movies as it is, and I’m getting swept up in the end-of-year lists, so here’s my top 10 movies of the year at this point.

(Just know that Spike Jonze’s Her would probably be on this list, but it doesn’t get released near me until mid-January.)

Honorable Mentions: Blue Jasmine, Star Trek Into Darkness, Before Midnight, Stoker

10. Fruitvale Station

Yes, the movie can be a bit heavy-handed, but overall, it does a great job of showing who Oscar Grant was as a person. We see so many little interactions that seem innocuous on their own but are fascinating to watch and ultimately add up to something much bigger by the film’s heartbreaking end.

9. Nebraska

This is a film that I certainly enjoyed at the time, but it has really grown on me in the weeks since I’ve seen it. It’s funny, touching, and dark all at the same time, boasting great performances and a pleasantly offbeat visual style.

8. Dallas Buyers Club

McConaughey and Leto turn in career-best performances, completely inhabiting the complex characters they are given. But there is more to Jean-Marc Vallee’s film than the sum of its actors. He tells a tender underdog story, refusing to be morose and instead filling every inch of the screen with genuine warmth and an effective visual tone. It’s grim, but it’s also inspiring.

7. Something in the Air

Olivier Assayas’ latest film follows a group of teenagers living in France during the aftermath of the May 1968 protests. While its opening half hour is haunting for the depiction of the violent demonstrations that our protagonists become involved in, the film really falls into its groove after that point, when it shows the fracturing of the group of friends upon graduation. They shift and detach from each other in subtle ways, and Assayas expresses this beautifully, enveloping the film in a warm, hazy sense of nostalgia.

6. Gravity

I’ve seen a lot of people trying to oversell Gravity as a deeper film than it is, but if you accept what is actually given to us, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Sandra Bullock is charming, exasperating, and relatable all at once, turning in an amazingly layered performance considering that she is not given all that much to work with. And indeed, Cuaron has crafted something truly special in the film’s visuals. The scope is something to behold, and Gravity is no doubt a highly impressive and entertaining achievement.

5. 12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is not only an “important” film, but also an impeccably crafted one. It is his most accessible film yet, but it still offers his signature visual grit and no-nonsense take on some very dark subject matter. Every scene in this movie feels vital, and it all adds up to a punishing but ultimately emotionally resonant epic. Led by a completely electric Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave is a film that everyone should make the time to see.

4. Lore

In Germany during the aftermath of WWII, teenage Lore is forced to bring her four younger siblings on a trek across the German countryside after the disappearance of their Nazi parents. Along the way, they meet a young man who challenges the hatred that has been instilled in them, adding another layer of tension to an already very taught film. Lore doesn’t pull its punches, and it feels something like Winter’s Bone crossed with a Michael Haneke film. It’s stark and beautifully aching, boasting revelatory performances from its two young breakout stars, Saskia Rosendahl and Kai Malina.

3. Prisoners

Prisoners is an unrelenting thriller that sits somewhere between arthouse and mainstream. This seemed to make it an unfortunate mismatch for a lot of moviegoers, and despite its star-studded cast, it failed to make much of a dent in the public consciousness. This is a real shame, as Denis Villeneuve has created a visceral, often brutal near-masterpiece here. Partly thanks to Roger Deakins’ impeccably icy cinematography, Villeneuve seems to relish keeping the audience tense and on their toes to an extent that few films manage to achieve. Jake Gyllenhaal turns in the best performance of his career here, and Prisoners is a rare film that plays its suspense perfectly and left me completely satisfied as the credits rolled.

2. Mud

I love Dazed and Confused as much as the next person, but I have seen (and, in many cases, avoided) enough post-2000 Matthew McConaughey rom-coms to sour any goodwill stemming from one movie that came out 20 years ago. Yet here we are in 2013, and somehow McConaughey is one of the most interesting actors we’ve got working. And his first great performance of the year came in Mud, Jeff Nichols’ follow-up to the eerie critical favourite Take Shelter.

Mud is a somewhat nostalgic look at youth in the vein of Stand By Me. Young star Tye Sheridan is completely believable and often heartbreaking as Ellis, a good-hearted kid from poor circumstances. But it’s McConaughey as the enigmatic titular Mud that gives the movie
a unique wildcard. It’s a surprisingly toned-down performance from McConaughey, and his on-screen chemistry with Sheridan is a treat to behold. There’s something so sturdy and sad about their relationship. That combined with Nichol’s languid look at small town America and the loss of youthful innocence makes Mud a quietly beautiful and piercing ride.

1. The Place Beyond the Pines

As I walked out of the TIFF screening of The Place Beyond the Pines in September 2012, I knew I’d seen something special. A genuine achievement in filmmaking at a point in time where a lot of movies seem to blur together. And while I saw many other good and very good films over the course of 2013, none of them could quite touch my early TIFF favourite. (The same thing might just happen for me again in 2014 with Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves.)

I went to see The Place Beyond the Pines again during its theatrical release and loved it just as much the second time around. The plot turns may not have been surprising this time, but knowing what was coming made the movie even more urgent and aching. I’d initially thought that the second third of the film (which revolves around Cooper’s character) was the film’s weakest aspect. But knowing where that storyline leads only amplified the damage of his character and it made me appreciate that storyline and Cooper’s performance far more.

This is a sprawling movie that explores a lot of heady territory when it comes to family, the consequences of our actions, and legacy. I’ve found it’s impossible to do The Place Beyond the Pines justice with a simple plot description, and I think this is a testament to the film’s power. On the surface, the story and themes of this movie aren’t groundbreaking. Yet, the way that it’s constructed and its tone almost turn it into something completely different, and the results are breathtaking.

There’s almost a dampness to this film that just sort of…seeps in as you’re watching and long after the film ends. It’s difficult to explain. But regardless, this is a movie that’s sat with me for over a year now, and it’s impacted me in a way that very few films do.

TIFF 2013: 10 Films to Watch For

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Last week, we got a look at over 70 films that will premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. As always, there are some big names to be found among the list. But while it’s exciting to see recognizable faces and names, movies like Prisoners, Gravity, Rush, and August: Osage County will be widely released in theatres just weeks after playing at TIFF. Sometimes, it can be worthwhile taking a chance on smaller films; you never know how long it might be before you have another chance to see them.

So, after scanning the list of galas and special presentations, here are 10 movies that I’m interested in seeking out that that you may not have heard of and (to the best of my knowledge) have no current plans for immediate major release after TIFF.

1. Devil’s Knot

Atom Egoyan is one of Canada’s most acclaimed directors, so it makes sense that he would choose TIFF for the world premiere of his latest project, Devil’s Knot. The film stars Colin Firth, Reece Witherspoon, and Dane DeHaan and tracks the fallout of the infamous West Memphis Three trial. I haven’t heard much about it for a while, so it’s great to see that it’ll be ready in time for TIFF.

2. Night Moves

Deliberately paced dramas are kind of Kelly Reichardt’s thing (see: Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy), so it’s a bit surprising to hear that she’s directing a film that…well, seems to have a plot. The film stars Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard, and Dakota Fanning as a group of radical environmentalists who plot to blow up a dam.

3. The Past

Asghar Farhadi’s last project, 2011’s A Separation, earned him wide acclaim. Now, he continues to explore themes of divorce with The Past. Starring two of the best young actors working in world cinema, Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) and Berenice Bejo (The Artist), this one is surely a must-see.

4. Starred Up

I hadn’t even heard of this U.K. film until yesterday, but any film starring Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom) is bound to catch my attention. Starred Up tells the story of a young man sent to prison, only to find that one of his fellow inmates (Mendelsohn) happens to be his long-estranged father

5. Joe

David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls, George Washington) seems to have gotten his penchant for stoner comedies out of his system (at least, for now). He premiered the critically adored Prince Avalanche on the festival circuit earlier this year, and now he’s back and embracing the Southern gothic tradition again with Joe. It stars Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan (Mud).

6. The Art of the Steal

Homegrown favourite Jay Baruchel stars in this Canadian flick about brotherhood and crime, which also stars Matt Dillon, Kurt Russell, and Terrence Stamp, from director Jonathan Sobol (A Beginner’s Guide to Endings)

7. The Double

Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska star in this comedic update of Dostoevsky’s novella about a man haunted by his doppelganger. Submarine helmer Richard Ayoade writes and directs.

8. Hateship Loveship

Another one that was not on my radar. Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, Nick Nolte, and Hailee Steinfeld star in an adaptation of Alice Munro’s short story of the same name. Canada!

9. Ida

How about some international contributions? In Ida, Polish-born Pawel Pawlikowska (My Summer of Love, The Woman in the Fifth) tells a grim tale of a young nun in 1960s Poland who discovers a deep family secret stemming back to the Nazi occupation

10. Tracks

If you like Mia Wasikowska, this is your movie. She stars in this drama based on the true story of a woman who set out on a 2700 km trek across the Australian outback in the 1970s.