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TIFF 2014: A look at the opening weekend

The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, continuing through Sept. 14, will go down as an important one for several reasons, but the most significant development might be Festival Street, an ambitious, fun collection of food trucks, Bill Murray masks and live music that has bought a vibrant feel to King Street.

But it has not been without difficulty. Traffic has been horrendous, with the closed streets resulting in driver upset and even some late celeb arrivals.

So does that make Festival Street a win or a loss? Maybe both. While attendees are pleased, anyone attempting to drive is not.

Here are some other winners and losers from the opening weekend of TIFF ‘14.

Winner: “The Theory of Everything”

On paper, at least, a Stephen Hawking biopic seems to hit every element of an Oscar-worthy film: a love story about one of history’s most idiosyncratic thinkers, one who suffers from a degenerative disease. But James Marsh’s film, while conventional in structure, raises the biopic to compelling art thanks to great performances from sure-fire Oscar nominees Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Make no mistake, this is certain awards contender.

Loser: “Men, Women & Children”

Jason Reitman’s feature about the perils of the internet did not fare much better than last year’s “Labor Day.” Its Academy Awards potential took a dramatic hit at TIFF.

Winner: Jake Gyllenhaal

The “Prisoners” star continued his ascent to the ranks of young greats with the searing, darkly comical “Nightcrawler.” He starred in and produced this thriller which — believe it — compares favorably with classics like “Network.”

Loser: James Franco

Franco does Faulkner! Just not very well, apparently. He directed and starred in the poorly received “Sound and Fury.” Note to Franco: Start studying the choices of Jake Gyllenhaal.

Winner: Bill Murray

TIFF went crazy for the star, whose performance in “St. Vincent” was widely acclaimed. Perhaps only Murray would work the crowd so winningly on the red carpet during a torrential downpour.

Loser: Al Pacino

Pacino continues to disappoint. His two new films, “Manglehorn” and “The Humbling,” were greeted with tepid responses in Venice, and did not fare much better in Toronto.

Winner: Chris Rock

Has Rock finally broken his cinematic losing streak? He directed and started in the well-received comedy “Top Five.”

Loser: Adam Sandler

Poor Sandler. Starring in “Men, Women & Children” and “The Cobbler,” he hooked up with two solid directors, Jason Reitman (“Juno”) and Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”), respectively. But neither film made waves at TIFF.

Winner and loser: TIFF

Consider this: In just three days, I saw seven films I would classify as very good — “Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Leviathan,” “Eden,” “Nightcrawler,” “The Duke of Burgundy,” “The Theory of Everything” and “While We’re Young.” And that is without seeing some of the festival’s most-buzzed entries, including “Maps to the Stars,” “Wild” and “The Imitation Game.”

But without such high-profile fare as “Birdman” and “Gone Girl,” some will look at the TIFF lineup and see holes. That’s not an entirely accurate view. There is simply too much here that is great to walk away disappointed. That, in a nutshell, is TIFF, and that is why the festival occurring so close to Western New York is something to be thankful for.

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