Toronto 2013: Critics’ Scorecard

With TIFF officially wrapped, we look at how the festival's most high-profile films have fared with critics ahead of awards season.

by | September 15, 2013 | Comments

Arriving at a key moment in the movie year, the Toronto International Film Festival heralds the onset of Awards Season, with hundreds of films — from Cannes smashes, festival darlings and left-field debuts — mingling with Hollywood’s prestige hopefuls. TIFF can confirm the trajectory of critical heavy-hitters (Blue is the Warmest Color, Gravity), highlight future cult favorites (Under the Skin, The Double) and, of course, crown the unofficial front-runner in the forthcoming Oscar race (that’ll be 12 Years A Slave). Here’s a look at how the critics have responded to the more notable films that played at the festival. (Where reviews are available.)


Enough Said

96%

Please Give director Nicole Holofcener’s latest comedy-drama about two middle-aged divorcees stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener and — in one of his very last performances — the late, great James Gandolfini. Reviews are all strong thus far, though few are overwhelmingly rapturous. Welcome to the strange workings of the Tomatometer.

Reviews counted: 14

Enemy

75%

While his mainstream-geared thriller Prisoners played the fest to generally positive reviews, Denis Villeneuve apparently also found time to make another picture with Jake Gyllenhaal: this strange, reportedly mind-boggling trip in which the actor plays against himself as his doppelganger. Early days yet, but it sounds like one curious movie to see.

Reviews counted: 5


All Is By My Side

66%

Feels almost as though everyone had forgotten about that Jimi Hendrix biopic with Andre 3000 as the legendary axeman — but here it is, directed by 12 Years A Slave scribe John Ridley and quietly premiering to strong feedback. The low-budget endeavor is being praised for its unconventional rock biopic nature.

Reviews counted: 6

Rush

89%

Who knew a Ron Howard-directed movie about car racing would find this much favor with critics? The score doesn’t lie — at least so far — with the Chris Hemsworth-starrer already opening in the UK to surprisingly upbeat reviews, too.

Reviews counted: 36

12 Years a Slave

96%

Steve McQueen’s slavery drama arguably drew the most stunning praise from critics at the festival, and was duly rewarded with TIFF’s top prize — the People’s Choice Award for Best Film. The only question now remains: How far can 12 Years take this momentum into awards season? Is a Best Picture win on the cards?

Reviews counted: 24

Blue Is the Warmest Color

91%

Abdel Kechiche’s drama about the affair between two young women won the Palme d’Or at Cannes back in May and came freighted with expectations — not to mention endless chatter about its graphic 10-minute sex scene — yet continues to ride high with the critics, despite intimations of a backlash over the actresses’ rumored negative experience with their director.

Reviews counted: 21

Gravity

97%

Proclaimed by no less than James Cameron as the best space movie ever (it’s been a while since he saw 2001, clearly) and every second blogger as Man’s Greatest Achievement, Alfonso Cuarón’s astronauts-in-peril 3D ride is certainly ripe for critical picking — but is still generating mostly raves ahead of its US theatrical opening.

Reviews counted: 33

The Past

93%

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation was a critical darling a couple of years back and his latest, another drama of domestic strife which stars Bérénice Bejo, has been well-regarded — even if most reviews suggest it doesn’t live up to the high bar set by its predecessor.

Reviews counted: 17

Only Lovers Left Alive

86%

Jim Jarmusch directing a vampire movie that features Tilda Swinton and vintage guitars is virtual catnip for movie hipsters, and so far Lovers — which also stars Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston — has received the thumbs-up from critics, too, with some suggesting it’s the filmmaker’s best since Dead Man.

Reviews counted: 15

Philomena

92%

Stephen Frears allegedly returns to form with his latest, a comedy-drama centered around the prickly relationship between Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. Coogan claimed a best screenplay prize at Venice for his work, and the movie also shared the Runner Up honors for Best Film at TIFF’s People’s Choice Awards.

Reviews counted: 15

The Double

82%

More doppelganger intrigue, this time of the deadpan comedic variety with two Jesse Eisenbergs for the price of one. Director Richard Ayoade (Submarine) based his dark surrealist comedy on Dostoyevsky, and it’s reputedly a weird and wonderful ride. Mia Wasikowska also stars.

Reviews counted: 12

The Selfish Giant

97%

British director Clio Barnard made a splash with her avant garde sort-of-doco The Arbor not too long back, and her new one — which stays with the reliable griminess of social realism — looks to be proving her chops in the feature domain, and confirming her as one of the UK’s more exciting new directors.

Reviews counted: 12

The Great Beauty

91%

By most accounts a smash with critics at Cannes, Paolo Sorrentino’s (Il Divo, This Must Be the Place) story about a veteran journalist traversing Italian society is said to consciously be channeling Federico Fellini, which sounds both bold and perilous. It remains well-liked through TIFF.

Reviews counted: 22

Young & Beautiful

73%

François Ozon is on something of a roll — and some say a comeback. Following his recent In the House, the filmmaker’s new one about a teenage girl’s (Marine Vacth) wild summer has critics praising both his renewed exuberance and newcomer Vacth’s performance.

Reviews counted: 20

Stray Dogs

89%

Tsai Ming-Liang’s haunting story of a father and his daughters wandering the streets of Taiwan, with its long takes and mesmerizing cabbage consumption, won the Grand Jury Prize at Venice and maintains its level of high praise with the critics at TIFF.

Reviews counted: 9

Under the Skin

85%

Scarlett Johansson is the girl who fell to Earth in Jonathan Glazer’s reportedly out-there new one, with the actress as an alien in human form seducing her way through the Scottish countryside. It’s been slightly divisive, but those that love it are in considerable awe indeed.

Reviews counted: 24

A Field in England

87%

Having already been seen in the UK, this new medieval jaunt from maverick Kill List and Sightseers director Ben Wheatley played Toronto and has continued its stream of positive feedback — confirming the rising UK filmmaker as a talent to watch.

Reviews counted: 25

Fading Gigolo

54%

Actor-director John Turturro’s first effort behind the camera in eight years — after 2005’s musical curio, Romance and Cigarettes — has he and Woody Allen as hapless guys who pimp themselves out. Word is pretty good so far.

Reviews counted: 8

Dallas Buyers Club

94%

Oscar talk abounds for renaissance-man-on-a-roll Matthew McConaughey’s emaciated performance as an HIV-positive homophobe — prepare the acceptance speech already — in Jean-Marc Vallée’s dramatization of a real-life ’80s story. Cross-dressing Jared Leto is getting some love, too.

Reviews counted: 15

Abuse of Weakness

86%

French provocateur Catherine Breillat’s new joint is a semi-autobiographical tale about a woman suffering a stroke who gets swindled big time. Isabelle Huppert takes the Breillat-esque lead, with early reviews mostly in favor.

Reviews counted: 7

Palo Alto

73%

Third-generation Coppola clan filmmaker Gia (granddaughter of Francis) makes her directing debut with an adaptation of a James Franco-penned story about wasted West Coast rich kids. Venice and TIFF notices are skewing positive to date.

Reviews counted: 7

Miss Violence

83%

Further fostering the notion of a “Greek New Wave,” Alexandros Avranas’s controversial Miss Violence follows in the footsteps of movies like Dogtooth — perhaps a little too closely for some critics, though most are liking it.

Reviews counted: 7

The Wind Rises

89%

The final-ever film — tears! — from master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises, about the designer of Japan’s WWII fighter planes, continues on from strong reviews in Venice; despite the cracks of dissent that are appearing.

Reviews counted: 13

Prisoners

81%

The second of Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s festival entries also earned a Runner Up prize in the People’s Choice Award for Best Film, and it’s been gathering a bunch of robust reviews to boot. The vibe on the director’s thriller-procedural — which stars Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal — is that it’s one of the best since David Fincher’s Seven.

Reviews counted: 19

The Invisible Woman

76%

Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut Coriolanus was highly regarded, and this, his second outing, is also off to a great start. Fiennes stars as Charles Dickens in a tale of his relationship with a young woman, played by young British next-big-thing Felicity Jones.

Reviews counted: 13

Bad Words

65%

Another actor-turned director, Jason Bateman makes his filmmaking bow with a comedy about a kid who lost a spelling bee and grows up to get revenge by exploiting the contest as an adult. Critics are liking it so far, which is good news for Bateman’s directing aspirations.

Reviews counted: 6

Don Jon

80%

Speaking of actors-turned-directors — yet again — here’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut offering, in which he plays a dude whose addiction to porn conflicts with his potential relationship with Scarlett Johansson. Tough life. It’s been decently reviewed at TIFF, and goes into theatrical release soon.

Reviews counted: 11

Night Moves

86%

Indie cinema darling Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy) bolted out of the gate at Venice with her new film, which features Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning as environmentalists on a mission to destroy a dam, but reviews are cooling just a little after TIFF.

Reviews counted: 15

The F Word

70%

The Daniel Radcliffe diversification program continues unabated with three films at the festival (including Kill Your Darlings and Horns), and it’s a small surprise that his best-reviewed is this modern When Harry Met Sally riff, a rom-com co-starring Zoe Kazan and directed by Goon‘s Michael Dowse.

Reviews counted: 10

Tracks

81%

Another appearance from the ever-busy Mia Wasikowska, this time headlining Australian director John Curran’s outback true story about a young woman trekking alone across the desert with only camels to keep her company. Wasikowska is drawing much of the movie’s positive notices.

Reviews counted: 14

Moebius

78%

Acclaimed South Korean auteur Kim Ki-Duk’s twisted family ordeal emerged from Venice and is still rating positive, with a likely future as a cult favorite on the horizon.

Reviews counted: 9

Joe

86%

In the wake of Prince Avalanche David Gordon Green’s on the comeback path (at least for critics) and this time it looks like he’s taking the much-maligned, once-unstoppable Nicolas Cage with him. Joe is a much darker movie than Avalanche, and many critics are digging on Cage’s contribution.

Reviews counted: 17

Kill Your Darlings

76%

Movies haven’t been too good to the Beat Poets, but after the middling On the Road it seems things might turn around here. Daniel Radcliffe plays Allen Ginseberg, with Dane DeHaan his object of affection and Ben Foster showing up as William Burroughs.

Reviews counted: 17

Can a Song Save Your Life?

83%

John Carney’s ramshackle indie musical Once was a love-it or hate-it affair, and the response to his bigger budget, Keira Knightley-starring follow-up would seem to indicate the song remains the same. Mark Ruffalo and Hailee Steinfeld are also in it.

Reviews counted: 15

Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

84%

Winner of the TIFF People’s Choice Award in the Midnight Madness category, Cold Fish director Sion Sono’s over-the-top Yakuza splatterfest appears to be hitting the spot — i.e. some have been turned right off, but those who love his stuff are being duly entertained.

Reviews counted: 7

Like Father, Like Son

87%

Praised at Cannes — where it nabbed a jury prize — Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda’s most recent exploration of domestic life has found itself entering more lukewarm waters through TIFF. As always, the director’s collaboration with his child actors is getting good press.

Reviews counted: 19

Tom at the Farm

76%

Egomaniac or nascent boy-genius: the reviews for French-Canadian Xavier Dolan’s latest — in which he takes the lead role — are all over the map at the moment, with the love from Venice peppered with a recent helping of disdain.

Reviews counted: 9

How I Live Now

67%

Kevin Macdonald’s tale of a post-apocalyptic near-future features Saoirse Ronan as an American teen surviving in the British wilderness. It’s dark, minimalist and decidedly different to Hollywood takes on similar scenarios, say the critics thus far.

Reviews counted: 9

Man of Tai Chi

70%

And yet another actor-turned-director, Keanu Reeves made a relatively quiet — but nonetheless reasonably solid — debut at Toronto with his inaugural work, which follows the spiritual journey of martial artist Tiger Chen. Critics are noting Reeves’ passion for the genre is on full display, even if he’s not exactly the new Orson Welles.

Reviews counted: 12

August: Osage County

64%

A movie that very nearly hollers “Oscar bait,” John Wells’ take on the Tracey Letts Midwestern drama has Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor in full-on Actorly flight. Notices were initially beaming but the score, as scores so often do, is tumbling.

Reviews counted: 12

Labor Day

33%

Toronto and awards season pet Jason Reitman — who staged a live-read of Boogie Nights at the fest — has seen a fairly rocky beginning for his adaptation of the Joyce Maynard novel about a single mom and an escaped convict, played by Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin respectively.

Reviews counted: 23

Bastards

64%

Finally, the great Claire Denis’s new one was facing an uphill climb after a mixed-to-harsh reaction at Cannes, and Bastards continues to prove confounding for some — even as its critical stock seems to be on the rise.

Reviews counted: 13

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