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Best of the Fest: The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival

Looper TriStar Pictures

We've bid farewell to the Great White North for another year — yup, the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival is officially over. In years past, Oscar winners like "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The King's Speech" made their international debuts at TIFF. With that in mind, we took in every screening our schedules allowed, looking for the Next Big Thing of this year.

We narrowed the Best of Fest list to 15; They may not be the Oscar nominees of 2013 — though we'd bet cash money some of them are — but they'll be among the best movies you'll see for yourself this year. -- By Kevin Polowy and Brooke Tarnoff

'Antiviral'

IFC

Brandon Cronenberg's name looks familiar for a reason; he's the son of "Cosmopolis" director David Cronenberg. And while the imagery in his first feature-length film evokes memories of his dad's work — there are echoes of "Videodrome" and "Naked Lunch" in "Antiviral" — the younger Cronenberg has created something unarguably unique. A vision of a celebrity-obsessed future wherein fans pay to be infected with stars' illnesses turns into a suspenseful race to save lives when the virus industry proves potentially fatal. The whole thing seems a fantastically implausible testament to Cronenberg's imagination. Then again, TMZ already exists. — Brooke Tarnoff

'Argo'

Warner Bros.

In case you weren't convinced by "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town," Ben Affleck offers further proof that he's a full-on filmmaking force to be reckoned with; his third directorial effort, "Argo," is another winner, and we all know three makes a trend. This time, Affleck headlines the film as well, playing a real-life CIA operative who attempts to pull off a bold rescue mission during the Iranian hostage crisis by posing as a Canadian movie producer scouting locations. It's a true story, one almost too unbelievable to believe, and it makes for stirring and thrilling entertainment. Look for this one to be an awards heavyweight. —Kevin Polowy

'Cloud Atlas'

Warner Bros.

One of the festival's most anticipated premieres, "Cloud Atlas" also became Toronto's most hotly debated films. An ambitious collaboration between the Wachowskis ("The Matrix" trilogy) and Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") and based on the bestseller by David Mitchell, this nearly three-hour epic that spans centuries is a gorgeous-looking spectacle to behold, even if its storytelling doesn't always work and fizzles out a bit in the third act (it also doesn't help the distant future's simplified dialect is nearly indecipherable). It's still must-see moviemaking, if only to see what thesps like Halle Berry and Tom Hanks look like as six or seven different characters.  — KP

Also Check Out: Reviews of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival Movies

'Disconnect'

LD Entertainment

On one hand, "Disconnect" is a reminder to get offline and make real connections with real people — on the other, it's a reminder to race home, change all of your passwords and buy an industrial-sized document shredder. In his first feature film, director Henry Alex Rubin ("Murderball") braids together three stories: a journalist investigating underage online sex shows, a shy kid tormented by cyberbullies and a grieving couple ruined by identity theft. The message of the film could default easily to "internet bad," but never does, and the nuance and complexity of each story makes for a powerful whole. Jason Bateman in a rare but effective dramatic role and Jonah Bobo knocking it out of the park as Bateman's son are just the icing on the cake. — BT

'Great Expectations'

Out-source Media

Dickens may have been the bane of your high school existence, but "Great Expectations" is clearly beloved by many, if the number of adaptations is any indication (15, give or take). This is far and away the best, helmed by "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" director Mike Newell, and its trio of "Potter" alum (Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter and Robbie Coltrane) is just one of its charms. Stars Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger bring sexy back to the 19th century, and Bonham Carter was clearly born to play Miss Havisham. — BT

'Hyde Park on Hudson'

Focus

It's Bill Murray's first lead role since 2005's "Broken Flowers." That's reason alone to celebrate, if you ask us. The fact that he goes all in as FDR, one of America's most beloved presidents? Reason to celebrate and steal a golf cart. Framed as a romantic drama about FDR's fling with a distant cousin played by Laura Linney (turns out FDR wasn't a playa but just crushed a lot), this slow but intriguing drama is really about the prez's relationship with the stuttering King George VI in the lead-up to WWII. It may also be the most important hot dog story ever told. — KP

'The Iceman'

Millennium

Thank you, film industry, for continuing to give Michael Shannon ("Take Shelter") lead roles. This time, the husky character actor plays Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer for the mob known as The Iceman (and to his bosses, simply "Pollack") for his habit of freezing his victim's bodies, but also his cold, remorseless persona. The only thing Kuklinski cares about is his family (including the ageless Winona Ryder), so despite his cold-bloodedness, we can still somehow relate to the guy in a Tony Soprano sort of way. The film scores points for not just packing a walloping punch, but for returning Ray Liotta to the wise guy genre, and featuring David Schwimmer and a nearly unrecognizable Chris Evans as killers. — KP

Also Check Out: Stars Looking Hot at the Toronto International Film Festival

'Imogene'

Lionsgate

Anyone rooting for Kristen Wiig to keep on it killing it post-"SNL"/"Bridemaids" will be glad to hear she brings the thunder in this indie that sounds like a drama (once-promising NYC playwright suffers a breakdown after she's dumped by her boyfriend) but delivers laughs like a comedy (fine, it's a dramedy). Annette Bening, Ray Liotta, "Glee"'s Darren Criss all get assists for their sublime supporting roles, but it's Wiig – whose lovable loser stock is starting to rival Will Ferrell and Steve Carell – who makes this one recommended. Once we can master pronouncing it, anyway. — KP

'The Impossible'

Summit

Spoiler alert: You will cry while watching this movie. Unless you're under 10 — and if you are, sit this one out — you'll never forget the tsunami that devastated the populations of 14 Asian and African countries in 2004; watching the events unfold onscreen, in minute detail, pours salt water in a not-yet-healed emotional wound. The title "The Impossible" refers to the chance of surviving such a powerful disaster — but make no mistake. The plot revolves around survivors, but this story won't shield you from the heart-stopping reality of ruin. It's an unflinching but beautiful examination of loss, courage and perseverance. And Naomi Watts looks ghastly— that should get the Academy's attention. — BT

'Looper'

TriStar

It's an astonishing movie on an astonishing number of levels: the alternately compassionate and coolly brutal performances by Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis, the uncanny (and unexpected) physical similarity between the two, a time travel logic that treats sci-fi with real respect and, better yet, an understanding of when to stop explaining it. You'll never have the attention span to soak in all the small details that fill out writer/director Rian Johnson's take on the far and farther future; he's done a bang-up job of world-building. The only disappointment is that we'll only see one movie set there. — BT

'The Master'

The Weinstein Company

Paul Thomas Anderson's highly anticipated follow-up to "There Will Be Blood" that may or may not be based on L. Ron Hubbard and the early days of Scientology (anyone who's ever naively agreed to a "free stress test" will probably say yes) is gorgeously shot, crafty and meditative, even if it doesn't quite live up to expectations. It just never hits a "wow" moment; in other words, there's no milkshake drinking here. That said, you're going to want to see it for the performances, namely Philip Seymour Hoffman (you've never seen him so red-faced) as "master" theologian Lanaster Dodd, and Amy Adams as his quietly cunning wife, Peggy. — KP

'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'

Summit

With "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" author Stephen Chbosky as screenwriter and director, this is possibly the most faithful adaptation of all time. And since "Perks" ranks high among the most touching comings-of-age ever put on paper, by the transitive property, the movie version must be something truly special. And it is. For a story about a teenage boy discovering sex, drugs and "Rocky Horror," it's remarkably sensitive, and Logan Lerman was a solid choice for the lead role. However, it's Ezra Miller's Manic Pixie Dream Boy supporting character that takes the film from beautiful to infinite. — BT

'On the Road'

IFC

A screen version of Jack Kerourac's seminal Beat Generation Bible was long considered unfilmable – and took a helluva long time making its way there once the project commenced – but Walter Salles ("The Motorcyle Diaries") has pulled it off. Granted, he trimmed off 20 minutes from the overly long version that debuted at Cannes, and folks unfamiliar with the source material (do you exist?) shouldn't expect a traditional narrative.  But this is a vibrant, stylish and incredibly faithful adaptation that's just alive in every sense. Dig on this one when it hits theaters in December. — KP

'Sightseers'

Big Talk

Alice Lowe ("Hot Fuzz") and Steve Oram ("Kill List") understand that feeling of barely-repressed rage you get when people carelessly disregard the rules of polite society; the pair wrote and star in "Sightseers," a disturbingly euphoric road trip movie in which a well-behaved, quiet couple punctuates trips to pencil museums and campgrounds with brutal murders of people who piss them off. It's the darkest of black comedies and painfully, relatably funny — it's worth noting that the people sitting behind us talked enthusiastically through much of the screening, missing a hilarious movie and the learning moment unfolding in front of them. They're lucky we're pacifists. — BT

'Spring Breakers'

Muse

Harmony Korine's slyly entertaining satire of a time-honored collegiate institution is the closest thing you'll ever witness to an avant garde frat party. There are boobs and beer bongs aplenty, but captured with an artful, "indie" aesthetic, if you can picture it (go ahead, we'll wait). The film's gotten notice for being the "naughty" R-rated coming-out party for teen idols Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez (they play two of four college co-eds who get into all sorts of trouble in a jaunt to Florida), but this movie is worth seeing alone (and you really should see it) for James Franco's hilariously awesome turn, as a gun-toting "gangsta" with cornrow dreadlocks and grills. We wouldn't mind this character in every movie ever. — KP

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