"Chevalier" (TIFF, NYFF)
An early poster for Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari’s "Chevalier" features the cryptic tagline "a buddy movie without buddies," which no doubt foreshadows all of the macho rivalries at its center. Tsangari’s story follows six apparently wealthy men on a ship in the Aegean Sea playing a vaguely-defined game to determine which of them holds the greatest traits. It’s never entirely clear whether they’re all just messing around or feel a deeper urge to triumph in their eccentric contest. The only certainty is that Tsangari — whose "Attenberg" was a lovely and unconventional coming-of-age story — should deliver another intriguing and thoroughly original character study, which this time serves as an apt metaphor for Greece’s larger problems.
You can expect nothing less from Iceland than an absurd sheep-farming story peppered with deadpan comedy, and that’s exactly what "Rams" delivers. Amid stunning bucolic vistas, two neighboring sheep farmers (and brothers) who haven’t spoken in forty years dispense of their rivalry in order to save their respective flocks and to preserve an age-old tradition. Typical sardonic Scandinavian humor suffused with the fierce Icelandic spirit of independence characterizes this gem, which won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes this year.
"Beasts of No Nation" (Venice, TIFF)
Although Cary Fukunaga broke into the mainstream due to his acclaimed, Emmy-winning direction of "True Detective" Season 1, indie audiences have been fans of his for quite some time thanks to his striking features "Sin Nombe" and "Jane Eyre." Fortunately, the success of HBO’s crime drama has given Fukunaga his biggest canvas yet as a writer-director for his new drama, "Beasts of No Nation." The trailer suggests a harrowing exerpience as the film follows a young boy who turns into a child solider under the guidance of a vicious warlord (Idris Elba). Throw in the film’s headline-making $12 million Netflix deal and slots at Venice and TIFF, and "Beasts" is easily the most enticing gamble of the festival season.
"Miles Ahead" (NYFF)
Don Cheadle’s cinematic exploration of the life and music of Miles Davis is one of the most anticipated biopics of the year. The film stars Cheadle himself as Davis opposite Ewan McGregor. After selecting the film to close the New York Film Festival, the festival’s director Kent Jones said, "Don knows, as an actor, a writer, a director, and a lover of Miles’ music, that intelligent decisions and well-planned strategies only get you so far, that finally it’s your own commitment and attention to every moment and every detail that brings a movie to life."
"The Lobster" (TIFF, NYFF, Fantastic Fest)
Fans of Yorgos Lanthimos’ darkly funny "Dogtooth" and "Alps" have long been anticipating this star-studded feature, which looks to tap into the same sharp humor and snappy dissection of human behaviors and societal mores that the filmmaker has become known for. Starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, the feature imagines a world where the uncoupled are forced to find a partner…or be turned into literal wild animals. The film debuted at Cannes, where it received a Jury Prize and a Palme d’Or nomination (it also snagged the Palm Dog prize, so you know at least one of its stars is bound for canine-hood), and it is now set to screen at a number of fall festivals, all the better to expand Lanthimos’ reach and fanbase.
"Where to Invade Next" (TIFF, NYFF)
Suddenly it seems that "secret" documentaries are everywhere, including the fall festival circuit. Even lauded filmmaker Michael Moore couldn’t sit this trend out, and his latest sends a strong message to the Pentagon: "Stand down," as Moore promises that "he will do the invading for America from now on." The doc is already being billed as Moore’s most provocative and amusing feature yet, one that was filmed mostly in Europe (away from the scrutiny of American press) and that should get audiences riled up as only Moore can do. With screenings at both TIFF and NYFF, this dark horse doc could be a big contender.
"The Program" (TIFF)
Lance Armstrong’s wild true story of jaw-dropping cycling wins and shocking doping allegations has proven to be prodigious fodder for the film world. After getting the documentary treatment with features like "The Armstrong Lie" and "Stop at Nothing," Armstrong’s fall from grace is set to be immortalized by not one, not two, but three narrative films, though Stephen Frears’ "The Program" is first out of the gate. The film’s first trailer promised pulse-pounding action and blood pressure-raising drama, and its imminent premiere at TIFF is one of the most anticipated bows of the season.
"Dheepan" (TIFF, Chicago)
After winning the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May, Jacques Audiard’s "Dheepan" comes to North America in the Special Presentations section at TIFF. Audiard has always excelled at crafting muscular narratives about marginalized figures in French society (see "A Prophet" and "Rust and Bone" for powerful examples), and he’s utilizing this conceit once more in the story of three Tamil refugees who flee the Sri Lankan civil war and come to France in the hope of reconstructing their lives. While not everyone agreed the film deserved the top prize at Cannes, reviews have been uniformly strong in praising the cast and Audiard’s kitchen sink realism, which should make for a welcoming TIFF reception this September.
"Louder Than Bombs" (TIFF)
Joachim Trier is arguably the best living Norwegian filmmaker. He follows up masterpieces "Reprise" and "Oslo, August 31st" with "Louder Than Bombs," which premiered at Cannes this year to unanimous critical acclaim. The film stars Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Rya and Rachel Brosnahan as the family of a recently deceased matriarch, played by Isabelle Huppert. The mourning period is governed by conflicting feelings for Huppert’s character as the family comes to discover more about the deceased than they ever knew while she was alive. Trier uses his signature subtle touch to bring the dysfunction bubbling under the surface of relationships to the fore in a moving but un-melodramatic autopsy of a life — and its reeling progeny.
"The Lady in the Van" (TIFF)
Maggie Smith on the big screen is always a call for celebration, especially when she’s reprising one of her most heralded stage roles. Adapted by Alan Bennett from his hit London stage play, "The Lady in the Van" hails from "The History Boys" director Nicholas Hytner and tells the story of an eccentric woman who parked her broken-down van in Bennett’s London driveway and lived there for fifteen years. The material may sound more suitable for the stage, but here’s hoping Hytner can mine all of its cinematic potential (he did so with "The Madness of King George" in 1994 and "The History Boys" in 2006). Since Sony Pictures Classics is giving the film an awards-qualifying December run, it seems the film should be the crowdpleaser we’re all hoping for.
"Anomalisa" (TIFF, Venice)
Stop-motion animation is often the realm of the absurd, bizarre and surreal (think: The Quay Brothers). It’s only fitting, then, that Charlie Kaufman has decided to jump in the game alongside fellow director Duke Johnson. Kaufman, who deals exclusively in metaphysical worlds, premieres his first stop-motion effort with Johnson at TIFF this year, and it looks to be that familiar mix of mind-boggle and romance that only Kaufman can conjure. At the center of the film is a successful motivational speaker, voiced by David Thewlis, who has taken a turn to nihilism. As life becomes monotonous and meaningless, every person begins to sound the same to him (along with Thewlis, characters are voiced by Tom Noonan and Jennifer Jason Leigh). (Despite the fact that it stars silicon puppets, the film has an R rating for "strong sexual content" and "graphic nudity.")
"Equals" (TIFF, Venice)
After wowing Sundance with his closely observed romantic dramas "Like Crazy" and "Breathe," indie darling Drake Doremus is back on the festival circuit with his most ambitious film yet, a future-set drama that stars Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart and imagines a world where love is actually outlawed. Drawing comparisons to classic stories like "The Giver," "Equals" provides Doremus with the chance to really spread his wings and go wild in a new way. The film will debut at Venice, followed quickly by screenings at TIFF, and it is easily one of the more intriguing titles on the fall festival docket.
"Schneider Vs. Bax" (TIFF)
Dutch filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam’s movies tend to take the form of black comedies where doomed characters are trapped by bizarre circumstances. In "Schneider vs. Bax," which won audiences over at Locarno earlier this month, a pair of killers cope with their families and their targets at once, with the majority of the running time building to a showdown between two hit men unwittingly assigned to kill each other. But neither man is your typical gunslinger: Bax (van Warmerdam) is a drug-addled writer; Schneider (Tom Dewispelaere) is a suburban dad. Blood eventually spills, though in typical Warmerdam fashion it probably isn’t where most viewers expect. Similar to the ludicrous mischief of "Borgman," "Schneider vs. Bax" looks to be a dark comedy of errors in which everyone has a plan that somehow fails.
"Arabian Nights" (TIFF, NYFF)
Spanning nearly seven hours, this epic three-part film rocked Cannes audiences to the core with its freewheeling docu-fiction style and ambitious scope. But is it one film? Three films? Dozens of separate stories? No one seems to know. The film spawns from director Miguel Gomes’ interpretation of "One Thousand and One Nights," an Arabic collection of stories that dates back to the Islamic Golden Age. The director has said that the film’s anecdotal, long-winded structure is an homage to the on-again-off-again nature of Scheherazade’s — the narrator of the collection — storytelling abilities. According to those who saw it at Cannes, "Arabian Nights" evokes all of the magic and awe of its source material.
"45 Years" (TIFF)
In features like "Weekend" and television shows such as "Looking," filmmaker Andrew Haigh has displayed a soul-searching sensitivity that’s hard to shake, and "45 Years" looks to be his most accomplished and mature work yet. The great Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay play Geoff and Kate Mercer, a married couple celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary. But their union is dramatically shaken when the body of Geoff’s long-dead girlfriend, Katya, who passed away in a tragic accident, is discovered. The event opens up a door to the past that had long been closed. With ecstatic reviews for the film out of the Berlin Film Festival, where Rampling and Courtenay each won a Silver Bear for acting, "45 Years" looks to be a power player at numerous festivals this fall, and there’s no reason Haigh’s subtle workings of the human heart shouldn’t dazzle us again.
"The Witch" (TIFF, Fantastic Fest)
No other title generated more buzz out of Sundance this year than "The Witch." Audiences were shocked, scared and dazzled by production-designer-turned-
"Amazing Grace" (TIFF)
Sydney Pollack’s "lost" documentary about the recording of Aretha Franklin’s seminal album "Amazing Grace" is finally set to be revealed to the world, thanks to an international premiere at TIFF. Word is, the completion of the film was one of Pollack’s dying wishes, and the footage he shot nearly four decades ago has now been assembled (along with new interviews) into a finished feature that should entrance fans of Franklin in particular and music documentary nuts in general. A real treat for festival-goers this year, it’s one to seek out at Toronto (and maybe beyond).
"He Named Me Malala" (TIFF)
Academy Award-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim intimately profiles bold human rights activist (and teen) Malala Yousafzai for his latest feature-length outing. Guggenheim’s film takes us inside Malala’s life, family and travels, providing a full look at this extraordinary young voice. The film blends together new footage, old stories and animation to provide context into Malala’s fight and her amazing spirit. Few documentaries are as timely and welcome as this one.
"In Jackson Heights" (TIFF, NYFF)
Frederick Wiseman’s long-anticipated "In Jackson Heights" may not have met its Kickstarter goal earlier this summer (in the words of "Game of Thrones": SHAME), but the in-depth documentary about the diverse Queens neighborhood the feature is named for is still set to hit the fall festival circuit full force. Wiseman’s fortieth documentary promises to deliver everything the filmmaker is best known for — colorful characters, vivid stories and one heck of a runtime — and even he recently billed it as "a great adventure."
"Janis: Little Girl Blue" (Venice, TIFF)
Amy Berg’s long-gestating Janis Joplin documentary is reportedly rife with never-before-seen footage, fresh interviews and the kind of valuable insight fans of the singer have been hoping to see for years. While various "official" Joplin feature biopics have struggled to be made for the big screen, Berg’s newest doc may prove to be the definitive creative artifact about the late performer’s life and legacy. Singer Cat Power (a.k.a. Chan Marshall) fills in as Joplin’s voice during the reading (and maybe even singing?) of various essential letters.
"The Reflektor Tapes" (TIFF)
Grammy Award winners Arcade Fire released a daring experiment with their fourth studio album, "Reflektor." Abandoning much of their traditional musical stylings in favor of new sounds and genres (particularly Haitian rara music), the band reinvigorated their creative spirit while pushing the limits of their sonic boundaries, which is why Kahlil Joseph’s behind-the-scenes documentary should prove to be an exhilarating watch. Joseph followed the band as they found the origins of the album in Jamaica, composed the music and lyrics in various recording studios and opened up their massive arena tour in Los Angeles, and he’s put all of the footage together in a collage of concert footage, digital video and analog film. Here’s hoping "The Reflektor Tapes" is to music documentaries what "Reflektor" was to Arcade Fire’s career: Wild, unorthodox and experimental.
"High-Rise" (TIFF, Zurich, San Sebastian, Fantastic Fest)
Well-regarded genre filmmaker Ben Wheatley (the delightfully demented mind behind "Kill List" and "Sightseers") is poised to make the jump to the slightly more mainstream with his Tom Hiddleston-starring adaption of J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name. The film should tap directly into the themes Wheatley has so skillfully explored before, from the perils of modern living (in this case, inside a state-of-the-art and totally nefarious skyscraper) to the violence that continually simmers under the surface of seemingly "normal" people, with shocks to spare.
"Green Room" (TIFF, Fantastic Fest)
Jeremy Saulnier was one of the indie scene’s biggest breakouts last year, thanks to the acclaim he earned for the revenge thriller "Blue Ruin," which means his followup, "Green Room," is automatically on our festival radar this year. The extremely violent horror thriller follows members of a punk band after they see something they shouldn’t while at a gig in an Oregonian backwoods club. The club’s owner (Patrick Stewart) decides this will be the band’s final appearance as a result, which leads to a life-or-death battle between the club workers and the band. Reviews were quite eccentric out of Cannes, and if Saulnier can mine even half the amount of tension he was able to execute in "Ruin," "Green Room" should have no problem being the white knuckle suspense picture of the fall festival circuit.
"De Palma" (Venice, NYFF)
Noah Baumbach’s remarkable 2015 continues with a secret documentary about the iconic New Hollywood director. Baumbach co-directed with Jake Paltrow, but not much else is known about the film, which will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on the same night De Palma is honored by the festival, though it’s safe to assume it will take us into De Palma’s creative process and behind the scenes of some of his most culturally important works. Baumbach joined De Palma at last year’s New York Film Festival for a 100-minute discussion on their approaches to filmmaking, their singular styles and the need for comic relief in all genres, which bodes well for just how far Baumbach will be able to go inside De Palma’s process.
"James White" (TIFF)
After blowing away audiences at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Josh Mond’s breakout feature "James White" is heading to Toronto to ensnare a fresh fanbase. Featuring former "Girls" star Christopher Abbott in a role that can only be deemed revelatory, the film follows his titular James as he’s forced to reevaluate his bad behavior (including the kind of partying that only makes one look ill all the time, an inability to commit in his romantic life and a real bone to pick with his dad) when his mother (a heartbreaking Cynthia Nixon) falls ill. The film is a singular experience and one that announces the arrival of both Mond and Abbott as indie voices to pay serious attention to.
"The Iron Giant: Signature Edition" (TIFF)
Forget the must-see heavy dramas and potential awards favorites for just a second, one of the most anticipated fall titles has got to be TIFF’s world premiere of "The Iron Giant: Signature Edition." Childhood classics don’t get more quintessential than Brad Bird’s 1999 family adventure film about the friendship between an imaginative nine-year-old boy and a metal-eating iron robot. Remastered for the very first time and expanded with two new scenes, the re-release is bound to be one of the biggest treats of the festival season. Hogarth, we’ll sure be glad to see you on the big screen again.
"Jafar Panahi’s Taxi" (TIFF)
The current IMDb synopsis of Jafar Panahi’s "Taxi" doesn’t reveal much — "A day with a taxi driver in Tehran" — and somewhat charmingly leaves out that it’s lauded Iranian director Panahi himself who is behind the wheel of this new documentary. Panahi has been notoriously banned from filmmaking in his native country and leaving said country, but he’s continually worked around those constraints to create funny, intimate, stirring and truly bold features. The Golden Bear-winning "Taxi" follows Panahi as he marries his new day job (taxi-driving) with his passion for storytelling in one of his most well-received features yet (ban and all).
[Note: Fall festival titles that have previously appeared in our 2015 Fall Preview include "About Ray," "Black Mass," "Everest," "Stonewall," "The Walk," "Freeheld," "Legend," "The Martian," "Steve Jobs," "Bridge of Spies," "Room," "Truth," "Suffragette," "Our Band is Crisis," "Trumbo," "Spotlight," "The Danish Girl," "I Saw the Light," "Sicario," "Mississippi Grind," "The Keeping Room," "Victoria," "Brooklyn," "Carol," "Youth" and "Son of Saul."]