The 11 Best Films of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival

By  · Published on September 15th, 2014

Focus Features

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival boasted dozens upon dozens of films to sate the cinema-hungry masses, and we’re willing to bet that we saw…well, at least a hearty fraction of them. The festival has just wrapped up, and as we all attempt to recover from ten-plus days of universally excellent film-going, it only seems appropriate to revisit our favorite films of the festival. These are the titles that stuck with us, the ones we recommended to anyone who would listen, the ones we couldn’t quite shake, a big mix of the funny and the fantastic, the sad and the silly, the wild and the weird. Are these the best films of TIFF? We certainly think so.


When did Jake Gyllenhaal learn to be so goddamn terrifying? In Dan Gilroy’s fierce and fearless directorial debut, the man who would be Prince of Persia (and eventually king, too, right?) slips into the skeevy skin of a grifter, a thief and a criminal. Still, we can’t help but like the guy. Weird, right? Gilroy’s film takes us inside an underground world that most of us have never given much thought to: the weird and gross culture of freelance crime videographers. Ever wonder where all those disaster-heavy and accident-prone news videos come from? Yeah, it’s not the news studio – it’s thanks to guys like Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom, a bastard and a freak that we can’t stop watching. (My review here.) -Kate Erbland


Kudos to wunderkind Xavier Dolan for making us all feel thoroughly incompetent and irrevocably envious. At age 25, Dolan has garnered attention for writing and directing five publicly and critically acclaimed films. Mommy is his latest endeavor, an unnerving portrait of a twisted, troubled mother/son relationship. With its 1:1 aspect ratio, Dolan taps into the caustic claustrophobia of a widower who has endured meltdowns, physical abuse and verbal assaults from her codependent tyrant teenager. Their love for one another is palpable, but the sense of being trapped by maternal duties soon takes over. This is all to say that Dolan, the preeminent enfant terrible of the 21st century, has struck gold again. (Our Cannes review here.) -Sam Fragoso

While We’re Young

I’m still laughing about jokes from Noah Baumbach’s latest, even as I am also 97% sure that my initial giggles overlapped with other jokes, a whole mess of humor that I missed because of my loud guffawing. Basically, I need to see this thing again. Baumbach’s newest might be his most commercially appealing offer yet (it features Naomi Watts hip-hop dancing, what else is there to say?), but it’s also a sharp critique of hipster culture and the generation just above them, who somehow think that by abandoning the “artisanal” and embracing the new new new, they’re better off. No one is better off, but damn if it’s not a joy to watch them bump up against each other. (My review here.) -KE

Wild Tales

If possible, I’d recommend going into Wild Tales blind. Forget looking up a plot synopsis, or even watching a trailer. Diving headfirst into Damián Szifron’s riotous stroke of comedy, drama, and satire was the best decision I made at TIFF (aside from that third coffee at 3 A.M. to make deadlines). Although a pejorative description in context, David Ehrlich said it best when he called this Argentinian excursion “a David Wain remake of Amores Perros.” That is exactly the type untamable lunacy at work in “Wild Tales,” a film with six disparate stories all connected by a revengeful “rage against the machine, fuck government bureaucracy” mentality. -SF

Force Majeure

When you talk about Force Majeure, it has to come with a qualifier: This is funny. I promise you. Really. The feature sounds dark and emotional – which was actually what I was expecting when I walked into the theater on the second day of TIFF, all prepared to be sad right out the gate – but the result is something so funny, so sharp and so crisp that it’s instantly its own unique pleasure. Sweden’s entry into the Best Foreign Language Film field follows a family on a ski vacation that’s thrown into total disarray after a small (a very controlled!) avalanche almost takes out the entire clan. It’s what happens after that’s important, as years of resentment are steadily dismantled in increasingly uproarious ways. (Our review here.) -KE


Being a teenager sucks. This film does not. (Our review here.) -KE


From its 86-minute runtime to its day in the life structure, there is nothing conventional about Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini. A kaleidoscopic look at the final hours of polemical Italian filmmaker Pier Pablo Pasolini, the film finds nuance in restraint. There are no sentimental flashbacks to remind you just how wonderful Pasolini was before perishing into the ground. No sweeping score to signify how you should feel. No chapter cards or subtitles to illustrate time. Ferrara is not interested in the banality that typically accompanies hagiographies. Here’s to hoping this painterly examination of Pasolini (who Willem Dafoe inhabits authentically) finds some distribution in the coming weeks. -SF


Apparently, we’re in the middle of some kind of Reese Witherspoon revival – the Witherssance? the Reesvival? we need a better name – though the one-time Oscar winner goes surprisingly lo-fi with her return to possible awards glory. Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of the same name, Wild sure sounds like it could be big, over the top awards bait, but Witherspoon doesn’t play it that way. Instead, the story of a woman who walks 1,000 miles (and then a fair bit more) is understated, raw and moving. (Our review here.) -KE

Love & Mercy

This year’s TIFF was lousy with big biopics, but we’d all be better off of if the genre aspired to be more like Bill Pohlad’s weird and wild take on the more fraught aspects of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s struggle with mental illness. Handily played by Paul Dano and John Cusack at different points in his life, Love & Mercy is emotional and honest and, yes, kind of strange. Impeccably acted and rife with the best of Wilson’s jams, it will leave you both toe-tapping and ugly-crying. (Our review here.) -KE


Replete with wall-to-wall music, it’s hard to find proper footing in Mia Hansen-Love’s unflinching, sonically assaultive snapshot of French house music. But dig beneath the booming electronica and the cornucopia of cocaine and you find a familiar tale of fledgling artists trying to find their way in an ever-evolving creative medium. Equally jubilant and melancholic, the film functions as an unofficial sequel to Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco. Both movies examine a style of music, and more importantly, a way of life, that we know won’t – and can’t – end particularly well. Love takes her character’s ambitions to their logical conclusions. Eventually, the party must end. -SF

The Theory of Everything

Important notes: this movie will make you cry, talking about Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar chances are insane but not totally out of bounds and this might finally be Felicity Jones’ long-fought-for breakout. The deeply felt Stephen Hawking biopic admirably attacks all the tough stuff about the genius’ life – mainly in the personal vein – adding up to something extremely moving and deeply human. It’s a winner. (Our review here.) -KE

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