I look forward to my TIFF weekend movie extravaganza each year. It gives me an unexplained sense of pride that Toronto hosts this internationally acclaimed festival. As if somehow I had a personal vested interest, role or contribution. Over 40 years and still going strong. Not bad considering the founder was told nobody would come to a festival in Toronto. But Marshall knew that, like the Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. And we thank him for building it. Having now had a week to digest my flicks, I thought I’d share my picks.

Many book-lovers eschew film as a lesser art form. I appreciate both. While there’s nothing like the smell and feel of a good book, the limitless sparks to our imagination that they can inspire, movies too (when done well) can offer unique experiences that leave you breathless and awestruck, or wounded and devastated. This year had many such experiences.

Mina Shum’s Meditation Park was a lovely kick-off to my TIFF experience this year. Exploring culture, sex, aging and relationships, Shum takes the viewer on a roller coaster emotional journey. It was raw, real, and grounded, packing an unexpected punch. Great acting didn’t hurt.

The Rider rocked me, taking me by surprise in its visceral portrayal of humanity. It struck me as Broke Back Mountain meets Heartland. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous and counter-intuitive, but I think it’s apt at a certain level. I was particularly blown away at the end of the movie to note in the credits that it was a docu-drama and the actors were the real deal. They were charismatic and authentic – brilliant performances (but heartbreaking). I’m still not sure if I left the film feeling hope or despair.

My Days of Mercy rounded off Day 1 at TIFF for me. While some people found the central premise unlikely, I found the film real and human. It’s power lay in the finely tuned understatement of the acting.

Day 2 kicked off with The Leisure Seeker, which somehow managed to be both light and devastating at the same time. Even tackling difficult issues like aging, cancer and dementia, with Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland’s palpable chemistry, how can you go wrong?

Mary Shelley was perhaps the biggest surprise for me. Coming in with low expectations, I was completely blown away. The cinematography was stunning, the acting nothing short of brilliant and the story surprisingly deep and multi-layered. Elle Fanning was strong and believable as Mary Shelley, and Douglas Booth was positively mesmerizing on screen.

I was considerably less enchanted with The Other Side of Hope. Admittedly, following Mary Shelley it had big shoes to fill, but it just failed to hit the mark for me. It definitely had moments and strengths, but overall its quirkiness didn’t resonate for me and left me frustrated or disengaged at times.

Another pleasant surprise was C’est la Vie, which left me in stitches. It’s not often that a film has an entire theatre in hysterics, but this flick hit it out of the park over and over again, with the audience erupting into ever increasing gales of laughter. If you need a pick-me-up film, this will do the trick. A great note to end the festival.

Overall at TIFF this year, as good film is intended to do, we were wrung through the emotional wringer. From the power of the sweeping saga to the potency of the minute details, there were tears and laughter, inspiration and devastation, profound grief counter-pointed by moments of sheer joy and abandon. Big sigh … until next year.

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