Toronto Film Festival Top 5

Sarah Polley NFB
"Stories We Tell"

Yes, it’s impossible. And yes, I saw The Impossible, the horrifying but inspiring Indian Ocean tsunami movie. Tuesday midday, after a screening of Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (with the goofily charming Greta Gerwig) and after interviewing Kristin Scott Thomas and Francois Ozon (for their funny, creepy In the House), it was time to pack up and head home to Philly.

With 20 movies out of the Toronto festival’s 400-plus, I barely scratched the surface, and of course I probably missed a masterpiece or two. (And, by all accounts, a disaster or two, too.) But here’s my personal TIFF top 5, in descending order of greatness:

Stories We TellSarah Polley’s memory doc is a daughter’s investigation into the life of her mother (who died, of cancer, when Polley was 11). It is also an investigation into family secrets, hidden connections, legacies and loss. All sorts of universal truths (and untruths) resonate from this deeply personal work, which is also a tricky masterpiece of filmmaking. Roadside Attractions acquired U.S. distribution rights for the Canadian film, and will release it stateside in early 2013.

Silver Linings PlaybookDavid O. Russell’s adaptation of the Philly-centric Matthew Quick novel is fast, funny, full of life, energy and angst, and also full of great performances -- not only from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in the leads, but Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles and Anupam Kher. Russell ‘s last pic, The Fighter, garnered seven Academy Award nominations. This one should collect at least that many. Opening November 21.

Amour -- German director Michael Haneke won Cannes’ Palme d’Or for this heartbreaker, set entirely within the confines of a Paris apartment, where a long-married couple – French icons Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva – go quietly through their days, until one of them suffers a stroke.  Without sentimentality or false melodrama, Haneke wrests devastating emotion out of his story, and out of his stars’ remarkable performances.  A bracing meditation on growing old, and facing the end. Look for it in late December.

The Impossible  -- The real-life account of a family’s horrific ordeal, vacationing at a beach resort in Thailand when the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 hit. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts are the husband and wife, and Tom Holland, 14 at the time of production, is the oldest of their three boys (and amazing in a physically and emotionally demanding role). A daunting tale of survival, and family, from Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphange), who clearly learned a thing or two about scope and scale from a guy named Spielberg. Dec. 21.

End of Watch – There’s no escaping the impact and immediacy of David Ayer’s beat cop buddy pic, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as officers on patrol in the toughest corner of South Central L.A. Using cell phone cams, surveillance videos, clip-on microcams and web cams, End of Watch literally takes the audience inside their patrol car and along for the ride. And when these two cops – and best friends – get sucked into the nasty business of a drug cartel, things turn harrowing. Maybe a false note at the end, but other than that, Ayer – who’s worked this beat before in Training Day and Street Kings – brings visceral realism to what is also a showcase for Gyllenhaal and Pena’s acting chops. That is, they don’t look like they’re acting at all. Sept. 21.