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TIFF 2012: Hidden gems of the festival

Will Perkins
Wide Screen
September 4, 2012

While the Toronto International Film Festival is probably best known for marking the unofficial start of the Hollywood awards season, there are plenty of movies worth seeing that are not going out of their way to vie for Oscar gold. It's not that they aren't award-worthy films - quite the contrary - it's just that they were not necessarily produced with trophies in mind.

With nearly 300 international films playing over the 11-day festival, there's a lot to see in a very limited amount of time. Is it any wonder that high-profile films like "Looper," "Argo," "Hyde Park on Hudson," and "The Master" get all the attention at TIFF? The spotlight shining elsewhere, quality films that don't boast the same star power or marketing budget often slip through the festival cracks.

Here are a few English-language hidden gems worth looking out for at TIFF 2012.

"Berberian Sound Studio"
This horror movie about the making of a horror movie is a must for genre fans and cinematic history buffs. Director Peter Strickland's "Berberian Sound Studio" is the weird tale of soft-spoken English sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones), whose latest gig -- working on an over-the-top violent Italian "giallo" film -- begins to take its toll on quiet Brit's mental health.

A love letter to behind-the-scenes film wizards like Gilderoy and a time before slasher flicks dominated the horror genre, "Berberian Sound Studio" debuted to rave reviews at several European film festivals before being added to the TIFF roster.

See also: 'Seven Psychopaths' gets a red-band trailer

"Room 237"
A documentary that examines the mythos surrounding Stanley Kubrick's landmark 1980 horror film "The Shining," "Room 237" is an obsessive film fan's dream come true. While urban legends surround many famous films, Kubrick's "The Shining" is a special case. Perhaps no other modern movie is as plagued by stories of subliminal messages and double meanings hidden within its footage.

The labyrinth-like corridors of the Overlook Hotel provide doc director Rodney Ascher with an appropriately terrifying backdrop to explore his speculative interpretations of "The Shining." Sounding like part mad cap conspiracy theory, part fascinating academic deconstruction, "Room 237" is for those of us who have probably seen "The Shining" one too many times.

"Frances Ha"
Kudos to "Squid and the Whale" director Noah Baumbach for keeping this one close to his chest; nobody even knew the director had a film ready for TIFF until "Frances Ha" was announced as part of the 2012 line up last month. Starring indie darling Greta Gerwig ("Lola Versus," "To Rome With Love"), the film follows Frances, a struggling dancer/dance teacher who floats about Brooklyn trying to find her way in life. As the film was shot in black and white, TIFF's programmers have compared the film to Woody Allen's seminal (and similarly colourless) film "Manhattan." No pressure.

Baumbach and Gerwig worked together on 2010's "Greenberg," but have since become an item. Gerwig co-wrote the film with Baumbach, so it will be interesting to see how that relationship colours the pair's work.

See also: Bradley cooper doubles down on Toronto for TIFF

"The Bay"
It's mother nature run amok in director Barry Levinson's cautionary found-footage flick "The Bay." Told from multiple perspectives (and video devices), the film documents a parasitic outbreak in the small town of Claridge, Maryland. While the parasites grow inside the townspeople, they slowly take over the minds and bodies of the infected. But the real terror begins when the parasites begin to hatch.

Seeing an established filmmaker like Levinson ("Rain Man," "Wag the Dog") take a crack at the emerging found-footage genre is an exciting prospect. Here's hoping "The Bay" fares a little better than Levinson's last foray into science fiction territory, the disastrous 1998 adaptation of Michael Crichton's "Sphere."

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