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A movie buffet in Toronto

The Toronto International Film Festival is the kind of epic, pulse-racing cinematic event that causes joy, stress and exhaustion in equal measure.

It is the so-big-it-hangs-off-the-plate, Buffalo-style fish fry of film festivals, a tourist-friendly, critic-crazed and celeb-mad orgy of cinema that runs from Sept. 4-14. Consider the numbers for #TIFF14: nearly 300 features and more than 100 short films from 79 countries.

Among the major fests – Cannes, Sundance, Telluride, New York, Venice – TIFF is both the most audience friendly and the easiest to criticize.

Happily, for film fans in Toronto, Buffalo and beyond, the festival is remarkably accessible. The large number of films means there always is a ticket available for something, and many of the screenings feature question-and-answer sessions and appearances from stars like Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Meryl Streep.

TIFF has drawn criticism for its anything-and-everything philosophy – this is the only major fest in the world that would screen both Denzel Washington’s “The Equalizer” and the director’s cut of Neil Young’s infamously awful “Human Highway.”

This year has a surplus of Oscar wannabes (though not Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” or David Fincher’s “Gone Girl,” both set to debut at the New York Film Festival), questionable big-studio fare (Robert Downey Jr. in “The Judge”), and, of course, a 338-minute Filipino epic (Lav Diaz’s “From What is Before”).

And 2014 is of particular interest because of TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey’s widely debated declaration of festival war. After the increasingly popular Telluride Film Festival beat Toronto to the punch last year with premieres of eventual Oscar winners “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity,” among others, Bailey decided enough was enough.

Bill Murray is one of TIFF's gems this year. (Associated Press)

Bill Murray is one of TIFF's gems this year. (Associated Press)

In news that has drawn the ire of studios and journalists, it was announced that the first four days of the festival would feature only world and North American premieres.

Essentially, that means films set to debut at Telluride will not screen until after TIFF’s first weekend. This is pretty major, as the first Thursday through Sunday of the festival sees more media attendance than the remainder of the fest.

TIFF, however, had an ace up its sleeve: Bill Murray. If ever a celeb deserved a national holiday, it is Mr. Murray, that rare actor who pleases both critics and audiences. He also is harder to track down than a game-worn Dave Snuggerud jersey.

But TIFF snagged the star, who will participate in a Q-and-A after the premiere of his new film, “St. Vincent,” on Sept. 5. The day also will feature screenings of “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day.” Top that, Telluride.

It all adds up to a typically enticing artistic Bolognese that is thrilling, ambitious, stressful and, for cinephiles, unmissable.

Don't miss these lists that delve into the particulars of #TIFF14:

-- 5 Most Buzzed-About Films

-- 5 Under-the-Radar Picks

-- #TIFFBits

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