The Toronto International Film Festival is widely considered to be a launch pad for awards season hopefuls. But members of our Criticwire Network saw something different in the quality of this year’s program.
We asked 40 critics who attended TIFF 2014 to send us their favorites from the festival, including ranked lists of performances, screenplays and directors as well as the films themselves. The results, in eight different categories, represent a wide variety of films from across the program and some of the most evenly distributed end-of-festival picks we’ve seen in the past few years.
2014’s Best Narrative Feature went not to a biopic or a musical, but Christian Petzold’s “Phoenix,” starring Nina Hoss as a survivor of a WWII concentration camp searching to reclaim her old life after the end of the war. (In addition to the top film prize, Hoss’ contribution earned her a first-place finish in the Best Lead Performance category.) “Nightcrawler,” screenwriter Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, came in second, followed by Peter Strickland’s “The Duke of Burgundy.” In all, eight of the top ten Best Narrative Features went to productions from outside the United States.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing” was one of last year’s best-reviewed films, so it’s no surprise that the director’s follow-up “The Look of Silence” — which also examines the fallout of the Indonesian genocide — has been similarly received. The film earned as many points in the Best Documentary category as the next four films combined. “Seymour: An Introduction,” Ethan Hawke’s profile of a retired pianist, and “Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” Nick Broomfield’s investigation of a serial killer both, also appeared on multiple ballots.
Oppenheimer, along with his anonymous co-director, was the only documentary filmmaker to receive multiple votes for Best Director. But the top directing slot went to veteran Swedish director Roy Andersson, whose trilogy-completing “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” was an early festival favorite (it also won the Golden Lion in Venice). Petzold and Strickland finished the highest among directors of films making their world premiere at TIFF, followed by Mia Hansen-Løve for her 90s electronic music saga “Eden.”
While critics may not have gone for the films that feature them, the performance categories are littered with several buzzed-about roles. Aside from Hoss, the rest of the top five in the Lead Performance category included Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game“), Eddie Redmayne (“Theory of Everything“) and Julianne Moore (“Still Alice“).
Gyllenhaal’s “Nightcrawler” director Dan Gilroy easily landed the Best First Feature prize, finishing ahead of “’71,” Yann Demange’s acclaimed war drama, and Myroslav Slaboshpytsky’s “The Tribe,” which first wowed many critics at Cannes.
Best Supporting Performance was the category for 2014 festival favorites: J.K. Simmons’ drill sergeant jazz ensemble leader in “Whiplash” has commanded attention ever since Sundance, as has Mark Ruffalo’s role in “Foxcatcher.” Top Cannes favorite Kristen Stewart (for “Clouds of Sils Maria“) also fared well with Toronto critics. Redmayne’s co-star Felicity Jones and “99 Homes” co-star Michael Shannon also received top rankings.
Ruffalo, along with his “Foxcatcher” castmates, claimed the top slot in the Best Ensemble category. Despite having only one other actor besides Cumberbatch to appear on multiple ballots (Keira Knightley), “The Imitation Game” nabbed runner-up honors.
Tops among Screenplays: Ruben Östlund’s darkly comic family skiing tale “Force Majeure,” edging out a number of scripts by fellow writer-directors Gilroy, Petzold, Strickland and Olivier Assayas for “Clouds of Sils Maria.”
For a full list of results, be sure to check out the survey homepage here.