Today, we return to TIFF’s mini-Oscar race with two star-studded studio offerings vying for gold statues. This time, the difference is that both movies actually deserve all the attention coming their way.


Judging purely on the sensory experience, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is easily the most affecting film of the festival. It’s a masterpiece of special effects and immersive filmmaking techniques that work so well, it’ll leave viewers stumbling out of the theatre in a daze. Seen in IMAX 3D, it’s almost like a theme park ride that vividly recreates the experience of space travel. You don’t just get lost in the movie, it envelops you in a visceral and emotional roller coaster and the only possible response is slack-jawed adoration. This must be how stupid people felt after Avatar.

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock star as a pair of astronauts gently floating through space until an unexpected explosion of debris leaves them hurtling through the great unknown with a broken shuttle and no clear way to return to Earth. The film flows on from there in real time and is told visually through a series of long, impossible takes. Much screen time is dedicated to a never-better Bullock alone in the midst of the zero gravity nightmare, with the camera floating around her (occasionally even panning into her eyes/POV) in expressive ways. The story is simplicity itself with the occasional dip into visual metaphors. Some will cry “cliché,” others will appreciate the way Cuaron strips the story down to first person survival and fundamental themes of life and survival.

Yet, even if the screenplay doesn’t work for you, that hardly matters. More than any other film from TIFF, this is all about the experience. Cuaron has crafted a vision of space travel that almost feels divorced from science fiction. It’s all based on contemporary science and technology. The only thing that’s impossible is the beautiful way he moves his virtual camera through space, always finding the perfect place to express Bullock’s emotional and physical state at any given moment. The result is a technical milestone, a visual beauty and a cinematic journey so intense that you can feel it. Some may even have to leave the theatre because they feel ill. For once, that’s a compliment, which proves how well Cuaron did his job. So yeah, I liked it ... a lot. I’m jealous that you still get to experience it for the first time.


August Osage CountyAugust: Osage County

Featuring a line-up of stars slumming in dirty fingernail roles, a TV director, and a claustrophobic family dinner setting, August: Osage County should – in theory – be the type of award-bait feature worth dreading. Though there is, of course, one wild card that changes things: Tracy Letts. Yep, the film was written by the man whose brain spit out Bug and Killer Joe and is based on the play that won him a Pulitzer Prize. So, this isn’t your usual dysfunctional family values Oscar pic, but it isn’t a meth-head Southern Gothic with fried chicken fellatio either. It’s somewhere in between, a hard-edged blast of emotional violence that gives a handful of Oscar hopefuls some actual meat to dig into and shoves the audience out of theatre feeling anything but warm ‘n’ fuzzy.

The set up is simple: a family tragedy reunites a pill-popping mother (Meryl Streep) with her estranged family (including Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor and others) for a weekend where secrets will be revealed and tears will be shed. Letts’ script is an incredible construction, with a vicious Streep ripping into her family until they are forced to fight back. It’s simple story layered with half-truths, deeper meanings, harsh humour and remarkable performances from the entire cast.

It’s a shame William Friedkin didn’t get to make this the third chapter of a Letts trilogy because John Wells’s visual style is a little placid. However, he works wonders with actors and it’s such a confined character piece that doesn’t matter much anyways. The film isn’t quite a masterpiece, but it’s far from safe and genuinely stings. It’ll be interesting to see how audiences react to the film once it’s marketed as a heartwarming film about a family coming together. Viewers unfamiliar with Letts’ more overtly subversive work are going to be taken for

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