Toronto 2013 reviews: get your first look at this year’s oscar hopefuls

Toronto — For years, the Toronto International Film Festival has been a veritable breeding ground for Academy Awards hopefuls, and from the looks of the first few days of reviews, the year’s slate has been no different.

Critics, nearly unanimously, have declared 2013 to be a strong year for the TIFF selection, and reviews of new films starring Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, and Michael Fassbender only bolster their case.

Check out our review roundup from the folks over at Film.com to see what they’re saying about this year’s TIFF slate.

Rush
What You Need To Know “The two main characters of the film, which is based upon a true story, are drivers Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). The two couldn’t be more different, Lauda, an Austrian, is all precision and science while the British Hunt embodies confidence and wild abandon. Their lifestyles, method of driving, and motivations are clearly in direct opposition, creating a natural rivalry that shows off the best side of sport, the true beauty of serious competition.”

Should You See It? “Given the drivers are wearing helmets, and speed is difficult to convey without physical movement, accolades should be handed out to a film that, more than once, makes you think, ‘Aaargh, don’t crash!’ A rich triumph that gracefully hammers home its themes, ‘Rush’ sets expectations and then defies them, the narrative crowning a hero only to show that there may have been another way to get there. The most compelling force in the film isn’t one of the main characters so much as it is the idea of two people pushing each other to the brink, and then way over it.” — Laremy Legel

The Fifth Estate
What You Need To Know “Bill Condon’s film about WikiLeaks, the free speech haven and/or ‘up against the wall motherf**ker’ activism website (depending on your point of view) is somewhat simpatico with the actions of its leader, Julian Assange.”

Should You See It? “For a film that reminds use over and over that this is a whole new world, this movie feels awfully familiar…. Bluntly, it does some things right, some things wrong, and isn’t afraid to take an inelegant info dump and dust off its hands.” — Jordan Hoffman

Prisoners
What You Need To Know “[Nothing] prepares Keller (Hugh Jackman) or wife Grace (Maria Bello) for the abduction of their daughter and the equally young daughter of Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) from somewhere between their respective homes in suburban Pennsylvania. The only lead left for Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) to pursue is the nearby appearance of a shady RV, driven by simple-minded local Alex Jones (Paul Dano). Without a lick of physical evidence, Loki finds himself unable to hold Alex in custody, and so a distraught Keller decides to take matters into his own hands.”

Should You See It? “[Director] Villeneuve and [writer] Guzikowski aren’t necessarily immune to every crime-thriller convention: the requisite red herring is immediately transparent, while some breathless exposition in the second act is needed to thrust us into the home stretch. Still, rarely a moment is ever wasted, a consequence ignored, and though the climax is a corker, the final shot is even better. ‘Prisoners’ requires and rewards your attention in equal measure. Be ready.” — William Goss

12 Years A Slave
What You Need To Know “The very title of Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ provides that rare sliver of hope by establishing a rigid timeline within which the once-freed Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) would see release after being kidnapped and sold back into bondage in the mid-1800s. Northup’s story was a true, terrible thing, and by virtue of telling it, the burdens of all American slaves are unflinchingly realized by Ejiofor and McQueen alike.”

Should You See It? “‘Slave’ might be the most grimly accurate depiction of American slavery committed to film, which in turn threatens to render monotonous countless inhumane offenses as the story stretches into its third hour. It’s not that McQueen and writer John Ridley (working from Northup’s own memoir) could help it, assuming they even wanted to. The subject matter doesn’t exactly invite comic relief, while cutting away to Solomon’s surely concerned family up north would have rung false and detracted from such an aptly oppressive experience.” — WG

Blue Ruin
What You Need To Know “‘Blue Ruin’ begins by introducing us to Dwight (a brilliantly benign Macon Blair), a guy with pallid eyes and a bushy beard who lives in his car somewhere in the nondescript American south. Awoken one morning by a local police officer who seems sympathetic to his existence, Dwight is informed that someone very important to him has been released from prison.”

Should You See It? “‘Blue Ruin’ is a feral and staggeringly well-conceived revenge saga that extrapolates one vagrant’s long-simmering quest to avenge the death of his parents into a study of how violence (a word that could apparently use some nice synonyms) is transformative, an animating force unto itself capable of turning tools into weapons and men into killers.” — David Ehrlich