Fall festival season is officially underway: this morning saw the cinematic version of a starter’s pistol being fired with the unveiling of “Everest” (read our review), the opening movie at the Venice Film Festival and the fall’s first Oscar contender. Venice continues on for another ten days, and our Playlist rep for the Telluride Film Festival is about to get on a plane and head to Colorado, but we’re still a week away from perhaps the biggest of them all: the Toronto International Film Festival.
Increasingly important in recent years as an Oscar launching pad, TIFF is also pure cinephile heaven, featuring literally hundreds of movies from all over the world, from giant blockbusters to tiny foreign pictures. With just seven days to go, we’ve picked out our twenty most anticipated films from the festival (mostly excluding those premiering elsewhere). Take a look below and check back from September 10th to September 20th for our verdict on all the below and much, much more.
After the one-two punch of “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Wild,” French-Canadian helmer Jean-Marc Vallée is becoming one of the more awards friendly directors working, but he’s sitting this season out —his latest, “Demolition,” won’t land til next spring. That’s probably good for the movie’s chances, which stars on-a-hot-streak Jake Gyllenhaal as a grieving husband who starts taking out his despair on inanimate objects around him, and Naomi Watts as the vending machine company employee he begins a correspondence with: it gets to open TIFF without Oscar-watchers picking at its bones. The history of the opening night slot is a chequered one —we got “Looper” in 2012, but “The Fifth Estate” and “The Judge” since then— but with Gyllenhaal, Watts, Chris Cooper and a vibe that seems to be closer to Vallée’s quirky French-language work like “C.R.A.Z.Y.” and “Café de Flore,” we’re optimistic.
As the various Republican presidential contenders compete with each other to be the most batshit crazy about the question of immigration (Scott Walker and his Canadian wall currently taking the lead), that subject is once again a hot-button one, making it the perfect time for “Desierto” to land. The second directorial feature from Jonás Cuarón, son of Alfonso and co-writer of “Gravity” (he also helmed the excellent companion-piece short to the latter, “Aningaaq”), it stars Gael Garcia Bernal as the leader of a group of Mexicans attempting to cross the border into the U.S, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a fearsome vigilante out to kill them to protect his borders. It seems to fall neatly between the genre and arthouse tents, digging into one of the biggest issues of the day while also hopefully delivering thrills, and we’re excited to see Cuarón Jr. step up onto a bigger stage.
For a while, Ben Wheatley was making films as fast as we could watch them, with “Down Terrace,” “Kill List,” “Sightseers” and “A Field In England” arriving within a few short years of each other. A couple of aborted projects and a brief run helming “Doctor Who” means it’s been two and a half years since we last had a Wheatley pic, but “High-Rise” is undoubtedly his most hotly anticipated yet. Adapting J.G. Ballard’s dystopian satire about the inhabitants of a luxury tower block, Wheatley’s gathered a superb cast, with Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons leading Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy and Wheatley regulars like Reece Shearsmith and Neil Maskell. The great Clint Mansell is scoring, and from everything we’ve heard so far, this feels like a culmination of everything that Wheatley has been building towards.
Kevin Wilson’s novel “The Family Fang” is one of our favorite books of the last few years —the legitimately funny and moving tale of a dysfunctional family reunion proved to b a bestseller. And as is so often the case with a bestseller, it’s now a movie, with Nicole Kidman picking up the rights for her Blossom Films company, and Jason Bateman making it his second directorial outing, with the two playing siblings with their lives in disarray who return home to their performance artists parents (Christopher Walken and stage actress Maryann Plunkett), who made their upbringing into art, only to find the rest of the family missing. We weren’t crazy about “Bad Words,” Bateman’s first film as director, but the material is so good (and it’s been adapted by “Rabbit Hole” writer David Lindsay-Abaire) that we’re hopeful that this film turns out much better.
“I Saw The Light”
The second TIFF premiere set to throw Tumblr into a tizz thanks to the presence of Tom Hiddleston, “I Saw The Light” promises to put the erstwhile Loki a little further out of his comfort zone than “High-Rise” —the very English actor is starring as country music legend Hank Williams, and is singing the songs as such. Written and directed by veteran producer Marc Abraham (“Children Of Men”), it looks to focus on the sweep of Williams’ troubled, alcohol and drug-suffused life, specifcally on his relationship with first wife Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen). Abraham’s first film, windshield-wiper-inventor biopic “Flash Of Genius” was kind of milquetoast, and it remains to be seen if anyone can take a country biopic seriously after “Walk Hard,” but we’re fascinated to see how Hiddleston does, and a prime awards-season slot from Sony Pictures Classics suggests the studio has faith in him.
“Kill Your Friends”
The wait for Martin Scorsese’s incredibly promising, music industry-set HBO drama “Vinyl” is becoming increasingly difficult to bear, but fortunately “Kill Your Friends” is here to fill the gap. Based on John Niven’s bestselling novel, the film stars Nicholas Hoult, who’s going from strength to strength as a performer, as a sort of Britpop Patrick Bateman, an A&R man rising through the ranks of the music industry in the 1990s at a murderous cost. Marking the feature debut of “Black Mirror” TV helmer Owen Harris, it’s got a strong supporting cast, including Craig Roberts, Rosanna Arquette, James Corden, Ed Skrein and Joseph Mawle, and a teaser trailer makes it look like a ton of coke-addled fun. And if nothing else, the soundtrack (including a score by “Mad Max”’s Junkie XL) should be killer.
It’s been a long while since we’ve had a decent gangster film, but if anything can revive the genre, a double dose of Tom Hardy should do the trick. The “Fury Road” star here teams with writer-director Brian Helgeland (an Oscar-winner for penning “L.A. Confidential” and a helmer of “Payback” and “42,” among others) to tell the story of Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the twin thugs who terrorized London during the swinging ’60s. The production value looks to be very strong (Carter Burwell’s scoring, and “Mr. Turner” Oscar-nominee Dick Pope is shooting) and the supporting cast are full of ringers like Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston and Taron Egerton, but the draw here is undoubtedly in seeing Hardy act portray the two very different Kray brothers —one is suave and sophisticated, the other is a little mad and very gay, and both totally murderous.
Despite having four strong movies under her belt in “Angela,” “Personal Velocity,” “The Ballad Of Jack And Rose” and “The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee,” Rebecca Miller remains somewhat undervalued in the American film world, and is probably still best known among the general public as the daughter of Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis, but that could change with her latest, “Maggie’s Plan.” Based on a short story by Karen Rinaldi, the film toplines Greta Gerwig as a young woman who longs for a child and has never been able to sustain a long-term relationship, who hooks up with an unhappily married professor (Ethan Hawke). Sounding somewhat lighter than what we’re used to from Miller (Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph and Julianne Moore have supporting roles, while “Frances Ha” DoP Sam Levy reunites with Gerwig here), we’ve already heard some good buzz around this one, and it’s heading to New York Film Festival after this, which bodes well.
Probably the biggest movie at TIFF this year in terms of budget and sheer star-wattage, “The Martian” hopes to surf the same wave of success that “Gravity” previously found at fall festivals. Adapted from Andy Weir’s novel by “Cabin In The Woods”’ Drew Goddard, it sees Matt Damon as an astronaut who is believed dead, is abandoned by his crewmates, and has to find a way to survive on a planet that can’t sustain life. The book is beloved (particularly due to an unexpected veil of humor), the cast —Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis— might be the year’s best, and the trailers have been terrific. The biggest question mark here is probably Ridley Scott —the veteran director’s been off his game for a while, and if he can balls up Cormac McCarthy, he can probably do the same here. But our hopes are still high that he’s got a great one in him still.
Everyone’s on the lookout at TIFF this year for the next “Still Alice” —that Julianne Moore vehicle was unheralded before last year’s festival, but went on to win its star an Oscar after landing in the release calendar at the last minute. Perhaps the best candidate to follow in its footsteps is “The Meddler,” the second directorial outing from screenwriter and Diablo Cody pal Lorene Scafaria. The film stars Susan Sarandon as a widowed woman who comes to L.A. to interfere with the life of her daughter (Rose Byrne), while romancing a rent-a-cop (J.K. Simmons): anything with those three actors (plus Jerrod Carmichael and Cecily Strong, among others) pretty much has us sold. Scafaria’s first film “Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World” was nearly good without quite getting there, but she’s an interesting voice and we’re definitely rooting for her to come through here, as are Sony Pictures Classics, who picked the film up before the festival.
We love Mads Mikkelsen, and from “Casino Royale” to “Hannibal,” we’re used to seeing him as a smooth villain, but as he reminded everyone with his Cannes Best Actor win for “The Hunt,” his range stretches far beyond that, and he’s going to be showing another unexpected side with this film, made in his native Denmark, where it’s been a huge hit. Hailing from Oscar-winning writer Anders Thomas Jensen (best known as a screenwriter who’s collaborated with Susanne Bier and Lars Von Trier —he’s writing “The Dark Tower” next), the film’s an absurdist comedy about two eccentric brothers (Mikkelsen and the great David Dencik) who travel to a remote island to find the father they’ve never met and their three odd brothers. It looks deeply silly but with dark undercurrents, and promises to be unlike anything else at the festival or anything else that you’ve seen Mikkelsen (buried in make up and a hilarious mustache) do before.
His recent action-romance-comedy hybrid “American Ultra” might have tanked, but divisive screenwriter Max Landis’ hopes couldn’t be higher for his latest genre-bender, given that it’s closing TIFF this year. Directed by Spanish helmer Paco Cabezas (whose last film, slightly unpromisingly, was Nic Cage starrer “Rage”), this film stars Anna Kendrick as a woman spiralling after a break-up until she meets a charming new love interest (Sam Rockwell) who happens to be a hitman. Landis is something of an acquired taste, but he definitely has a distinctive, fresh voice, and it’s hard to imagine two actors better suited to him, or to each other, than Kendrick and Rockwell —I’d pay money to watch them do a Jason Reitman live-read of “Jonah Hex”— and the supporting cast seems fun, with Tim Roth, RZA and James Ransone all involved. The history of the closing night film isn’t great, but we hope this breaks the curse.
The ever-prolific Johnnie To is back with his latest film, but it’s not the kind of action/crime movie that he’s best known for or even a rom-com like his successful “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” series (the second instalment of which played at TIFF last year)— it’s a musical spectacular set in the corporate world. Set in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, as a Chinese company prepares to float on the stock market, it features a host of big-name talent include Chow Yun-Fat, Sylvia Chang (on whose play the film is based), Wang Ziyi and Tang Wei, with lavish sets and songs by Taiwanese pop legend Lo Ta-yu. It looks like “Margin Call” if “Margin Call” was directed by Bob Fosse, and with To at the helm, there’s little at the festival we’re as excited by as this.
“Our Brand Is Crisis”
Three years ago, “Argo” emerged at Telluride and became an instant Oscar front-runner. Could another star-powered, quirky political thriller manage the trick at TIFF this year? Based on a documentary from 2005, “Our Brand Is Crisis,” written by “Frank” scribe Peter Straughan and directed in his first serious awards season prospect by David Gordon Green, tells the based-in-fact story of U.S. political consultants competing over a Bolivian presidential election, with Sandra Bullock (in a performance that’s already getting Oscar buzz), Billy Bob Thornton, Ann Dowd, Zoe Kazan, Scoot McNairy, Anthony Mackie and Joaquim De Almeida all along for the ride. Once tipped as a directorial effort for George Clooney (he’s still producing), this could turn out to be more “Ides of March” than “Argo,” but we’re fascinated to see what Gordon Green can do with material like this.
There are few bands who’ve matched critical acclaim and massive popular appeal in the last decade as Arcade Fire have —the Canadian band combine restless experimentation and stadium-sized melodies in a way that’s helped make them one of the biggest rock acts in the world. It’s appropriate that the first feature film revolving around them (after Spike Jonze’s extended short “The Suburbs”) is premiering in Canada at TIFF, and it’s one of the more promising music docs in a while. Directed by Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus collaborator Kahlil Joseph (with photography by, among others, “Palo Alto”’s Autumn Durald and “Ballast”’s Lol Crawley), the film promises to document not just the making of the band’s most recent record “Reflektor,” but also the following tour, and in particular their relationship with Haiti, from where co-frontwoman Regine Chassagne hails. Footage released so far looks promising —hopefully there’ll be enough here for even non fans to be interested.
Though he’s been hotly tipped in Ireland for a while now, the last couple of years has seen Lenny Abrahamson turn the heads of cinephiles more widely, first with searing drama “What Richard Did,” and then with the hilarious, sad about-turn of “Frank.” His latest “Room” should bring him to his widest audience yet —based on Emma Donoghue’s novel, it’s the story of a young child raised by his mother in a single room until they’re freed from captivity. Starring Brie Larson as the mother, young breakout Jacob Tremblay as her son, and Joan Allen and William H. Macy as her parents, it’s likely to be a bruising experience, but if Abrahamson can get anywhere near Donoghue’s novel (and with the astonishingly good Larson in his cast, he might well), this’ll be a deeply moving film that could turn out to be a big awards player.
Something like the British Terrence Malick (if only in terms of productivity: he’s made just three features since the turn of the century, fewer even than “The Tree Of Life” helmer), Terence Davies isn’t prolific, but that just makes his every new film a true event. Four years after “The Deep Blue Sea,” he’s back with “Sunset Song,” an adaptation of a seminal Scottish novel, starring supermodel Agyness Deyn as Chris Guthrie, a young woman left to care for her father alone in the run up to the First World War. Peter Mullan’s the most recognizable face in the cast, but Davies long ago proved he was an expert in getting tremendous performances out of newcomers. And this should be visually spectacular even by his standards —like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino, Davies has embraced large formats and shot this on 65mm film.
Two years after “Breaking Bad” came to an end, Bryan Cranston’s ready to make a run at big-screen stardom —Jay Roach’s “Trumbo” marks the first time the man best known as Walter White has headlined a movie. It’s a take on the colorful life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, one of the most prominent figures on the Hollywood Blacklist during the Red Scare, who was prevented from working but still managed to write films including “Roman Holiday” and “Spartacus.” It’s a meaty role that trailers suggest that Cranston’s having fun with, and he’s in some very good company, with Diane Lane and Elle Fanning as his family, Helen Mirren as gossip queen Hedda Hopper, Louis C.K. in a dramatic role, and Alan Tudyk, John Goodman and Michael Stuhlbarg as various Hollywood luminaries. Roach’s political dramas for HBO are always engaging, and though we get a slight whiff of the dismal “Hitchcock” (possibly thanks to Mirren’s involvement), this is otherwise promising.
Robert Redford’s late-career renaissance —he’s done everything from carry a movie solo with “All Is Lost” to playing a Marvel villain in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and given up directing faintly dull movies in the process— has been something to watch, and he’s going onwards and upwards with his latest, “Truth.” The star plays legendary newsman Dan Rather in the story of how Rather and his producer (Cate Blanchett) investigated reports of George W. Bush’s questionable military record, only to see their careers unravel as a result. The film marks the directorial debut of “Zodiac” screenwriter James Vanderbilt, and though it co-stars Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss, the big draw here is definitely whether Redford can earn the awards run that he should have had for “All Is Lost.” With a prime fall release and big TIFF premiere, Sony Pictures Classics certainly seem to hope so.
When? October 16th
It’s possible that his films might never again cause the storm that “Bowling For Columbine” or “Fahrenheit 9/11” managed, but Michael Moore’s still capable of landing a few punches, and expect quite a few to be thrown in this, his first movie since 2009’s “Capitalism: A Love Story.” The film promises to look at America’s constant state of war and poor track record of successful invasions, though much of it’s still under wraps at this point. Still, with another election on the way, the Iran deal going through and wars still being fought in the Middle East, it’s perfect timing for Moore to reemerge, and hopefully he’s been rejuvenated.
Honorable Mentions: As ever, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Also heading to TIFF are Tsai Ming-liang’s documentary “Afternoon” (a 130 minute conversation between the director and his closest collaborator Lee Kang-sheng); Charlie Hebdo documentary “Je Suis Charlie”; “Amazing Grace,” a documentary about Aretha Franklin that was Sidney Pollack’s last work before he died; Athina Rachel Tsangari’s “Attenberg” follow-up “Chevalier”; the return of Alex van Warmerdam, the creator of “Borgman,” for “Schneider Vs. Bax”; Martin Amis adaptation “London Fields” with Billy Bob Thornton and, uh, Jim Sturgess; and “My Big Night,” a drama set behind the scenes of a TV show from Spanish great Alex de la Iglesia.
There’s also horror-comedy “The FInal Girls” with Taissa Farmiga and Malin Akerman; Sikh Goodfellas “Beeba Boys” from Deepa Mehta; Helen Mirren/Aaron Paul drone thriller “Eye In The Sky”; Ellen Page/Julianne Moore gay marriage drama “Freeheld”; Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons in “The Man Who Knew Infinity”; Roland Emmerich taking a break from blowing up landmarks to honor “Stonewall”; Adrien Brody and Salma Hayek go to Iran for “Septembers Of Shiraz”; and Kate Winslet in “The Dressmaker.”
And not to forget Maggie Smith in “The Lady In The Van”; Jean Dujardin going to Bollywood for Claude Lelouch in “Un Plus Une”; Joachim LaFosse’s “The White Knights”; “Beaches”-style weepie “Miss You Already” with Toni Colette and Drew Barrymore; Elle Fanning as a transgender teen in “About Ray”; and Rob Reiner’s "Being Charlie,” starring Nick Robinson. Plus plenty we’ve already seen in Cannes and elsewhere, and a few carryovers from Venice (read our full preview here), and a couple of hundred more movies. Let us know what you’re most excited about below, and stay tuned for our full coverage from TIFF next week.