September 16, 2012



This year’s Toronto International Film Festival had a very solid line-up, so much so that although the titles below are listed in rough order of preference, even the worst of them is of some interest, very possibly worth seeing for those intrigued by the genre or filmmaker.  The Festival, as has been the case in recent years, was filled with titles that are likely to be in the mix for year-end awards, and to the eyes of this attendee, was run with high efficiency and consideration for projection and sound quality (OK, maybe not at Thomson Hall, but everywhere else).  It was a pleasure to be part of the experience.

Of course, with literally dozens of films screening every day, every choice to see one movie means missing another.  Among the films I missed and would have liked to have seen:  Looper, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Midnight’s Children, The Place Beyond the Pines, What Maisie Knew, To the Wonder, The Paperboy, Quartet and (a different movie, I swear) A Late Quartet.

A couple of notes.  First, just click on the titles below for the full reviews of each individual film.  And note that a few films are included that screened at Toronto, but were seen outside the environs of the festival.

THE MASTER (Weinstein Company):  Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t spare his characters, his actors or the audience in this magisterial, utterly unique exploration into American loneliness and the ferocious need to belong.  Not a film about Scientology, but a fantasia that’s also a treatise about religion’s underpinnings and appeal.  Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams give historic performances, and the use of image, sound and music throughout is breathtaking.

ARGO (Warners)Ben Affleck’s sensational real-life thriller about the rescue of Americans from1980 Iran confirms, on his biggest scale yet, that he’s a major American director. Both a tense, riveting page-turner and a laugh-out-loud Hollywood satire, with a tremendous cast anchored by himself, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin.

THE SILVER-LININGS PLAYBOOK (Weinstein): The winner of Toronto’s Audience Award was the feel-good movie of the Festival and maybe the year, David O. Russell’s dysfunctional rom-com is all messy charm, mixing together head cases, Philadelphia Eagles football and ballroom dancing.  Jennifer Lawrence proves she can triumph even in a role that’s technically not even right for her, and she and Bradley Cooper define “chemistry” on screen.  Just try not to grin at the ending.

CLOUD ATLAS (Warners)“Over the top” isn’t a criticism, merely a description; you’ve never seen anything quite like it.  This 163-minute epic by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer hopscotches from 18th century slave ships to postapocalyptic battle, with a cast (including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant) that gleefully switches ages, genders and races at every step.  Silly, overblown, shameless, and also spectacularly powerful, gorgeously imagined and ambitious beyond belief.  

FRANCES HA (no distrib)Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s black-and-white charmer is about floundering in the big city and getting back up off the mat.  Baumbach seems reborn after the grumpiness of Margot At the Wedding and Greenberg, and Gerwig may finally have her breakout role.  A small, satisfying, perceptive story that reminds us “indie” isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be.

AT ANY PRICE (Sony Pictures Classics)Ramin Bahrani’s drama, written with Hallie Elizabeth Newton, delves into a world US movies rarely dare enter:  real life on modern American farms.  A story of economics, anger and, ultimately, heartbreak.  Beautifully acted by Dennis Quaid as a farmer determined to get ahead, Kim Dickens as his wife, Red West as his father, and (yes) Zac Efron as his rebellious son.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions): As relaxing and pleasant as a cool evening sipping wine with friends, and that’s pretty close to what Joss Whedon’s ultra-low-budget, black-and-white version of the classic actually is:  he gathered together some of his buddies who love Shakespeare as much as he does, and they had fun in front of and behind the camera for a couple of weeks.  Watching Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker as the bickering lovers and the ensemble around them (most of them familiar from Whedon’s other work), the joy practically shimmers off the screen, and the laughs are expert

THE IMPOSSIBLE (Summit)The 2004 Asian tsunami, breathtakingly realized on screen by director Juan Antonio Bayona.  Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play a tourist couple trying to save their children and find their way back to one another, and they, as well as Tom Holland as the oldest son, are remarkable.  

THE SESSIONS (Fox Searchlight)Not exceptional as a work of cinema (the bland visuals are reminiscent of made-for-TV movies), but Ben Lewin’s film is a moving and funny true story.  The marvelous cast is headed by John Hawkes as a polio victim who decides to lose his virginity in his 30s, Helen Hunt as the sex surrogate he hires to help him accomplish the task, and William H. Macy as the priest who approves.  

IN THE HOUSE (Cohen Media Group)Francois Ozon’s story, set in a French suburb, of the addictiveness of storytelling, is itself an example of what it presents.  Fabrice Luchini is a schoolteacher who, with wife Kristin Scott Thomas, can’t get enough of student Ernst Umhauer’s tales about his fascination with a schoolmate’s family.  Only a low-key ending holds it back from being truly memorable.

SOMETHING IN THE AIR (IFC)Olivier Assayas’s follow-up to Carlos is a more rueful, personal look at 1970s European politics, set after the people’s revolution that never happened.  A completely convincing recreation of a time and place inspired by the filmmaker’s own life, with a notably excellent use of period songs on the soundtrack.

RUST AND BONE (Sony Pictures Classics)Marion Cotillard, with the help of flawless CG, gives a raw, moving performance as a water park whale trainer horribly injured on the job.  Jacques Audiard’s film (his last was the brilliant A Prophet) is a surprising love story between her and underground MMA fighter Matthias Schoenaerts, himself deeply injured in his own way.

GINGER & ROSA (no distrib)Life as a teen in Cuban Missile Crisis-era England, where the threat of Armageddon hung over each day, but the world could as easily end through betrayal by a beloved father and best friend.  Sally Potter delivers her first more or less conventional narrative film, and Elle Fanning, only 13 when the film was shot, is extraordinary as the 17-year old Ginger.  The world-class supporting cast includes Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Annette Bening, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt, Jodhi May and Alice Englert. 

THE SAPPHIRES (Weinstein)A very enjoyable footnote to history, about an Aboriginal girls singing group that formed in Australia and toured Vietnam in the 1960s.  Director Wayne Blair makes up with enthusiasm what he may lack in visual style, and the terrifically likable cast is headed by Chris O’Dowd as the group’s manager and Deborah Mailman as the loudest mouth in the group–and thus, of course, the romantic lead.

NO (Sony Pictures Classics)A great true story–about the ad campaign waged to win the Chilean election that pushed General Pinochet out of office in 1988–somewhat dampened by the unnecessarily extreme visual choices made by director Pablo Larrain.  If you can get past the (deliberately) smudgy, washed-out 1980s video look and the nonstop lurching hand-held camera, there’s a compelling tale being told. 

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (Focus/Universal)Roger Michell’s film, written by Richard Nelson, should have kept its focus on the fascinating story of FDR (Bill Murray, completely in character) and the world’s favorite stuttering king, George VI, bonding over a pre-WWII weekend, and spent less time on the only semi-interesting story of the President’s distant cousin and mistress (Laura Linney).

ON THE ROAD (IFC)A very handsome and intelligent version of the Jack Kerouac beat classic by director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera, lacking only the essential qualities of urgency and insight.  Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley and Kristen Stewart head the enormous, very fine cast, and the lovely photography is by Eric Gautier.

END OF WATCH (Open Road)David Ayer, whose scripts include Training Day and Street Kings, returns to the well of the LAPD, this time with a somewhat annoying found-footage gimmick that has the effect of oversimplifying the material.  Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, however, are excellent as the movie’s partners.

ICEMAN (Millenium)Another indelible portrait of violent madness from Michael Shannon, who’s all too quickly becoming the industry’s go-to guy for this kind of character.  This time he plays Richard Kuklinski, a real life New Jersey hitman who lived a quiet family life while murdering over 100 people over 20 years.  Apart from Shannon’s performance, and some tasty work from David Schwimmer and Chris Evans as low-life colleagues, Ariel Vroman’s film doesn’t have much to offer beyond the central irony.

ANNA KARENINA (Focus/Universal)Joe Wright’s sumptuous film of the Tolstoy novel, written for the screen by Tom Stoppard, is defined and limited by its key metaphor:  almost all the action takes place within a theatre.  This is visualized brilliantly, but it’s all so conceptualized that it also diminishes the humanity of the story.  Keira Knightley is a proficient but unmemorable Anna, and while Jude Law is excellent as Karenin, the film isn’t helped by a notably weak Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky.

THANKS FOR SHARING (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)Or, sex addicts are people too.  Stuart Blumberg, directing his first film (he co-wrote The Kids Are All Right), cheats by making most of his characters addicts in other ways as well, and ties up the stories all too neatly, but there’s no faulting his cast headed by Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad, Gwyneth Paltrow, and in a very impressive acting debut, the singer Pink.

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (CBS)Martin McDonagh’s 2d film after In Bruges is a fun but empty exercise in meta-storytelling, with tales-within-tales-within-movies that don’t add up to much.  Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson, however, devour the script’s rich black comic riffs and collectively keep things hopping all the way to the end.

WRITERS (no distrib)Josh Boone’s debut as a writer-director is so tidy that it could easily be a network pilot.  3 couples, all based within the same writing family, founder and then reconnect when the women realize how supportive, noble and self-sacrificing the men are.  Boone isn’t teeming with original ideas, but he knows how to keep a script moving, and the cast led by Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Logan Lerman and Lily Collins helps.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (no distrib)It may be impossible to make Dickens’ classic dull, but Mike Newell’s new film version (screenplay by David Nicholls) certainly reduces the fun considerably.  The lank Pip (Jeremy Irvine) has little chemistry with his Estella (Holliday Grainger), the visuals are held to a “realistic” level of squalor, most of the performances are subdued, and even Helena Bonham Carter is a disappointment as Mrs. Havisham.  Ralph Fiennes and Robbie Coltrane do what they can to keep some remnant of Dickens’ tone alive.

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (Sony Pictures Classics) Robert Redford’s return to the topical political thrillers he made his own in the 1970s is a letdown, neither incisive as social commentary nor exciting as a country-trotting adventure.  The great guest stars keep showing up–Julie Christie!  Nick Nolte!  Richard Jenkins!  Chris Cooper!  Terrence Howard!  Stanley Tucci!  Anna Kendrick!  Brit Marling!–and this is one instance where Shia LeBeouf can’t be blamed, but Lem Dobbs’ script lacks focus, and Redford’s direction has no snap.

NO ONE LIVES (no distrib)The premise–outlaws decide to rob the worst possible target, a sociopathic kidnapper, while the kidnapping victim happily watches to see who survives–is a fiendishly good one.  But what could have been a really crafty black comedy of gore and surprise settles into just another excuse to watch bodies being ripped apart, with mostly rudimentary direction by Ryuhei Kitamura. 

IMOGENE (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)The new film by Shari Springer Morgan and Robert Pulcini, written by Michelle Morgan, never really finds a tone, floundering between character study and contrived zaniness.  The result capitalizes all too little on a cast that includes Kristen Wiig, very good as a woman forced to return home and admit she’s not the success she always planned to be, Annette Bening as her slot-machine-happy mother, and Darren Criss as the boy-band impersonator who rents Imogene’s old room.

DREDD (Lionsgate)Blood-spattered 3D effects are the most notable asset of Pete Travis’ exploitation exercise in killing a lot of people in 90 minutes.  Devotees of the Judge Dredd comics will be relieved to know that Karl Urban, as the titular cop-cum-executioner, never removes his visor, while fans of Lena Headey playing evil will be better off waiting for next season’s Game of Thrones.  

PASSION (no distrib)Here’s the saddest thing about Brian DePalma’s remake of Alain Corneau’s Love Crime:  as flabby, unthrilling, laughably stylized and badly-acted (even by Rachel McAdams) as it is, it’s still the best thing DePalma’s done in at least a decade (Femme Fatale), and maybe since 1996’s Mission: Impossible.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."