The Best and Worst of the Toronto International Film Festival

The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival gets into full swing this week, showcasing some of the fall's most highly anticipated films such as "Gravity," "12 Years a Slave," "August: Osage County," and "The Fifth Estate." As TIFF is considered to be the place where the season's Oscar buzz first starts buzzing, we're looking back on some of the films that soared or crashed based on their reception at the highly influential fest.

The Best

"Silver Linings Playbook" (TIFF Premiere: September 8, 2012)
David O. Russell's tale of of two hilariously troubled young adults in Philadelphia wasn't an Oscar favorite until it first screened at TIFF. The fest gave the film the boost it — and eventual Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence — needed to make its mark on cinema history. "Silver Linings Playbook" won the Canada festival's coveted People's Choice award, and from there it became into an awards season darling.

"Amour" (TIFF Premiere: September 8, 2012)
One of the most moving (and depressing) cinematic portraits of existential panic of all time, Michael Haneke's drama about an elderly couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) whose marriage comes to a crossroads after the wife suffers a stroke went on to be the shoo-in Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. A few months before its well-received run at TIFF (Simon Howell of Sound on Sight called it "a masterful work of the most plain, obvious sort: the kind of film that seems to contain some fraction of the essence of existence"), "Amour" had won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

"Argo" (TIFF Premiere: September 7, 2012)
The film that officially announced the second coming of the guy who starred in (and was almost buried by) "Gigli," "Argo" was the runaway hit of the 2012-13 awards season, a crackerjack thriller with credible true-story significance and a terrific cast. While it only came in second place for the People's Choice Award at TIFF, "Argo" went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Drama, the AFI Award for Movie of the Year and the Academy Award for Best Picture, among many other accolades. Well, on to the Batcave, we suppose ...

[Related: Posthumous Works of James Gandolfini, Cory Monteith, and More at Toronto Fest]

"Black Swan" (TIFF Premiere: September 13, 2010)
Hollywood partied like it was 1999 with "Black Swan," one of the most fiercely creative — and decidedly subversive — studio films to come out of the system since that time often referred to as "the year that changed cinema." Director Darren Aronofsky proved he could be both an 'artist' and a commercial filmmaker all in one deliciously nasty movie, one that featured Natalie Portman losing her damn mind ... and occasionally gettin' busy (really busy) with Mila Kunis. Portman got the heaping helping of the praise, going on to win awards from SAG, the Golden Globes and, yes, the Academy, whilst the astonishing $329 million worldwide box office gross guaranteed that Aronofsky could go make his Noah's Ark movie ... or pretty much anything he wanted, really.

"The Descendants" (TIFF Premiere: September 10, 2011)
TIFF was one of the first venues to screen what would become one of the prime awards darlings of the 2011-12 season, the triumphant return of filmmaker Alexander Payne (who had been absent from feature filmmaking since 2004's "Sideways") and the film that many claimed had the best-to-date performance by George Clooney. This odd and heartfelt tale about a land baron coming to terms with his wife's infidelity — and possible impending death — offered a look at unglamorous, working-class Hawaii and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

"Rachel Getting Married" (TIFF Premiere: September 6, 2008)
Jonathan Demme's dysfunctional family drama was most notable as a showcase for Anne Hathaway, who made it known once and for all that her Disney days were behind her with her performance as Kym, a troubled woman released from rehab so she can attend the nuptials of her older sister, Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt). Hathaway went on to score an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, but it would be the Toronto Film Critics Association that emerged as the film's true champion, giving it five TFCA nominations, of which it won three: Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Performance - Female (Anne was nominated for Best Performance - Female but didn't win).

"Slumdog Millionaire" (TIFF Premiere: September 7, 2008)
The Little Movie That Could, Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" was the sleeper hit and underdog champion of 2008, taking its People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival (The Playlist called it "the film of the festival") and riding it all the way to ten Oscar nominations and eight wins, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. A cheer-inducing crowd-pleaser that proved you don't have to be dark n' dreary to win a whole bunch of awards.

"Up in the Air" (TIFF Premiere: September 12, 2009)
Director Jason Reitman originally didn't plan to have this George Clooney dramedy premiere at Toronto but rushed it through post-production to make it happen. The film's TIFF reception made for plenty of early Oscar buzz (JoBlo said it had a "rapturous response" at the press screening) as it eventually went on to score six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and acting nods for Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.

The Worst

"Jayne Mansfield's Car" (TIFF Premiere: September 12, 2012)
Billy Bob Thronton's return to feature film directing after an 11-year absence (following 2001's "Daddy & Them") was met with high expectations, especially since the film in question sports an impressive ensemble cast that includes Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Kevin Bacon and even Tippi Hedren. Duvall described the family drama as "putting Tennessee Williams in the back seat," though the general consensus was that "Jayne Mansfield's Car" was no "Sling Blade," with George Prentice at Boise Weekly even going so far as saying that this and Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy" took "four hours of my life that I wish I had back." The film finally scored a U.S. release almost a year later ... on VOD, at that, followed by a limited theatrical release that will commence on September 13.

"The Place Beyond the Pines" (TIFF Premiere: September 7, 2012)
Writer-director Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to the emotionally devastating "Blue Valentine" is a powerful modern-day fable about the sins of the fathers (Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper) coming back to haunt the sons (Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen), though it failed to find much of an audience during its limited theatrical run earlier this year — perhaps partly due to its mixed reception at TIFF, with the AV Club saying the film "is undermined by self-seriousness, a tendency to underline the gravity of situations that don’t need the added emphasis" and The Hollywood Reporter saying it's "uneven and perhaps overly ambitious."

"Pleasantville" (TIFF Premiere: September 17, 1998)
A sort of reverse "The Truman Show," director Gary Ross' "Pleasantville" serves as a cautionary tale about conformity via a fantasy setting in which our two heroes (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) are aware that they live in a '50s-era black and white TV sitcom. But at its TIFF premiere, critic Bill Chambers "was never quite sure what Ross was trying to say" and thought the film was "a bit too PG-13 'pleasant' in its execution." While the film went on to rank 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, audiences weren't taken with it during its theatrical run, resulting in a mere $40 million take at the box office (against a $60 million budget).

"Romance & Cigarettes" (TIFF Premiere: September 13, 2005)
"How could a romantic-comedy musical starring James Gandolfini, Steve Buscemi and Mandy Moore go wrong? More realistically, how could it possibly go right?" Those are the questions asked by Barry Hertz of Maclean's in last week's "The Top 10 Forgotten Films of TIFF," in which John Turturro's musical about an adulterous suburban husband was ranked #7. Hertz goes on to explain that a complicated financial background resulted in "Romance & Cigarettes" only hitting a few foreign markets and a very limited U.S. release ... a full two years after its TIFF premiere. The film has since inspired a mild cult following, mostly due to Christopher Walken's lip-synching rendition of Tom Jones' "Delilah."

[Related: TIFF 2013: Four problems the Toronto International Film Festival needs to fix]

"Score: A Hockey Musical" (TIFF Premiere: September 9, 2010)
You'd think that a musical about hockey would at least go over well in Canada, right? Not so for "Score: A Hockey Musical," writer-director Michael McGowan's whimsical tale about Farley Gordon, a teenage hockey player who becomes a national sensation -- kind of like The Who's "Tommy" but without the attack on organized religion (though that's debatable, as it deals with hockey in Canada). "Score" definitely earns points for including (speaking of Canada) Rush's "Time Stand Still" on the soundtrack, though it also has the dubious honor of being "probably the worst film to ever open TIFF," according to Toronto Life.

"Trash Humpers" (TIFF Premiere: September 12, 2009)
Perhaps Harmony Korine's most bizarre experiment to date (and that's saying something), "Trash Humpers" follows a group of elderly peeping toms, "mulling about their deranged existence while engaging in eerie behaviors and the occasional murder," according to IndieWire. The film was shot on lo-fi video and edited with two VCRs to emphasize its "found footage" aesthetic, creating the illusion that these bizarre goings-on were chronicled on a VHS tape that was buried in someone's backyard. Korine himself put it best as he introduced the film at TIFF: ""If you are the kind of person who walks out of movies ... if that is something you do ... and that's cool ... but like, you should probably just go now. You aren't going to like this movie. But if you are into seeing something called 'Trash Humpers,' and that's what it's about really, then I hope you like it."

"W.E." (TIFF Premiere: September 12, 2011)
The Material Girl proved with her feature directorial debut that she couldn't sell movie tickets as well as she could pack concert venues, with "W.E." barely earning over half a million dollars at the box office (against a budget of $29 million). The scores of negative reviews from the film's festival run certainly didn't help any, with Robert Bell of exclaim.ca saying it's "a demonstration of filmmaking ineptitude by someone out of their element." Hey, at least this guy liked it.

See a clip from 'Silver Linings Playbook':