The Binge Recap: Toronto International Film Festival 2014 (or, Baby’s First TIFF)

From September 3-14, 2014, I had the incredible privilege of attending the 39th annual Toronto International Film Festival—an event that, particularly within the last decade, has emerged as the unofficial kickoff of the all-important movie awards season. In recent years, eventual Oscar winners like The King’s Speech, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, 12 Years a Slave, and Gravity have had their world premieres at this festival—or, if not their actual premieres (the smaller, wealthier Telluride Film Festival has gotten into the habit of premiering many key titles just days before their lavish TIFF galas), then the screenings that first began generating the press and industry buzz that eventually led to Oscar gold.

Given the extent to which I’ve devoted my life to watching and writing about movies, you’d probably assume I’m a film festival pro at this point (“I really don’t care.”- you). But no! Although I’ve done sporadic coverage of a handful of San Francisco fests such as the SFIFF and Frameline, I’ve never actually done the full festival thing, by which I mean really hunkering down in the theaters, watching movies from dawn to dusk, and sensing the buzz building around you about which titles are the standouts. And this year, thanks to my day job, I was finally able to immerse myself in this experience (which I learned also means developing bed sores from so much sitting, while trying not to erupt at any of the other journalists for being pompous windbags who never turn their off phones and rely way too much on Siri). I was delighted to learn that it’s all remarkably similar to going to a theme park: you strategize your plan of attack, put on your game face, and just run from ride to ride, bolting into the line of your next attraction the moment your current one ends. Plus, no children and less sunburn and nausea!

Every TIFF for the last few years has had a major story come out of it. Last year, for instance, was when 12 Years a Slave was correctly forecast as the inevitable Best Picture winner that it became. The year before that, it was all about Argo. So what piece of unforgettable movie history would I get to witness firsthand? What industry-shaking developments would I be able to claim I’d seen and felt from right there in the thick of it? Well, in keeping with my usual knack for showing up late to the party, I finally dragged my ass all the way to Toronto just in time for the year of “TIFF is Over” thinkpieces. Yes, my first TIFF was a year of backlash. Due to an aggressive policy the festival had instituted to allegedly “bully” films into granting them world premieres—and, somewhat consequently, a weaker lineup than in past years—I can now boast that I attended TIFF the year its lucky streak ended, or at least paused.

The 11 days of movies which comprise TIFF came and went without any clear frontrunners being established. While there were a handful of performances that are essentially guaranteed to be recognized by the Academy—Eddie Redmayne’s Best Actor frontrunner status for the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything was all but confirmed, while Julianne Moore planted her flag in the Best Actress category when her devastating Alzheimer’s drama Still Alice was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics mid-fest—the films themselves were a mixed bag. Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller’s presumptive Oscar frontrunner following its rapturous reception at its Cannes premiere earlier this year, was met with a decidedly polarized reaction. Even The Imitation Game, the Alan Turing biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch which claimed the festival’s People’s Choice Award, is really just an above-average historical biopic built around great performances, lacking that certain cumulative je ne said quoi that makes a Best Picture frontrunner (similarly to The Theory of Everything).

So, without any further ado, here are the highlights and lowlights from the 36 movies I watched over the course of 9 days.

TIFF Top 10

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10. Learning to Drive

The vastly superior Patricia Clarkson late-in-life romance at this year’s festival over October Gale (and, ironically, rather similar to Cairo Time, despite that film’s director having helmed Gale), this is the unlikely-friendship story of a deeply resentful Manhattan woman (Clarkson) going through a bitter divorce, and the Sikh cab driver/driving instructor (Ben Kingsley) with whom she bonds when she begins taking driving lessons from him. Clarkson is a real corker here, giving one of her best leading performances yet, and an unrecognizable Kingsley is dynamite. Grace Gummer, Sarita Choudhury, and The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee round out the supporting cast. This film bested the hugely anticipated Bill Murray dramedy St. Vincent to be crowned first runner-up in the People’s Choice Award.

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9. Beyond the Lights

This one was actually kinda of a disappointment—I was expecting another Glitter, but instead got a genuinely good movie. :-/ Written and directed with great sophistication by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball), it stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Noni, a Rihanna-style pop star on the verge of superstardom—except she’s despondent, self-medicating, and on the brink of suicide. A lifeboat comes in the form of Kaz (Nate Parker), a virtuous security guard, with whom Noni falls in love as she charts a course to self-discovery and artistic authenticity. I really, really wanted this one to be a campfest—movies about pop stars almost always are—but alas, Prince-Bythewood’s thoughtful direction and Mbatha-Raw’s incandescent performance made it a really special, commendable little film.

8. Mr. Turner

You know how Spike Lee always bills each of his movies as “A Spike Lee Joint”? I feel like he’s been inconsistent enough as a director that he should surrender that branding device to Mike Leigh. Because really, “A Spike Lee Joint” could mean anything at this point. But “A Mike Leigh Joint”? Oh, we always know what we’re getting with that: an impeccable cast of plain-faced, chinless Brits acting out a series of small, finely observed moments in a naturalistic narrative that gradually (almost imperceptibly) builds into a deeply pleasurable and beautiful viewing experience. That’s certainly the case here, in which Timothy Spall stars as real-life British painter J.M.W. Turner, who made a thriving living in the early 19th century. There’s not a single way to describe this movie that makes it sound sexy or interesting, but if you’re familiar with Leigh, you know why you should watch it. Spall’s performance consists almost entirely of a hilarious repertoire of grunts and grimaces—it’s a delectable, one-of-a-kind turn.

7. While We’re Young

The funniest and most accessible movie Noah Baumbach has ever made, this is basically a feature length version of the Will & Grace episode where the titular duo unexpectedly befriends a cool, hip young couple that invites them to all kinds of crazy parties and happenings, leading them to ditch their dull age-appropriate married friends Rob and Ellen. But fortunately that was a good episode, and it works even better here. Baumbach works in loads of self-mocking referential humor, hilariously capturing the universal experience of aging in a way that will resonate with many audiences. The final act falls apart a bit and some of the gags are too broad, but this is a far more enjoyable Baumbach-Ben Stiller collaboration than Greenberg. This movie also has some random non-actor celebrities cast in key supporting roles: Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz plays the husband of the boring married-couple friends, and Bravo reality star Ryan Serhant (Million Dollar Listing: NY) plays a fratty hedge fund manager (although I think I’m the only one in the theater who knew that).

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6. Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal is downright genius in Dan Gilroy’s darkly original LA noir. As a sociopathic thief who discovers the moneymaking potential of selling crime scene footage to the media, he gives possibly his best, most exquisitely calibrated performance. The film is suspenseful and queasily exciting, as we find ourselves rooting for this character to succeed in his utterly unconscionable efforts. As much a satire of capitalism and entrepreneurialism as it is of Los Angeles media culture, this was easily one of the best American films to world premiere at the fest this year.

5. The Last Five Years

One’s response to this film will depend entirely on one’s enthusiasm for musicals, because this might be the most musical-theaterish movie musical ever made. Based on an off-Broadway sensation, it stars Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan as, respectively, an actress and a writer who fall in love and get married—a relationship that’s then tested when his career takes off while hers stalls. It’s basically 500 Days of Summer as a musical, offering a nonlinear narrative of their beginning, their end, and everything in between. Nearly every word of the movie is sung within the context of a song, which works thanks to the considerable talents and confidence of Kendrick and Jordan (although hers is the more nuanced performance). The film is bleeding-heart passionate, poignant, and utterly unapologetic in its deeply sincere musical-theater uncoolness. Surprisingly, it all pays off. There are remarkably few false notes, emotionally and musically, for a story that’s told 95% in song.

4. Laggies

Lynn Shelton directs a very funny and genuinely thought-provoking story about a woman emotionally stuck in her high school years who bails on her day-to-day and re-immerses herself in teenage life (it’s like a sweeter but still very sharp Young Adult). Keira Knightley is fantastic as a 28-year-old woman who realizes she’s been coasting on her high school social identity—from her awful friends to her sweet but unfulfilling longtime boyfriend—for far too long. Chloe Grace Moretz is wonderful as the teen girl she unexpectedly befriends, and Sam Rockwell is fun and funky as always as Moretz’s dad. This one surprised me beat after beat in its refusal to follow clichéd conventional plot conventions—almost every time I thought something was going to be predictably hidden and revealed climactically later, it came out almost immediately. It also doesn’t shy away from the messy realities of its characters’ choices. This one’s a gem.

3. Foxcatcher

This exquisitely directed (and, yes, deliberately paced) contemplation on masculinity and male identity in contemporary America will get deep under your skin. Beyond its true-crime trappings (do yourself a favor and go into the movie knowing as little about the real-life case as possible), it’s essentially a sick, twisted love story about two outsider loners (Steve Carell and Channing Tatum) who bond over their shared solitude and, eventually, resentment of a man who seems to have it all (Mark Ruffalo). It might be the most perverse love triangle of the year. Carell has never done anything like this before; expect to view him differently after seeing his work here.

2. Wild

Reese Witherspoon gives arguably the performance of her career in this sure-fire Oscar contender (Picture, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay noms are all but guaranteed). Director Jean-Marc Vallée builds on the strengths he displayed in last year’s Dallas Buyers Club, this time managing to construct a film that matches the passion and skill displayed in its performances. It’s sometimes too leisurely in pacing and goes into overkill with its “what it all meant” voiceover wrap-up at the end, but it’s still an evocative, bold, beautifully made portrayal of one woman’s arduous journey toward facing her demons.

1. Mommy

The fifth film from 25-year-old Québecois wunderkind Xavier Dolan, Mommy is electrifyingly intense, boldly cinematic, and searingly acted—it was the first movie I saw at TIFF, and nothing in the 35 movies I watched afterward approached its virtuosic chutzpah. In a trio of the year’s finest performances, Anne Dorval stars as ferocious, working-class widowed mother Diane, Antoine-Olivier Pilon ignites the screen as her severely troubled yet wildly charismatic teen son Steve, and Suzanne Clément is Kyla, the secretive, stuttering neighbor who gets sucked into Diane and Steve’s world of passion, madness, and desperation. This one’s got it all: sky-high drama, razor-wire humor, and moments of spine-tingling transcendence the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Stop me if I’m overselling it.

 

10 TIFF Disappointments

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10. Pride

A thoroughly derivative, but enjoyable—if far too eager to please—Up With People 101 British historical dramedy about queer activists supporting striking Welsh miners in Thatcherite England. It’s basically beat-for-beat the same movie as everything ranging from Full Monty and Kinky Boots to Calendar Girls and Mrs. Henderson Presents; truly, it leaves no cliché unturned. It really just made me want to revisit Irina Palm, a satire of this genre in which Marianne Faithfull plays a granny who takes a job in a sex shop to raise money for her grandchild’s operation. Not a bad film by any definition, but a big disappointment after the hyperbolic press it’s been getting in England (especially from Attitude—fuck you, Attitude).

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9. Bang Bang Baby

A clever concept is marred by exceedingly poor execution in this musical homage to the B-movies of the early ‘60s. Playing out like a Canadian Bye Bye Birdie (it’s set in 1963) crossed with a nuclear-paranoia mutant parable, it stars the wonderful Jane Levy (who single-handedly keeps the film afloat) as a small-town Canadian teen who dreams of getting out and becoming a pop star. Her life turns upside down when her Elvis-style favorite star (Justin Chatwin) gets stranded in her town and decides to stay with her—except there’s been a leak at the town’s purple mist factory (that’s what they call it) that’s gradually deforming the townsfolk; this serves as a metaphor for the restrictions and limitations of small-town life. I’m so mad at this movie for not being better-made, but the shoddy direction and editing go way beyond any kind of intentional homage to the era. Also, the lip-synching during the musical scenes is sloppy; as a devout RuPaul’s Drag Race viewer, I cannot abide this. Joss Whedon would’ve directed the shit out of this, and I think he still could and should.

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8. Rosewater

A well-intentioned but bland film based on the not-especially compelling true story of a Canadian Iranian journalist who was detained for his coverage of Iran’s 2009 election. You never shake the sense that Jon Stewart chose to make this his directional debut as an act of atonement for the role The Daily Show played in getting the film’s subject thrown into solitary confinement. Meh word-of-mouth will likely kill this one off quickly.

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7. Escobar: Paradise Lost

Okay, from what I can gather, this is not actually based on any kind of true story, which just makes me hate it. Why bother making up such a ludicrous and lurid storyline about at least one real person (Pablo Escobar, amusingly played by Benicio del Toro), not to mention a storyline grounded in rooting for the white people to triumph over crime-addled Latinos? Playing out like Scarface meets Meet the Parents, it’s the (apparently fictional) story of a young Canadian surfer (Josh Hutcherson, impressive) vacationing in Colombia who meets and falls in love with a beautiful local woman—who turns out to be the niece of Pablo Escobar (wah-waaaaaah!). He’s soon pulled into the swirling, violent madness of Escobar’s world. The film knows its way around tense action sequences and mercifully keeps most of the actual violence off-camera, but ultimately feels like a shrug.

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6. Maps to the Stars

Julianne Moore’s fearless, ferocious performance as a fading actress is, by far, the only reason to watch David Cronenberg’s latest misfire. I almost wish she weren’t so good, because then the movie could just be skipped altogether; unfortunately, this is the kind of high-wire acting that simply must be seen to be believed. Other than that, it’s a lazy, cheap show-biz satire that takes obvious digs at rebellious child stars, new age gurus, and other perennial Hollywood clichés. It also has not one but two dead characters who repeatedly appear as taunting ghosts, a convention that pretty much always loses me immediately. Leave it to Hamlet, guys. The way, way, way over-repeated recitation of Paul Èluard’s “Liberté” by multiple characters is downright irritating. Still, must be seen for Moore.

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5. October Gale

A “romantic” “thriller” about a grieving widow (Patricia Clarkson) who escapes for a solo trip to her family cottage, only to find herself intruded upon by a handsome, severely injured stranger (Scott Speedman). Dull and tepid, generating barely-there levels of suspense. Clarkson is its only saving grace; she has good, playful chemistry with Speedman.

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4. This is Where I Leave You

Director Shawn Levy applies a major-studio comedy gloss to what should have been closer in spirit to the edgy dysfunctional family indies of the ‘90s. The result feels forced and frequently unfunny, like a misguided episode of Parenthood. Out of the star-studded ensemble cast, Tina Fey is (sadly) the most miscast as a high-maintenance ballbuster married to a finance douche, while Adam Driver is the biggest standout. His raw energy cuts through the sitcom contrivance.

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3. Adult Beginners

I really kinda hated this movie. A lazy, tepid, unfunny copy of a thousand other movies about this exact same premise (adult fails at then bails on life and moves back home), this one stars Nick Kroll as the key investor/hype man behind a Google Glass-type device that goes belly up, leaving him with no one and nothing (see also: Elizabethtown). He is forced to move back into his childhood home with his sister (Rose Byrne, doing her best), with whom he lives in the shadow of a deceased parent, and her husband (Bobby Cannavale); the brother and sister are mutually stunted and dysfunctional, and the sister’s marriage is marred by infidelity (see also: The Skeleton Twins). Kroll gradually starts getting his life back together and connecting with what’s real, until the temptation of big-city success once again threatens to pull him back in (see also: Just Friends). All this would be forgivable if the movie were funnier, but wow, it really isn’t. The opening scene plays like a Kroll Show sketch, but then abruptly we’re in Sundanceland, except lacking in any real bite or psychological complexity. The few laughs come from brief appearances by Bobby Moynihan, Jason Mantzoukas, and Jane Krakowski.

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2. A Little Chaos

When I first read the premise of Alan Rickman’s second directorial effort (Kate Winslet plays a French commoner who gets commissioned to design and oversee the construction of one of the gardens during the building of Versailles), I thought, “That sounds unbelievably boring, but hey, Winslet and Rickman.” Nope. Utter, total, crashing bore. This period romance fails to develop any narrative momentum and is basically a snooze from start to finish. It’s briefly enlivened by Stanley Tucci, playing yet another preening fop with his requisite exuberance. Winslet is fine as always, but she’s far from enough to make this one worthwhile.

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1. Men, Women & Children

In short, and pardon my French, but fuck this movie and everything it stands for. Playing out like a Fox News “frighten the olds about technology” feature come to life, the freefalling Jason Reitman commits his most grievous cinematic sins yet with this simplistic neo-con garbage. Reitman is trying to Say Something with this one, so much so that this is all I could picture the entire time. I can’t remember the last time such a talented ensemble cast was wasted to such a degree. Unlike This is Where I Leave You, everyone gives wonderful performances, just in the service of a regressive technophobic polemic. Reitman tries positioning himself as a moderate by making poor Jennifer Garner play a modern-day equivalent of Piper Laurie’s character from Carrie, but she is such a raving, foaming-at-the-mouth extremist lunatic that no reasonable person would ever be like, “Oh, sure, I guess it’s okay to demonize technology for destroying our social fabric as long as you don’t take it THAT far.”

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10 (More) TIFF Standout Performances

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10. Liam Aiken, Ned Rifle

I couldn’t remember anything about either Henry Fool or Fay Grim going into this third film in Hal Hartley’s trilogy, but that proved no hindrance to enjoying it. Short, salty, and as hilariously deadpan as ever, this one follows Ned (Liam Aiken), the son of Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan) and Fay (Parker Posey), who’s just been released from witness protection due to his mother’s incarceration as a terrorist. To defend Fay’s honor, he sets off on what he considers a holy and righteous mission to kill his father for ruining her life. He’s joined by Susan (Aubrey Plaza), a pants-allergic young woman with suspicious connections to Henry, Fay, and Fay’s brother Simon (James Urbaniak). Aiken and Plaza are both excellent additions to the Hartley universe. In a festival of movies that generally felt too long, it was a relief to watch a film that understood the less-is-more approach to editing and storytelling.

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9. Bill Murray, St. Vincent

This walks a fine line between engrossing character study and sentimental exercise in treacle, but it comes out on top thanks to its rich, grounded acting. This might be Bill Murray’s most fully developed performance, conveying a much broader spectrum of emotion than he’s typically been given; with the Weinsteins in his corner, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him snag an Oscar nom for it (although I’d be surprised if he’d actually participate in the campaign). Just as essential to the film’s success is the remarkably mature and self-possessed performance of 11-year-old Jaeden Lieberher, a total pro and definitely one to watch. Melissa McCarthy desperately needed to take on this kind of normal-person role after the Tammy backlash, and she totally delivers. Naomi Watts is bizarrely cast as a garish, tough-talking, pregnant Russian prostitute. It’s distracting. Still, this movie amply delivers both laughter and tears without descending into the mawkish, cynical manipulation common to major-studio dramedies of this nature. It feels sincere.

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8. Jennifer Aniston, Cake

Jennifer Aniston truly looks like hell as a self-destructive woman living in the aftermath of a trauma that goes unexplained until the final act of this tart dramedy. In the meantime, she’s busy bailing on life and becoming obsessed with a young woman (Anna Kendrick) from her support group who committed suicide. Many have rushed to conclude that this is Aniston’s finest performance since the similarly indie-leaning The Good Girl and Friends with Money, but dammit, she was also great in Horrible Bosses. Babel Oscar-nominee Adriana Barraza gives a wonderfully sympathetic performance as Aniston’s long-suffering maid and only friend (an LA movie cliché that is somehow forgivable here). A little too self-consciously dark and indie-edgy at times, but overall the movie works. Supporting cast also includes Sam Worthington, Felicity Huffman, and Chris Messina.

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7. Kevin Costner, Black and White

I never thought I’d be taking the time to specifically praise a Kevin Costner performance, but damned if I wasn’t really impressed with his work in this spirited dramedy about the custody battle between a drunk widower (Costner) and a formidable South Central matriarch (Octavia Spencer, continuing to make expert use of her approximately three facial expression/line intonation combos) over their granddaughter. Costner’s character is an embarrassing mess, a barely functioning alcoholic whose deep-seated rage frequently manifests as unapologetic racism. Costner leans deep into his character’s brokenness, while retaining enough humanity that we can still picture the man he was before his life was rocked by loss. The film itself is engrossing and much funnier than it should be, with fine performances throughout. Writer/director Mike Binder goes to great lengths to shade in his characters, choosing complexity and ambiguity over simplicity.

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6. Nina Arianda, The Humbling

Barry Levinson’s adaptation of the Philip Roth novel about a washed-up old actor (Al Pacino) gradually losing his mind, and the manipulative younger woman (Great Gerwig) who seduces then exploits him in his weakened state. Unsurprisingly for Roth, it’s all a bit misogynistic, with Pacino besieged on all sides by “crazy women”—although Nina Arianda steals the whole movie as one of them. Best known as a Tony-winning stage actress, Arianda has displayed her manic, bug-eyed comic energy in supporting roles in movies ranging from Midnight in Paris to The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (she was also pizza heiress Pizzarina Sbarro on 30 Rock). It’s only a matter of time before Arianda gets the kind of juicy role that will make her the star she deserves to be—she may even become the first actress to finally, FINALLY play Janis Joplin in Sean Durkin’s announced (and, as of yet, uncancelled) big-screen biopic about the rock legend.

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5. Juliette Binoche, Clouds of Sils Maria

As a middle-aged actress grappling with the decision to play a pathetic older character in the play that made her a star many years earlier, Binoche is fearless and self-lacerating. I can’t remember the last time someone so thoroughly dissected and deconstructed the psyche of an actress onscreen—oh wait, yes I do, it was Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars. This is an excellent companion performance to that one (which was decidedly Big Acting), more understated and nuanced, working within a far more open-ended, ambiguous framework courtesy of writer/director Olivier Assayas. I can’t imagine that a single frame of this film would be enjoyable to anyone who isn’t obsessed with the world of actresses and the process of acting, but I am, so I enjoyed it. For others, it will be considerably less rewarding. One of at least three films at this year’s festival about aging, insecure actors in unhealthy, obsessive relationships with younger women (see also Maps to the Stars and The Humbling).

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4. Romain Duris, The New Girlfriend

The latest from French master François Ozon is a provocative, sexually tangled melodrama that really turns up the emotional and physical heat. When her lifelong best friend Laura dies prematurely of an illness, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) publicly vows at her funeral to look after Laura’s grieving husband David (a fantastically bold and piercingly sensitive performance by Romain Duris) and their infant daughter. But this vow becomes unexpectedly complicated when Claire drops by David’s house unannounced and finds him dressed as a woman. He reveals that he’s always enjoyed dressing as a woman, which his wife knew, but that this impulse has receded during their marriage. Now, following her death, it’s returned—and he needs Claire to help him explore this identity.

I was very concerned that this film would be transphobic, especially when my audience laughed at many things that shouldn’t have been funny (“Look at that man in a dress! Quelle ridicule!”). Granted, it doesn’t help that Duris makes one hell of a butch queen, transforming from a dashing Frenchman to a rough-skinned Mick Jagger in pancake-makeup drag that only makes the lines in his face appear deeper and still doesn’t cover his Willam permabeard. Fortunately, as it progressed, it becomes clear that the film is operating almost entirely outside the world of gender and sexual binaries, focusing on its characters’ fluidity and complexity instead. It seems destined for an American remake—I’m picturing Natalie Portman as Claire.

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3. Brit Marling, The Keeping Room

Set toward the end of the Civil War, this tense, gorgeously photographed western (another new flowcase we can add to the genre page!) is the story of two sisters (Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld) who, along with a family slave (Muna Otaru), attempt to protect themselves from the various brutalities visited upon women in that time and place while their menfolk are off fighting in the war. Unfortunately, they soon draw the attention of two Union soldiers (one is played by Sam Worthington) who are raping and murdering their way through the south. This one has some script issues, but the directorial style is strong (as is the feminist subtext), and Brit Marling gives her best, most fully realized performance yet.

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2. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

The Stephen Hawking biopic is a mannered, compelling, handsomely filmed production primarily notable for Eddie Redmayne’s utterly astounding, Oscar-worthy transformation in the leading role. This is just a knockout performance all around. As he brings the equally extreme triumphs and setbacks of Hawking’s story to life, Redmayne superbly conveys his character’s driving intellectual curiosity, his horror at the gradual breakdown of his body, and the twinkle-eyed wit that helped him to persevere. Some of his finest acting comes in the film’s final act, when his means of expression are limited entirely to his eyes; so prodigious are Redmayne’s gifts that he’s able to nail the film’s single most heartbreaking scene while in this restricted state. Felicity Jones is the living embodiment of the British “stiff upper lip” philosophy as Hawking’s wife, Jane, who gets a far more interesting storyline than I’d expected gong into it; despite her distractingly girlish physicality, Jones is impressively steely, mature, and complex. She provides invaluable support to Redmayne, who gives one of the year’s best performances.

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1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Julianne Moore may have won Best Actress at Cannes for her daringly gonzo performance in Maps to the Stars, but she’s far more likely to get an Oscar nom in this year’s (weak) Best Actress field for this one. A disease movie that falls somewhere between Moore’s previous work in Safe and Sarah Polley’s Away from Her, Still Alice is the devastating story of a brilliant Columbia professor (Moore) who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Her well-to-do Manhattan family (Alec Baldwin is the husband and the kids are played by Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish) watch on uneasily as she fights desperately to hold on to the brain she worked so hard to develop. As a movie it’s just okay, but Julianne is unbelievable. Clip:

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