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David Rooney: Given that Toronto is so frequently awash with starry, stillborn ensemble comedies about dysfunctional families, there was reason to approach David O. Russell‘s Silver Linings Playbook with apprehension. Not necessary. The movie takes its cue from characters struggling to connect while managing minor or major disorders, but its manic energy and crackpot humor never exclude affecting emotional observations. In addition to Bradley Cooper doing arguably his sharpest screen work to date, the film showcases a revelatory turn from Jennifer Lawrence. On a much smaller scale, I was smitten with Jun Robles Lana‘s Filipino drama Bwakaw, which also plays in the upcoming New York Film Festival. A grumpy old gay man, an adorable stray dog and an unlikely friendship that blossoms into unrequited love sound like syrupy ingredients. But anchored by a wonderful performance from local screen vet Eddie Garcia, this gentle film is enriched by humanistic insights into the snares of solitude and the potential, even late in life, to escape them.
Jordan Mintzer: Again teaming with director Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph), Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek pulled the rug out from under many a viewer in his hilarious and fascinating cinephile documentary, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. Revisiting vintage scenes from an array of recent classics — from The Sound of Music to The Dark Knight, by way of Taxi Driver, Jaws and Titanic — the intellectual superstar demonstrates how such movies are never quite what you (or the filmmakers) think they are: In fact, they’re often the exact opposite.
John Defore: Rhino Season, Bahman Ghobadi‘s poetic look at the effects of political imprisonment, not only offered a chance to see what the documentary-leaning filmmaker would do with fictional narrative, it introduced me to Behrouz Vossoughi, who was a star in Iran before fleeing that country’s revolution in 1979. Vossoughi’s career floundered in the U.S., making his nearly dialogue-free performance here — as a poet jailed for 30 years, looking for paths back into his old life — all the more moving.
Deborah Young: Who could have imagined that the second film of a young Spanish director would turn out to be one of the most gripping disaster movies of the year? The Impossible, Juan Antonio Bayona‘s epic re-creation of the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, is a lavish production that is visually impressive, emotionally realistic and relentlessly paced. Edge-of-seat performances by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are fully supported by a trio of three child actors who give the story its extraordinary realism and visceral impact.
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