By Nigel M. Smith and Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 5, 2013 at 8:50PM
The 38th Toronto International Film Festival gout underway today in Canada's largest city, and is there ever a lot to choose from. Over 11 days, the festival is offering up a whopping 288 feature films, a huge chunk of them world and international premieres.
Among the lineup there's new films from Ron Howard, Claire Denis, Kelly Reichardt, Nicole Holofcener, Atom Egoyan, Errol Morris, Xavier Dolan, Jason Reitman, Ralph Fiennes, Richard Ayoade, David Gordon Green, Alfonso Cuarón, Frederick Wiseman, Jonathan Glazer, Ti West, Hayao Miyazaki, Johnnie To, Alex Gibney, and directorial debuts of "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner, as well as actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Keanu Reeves, Mike Myers and Jason Bateman.
So to help out those about to head Toronto way (or those simply curious), a few of Indiewire's staff members offered up some of the films they're most excited to see at the festival (focusing primarily on films that are making their debuts at the fest -- thus no "12 Years a Slave," "Blue Is The Warmest Color," "Gravity," etc...). From Ice-T and Peaches to Tolstoy and Shakespeare, here are 13 of them:
"August: Osage County"
Nothing world premiering at TIFF screams Oscar quite like "August: Osage County." Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts (who wrote the screenplay as well), the John Wells-directed, Weinstein Company-distributed film stars none other than Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts as an extremely dysfunctional mother and daughter (alongside Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis and Abigail Breslin). It's a dreamy, seemingly can't-go-wrong cast (though that doesn't necessarily mean it can't go wrong) and arguably the most anticipated debut of Toronto.
"Dallas Buyers Club"
Considering how few major American narrative films have tackled HIV/AIDS history -- especially in the past decade -- it's a little unnerving on the surface to see one finally arrive that tackles the epidemic, and from the perspective of a womanizing, homophobic man who, in 1986, was diagnosed with full blown HIV/AIDS. The real-life story sees him come to terms with his homophobia through his experiences smuggling alternative medicine with an HIV positive transexual woman (played by Jared Leto) -- which could prove a bit trying if it overdoes a tolerance theme. But the director (Quebec's Jean-Marc Vallée, who made "C.R.A.Z.Y."), and the cast (Matthew McConaughey plays the lead) are promising enough to make us have hope this doesn't turn into a "Philadelphia" for the 2010s.
"The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby"
Clocking in at a whopping 190 minutes, this massively ambitious two-part film from first timer Ned Benson examines the dissolution of a marriage from the different perspectives of each half of the couple (they're played by Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy). Screening at the festival as a "work in progress," it no doubt is one of the big question marks of the festival. But given the talent attached (Viola Davis, William Hurt and Chastain's acting icon Isabelle Huppert round out out the stellar cast), signs point to something special and adventurous. How the film will fare once it enters the marketplace is anyone's guess given its two-part nature, so the festival setting might make for an ideal venue to view this work.
British comedian Richard Ayoade impressed many with his wry debut "Submarine," which premiered at the 2010 edition of the festival. He's finally back with his decidedly higher profile follow-up "The Double," starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska. Based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's novella of the same name, "The Double" centers on a man (Eisenberg) who finds his life being taken over by a doppelganger. Unlucky for him his double is everything he isn't: confident, charming and successful. Wasikowska, who also has "Tracks" and "Only Lovers Life Alive" also playing the festival, plays his love interest. Eisenberg has proven himself adept at playing both nebish ("Adventureland") and cocky ("The Social Network"), so this seems like an ideal vehicle for the actor.
We already know "Incendies" director Denis Villeneuve's "Prisoners" is very strong (it premiered in Telluride to raves, which should continue in Toronto), but what about the second half of his ambitious, duel English language debuts (which manage to both star Jake Gyllenhaal). Based on José Saramago's novel "The Double" (oddly enough the name of the previous film on his list), "Enemy" follows a man who rents a movie to find that one of the minor characters is his exact double. Both men are played by Gyllenhaal as the dual characters' lives become intertwined. Like "Prisoners," the film boasts an impressive supporting cast, with Melanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini, and Sarah Gadon co-starring. Will lightning strike twice?
It's been three years since Nicole Holofcener's lovely previous feature "Please Give" (though she's directed episodes of "Parks & Recreation" and "Enlightened" in between), and her latest -- hitting TIFF before a mid-September release date -- reunites her with Catherine Keener (who has starred in all of her films) alongside Toni Collette, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini in the story of divorced woman (Dreyfus) who learns her new love interest (Gandolfini) is her new friend's ex-husband. As a fan of every single one of Holofcener's talky, hilarious previous films, we'd be pretty surprised if she failed us this time around.
"The Green Inferno"
Horror icon Eli Roth takes a break from show-running Netflix's "Hemlock Grove" to return to the director's chair (he hasn't directed a feature since 2007's "Hostel II") for "The Green Inferno," a cannibal movie sure to make you queasy. Co-written by Roth and Guillermo Amoedo, the film follows a group of New York City students traveling to Peru with means to stage a protest only to end up in the hands of a tribe of cannibals. Shot on location in the remote Amazonian rainforest along the Aguirre River, and outfitted by real members of a real local tribe, "The Green Inferno" is said to bring a solid amount of realism to the proceedings -- which should make the journey all the more terrifying.
Daniel Radcliffe is all grown up in "Horns," the newest film from "Piranha 3D" helmer Alexandre Aja (who's also responsible for the terrifying and extremely brutal French horror "High Tension"). In the refreshingly oddball supernatural thriller, Radcliffe plays a small-town guy, blamed for the brutal murder of his longtime girlfriend (Juno Temple), who wakes up one morning to find a pair of horns growing from his head. Suddenly the townsfolk that condemned him for the crime begin to confess their darkest desires and most hidden secrets the newly horned man, who uses his new-found powers to unmask the real killer. Based on the novel by emerging horror author Joe Hill, "Horns" marks new, fantastical territory for Aja, who's proven himself to be one of horror's defining new voices. We can't wait to see what he has in store for us.
"The Railway Man"
One of the most high profile films premiering at TIFF without distribution is Australian filmmaker Jonathan Teplitzky’s "The Railway Man." Based on Eric Lomax’s memoir, the film tells the tale of a Scottish lieutenant (Colin Firth) and his suffering at the hands of Japanese soldiers during World War II when he is shipped off to a camp in Thailand. It isn’t until years later that the PTSD-inflicted Lomax, at the behest of his wife (Nicole Kidman), seeks closure from his former captor. Early buzz is very strong for the film, which could has the kind of dramatic, World War II-inflicted content that Oscar voters eat right up. If any distributor is feeling weak going into awards season, this could be the film that could change their game.
Coming in to TIFF with massive buzz thanks to a bunch of ecstatic reviews that leaked before its official world premiere, "Rush" marks a re-teaming of "Frost/Nixon" director and writer Ron Howard and Peter Morgan. This time they are taking on biopic of the Formula 1 champion racer Niki Lauda centered around his 1976 near-death crash. Daniel Bruhl (said to be a near-lock for an Oscar nom here) stars as Lauda alongside Chris Hemsworth as his rival James Hunt. When Lauda recovers, Hunt must prepare himself for his opponent's resurgence while sporting a guilty conscience after the crash. Said to be one of the most satisfying sports films in some time, we're surprised to find ourselves very excited to see Ron Howard's follow-up to "The Dilemma."
Indie horror maestro Ti West is back after spooking us out via "The Innkeepers" with his first full on found-footage horror feature "The Sacrament," which subs the ghosts that plagued his last film for religious fanatics. Framed as a Vice documentary (that are so in style these days), the film centers on a group who venture out to an isolated community to investigate a possible suicide cult, led by a charismatic leader. Understandably skeptical at first, the crew slowly come around to the group's utopian claims. We're guessing things don't end so well. For a festival known for playing home to Hollywood's biggest stars, "The Sacrament" is refreshingly indie centric. On top of West's involvement, it stars Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz and Kate Lyn Sheil, all staples of the indie field.
Toronto's LGBT content is almost all about films that premiered at other festivals, from Cannes' "Blue Is The Warmest Color" and "Stranger By The Lake" to Sundance's "Kill Your Darlings" to Venice's "Tom at the Farm." But the debut feature from Moroccan writer Abdellah Taïa tells a queer story TIFF can officially call it's own discovery. The semi-autobiographical story structured in a diptych: One episode chronicles Abdellah's (Said Mrini) teenage years, while the second half follows the young adult Abdellah (Karim Ait M'hand) as a broke university graduate who travels on a scholarship to Geneva. Said to be a considerable find of a new cinematic voice, "Salvation Army" is at the top of our list of films at TIFF from first time filmmakers.
Not to be confused the French imported "Therese" starring Audrey Tatou that was released just a few weeks ago (based on the 1927 novel "Thérèse Desqueyroux"), Charlie Stratton's "Therese" was made in the US and is based on the 1867 novel "Thérèse Raquin." And instead of Andrey Tatou we get Elizabeth Olsen and Jessica Lange. Just picked up by Roadside Attractions ahead of its Toronto premiere, the film stars Olsen as the titular Therese, a sexually repressed young woman trapped in a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin, Camille (Tom Felton) by her domineering aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange). When she meets her husband's childhood friend, Laurent (Oscar Isaac, of “Inside Llewyn Davis”), she embarks on an illicit affair with tragic consequences.