TIFF 2013: The Festival’s Best Films, Performances, and Crafty Little Details

By  · Published on September 13th, 2013

As this year’s Toronto International Film Festival enters its final weekend (and now that Team FSR is already back on American soil and craving whole buckets of poutine), it’s time to reflect on the year that was at TIFF 2013. The prestige of the festival, paired with its proximity to Hollywood’s favorite four-month holiday (awards season, that is) have long meant that big gun films come out to show at TIFF (and a number of them often go on to have very strong showings Oscar showings).

But this is still a film festival and this year’s TIFF still held plenty of surprises that snuck in between the flashiest of titles that everyone already knew they would clamor to see. After all, who would suspect that the most interesting documentary of the entire festival would center on a pal of Penn Jillette who is obsessed with the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer? Or that we’d still be thinking about a haircut choice from one of the first films to bow at the festival? Or that we’d feel the need to include a Best Of category for “Screaming Family Dinner Sequence”? Behold, the Best Of TIFF 2013!

Best Films of TIFF 2013

As ever, this year’s festival included a pack of “must-see” films, most of which delivered, including 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Labor Day, August: Osage County, and Dallas Buyers Club, but there were also plenty of unexpected breakouts, like Tracks and The Double.

Best Films of TIFF 2013 We Didn’t Get to See

It’s impossible to catch everything at any festival, and TIFF’s stacked schedule means that you’ll always miss something that everyone else loves. Titles we heard buzzed about in a very positive way that we (maddeningly enough) couldn’t fit into our days in Toronto include The F Word, Dom Hemingway, Enemy, Ida, Under the Skin, and The Armstrong Lie.

Best Documentary

The buzz out of Telluride sealed it – Teller’s Tim’s Vermeer is funny, engaging, and interesting. And yes, this is a film about a pal of Penn Jillette who is obsessed with the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (and who seeks to uncover his actual process and replicate it himself).

Best Music

There were a number of strong scores on display at TIFF this year – including music for Tracks, The Double, and Night Moves — but the sweetly charming jams of Can A Song Save Your Life? stick and won’t let go. We’re not proud to admit that a song by Adam Levine has been playing in our heads for nearly a week now, and that’s okay.

Best Male Performance

Chiwetel Ejiofor gives nothing short of a complete performance in 12 Years a Slave. It’s remarkable stuff and proof that director Steve McQueen knows how to pick his stars and then pull them right into the best work of their lives.

Best Female Performance

It seems obvious to name Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts as the best of TIFF, mainly because they’re just so good together in August: Osage County, and the pop between them is what really drives both of them into stellar work here, so we won’t name them – we’re going with Mia Wasikowska in Tracks. Now there’s someone who doesn’t need many people to act against.

Best Breakout Male Performance

We’ll still be talking about Jared Leto’s work in Dallas Buyers Club many years from now. It’s that remarkable.

Best Breakout Female Performance

Lupita Nyong’o’s turn in 12 Years a Slave is a slow builder, but by the time her Patsey reaches her final scene, she’s utterly devastating.

Best Younger Male Performance

Can we just make sure that Tye Sheridan doesn’t retire soon? Because if I was sixteen and had only worked with Terrence Malick, Jeff Nichols, and David Gordon Green and been fantastic every single time, I’d quit while I was ahead, too. Who else could be paired for with Nicolas Cage in Joe and come out looking like the most compelling guy around?

Best Younger Female Performance

Asghar Farhadi’s The Past may not be as immediately compelling as his previous film (A Separation), but it will stick with you, and young Pauline Burlet’s turn as angry teen daughter Lucie is principally to blame for that.

Best Animal Stars

John Curran’s Tracks features a whole mess of camels and one faithful dog (actually, it’s really about four camels and two dogs, but that’s too complicated to get into here). While dog star Diggity stands out because of her loyalty and charm, she has to share the honor of Best Animal Star with Tracks’ other adorable fluffball, a baby camel named Goliath.

Best Sidekick

Jay Baruchel is so ludicrously funny in the Ocean’s 11 meets The Italian Job lo-fi actioner The Art of the Steal that his minimal work as Kurt Russell’s sidekick makes the film worth watching.

Best Film We Only Saw Forty-Five Minutes Of

If you wanted a Mandela review, we apologize, but our press screening was cut off after forty-five minutes and we couldn’t find another three-hour chunk of time just laying around to see it again. It was just getting good by then.

Best Jesse Eisenberg Performance

Jesse Eisenberg is great in Night Movesit’s a very Eisenbergian performance – but he excels as two different (maybe?) guys in The Double. Playing two very different roles is hard stuff, but Eisenberg never struggles to make it obvious which character he’s playing at which time, thanks to body language, speaking cadence, and a whole lot of smirks. He’s lighter than he’s ever been here, and it’s a hell of a thing to see.

Best Bad Haircut That Was Strangely Essential to a Character

We need to talk about Jake Gyllenhaal’s look in Prisoners because what was that? Also, why did all those long hanks of hair hanging over his face feel so necessary?

Best Use of a Wardrobe Ripped Straight from The Sopranos

If you miss Carmela Soprano, be sure to check out Child’s Pose.

Best Food

Peach pies will never look the same after Labor Day — and that’s not hyperbole, they’re just going to make you think about sex from now on. Delicious, sure, but super awkward at family gatherings.

Best Screaming Family Dinner Sequence

Speaking of family gatherings, August: Osage County delivers the best extended dinner table sequence we’ve seen in years. The entire film could have been set at that table, and it would still be good.

Best Theater

The TIFF Bell Lightbox is gorgeous, but the Scotiabank has a space theme, a hidden bar, and poutine on the menu.

Best Theater Snack

We didn’t eat the Scotiabank poutine, but that’s a thing that exists, and that’s worth celebrating.

Click here for all of our TIFF 2013 coverage

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