The Telluride International Film Festival is done for another year (read all our coverage here), and though the Venice Film Festival has some big movies still yet to unspool, it too is starting to wind down (catch up with our ongoing coverage here). Which can only mean one thing: it’s time to head north for the Toronto International Film Festival.
Cannes, Berlin and Venice might have the cinephile prestige, but TIFF is rapidly making an argument for being the biggest film festival in the world, with huge movies being unveiled and more to watch than you could ever hope to see. As we’re sure you’re aware by now, it’s also become an increasingly crucial Oscar launching pad: every Best Picture winner since "No Country For Old Men" has been featured at the festival.
We’re just 24 hours away from the festival kicking off, and the Playlist team are heading to Toronto as we speak. So to get you ready, we’ve picked out fifteen gems from the line-up (all world premieres, so the below excludes some of the films that already bowed at Cannes, Venice or Telluride) that we’re particularly excited about. Take a look below, let us know what you’re excited about, and bookmark this link here for all our coverage over the next couple of weeks.
Synopsis: A solitary shoe repairman on the Lower East Side discovers a magic pair of footwear that lets him step into the lives of his customers.
What You Need To Know: Frustratingly, every time it feels like Adam Sandler is off to do something interesting, like "Punch Drunk Love" or "Funny People," he soon scurries back to the studio comedies that made his name. But with diminishing returns finally kicking in on the latter ("Jack & Jill," "That’s My Boy" and "Blended" have all disappointed recently), it seems like the actor might be making a more concerted effort to make quality fare, with not one but two projects premiering at TIFF. One is Jason Reitman‘s "Men Women & Children" (see below), but the first is "The Cobbler," an odd-sounding fable from writer/director Thomas McCarthy. Sandler heads up a diverse and impressive cast that also includes Dustin Hoffman, Ellen Barkin, Dan Stevens, Melonie Diaz, Steve Buscemi and Method Man, and though the premise sounds like it could overdose on whimsy, McCarthy’s previous form with "The Station Agent," "The Visitor" and "Win Win" suggests that he’s one of the few who could make a film like this work.
When? Premiering on the second Thursday of the festival and one of the last big films to land, this doesn’t yet have U.S. distribution, but will likely cause a bidding war if it’s even halfway good.
Synopsis: In Paris in the early 1990s, two friends form a DJ duo among the emerging electronic dance music scene that spawned the likes of Daft Punk and Justice.
What You Need To Know: Thanks to "The Father Of My Children" and "Goodbye First Love," Mia Hansen-Love has established herself as one of the most exciting talents in film right now, and there’s every chance that "Eden" could introduce her to her widest audience yet. Co-written with her brother Sven, who was himself a successful DJ, the film looks to be a sort of "Almost Famous" for the EDM age, following a fictional DJ act formed alongside Daft Punk. For the first time, Hansen-Love is working partly in English, with American indie stars Greta Gerwig and Brady Corbet turning up for NYC-set scenes, but it’s relative newcomer Felix De Givry who takes the lead for a film that seems to be the director’s biggest in scope and scale yet. Don’t expect bombast, though: festival programmers describe it as a "low-key epic," which hopefully means that the filmaker’s impeccably nuanced feel for relationship drama and beautifully sketched sense of character is still intact. Dance music has rarely if ever been successfully portrayed onscreen, but if anyone can make the definitive DJ movie, it should be Hansen-Love, and there’s little at the festival we’re looking forward to as much as this film.
When? Screens at TIFF on Friday, then will head to NYFF next month, ahead of a French release in November. No U.S. distributor yet, but this should be a hot property, given the US stars and commercial ties to EDM.
"The Keeping Room"
Synopsis: In the dying days of the Civil War, three South Carolina women are besieged in their family farm by a pair of Yankee scouts.
What You Need To Know: The home invasion movie is a popular genre, but "The Keeping Room" promises to flip that category on its head on a number of levels. For one, it centers on a trio of women (Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and relative newcomer Muna Otaru). For another, it’s set during the Civil War, and for another still, it features Confederate heroines and Yankee villains (played by Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller). And Julia Hart‘s script, which made the Black List a few years back, promises to not just be a genre film, but thematically rich one. It marks the sophomore feature from British director Daniel Barber, who was Oscar nominated for the short "The Tonto Woman" before breaking through with Michael Caine vigilante picture "Harry Brown," and he certainly has the chops to make something truly memorable here. There’s not much else like this at the festival, and we’re genuinely excited to find out whether or not it works out.
When? Screens Monday at TIFF, no release date in the U.S. yet.
"Love & Mercy"
Synopsis: The story of Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson, and his struggle with addiction and mental illness, told across two time periods.
What You Need To Know: Generally speaking, the idea of another potentially bland music biopic is one that makes our heart sink, and yet "Love & Mercy" is one of our most anticipated films of the festival. In part, it’s because of the subject matter: Brian Wilson has always been one of pop’s most fascinating figures, and rather than attempting to span an entire life, the approach here seems to be focused on his sessions with a controversial therapist. In part, it’s because of an excellent cast assembled: Paul Dano plays the young Wilson, and John Cusack the older, with Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks among the supporting players. And furthermore, there’s a lot of strong behind-the-scenes talent involved: Oren Moverman co-wrote the script, Wes Anderson DoP Robert Yeoman shot the film, "The Social Network" co-Oscar winner Atticus Ross is scoring, and though director Bill Pohlad —making his sophomore feature— is known more as a producer, he’s got great taste, having been partly behind films like "Brokeback Mountain," "The Tree Of Life" and "12 Years A Slave." Our hopes are high that this is much more than just cursory look at one of rock ‘n roll’s most complex figures.
When? No distribution yet, but this could be a hot buy if it looks like it has awards potential.
"Men Women & Children"
Synopsis: A group of parents and children grapple with love, lust, intimacy and self-esteem in the internet age.
What You Need To Know: The Reitman family have a long association with TIFF (they are big contributors to many initiatives of the fest), and as such, all of Jason Reitman‘s features bar "Young Adult" have screened there. Last year’s "Labor Day" was deemed to be Reitman’s first major misfire by pretty much everyone, but the four films that preceded it showed such an assured ability to mix comedy and drama that we’ll always be paying attention to what he’s got coming, and "Men Women & Children" is no different. The director’s first true ensemble piece, it’s an adaptation of a novel by Chad Kultgen, and appears to be closer to Todd Solondz than, say, Billy Wilder, focusing on sexuality in the internet era, and with a clever "Sherlock"-esque visual twist. Unlikely TIFF double-biller Adam Sandler leads the cast, and Reitman’s usual canny sense of casting looks to be in full force, with a mix of fast-rising newcomers (Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever), big stars (Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Emma Thomson,), and undersung character actors (Judy Greer, Rosemarie DeWitt, Dean Norris). There’s a risk with subject matter like this that it comes off as a bit pat and obvious (if the theme is "technology brings us together, but it also, like, keeps us further apart," we might tear the seats up), but we trust this content Reitman’s hands, and hope it resonants more than the recent "Disconnect."
When? Premieres at TIFF on Saturday, then Paramount will open it on October 3rd.
Synopsis: In late 19th century, an aristocrat’s daughter attempts to seduce a servant.
What You Need To Know: August Strindberg‘s "Miss Julie" is one of the most enduringly popular and most performed plays in the European canon, and has been filmed a number of times before (perhaps most notably as Mike Figgis‘ 1999 take with Peter Mullan and Saffron Burrows). But the talent involved has rarely been as enticing as it is here. Bergman muse-turned-filmmaker Liv Ullman has written and directed the new version, which moves the play from Sweden to Ireland, and Jessica Chastain takes the title role, with Colin Farrell as the target of her affections, and Samantha Morton as Farrell’s fiance. It’s a difficult play to translate to screen, and the new setting might be a little ‘Downton’-ish for our tastes, but if anyone can capture the shifting power dynamics of the original, it’s Ullman, and the chance to see Chastain (who was a celebrated stage actress before she made her name in the movies) tear into a role like this one is worth the price of admission, or even a flight to Toronto, on its own.
When? No U.S. release date or distribution yet, but the film opens in France on September 10th, only ten days after it hits TIFF.
"The New Girlfriend"
Synopsis: After her best friend tragically passes away, Claire discovers that her pal’s widow David secretly enjoys dressing as a woman.
What You Need To Know: With two strong films in the last couple of years, "In The House" and "Young & Beautiful," Francois Ozon is entering a new period of productivity, one that continues with his latest, "The New Girlfriend." Based on a novel by Ruth Rendell (whose books also inspired Claude Chabrol‘s "La Ceremonie" and "The Bridesmaid," and Pedro Almodovar‘s "Live Flesh"), it seems to be closer to a melodrama than a thriller, with comparisons already drawn to Douglas Sirk and George Cukor, which marks an interesting departure for the genre-hopping Ozon. Hotly-tipped Gallic actress Anais Demoustier ("Bird People") takes the lead as Claire, opposite a performance by the always-terrific Romain Duris ("The Beat That My Heart Skipped," "Populaire") that should show a new side to one of France’s biggest and best actors.
When? The film world premieres at TIFF before opening in France on November 5th. No U.S. distributor yet.
Synopsis: A drifter looking for work stumbles into the world of freelance crime photography, becoming a "nightcrawler," who races to the scenes of accidents or murders in order to sell footage to local TV stations.
What You Need To Know; With "Source Code," "End Of Watch," "Prisoners" and "Enemy" arriving onscreen in the last few years, Jake Gyllenhaal‘s been on a hell of a run, and hopes are high that it’ll continue with his latest character-driven noir "Nightcrawler." Looking somewhat like a sort of present-day blend of "Taxi Driver" and "Network," the film marks the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, brother of "Michael Clayton" helmer Tony, and co-screenwriter of "Real Steel" and "The Bourne Legacy," among others. Given the success his big brother had with his first directorial outing (multiple Oscar nods, one of the best American movies of the ’00s), hopes are high that the younger Gilroy can match it, and what we’ve seen of "Nightcrawler" so far looks very impressive, with what looks from trailers to be the most transformative performance from Gyllenhaal so far, the actor having lost significant weight for the turn. He’s joined by a promising supporting cast including Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo and Bill Paxton, and Gilroy seem to have a Michael Mann-ish capability to capture L.A at night. Obviously, we’re only working off trailers, but word from those who have seen it already is good, so this could turn out to be one of the edgier highlights of the festival.
When? After TIFF, the film will close Fantastic Fest, before Open Road bring it to theaters on October 31st.
Synopsis: A dramatization of the 1972 World Chess Championship between young American prodigy Bobby Fischer, and his Soviet rival Boris Spassky.
What You Need To Know: Filmmakers are ever so fond of using chess as a metaphor, but movies actually about the game are few and far between: there’s Steve Zaillian‘s underrated "Searching For Bobby Fischer" and maybe a handful of others. But if anyone can make the sport palatable to a wider crowd, it’s Ed Zwick, who has a long history of making broadly-appealing dramas about sometimes tough subjects, from "Glory" to "Blood Diamond." Zwick’s film (penned by "Locke" writer/director Steven Knight) actually focuses on Fischer, as played by Tobey Maguire, with Liev Schreiber as his rival Boris Spassky, and Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard, Lily Rabe and Robin Weigert among the cast. Zwick’s films tend to be more effective when they’re avoiding his favorite white-man-saves-the-day narrative, and Fischer’s difficult personality provides plenty of material for Maguire, who’s due for a comeback. And if nothing else, the film’s shot by ace DP Bradford Young ("Middle Of Nowhere," "Ain’t Them Bodies Saints"), so it’ll look gorgeous.
When? Bows late at TIFF, next Thursday. No U.S. distributor yet, but Oscar-minded shoppers could end up picking this up and sneaking it into the 2014 slate.
Synopsis: Nelly Lenz survives a concentration camp during World War Two, and returns home to Berlin and her husband, only to begin to hear rumors that he was the one who denounced her to the Nazis.
What You Need To Know: It wasn’t seen by enough people in the United States, but 2012’s "Barbara" was a hell of a film, and cemented director Christian Petzold as a major filmmaker, and his partnership with regular lead actress Nina Hoss as one of the most exciting around. With Hoss now better known thanks to her role in summer’s sleeper hit "A Most Wanted Man," their follow-up to "Barbara," "Phoenix," is more hotly anticipated than ever. Riffing reportedly on "Vertigo" and the story of Martin Guerre, it looks to follow its spiritual predecessor as both an unashamed melodrama and an examination of Germany’s past. Though the film is officially world premiering at TIFF, early reivews have already leaked out of Germany and suggest that it’s one to get excited about, and could confirm Petzold as the closest thing we have to an heir to Fassbinder, and Hoss as one of Europe’s most acclaimed actresses.
When? After its TIFF screening on Friday, the film hits theaters in Germany on September 25th. No U.S. distributor as yet.
"The Riot Club"
Synopsis: A young man arrives at Oxford University and is soon initiated into the Riot Club, a collection of some of the wealthiest and soon to be most powerful kids in Britain.
What You Need To Know: Back in 2010, Laura Wade‘s play "Posh" electrified the London theater scene, and helped to launch the careers of actors including Kit Harington ("Game Of Thrones") and Tom Mison ("Sleepy Hollow"). Four years on, "An Education" director Lone Scherfig is hoping to do the same on screen with Wade’s film adaptation of the play, now retitled "The Riot Club." Inspired by the privileged secret drinking society that Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson were part of during their university days, the play was a powerful and scintillatingly written look at class, inequality and cruelty in British society, and early indications are that the film, which has been significantly opened up and rewritten, could pull off the same. Max Irons leads a young cast full of both recognizable faces (Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth), and rising stars (Ben Schnetzer, Sam Reid, Jack Farthing, Olly Alexander), with Natalie Dormer, Holliday Grainger and Jessica Brown Findlay diluting the testosterone somewhat. Too many stage translations end up not feeling cinematic enough, but from trailers and early word, it seems like Scherfig might have found a way to make it work.
When? After TIFF, the film opens in UK and Ireland on September 19th. Universal are releasing around the world, but no one’s picked up the project in the U.S. yet.
"The Theory Of Everything"
Synopsis: The early life of Stephen Hawking, a dominant figure in theoretical physics who battled motor neuron disease to make discoveries that changed the way we think about the universe, and his romance with university colleague Jane.
What You Need To Know: Arguably the most famous scientist in the world, Stephen Hawking’s story has been brought to the screen before (Benedict Cumberbatch played him in a television film a decade ago), but "The Theory Of Everything" marks the first time the story’s made it to the big screen, and has some hefty names behind it: an adaptation of Hawking’s ex-wife Jane’s memoirs "Travelling To Infinity," it’s backed by "Atonement" producers Working Title and is helmed by Oscar-winning "Man On Wire" and "Shadow Dancer" helmer James Marsh. Fast-rising stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are already touted for awards as Hawking and Jane, while the top-notch supporting cast also includes Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis and Harry Lloyd. We’ll be honest: the trailers for this one so far have made it appear a bit traditional and sentimental as far as biopics go, but Marsh is an interesting and unconventional choice for the project, and it’s his involvement that gives us faith that we’re in for something more interesting than what we’re being sold.
When? After TIFF, Focus will give it an awards-friendly release on November 7th.
"Time Out Of Mind"
Synopsis: A desperate homeless man enters a shelter, where he sets out to reunite with his estranged daughter.
What You Need To Know: After "The Messenger" and "Rampart," director Oren Moverman has become a firm favorite around these parts: both films were somewhat under-the-radar (though "The Messenger" managed to pick up a pair of unlikely Oscar nods, which helped), were beautifully written, acted and directed, and deserved a much bigger audience. Quietly, Moverman (who also co-wrote "Love & Mercy," see above) shot his third feature earlier this year, and "Time Out Of Mind" could give the same kind of boost to toplining star Richard Gere as the "Rampart" and "The Messenger" did for Woody Harrelson. On the surface, it doesn’t sound too different from recent homelessness-themed dramas like "The Soloist" and "Being Flynn," but "Rampart" seemed like other cop dramas on paper, so we’re sure Moverman has his own take, and we imagine that it’ll be as delicately honed and powerful as his earlier work, especially with as strong a supporting cast as has been assembled here (Jena Malone, Ben Vereen, Kyra Sedgwick, Jeremy Strong, Michael K Williams and Steve Buscemi all appear).
When? No U.S. distribution yet, but if there’s even a sniff of awards recognition for Gere (or the movie as a whole), expect this to be snapped up and added to the 2014 calendar. It’s also heading to NYFF later in the month.
"Welcome To Me"
Synopsis: A woman with Borderline Personality Disorder wins the lottery and uses the funds to create her own talk show focused around herself.
What You Need To Know: Films like "Girl Most Likely," "Hateship/Loveship" and "The Skeleton Twins" had their fans, but Kristen Wiig is still waiting for the role that really makes people start to think of her as a dramatic rather than a comedic actress. And "Welcome To Me" looks like a pretty good potential to provide that. Directed by playwright Shira Piven, from a script by Eliot Laurence, it’s a sort of hybrid of "The King Of Comedy" and "The Truman Show," with a high-concept pitch that seems like it could have some painful mileage behind it too. Wiig is joined by James Marsden, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Wes Bentley, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Linda Cardellini and Alan Tudyk (Will Ferrell also produces along with Adam McKay). Folks like Judd Apatow have been talking this one up for a little while, and though we’ve been burned on projects like this before, this feels very promising indeed.
When? Screens at TIFF on Friday, no U.S. distribution yet.
"While We’re Young"
Synopsis: A middle-aged New York couple befriend a spontaneous, hip younger duo of artists, giving them a way back to their youth.
What You Need To Know: After 2012’s palate-cleansing "Frances Ha," perhaps the filmmaker’s best-ever work, Noah Baumbach has returned to working with big names again, with the long-gestating "While We’re Young." Initially planned to star Cate Blanchett, James Franco and Greta Gerwig nearly four years ago, the project finally got before cameras last year, with "Greenberg" star Ben Stiller reuniting with Baumbach in the lead role, Naomi Watts as his wife, and Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried as their younger counterparts, with Brady Corbet, Charles Grodin, Dree Hemingway and Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz in supporting roles. One of the higher-profile premieres of the festival, it’s mostly under wraps still at this point, but we have our fingers crossed that it’ll meld the acerbic and sharp humor of Baumbach’s earlier films, with the loose and warm energy of "Frances Ha," but however it turns out, a new Baumbach picture is generally good news.
When? Hits TIFF on Saturday. It currently doesn’t have distribution, but look for this to be a big potential pick-up, though with Baumbach not being an awards-season favorite, we’d wager it won’t hit theaters until early 2015.
Honorable Mentions: Obviously the festival line-up is dense, and there’s only room to talk about so much above. But other films we’re excited to check out in the next few days include Peter Strickland‘s "The Duke Of Burgundy," Hal Hartley’s "Ned Rifle," Kevin Smith‘s "Tusk," Chris Rock‘s "Top Five," Susanne Bier‘s "A Second Chance," Danis Tanovic‘s "Tigers," Paul Bettany‘s "Shelter," Alex Holdridge‘s "Meet Me In Montenegro," Sion Sono‘s "Tokyo Tribe" and Michael Winterbottom‘s "The Face Of An Angel."
And for more star-driven fare, there’s also Anna Kendrick in musical "The Last Five Years," Denzel Washington in "The Equalizer," Robert Downey Jr in opening film "The Judge," Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts in closer "A Little Chaos," a stellar cast including Tina Fey and Adam Driver in "This Is Where I Leave You," Chris Evans’ directorial debut "Before We Go," Jennifer Aniston in "Cake," Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson in "Learning To Drive," Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith in "My Old Lady," Michael Douglas in "The Reach," Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart in "Still Alice," Nick Kroll and Rose Byrne in "Adult Beginners," Bill Murray in "St. Vincent," Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins in "X + Y," Dustin Hoffman in "Boy Choir," Idris Elba in "Second Coming," John Travolta in "The Forger," Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton in "Ruth & Alex," and much, much more. Stay tuned over the next week or two for our complete coverage.