8 TIFF 2015 Film Favourites

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All photos courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival

Some of our favourite flicks from TIFF’s 40th anniversary.

With the Toronto International Film Festival wrapping its 40th anniversary festivities this weekend, our film reviewer Mike Crisolago takes a look at some of his favourite TIFF flicks from the past week. 


Starring: Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon, Linda Emond, Tate Donovan, Sam Trammell

Synopsis: Ray (Fanning), a teenager, is in the process of transitioning from female to male as his mother Maggie (Watts) attempts to convince his estranged father (Donovan) to sign the parental consent form. Meanwhile, Dolly (Sarandon), Ray’s lesbian grandmother, deals with her own struggle to accept that her granddaughter is now her grandson.

Overall: The film was written three years ago but remains on point as far as relevancy today. Fanning, Watts and Donovan put in strong performances while Sarandon as Ray’s lesbian grandmother is completely believable as a woman who battled for her own sexual equality but who now has trouble understanding her grandson’s choices. It’s a film that poses the opinions and issues that people on all sides of the transgender issue experience while not trivializing the issue.


Starring: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Aaron Paul

Synopsis: After tracing a noted terrorist cell to a home in Nairobi following a multi-year search, Col. Katherine Powell’s (Mirren) plans for a drone strike are inadvertently thwarted by a young girl who sets up a stand to sell bread in the adjacent marketplace. As Powell and the Lieutenant General (Rickman) appeal to higher governmental powers for the go-ahead, drone pilot Steve Watts (Paul) waits anxiously with his finger on the button.

Overall: This military drama is built on tension from the get go and never relents while exploring one of combat’s biggest ethical quandaries – is it better to sacrifice one innocent life to save countless others? Mirren’s turn as the hard-nosed Colonel is rich with determination and conviction and a welcome change, giving a female presence to a traditionally male role in a Hollywood film. Rickman is, as usual, fantastic as he attempts to make the case for bombing the house while Abdi lends even more tension to the film as the undercover military agent on the ground and in the line of fire.


Starring: Donald Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland, Demi Moore, Brian Cox, Michael Wincott

Synopsis: A Wild West tale about ruthless land-grabbers forcing residents of a small rural community to sell their homes to the ruthless James McCurdy (Cox). Meanwhile, John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland) returns home to repair the strained relations between he and his father Reverend Clayton (Donald Sutherland). The younger Clayton, however, is forced to revisit his lethal gun-slinging past when McCurdy and his men set their sights on him.

Overall: An entertaining take on the western that’s more focussed on familial relations than on the shoot ‘em up aspects of the genre. Well acted and beautifully shot, it’s a treat to see the two Sutherlands acting opposite each other in contentious roles as father and son.


Starring: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carell, Michael Shannon, Luke Grimes

Synopsis: Based on the real-life tale of New Jersey police officer Laurel Hester, who fought for the right for her same-sex partner, Stacie, to receive her pension once she passed away from terminal cancer in 2005.

Overall: It’s not quite the performance that Moore put in at last year’s festival in Still Alice, which won her the Best Actress Oscar and a slew of other awards, but it’s still an incredibly powerful true-life tale. Moore as Hester and Page as Stacie are a believable pair, and Shannon is great as Hester’s hard-nosed police officer partner Dane. Steve Carell is a little over the top as Steven Goldstein, founder of a local equal rights group, embodying almost every stereotype of a gay man that you can imagine, but as a whole the film is an inspiring tale and a story that still resonates in today’s social climate.


Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Eri Fukatsu

Synopsis: This quiet, tender Japanese film, ironically from horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, blends reality and mysticism in a story about Yusuke (Asano), who returns home to his wife Mizuki (Fukatsu) after his death three years earlier. He attempts to explain the paranormal nature of his existence before the couple travels together to a number of smaller towns and villages from Yusuke’s past, encountering both the living and those, like Yusuke, who are caught somewhere between life and death.

Overall: Journey to the Shore is a unique and gentle romance, unsettling in its premise but beautiful in execution. It isn’t playing for frights or even religious statement. It’s simply a creative look at life and the stages of death and the love that bonds two souls beyond this world.


Starring: Michael Caton, Mark Coles Smith, Ningali Lawford, Jacki Weaver, Emma Hamilton

Synopsis: Based on a stage play that was itself based on a true story, this Australian dramedy tackles the right-to-die issue through Rex (Caton), a small town cab driver diagnosed with terminal cancer. When he learns of a new voluntary euthanasia law in the Northern Territory and a doctor (Weaver) in the town of Darwin who performs the procedure, Rex packs up his things and makes what seems like an impossibly long drive across the outback to Darwin to die. However, the relationships he makes along the way, and the ones he realizes he left behind, threaten to detour him from his ultimate destination.

Overall: Funny when it needs to be, serious by nature and never falling prey to melodrama, this film tackles a polarizing topic with respect and a well-formulated road story. Caton brilliantly embodies the curmudgeonly Rex while the supporting cast of characters bring out both the great depth of the story and, ultimately, within Rex himself.


Starring: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Dean Norris, Bruno Ganz

Synopsis: Directed by Atom Egoyan, this Canuck drama/thriller follows Zev (Plummer), a dementia-stricken widower who sets out to hunt down the Nazi prison guard who killed his family during the Second World War. Guided by instructions from his friend Max (Landau), Zev travels across country and borders to exact the justice that history has not provided.

Overall: A thrilling film anchored by a brilliant performance from Christopher Plummer and a plot that’s so interwoven with twists that it’s difficult to say anything more without spoiling it.


Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Louis C.K., John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Elle Fanning

Synopsis: A biopic about Dalton Trumbo, famed Hollywood screenwriter who found himself blacklisted in the 1940s for supposed communist leanings, jailed, abandoned by friends and forced to join together with other affected writers to fuel their own personal and career comebacks.

Overall: Bryan Cranston delivers an award-worthy performance in the title role of a film that balances layers of humour, drama and back door politics with expert precision. Certainly one of the best films of TIFF 2015.