Top five films at TIFF

Nick Bergeman ~Staff Writer~

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Photo courtesy of | Room is based on the 2010 novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue.

There are clear seasons in the cinematic year, though most of them go unnoticed by the general public. Sure, everyone knows about the summer movie season, which is rich in blockbusters and high-octane entertainment. The weather may be about to cool down, but the movies are about to heat up for the critical season, which is kicks off with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Yes, there is a critical season, or Oscar season, when most of the movies that will be nominated or win big awards will be released. Most critics point to the TIFF, which begins every year the Thursday after Labor Day, as the real beginning of the season because many big name films that hope to eventually grab Oscar nominations premiere there.

The Cannes, Sundance, Venice, Berlin and New York film festivals all certainly have prestige, but being well received at TIFF has proven to be a major advantage at the Oscars in the last few years. During the last seven years, five of the Academy Awards for Best Picture winners have either premiered or have been shown at TIFF. September buzz in Toronto can mean big February buzz in Los Angeles.

TIFF is a different kind of film festival because its prestigious award is not decided by some panel of highbrow film geniuses, but by the people. TIFF’s hundreds of films are open to the public, though tickets are expensive. The audience then votes on their favorite of the “Special Presentations” for the Audience Award. The audience award at the 2015 TIFF was awarded to “Room,” directed by Lenny Abrahamson, but there were numerous others that look to be hits with both critics and audiences in the fall.

Though dozens of films received good word from the festival, five of the names that generated the most buzz are “Beasts of No Nation,” “The Danish Girl,” “The Martian,” “Room” and “Spotlight.”

“Beasts of No Nation” may not be worth a visit to the cinema because you will be able to watch it in the comfort of your own home on Netflix on Oct.16, which is the same day that it will begin a limited theatrical run. Directed, written and filmed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (“True Detective”), the film tells the story of a young boy in West Africa named Agu (Abraham Attah), who is forced to join a group of mercenaries led by a sadistic commandant (Idris Elba) when his father is killed in a civil war. It was adapted by the 2005 novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala.

“The Danish Girl” tells the true story of one of the first known recipients of gender reassignment surgery in 1920s Copenhagen. The film chronicles the crisis of identity and transition of Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne), who was born Einar Wegener, as well as her struggles in her marriage to Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) during and following her revolutionary transition. “The Danish Girl” was directed by Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech,” “Les Misérables”) and written by Lucinda Coxon, who adapted it from the book of the same name by David Ebershoff.

The film has received some backlash for casting a cisgendered man to play a transgendered woman. Limited release set for Nov. 27, with no set wide release. “The Martian” has been everywhere, but it lives up to the hype. Adapted by Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods,” Netflix’s “Daredevil”) from the bestselling novel by Andy Weir, the film tells the story of an astronaut (Matt Damon), who is presumed dead on a manned mission to Mars and left behind, where he fights to survive and contact Earth so that he can be rescued. The science fiction tale is helmed by one of the great science fiction directors, Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner”). Word says the film is surprisingly funny, so look forward to that. Wide release set for Oct. 2.

“Room” may have won the audience award at TIFF, but it may have a hard time attracting as wide an audience as the rest of films, even within the Academy. Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own novel, this film’s story is about a young mother, Ma (Brie Larson), and her five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). They are trapped in a garden shed for seven years, and decide to break out. Lenny Abrahamson (“Frank”) directed the picture that audiences are going crazy over. Limited release set for Oct. 16, with nationwide release set for Nov. 6.

“Spotlight” covers a subject that will induce shame, anger, frustration, discomfort and many other strong emotions in many members of the Xavier community: the cover-up of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church. The Boston Globe’s “spotlight” team, the oldest continually running newspaper investigative unit in the U. S., initially broke the scandal to the public. The film, which was cowritten and directed by Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “Win Win”), centers on that 2003 unit of reporters and their discovery of and struggle to investigate and report on the scandal. The ensemble cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci, among others. Wide release is set for Nov. 6.