The Toronto International Film Festival has come and gone, leaving the world with a whole lot of movies to anticipate. While many of the bigger titles arrived at the festival timed to get the awards season conversation going, others showed up without distribution. As usual, the lack of major sales activity stimulated conversations about whether or not buyers were being overly cautious or simply not finding movies that had potential. Then a few big deals landed: STX Entertainment spent a whopping $10 million for the fast-paced “Hardcore,” a sci-fi action ride from Russia shot entirely in the first person with a GoPro camera. Paramount, meanwhile, dropped a reported $5 million for the delirious stop-motion drama “Anomalisa,” co-directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman, the latter of whom delivered on the usual expectations of a trippy, mesmerizing look at a troubled mind.
Viewed collectively, these two pricey gambles suggest a welcome alternative to the tendency for distributors to latch onto familiar faces and easily marketable concepts. Instead, they’re taking risks on something different. But Toronto is a massive lineup with a lot of movies that struggle to find homes beyond the festival circuit. Here’s a look at some of the other highlights that have yet to land distribution, but deserve better.
“A Flickering Truth”
The unsung heroes of the archival film community face all kinds of battles in their various quests to preserve the medium’s history. But it’s safe to say that the team at Afghan Film face a unique hurdle: In business since 1965, the organization hit a snag with the rise of the Taliban and the horrific acts of censorship that came with it. Pietra Brettkelly’s eye-opening documentary tracks current attempts to rebuild the Afghan Film archives, as team members dig through burnt celluloid and gaze into the country’s history through remnants of its moving images. The result is a moving navigation of Afghanistan’s past and present, that simultaneously bemoans the nation’s current struggles and finds reasons for hope in its previous struggles. With turmoil in the Middle East at the center of international headlines more than ever, “A Flickering Truth” complicates that narrative with an intimate look at some of the passionate warriors at the center of the struggle to keep one country’s culture alive.
Sales Contact: The Film Sales Company
Argentinian director Pablo Trapero has been delivering thrilling, first-rate looks at turmoil in his country’s society for over 15 years, most recently with “Carancho” and “White Elephant,” both of which combined sociopolitical commentary with unsettling violent showdowns. “The Clan” takes that fixation to a whole new level with a “Godfather”-like ensemble drama focused on the real-life antics of the Puccio family, who conspired on four kidnappings during the 1980’s — most of which led to violent outcomes. As menacing patriarch Arquímedes Puccio, Guillermo Francella gives a powerful, haunting performance matched only by Peter Lanzani as Arquímedes’ ethically conflicted son. Set to a lively pop soundtrack, “The Clan” offers a provocative contrast between the excitement of each characters’ lives and the sense that they could fall apart at any moment. When they finally do, as the law catches up to the family, not everyone receives the same degree of comeuppance — a result that Trapero underscores with a shocking finale. Already a box office hit in its home country, “The Clan” is a terrific vessel for bringing this dark chapter in Argentina’s history of organized crime to a larger audience.
Sales Contact: The Film Factory
First-time filmmaker Lorenzo Viga came out of nowhere to win the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival before bringing his directorial debut to Toronto, where it gathered further acclaim. The Venezuelan drama stars the brilliant Chilean actor Alfredo Castro (“Tony Manero”) as an alienated man named Armando who develops a peculiar relationship with a teenage boy, Elder (Luis Silva). While Armando hails from the upper class, he resides in an impoverished part of Caracas, and spends his days soliciting sex from young locals. But when he brings Elder home and the street thug robs his client, it marks the start of a more peculiar connection: At first combative toward the older man, he eventually develops a bond with him and grows curious about his background. The mysterious narrative builds to a dramatic conclusion that leaves much to interpretation while delving into rich themes involving the unspoken taboos of modern Argentinean society and the various class struggles therein. Viga combines his eerie atmosphere and slow-burn pace with masterful performances (as Elder, newcomer Silva has justifiably been compared to a young Marlon Brando). It’s unquestionably the most astounding debut of the year, and one bound to keep audiences talking long after the credits roll.
Sales Contact: Celluloid Dreams
“The Devil’s Candy”
Six years after “The Loved Ones,” Sean Byrne’s gripping tale of a murderous prom queen, the Australian director finally returns with an equally ominous tale of a home invasion in rural Texas. On paper, “The Devil’s Candy” may sound fairly routine — nice family moves into isolated home and deals with the fallout of murderous events from its past — but Byrne’s artful use of image and sound takes the narrative to a whole new level. Heavy metal music dominates the soundtrack, as well as the characters’ lives, providing an ideal conduit for the demonic forces lurking beneath the story’s surface. After the mentally disturbed Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince) kills his parents and leaves his house, it’s quickly inhabited by long-haired painter Jesse (Ethan Embry), his wife (Shiri Appleby) and their young daughter (Kiara Glasco).
In short order, Ray shows up at the doorstep, mumbling about voices in his head and murder on his mind. Meanwhile, Jesse copes with beastly forces crowding his own subconscious, and pours the madness into his paintings. Shifting between Jesse’s troubled painting sessions and Ray’s steady advance on the household, “The Devil’s Candy” explodes in a series of ominous showdowns. Equally as beautiful as they are terrifying, Byrne’s images turn the usual psychotic killer routine into a gorgeous rumination on the thin line between passion and madness. Metalheads will be in heaven; everyone else won’t be able to deny the music’s powerful spell, and the skill with which Byrne casts it.
Sales Contact: HanWay Films
British director Ben Wheatley has churned out five features and a fully realized career in the amount of time many filmmakers take to get started. With his 2009 debut “Down Terrace,” Wheatley showed a penchant for grimly amusing riffs on deranged British personality types. That recurring focus makes him a natural fit to adapt “High-Rise,” J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel about a luxury tower that tips into chaos and becomes a wacky metaphor for class warfare.
The story’s jumbled set of circumstances and massive ensemble mark a noticeable departure from Wheatley’s other, far more contained works. “High-Rise” isn’t an entirely cohesive accomplishment, but that’s part of its zany appeal. It maintains the morbid entertainment value found throughout Wheatley’s work while marking an ambitious step up in scale. Stabilized by an icy Tom Hiddleston as part of an upper middle class revolt from the lower floors, “High-Rise” is an imminently watchable black comedy about the absurdities of wealth. Even when “High-Rise” falls apart as a movie, that itself speaks to its angry thematic focus.
Sales Contact: HanWay Films
Writer-director Rebecca Miller’s “Maggie’s Plan” looks and sounds like several Greta Gerwig movies rolled into one, which is much to its credit, and makes it official: Gerwig officially owns her own genre, the screwball New York comedy about the wayward adventures of a sprightly young woman. Here, she plays the titular character in her quest to get pregnant while remaining single, a goal interrupted when she falls for a married anthropology professor (Ethan Hawke). When that romance hits a snag, she conspires with the man’s laser-eyed ex-wife (Julianne Moore, sporting a hilarious Dutch accent) to win him back. Miller’s wry screenplay captures the neurotic sensibilities of vintage Woody Allen, while keenly tapping into the state of youthful confusion plaguing its heroine. Younger viewers may be hip to Maggie’s plight, but all viewers are bound to appreciate the charming ways that Hall explores it.
Sales Contact: Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Cinetic Media
“Thru You Princess”
Ido Haar’s touching documentary offers an upbeat alternative to gloomier looks at identity in the digital age. The movie tracks the efforts of Israeli artist Ophir Kutiel, who goes by the pseudonym Kutiman, as he assembles the “visual symphonies” that have brought him acclaim worldwide. Kutiman strings together existing material into thick, orchestral compositions, exclusively using music he discovers on YouTube. “Thru You Princess” tracks the impact of one such involuntary collaboration: “Give It Up,” a four-and-a-half minute mix built around the vocal stylings of one “Princess Shaw,” who’s actually a dejected aspiring singer named Samantha Montgomery from a lower class neighborhood in New Orleans. Mirroring Kutiman’s own sneaky process, Haar doesn’t let Montgomery know about Kutiman’s project, nor does he tell us how her story ends from the start.
Instead, “Thru You Princess” unfolds as a linear narrative tracking the moments leading up to Montgomery’s unexpected fame on the web. As the filmmaker follows her to an audition for “The Voice” and captures her singing at a club before an empty room, “Thru You Princess” develops a fairy tale quality. With its emphasis on the unifying power of the internet, “Thru You Princess” forms a distinctive twenty-first century narrative entirely mandated by the tools of new media. It would not have been possible a decade ago, and the timeliness means that all kinds of audiences are bound to appreciate its message.
Sales Contact: Submarine Entertainment
Having assailed American corporations, sitting presidents and bureaucrats for decades, Michael Moore shifts direction for his latest film, a freewheeling essay on how to improve American society. Five years after “Capitalism: A Love Story,” the filmmaker bounces back from one of his worst films with one of his best — a surprisingly endearing set of suggestions for a better tomorrow. Among Moore’s various outings, “Where to Invade Next” bears the closest resemblance to 2007 health care exposé “Sicko,” which found the portly documentarian wandering around Europe showcasing alternatives to the American way of doing things. “Where to Invade Next” takes the form of another travelogue steeped in juxtapositions, but it features a much cleaner structural gimmick: Moore goes to a European country, unearths one way its citizens live better than Americans and plants a flag in the hopes of bringing the concept back home.
Tackling everything from workforce regulations to prison reform and the education system, Moore compiles a laundry list of constructive items. One might poke holes in the rhetoric, but not the underlying idealism, as Moore changes his usual bombastic tune and instead invites viewers in. In other words, one of the country’s most divisive filmmakers has made a uniquely accessible work.
Sales Contact: William Morris Endeavor