5 Lessons From the Toronto Film Festival

As Toronto comes to an end, here are the surest Oscar bets, the best movies and the biggest disappointments

After 11 days, nearly 300 films and more than 1,000 screenings, the Toronto International Film Festival ended on Sunday with what was for TIFF a slow day: only about 85 public screenings, and none of the special press and industry screenings that filled out the calendar for most of the festival's duration.

Since opening on Sept. 6, TIFF has showcased "7 Boxes" and "Seven Psychopaths" … a maker ("The Maker") and some murderers ("The Act of Killing") … clouds ("Cloud Atlas") and silver linings (the audience-award-winning "Silver Linings Playbook").

Ben Affleck in ArgoAlso read: Toronto Film Fest Day 10: An Old-Fashioned Ending to a Forward-Looking Festival

TheWrap was there for much of the festival, watching and talking and learning a few things about the movies, the deals and the impact on this year's awards race. Here are five things we learned in Toronto:

The Oscar picture is still cloudy.

Before the fall festivals, there were lots of question marks among films considered potential awards movies. "Argo" (left), "The Master," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Anna Karenina," "Hyde Park on Hudson," "Cloud Atlas" and many more had yet to be seen, and all the great awards expectations were based on little real evidence.

Also read: The Oscar Race: So Far, It's Looking Beastly

Now they've all been seen, and some things are clear. "Argo" and "Silver Linings Playbook" are strong mainstream movies with terrific awards chances; "The Master" is artier and more challenging, but it should have plenty of passionate supporters within the Academy.

But do any of them look like frontrunners? "Argo" and "Silver Linings" may have that mantle at the moment, but the former is a thriller and the latter a comedy, neither of them genres with particularly strong Oscar track records.

Meanwhile, some serious contenders skipped Toronto, Telluride and Venice, and are still waiting in the wings. Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" and Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" will be unveiled at the New York Film Festival, while Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables," Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit," Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," Gus Van Sant's "Promised Land" and Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" have yet to be released.

I'd guess that the eventual winner is more likely to be found among the unseen group than the recent festival debuts – but the big movies released late in every other season flop as often as they fly, so it might well be safer to bite the bullet and consider "Silver Linings" and "Argo" (in that order, I'd say) the top dogs for now.  

Cloud AtlasIt's good to be divisive.

If there's one thing that a lot of Toronto's films had in common, it's that they prompted extreme reactions. No film illustrates this better than "Cloud Atlas," which was proclaimed the year's best film by some critics and one of the worst movies ever made by others.

Also read: Toronto Film Fest Day 3: 'Silver Linings Playbook' Is an Instant Contender, But What the Hell is 'Cloud Atlas?'

Other bold, ambitious and divisive movies at TIFF include Joe Wright's stagey, theatrical take on "Anna Karenina" and Harmony Korine's subversive teen movie "Spring Breakers." Even Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," which sits at a formidable 87 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes, has begun to pick up some strongly dissenting voices.

Then again, the TIFF lineup was a strong reminder that there's nothing wrong with prompting strong and polarized reactions. The films that did so were clearly among the most interesting work of the fest – and in the race for Oscar nominations, at least, it's better to be passionately loved by the minority than mildly liked by the majority.

To the WonderA speedier Terrence Malick isn't a better Terrence Malick.

The reclusive filmmaker has been a favorite of cineastes for decades, working only rarely but winning raves for films like "Badlands," "Days of Heaven," "The Thin Red Line" and last year's Best Picture nominee "The Tree of Life."

In a surprising change-of-pace for Malick, he brought his new movie, "To the Wonder," to Toronto only 17 months after the Cannes premiere of "Tree of Life." If the speed was unusual for Malick, so was the reaction: In place of the raves that Malick usually receives, "To the Wonder" was greeted with at best mild admiration, and more often by the sense that its director had returned to the same well – langurous pace, beautiful landscapes, people walking around slowly while their thoughts are delivered in philosophical voiceovers – too many times.

Also read: Toronto Film Fest Day 5: Terrence Malick Is at It Again

Malick's least linear film (which is saying something after "Tree of Life"), "To the Wonder" is also likely to be his least honored one – and at the moment, it is still without distribution.

With all those films and all those businesspeople in town, money is going to be spent.

You didn't hear about any feverish bidding wars or big-money deals, but acquisitions were steady and solid throughout the festival. About 40 films have sold so far, three-quarters of them to U.S. distributors; among the movies finding homes are "Spring Breakers," "The Place Beyond the Pines," "Love, Marilyn" and "What Maisie Knew."

Roadside and Lionsgate were particularly busy, either individually buying or teaming to buy a batch of films that included "Much Ado About Nothing," "Thanks for Sharing," "Stories We Tell," "Emperor" and "Imogene."

Missing in action so far: Noah Baumbach's "France Ha," which has been rumored to be on the verge of signing a deal for days, and "To the Wonder," which will no doubt find a home somewhere.

Toronto is still the best place to see a whole lot of very good movies.

Yes, TIFF programmers served up some disappointments. (I didn't care for "Hyde Park on Hudson," except for Bill Murray's performance, and felt that the makers of "The Central Park Five" could have told the same story far more succinctly and effectively.)

But the festival's lineup of documentaries was strong and deep, including the horrifying and riveting "The Act of Killing" (below) and the eye-opening likes of "Mea Maxima Culpa," "How to Make Money Selling Drugs" and "Artifact." And more often than not, I liked the narrative films I saw, even if it was a struggle to stay alert during the first hour of "Cloud Atlas" when that hour happened to be 9-to-10 a.m. 

The Act of KillingAlso read: Horrifying Toronto Doc 'The Act of Killing' Restages Mass Murder as Twisted Entertainment

The consensus, which solidified during the front-loaded first weekend and endured even as more dubious titles debuted later in the festival, is that this year's festival offered far more winners than losers, more happy surprises than clanking disappointments.

For the record, my favorites of the 28 TIFF movies I saw (and by necessity I focused on the more mainstream titles) were "The Act of Killing," "The Master" and "Silver Linings Playbook." If I had to do a Top 10 I'd add "Amour," "Anna Karenina," "Argo," "Cloud Atlas," "Frances Ha," "Like Someone in Love" and "Seven Psychopaths."

And now it's time to see how many of those titles will survive outside of Toronto.