No clear cut audience favorite led the awards at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Screening over 300 films from commercial well-known titles to small low-budget art house fare, voters had a difficult time in finding the right film, which in the past would have broke ahead of the pack.
The Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival went to director Morten Tyldum’s “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. The Weinstein Company release follows the British mathematician who helped break Germany’s Enigma Code during World War II, but was persecuted after the war for being gay. It won the strongest reaction from festival attendees.
Isabel Coixet’s “Learning to Drive” with Patricia Clarkson, Grace Gummer and Ben Kingsley. As a Manhattan writer’s marriage dissolves, she takes driving lessons from a Sikh instructor with marriage troubles of his own. In each other’s company they find the courage to get back on the road and the strength to take the wheel.
Theodore Melfi’s “St. Vincent” starring Bill Murray, Naomi Watts with Melissa McCarthy. The film follows a young boy whose parents just divorced and finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic, war veteran who lives next door.
People’s Choice Documentary Award
The best documentary winner “Beats of the Antonov” directed by Hajooj Kuka’s tells the story of the people of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains in Sudan, showing how they deal with civil war. Traditionally music has always been part of daily life in these areas, but now, it has a new role in a society challenged by war.
Director David Thorpe’s frank and funny documentary “Do I Sound Gay?” discusses the cultural history of the so-called gay voice.
Actor/writer/director Ethan Hawke explores the life and lessons of piano teacher Seymour Bernstein in “Seymour: An Introduction.”
People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award
“What We Do in the Shadows” follow the lives of Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) – three flatmates who are just trying to get by and overcome life’s obstacles-like being immortal vampires who must feast on human blood. Hundreds of years old, the vampires are finding that beyond sunlight catastrophes, hitting the main artery, and not being able to get a sense of their wardrobe without a reflection-modern society has them struggling with the mundane like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming flat mate conflicts.
Kevin Smith’s widely talked about “Tusk” got the first runner-up award in this category. Starring Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment and Johnny Depp, the horror story involves a podcaster named Wallace Bryton (Long,) who goes missing in the backwoods of Manitoba while interviewing a mysterious seafarer named Howard Howe (Parks.) His best friend Teddy (Osment) and girlfriend Allison (Genesis Rodriguez) team up with an ex-cop to look for him.
Second runner-up was Jalmari Heleander’s “Big Game.” The action/adventure follows a young teenage boy as he helps rescue the President of the United States when Air Force One is shot down near his campsite. The film stars Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Stevenson, Jim Broadbent and Felicity Huffman.
Best Canadian First Feature
The musical/sci-fi feature “Bang Bang Baby” stars Jane Levy and Peter Stormare. Filmmaker Jeffrey St. Jules wrote and directed this tale about a small town teenager in the 1960s, who believes her dreams of becoming a famous singer will come true when her rock star idol gets stranded in town. But a leak in a nearby chemical plant that is believed to be causing mass mutations threatens to turn her dream into a nightmare.
Best Canadian Feature Film
Maxime Giroux’s drama “Felix and Meira” stars Martin Dubreuil and Hadas Yaron. A young married woman from Montreal’s Orthodox Jewish community finds freedom from the strictures of her faith through her relationship with a young man who is mourning the death of his estranged father.
International Critics Prize for Special Presentations
Filmmaker Oren Moverman’s drama “Time Out of Mind” stars Richard Gere and Jena Malone. The story follows a homeless man, who tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter.
International Critics Prize for Discover Program
“May Allah Bless France!” is the true story of a French teenager rising out of the underprivileged suburbs through love, education and rap music. Régis is a culturally gifted boy who dreams of success for his rap band, but he must accept drug money for the sake of his project. Discovering Islam and love, he bears with the harsh loss and paybacks of delinquency, until he finds the strength to express himself through music and slam-poetry and ultimately becomes a major artist of the French music scene. Written, directed and starring Abd Al Malik with Sabrian Ouazani and Laruoci Didi.
NETPAC Award for Best Asian Film
“Margarita With a Straw” is an inspirational love story about a Delhi university student and aspiring writer afflicted with cerebral palsy (Kalki Koechlin,) who leaves India for New York University with her mother (Revathy,) where she falls for a fiery young activist (Shayani Gupta.) From a story by Shonali Bose. Co-directed by Shonali Bose and Nilesh Maniyar.
International Short Film
“A Single Body” is written and directed by Sotiris Dounoukos and is a portrait of male friendship set against the raucous and grisly backdrop of an abattoir, where best friends and skilled workers David and Wani diligently ply their trade as they dream of opening their own butchery.
Canadian Short Film
Filmmaker Randall Okita’s “The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer” is a bold blend of live action and digital animation, the lives of two brothers with conflicting memories of their common past take them in very different directions. Okita bends the boundaries of cinema with his spellbinding, seamlessly rendered visuals.
Rob Grant’s short film “What Doesn’t Kill You” stars Connor Jessup, Alex Harrouch, Aidan Greene and Steve Love. The story is about three bullied high school boys who discover that they possess unique abilities in the aftermath of a horrific and fiery car accident.
Apart from shorts and entries in the TIFF Cinematheque section, the award is open to any film screened at the festival. Other contenders at the festival included: “Foxcatcher,” “Nightcrawler,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Top Five,” “Wild,” “Mr. Turner” and “Whiplash.”
Members of the audience are allowed to vote for as many films as they want. To avoid stacking the vote with films that screen in larger theaters, the winning film is selected by the percentage of a film’s total audience.
Sources: NYTimes, The Wrap, TIFF.net, IMDb