L.A. Times critic Betsy Sharkey believes that most of the offerings from the 2014 festivals (Cannes, Telluride and Toronto) have been underwhelming so far, and that a kind of “void” is in the air — a sense of “movie malaise.” She’s not the only one. I’ve heard “this has been a weak year so far” from two distribution executives over the past couple of weeks, and where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. “There was no Gravity to lift us up” at the end of Toronto, Sharkey writes. “No 12 Years a Slave to leave us weeping. No American Beauty. No Slumdog Millionaire. No Silver Linings Playbook. No handful of movies that you just know will take hold, capture the imagination of filmgoers, if not the awards. If ever there has been a year looking for a dark horse, 2014 is it.”

I don’t know what Sharkey has seen or not seen, but so far this year I’ve been levitated and gobsmacked by Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s Birdman (i.e., “the new 8 1/2“), Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s Leviathan, Damian Szifron‘s Wild Tales, Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood, James Marsh‘s The Theory of Everything, Wes Anderson‘s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Steven Knight‘s Locke, Craig Johnson‘s The Skeleton Twins, Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash and Lynn Shelton‘s Laggies. They all had their big debuts at Sundance, Cannes, Telluride or Toronto.