By Indiewire Staff | Indiewire September 5, 2012 at 11:56AM
The 37th Toronto International Film Festival gets underway tomorrow night in Canada's largest city, and is there ever a lot to choose from. Over 11 days, the festival is offering up a whopping 289 feature films and 83 shorts, a huge chunk of them world and international premieres.
Among the lineup there's new films from Ben Affleck, Deepa Mehta, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, David O. Russell, Joe Wright, Xavier Dolan, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Lee, Ramin Bahrani, Neil Jordan, Mira Nair, Robert Redford, Cate Shortland, Harmony Korine, Susanne Bier, Sarah Polley, Francois Ozon, Joss Whedon, Derek Cianfrance, Walter Salles, Noah Baumbach, Sally Potter and Terrence Malick, among many, many others.
So to help out those about to head Toronto way (or those simply curious), a few of Indiewire's staff members offered up a couple of the films they're most excited to see at the festival. From Ice-T and Peaches to Tolstoy and Shakespeare, here are 25 of them:
After it premiered in October 2009, ESPN’s “30 for 30” provided a series of sports-centric documentaries that, while not universally successful, did manage to produce some episodes that made athletic tales compelling even for viewers who would never voluntarily flip to the channel. (If you haven’t yet set aside an hour and fifteen minutes for “Winning Time,” your Netflix Instant queue beckons.) Round two of the series begins in a few weeks with “Broke,” a film that played at Tribeca earlier in the year, but installment #2 is this retelling of the men’s 100 meter final at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. Interviewing all eight men who took part, the film covers not just the race, but the ensuing controversy caused when winner Ben Johnson (who spanned the distance in the titular amount of seconds) tested positive for steroids. If early footage is any indication, this may be one of the entries in the series that prove it was worthy of its 2010 Peabody Award.
After the found-footage anthology horror film "V/H/S" surprised many at Sundance by being arguably the scariest of the genre to come out in ages, you can bet we're excited to see if "The ABCs of Death" -- another horror feature in the same vein -- lives up the acclaim set by its predecessor. Like "V/H/S," "ABCs" is comprised of short films, each helmed by an established filmmaker. For "ABCs," 26 directors (including Ben Wheatley, Ti West and Jason Eisener) were each assigned a letter of the alphabet and accompanying word, leaving it up to the director to come up with a short story of death. With "V/H/S" distributor Magnet already on board, and Alamo Drafhouse founder Tim League producing, all signs are pointing to this being a scary and inventive delight for true fans of the genre.
Joe Wright is nothing if not a visual master. Even if you're not a fan of some of his output ("Pride & Prejudice," "Atonement," "The Soloist" and "Hanna"), there's no denying his remarkable flair for the cinematic. His take on "Anna Karenina" looks to be most visually breathtaking effort yet, and that's saying a lot. Despite Wright's risky choice to keep this adaptation, written by Tom Stoppard, stage-bound for the most part (early reviews indicate that the massive stage on which the film is set, opens up onto real-life locations for select scenes), his "Anna Karenina" looks ambitious in scope, with gorgeous set and costume design to boot. And Keira Knightley, who Wright directed to winning effect in both "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement," looks like she was born to play the doomed heroine.
It may seem like a trivial observation, but there doesn’t seem to be a definitive golf movie. While Dante Ariola’s feature-length directorial debut might not have enough sports action to reach the iconic level of “Hoosiers” or “Field of Dreams,” a cast that features Colin Firth, Emily Blunt and Anne Heche isn’t a shabby place to start. It’s possible that the shortening of the film from its original title, “Arthur Newman, Golf Pro” might be an indication that the focus is less on birdies and bogeys than the film’s central relationship. But the idea of Firth and Blunt getting a chance to add an entry into the darkly comic side of their ledgers is intriguing enough, even if the title character (who Firth’s Wally apparently invents during a mid-life crisis) never picks up a 3 wood.
The Oscar-winning director of “Diner,” “The Natural,” “Rain Man” and “Bugsy” made a low-budget found-footage thriller? The curiosity factor is high for this Midnight Madness selection about a Maryland town that descends into chaos when a deadly parasite hits the shore, not least because Barry Levinson hasn’t had a critical and commercial success in nearly two decades. The genre sidebar slot gives the project, which was written by rookie scribe Michael Wallach and produced by low-budget horror aficionados Jason Blum and Steven Schneider (“Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious”), a credibility boost ahead of its Lionsgate theatrical release November 2.
"An epic adult film that's about epic adult ideas," is how Susan Sarandon described Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings independently financed epic "Cloud Atlas" to Indiewire late last month. Judging by the stunning six-minute trailer that's been making the rounds on the web, that sounds about right. Based on David Mitchell's landmark novel of the same name, "Cloud Atlas" spans the nineteenth century to a post-apocalyptic future for a tale that shows how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future. As evidenced in the preview, the film's large cast (that includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving), all don prosthetics to play a myriad of people of different ethnicities and genders. Even if it turns out to be "Southland Tales"-style mess, we're betting "Cloud Atlas" will be unlike anything you've ever seen before.
"End of Watch"
Navy veteran and "End of Watch" director David Ayer comes with street cred; he did extensive research into the LAPD before writing the script for Antoine Fuqua's 2001 film "Training Day," starring Denzel Washington in an Oscar-winning performance. The director ("Harsh Times," "Street Kings") told Comic-Con that the script for "End of Watch" was written "like a fever" in six days. He put stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena through months of rigorous training before they began shooting the cop drama, set in South Central Los Angeles. Shot entirely with handheld cameras and found-footage, and from the looks of the trailer, "End of Watch" will immerse audiences into this popular genre like no other film has.
Michael Winterbottom is one of the most prolific directors in the industry, indie or otherwise. As noted in the film’s official synopsis, this tale of a mother struggling to raise four kids while their father is incarcerated was captured over a five-year process, shooting for weeks at a time. Seeing the gradual effects that the filming schedule will have on the cast is magnified by the fact that five different cinematographers are credited. Whether Winterbottom will be able to create a cohesive narrative or revel in the temporal differences should elevate the production style above the level of gimmickry.
French director Laurent Cantet (2008's Oscar-nominated and Palme d'Or winning "The Class") tackles Joyce Carol Oates's novel, "Foxfire," putting an upstate New York 1950s girl gang front and center in the form of a memoir. Faithful to the source material and starring a cast of unknown young women, we expect a wild ride along with the gang of fed-up young feminists who go guerrilla-style, striking back against the chauvinists of their small town.
“Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp”
Hip-hop star and actor Ice-T’s debut as a filmmaker, “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” drummed up fairly positive response when it had its premiere at Sundance in January. This time, the rapper’s longtime manager Jorge Hinojosa is in the director’s chair (Ice-T is an EP) for a look at the man who birthed Street Lit as he transformed himself from pimp, addict and hustler into influential author in the 1960s. Archival footage is interspersed with new interviews with those he inspired, such as Quincy Jones, Chris Rock and Snoop Dogg. Toronto may not come off as the hippest town with the most game, but anyone can relate to the desire to turn a past full of mistakes into something meaningful.
Kristen Wiig managed a well-deserved Oscar nomination earlier this year for co-writing "Bridesmaids," the film that propelled her into the A-list and paved the way for her to leave "Saturday Night Live" and focus her career on film full-time. While the first test of that trajectory comes with "American Splendor" directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's new film "Imogene," which world premieres at the festival. The film sees Wiig star as a playwright who stages a suicide in an attempt to win back her ex (Matt Dillon), only to wind up in the custody of her gambling-addict mother (Annette Bening).
One of the most buzzed about films heading into the Toronto, Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Impossible" could come out of the festival a major Oscar frontrunner. A narrative depiction of a real family's struggle in the Indian Ocean tsunami, it stars Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and newcomer Tom Holland (said to be incredible in the film). The recently released trailer certainly suggests "The Impossible" is the kind of heart-wrenching true-life drama the Oscars (and Toronto audiences) love, and word out of pre-festival screenings seems to line up with that idea.
"A Late Quartet"
Even if Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken and Mark Ivanir starred in a “Carnage”-style, single location drama where the four of them had a feature-length conversation about the weather or their favorite kinds of croissants, it would probably still be a worthy entry for this list. But as the main acclaimed string quartet, these four are the centerpiece for a series of dramatic events that plague the run-up to their 25th anniversary performance. With themes of fading artistic ability, repairing troubled marriages and coping with terminal disease, first-time feature director (and co-writer) Yaron Zilberman has some prime territory for poignancy, even though they’re not the most revolutionary of subplots. If the proceedings come off as overly saccharine or sentimental, it’s still nice to imagine a world where, on top of everything else, Walken is a world-renowned cellist.
"Monty Python" cast members John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam pay tribute to their late colleague Graham Chapman in this 3-D animated (and not entirely truthful) account of his life story. Directors Bill Jones (Terry Jones’ son), Ben Timlett and Jeff Simpson have utilized Chapman's own voice (from a recording of him reading the book the film is based on) as well as his former "Python" co-stars. They also used 14 different animation studios for various chapters of the story, making this "Untrue Story" a unique display of animation's many potential forms.
"The Lords of Salem"
Rob Zombie impressed many (us included) with his grisly and demented sophomore effort, "The Devil's Rejects," only to betray many admirers of that film with his tepid stab at the "Halloween" franchise. After helming the sequel to his reboot, "The Lords of Salem" finds Zombie back in non-remake mode with a gonzo tale that seems to have lot more in common with "Rejects" and his debut feature "House of 1000 Corpses," than his recent commercial output. In what seems like a perfect melding of Zombie's heavy metal background and horror sensibilities, "Lords" centers on a radio station DJ (Zombie's wife Sheri Moon Zombie), who's tormented by nightmares and hallucinations involving a coven of Salem witches, after coming across a sinister vinyl record.
After wrapping principal production on "The Avengers," you'd think the tireless Joss Whedon would take a much deserved break. Instead (with a push from his wife, Kai Cole), the writer-director-producer invited a group of friends over to his sprawling home to make a modern day film adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." The black-and-white film marks the first film completed by Bellwether Pictures, the micro-budget studio formed by Whedon and his other half. Given Whedon's written touch on everything he does, "Much Ado" seems like an odd prospect for the guy, given that the script is directly lifted from Shakespeare's iambic pentameter. However, over the years Whedon's proved himself to be at his peak when working with large ensembles ("The Avengers" sealed the deal). Taking that into consideration, "Much Ado," with its myriad of characters each vying for different objectives, seems like a perfect fit for the guy.
There’s a chance that “Mr. Pip” might not even be the best TIFF 2012 film to feature “Great Expectations” as its core (an honor that might eventually go to Mike Newell’s adaptation of the Dickens novel, screening in competition). But, in advance of this fall’s upcoming “The Oranges,” this will be our first glimpse of a post-”House” Hugh Laurie, who plays a makeshift teacher caught in early 1990s Papau New Guinea during the civil war on Bouganville Island. If Adamson can graduate from the “Shrek” and “Chronicles of Narnia” franchise and help newcomer Xzannjah Matsi carry the story as protagonist Matilda, the backdrop of Oceania should make for a dynamic cinematic version of Lloyd Jones’ acclaimed book.
“On the Road”
Yes, Walter Salles and Jose Rivera’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s classic 1957 Beat Generation bible already had its premiere at Cannes, but the filmmakers have spent the intervening months working on a whole new edit of the film. The new cut promises to be 15 minutes tighter and more focused on the central relationship between Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, potentially resolving some of the common criticisms prompted by the Cannes version. In any case, IFC Films/Sundance Selects hopes to make “On the Road” a major awards contender before the end of the year (it hits theaters December 21), and a fresh wave of (improved) reactions may encourage momentum to that effect.
Iconic and remarkably transgressive queer musician Peaches (a Toronto native, though she now calls Berlin home) looks to outdo (and do) herself with this semi-autobiographical "anti-jukebox" musical featuring songs from across her career (most folks will at least know her song "Fuck The Pain Away," prominently featured in countless movies and TV shows including "Lost in Translation," "30 Rock" and "South Park"). Peaches writes, directs and stars in the film that follows a Peaches-esque musician who falls in love with a beautiful she-male. The film will supplemented by the event "Peaches Does The Drake," a "building-wide performance" at the Drake Hotel on September 14th. Both are likely to be major TIFF 2012 highlights in a way only Peaches can provide.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
Stephen Chobsky's novel "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" became something of a "Catcher In The Rye" for the Millennial generation when it was published back in 1999. Over a decade later, Chobsky has impressively managed to write and direct the book's cinematic adaptation himself, and TIFF is offering up the film's world premiere (it opens theatrically a week later). Following teenagers Charlie (Logan Lerman), Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) "Perks" is sure be on top of the TIFF to-see lists for anyone who read the book. But early buzz suggests it should be up there for those who haven't read it as well.
"The Place Beyond The Pines," Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to 2010's "Blue Valentine" -- again with Ryan Gosling -- has added star-power in the form of Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes and dives deep into themes of male violence and anxiety. Gosling stars as a motorcycle stunt driver and loner who starts moonlighting as a bank robber (no, this is not a sequel to "Drive") to fulfill his newfound fatherly duties shared with baby-mama Mendes. Things are complicated when, during a job, he attracts the attention of a young cop -- enter Bradley Cooper. With "Pines" we expect Cianfrance to again seduce us with a moody, emotionally devastating tale -- this time in the shape of a crime thriller.
“Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out”
Marina Zenovich’s follow-up to her explosive 2008 documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” will play both Toronto and the New York Film Festival this fall in a bid to stir up more debate. The first film, which raised new questions about the behavior of the judge in the original legal case against Polanski, had such an impact that it prompted renewed efforts by Polanski’s lawyers to have the case dismissed and led to the filmmaker being placed under house arrest in Switzerland for nine months. This sequel of sorts takes a look at all of that aftermath, Polanski’s eventual release and what happens next in what remains a seemingly intractable fight against injustice for both sides.
Fans of playwright and screenwriter-director Martin McDonagh love him for his unabashedly dark and deranged sense of humor. In his follow up to the tragically underrated "In Bruges," "Seven Psychopaths" looks to push the dark hilarity to new heights. Boasting the likes of Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, Olga Kurylenko and Abbie Cornish, it's hard to imagine this tale of screenwriter's block and high stakes dognapping being short of deliriously entertaining -- if not pure genius.
Stuart Blumberg co-wrote the 2010 comedy “The Kids Are All Right” with director Lisa Cholodenko, and the open question is whether he was able to bring that same mixture of heart, raunchy humor and believable relationship dynamics to his directorial debut (written with actor Matt Winston). The cast is a powerful mix of indie-film talent, with Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim Robbins starring in a story about sex addicts struggling with recovery. Unlike Steve McQueen’s deadly serious “Shame,” Blumberg’s treatment of the subject should prove to be both more accessible and less bleak.
"To The Wonder"
Based on reactions to its recent Venice debut, Terence Malick's "To The Wonder" looks to be as divisive as 2011's "The Tree of Life" (sans the dinosaurs and origins-of-life themes). That we have two of the director's films within two years is a treat in itself for fans, and a field-day for haters. Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams star in the dialogue-sparse story of love and its many seasons. Affleck plays a man torn between two loves, European Marina (Kurylenko) and home-town flame, Jane. With lensing from Emmanuel Lubezki, Malick's long-time collaborator, expect magic hour lighting, a leisurely and meditational pace. For Malick fans, "To The Wonder" will likely be a many-splendored thing, if not as satisfying as the director's many-years-in-the-making nature vs. grace instant classic.
Steve Greene, Jay A. Fernandez, Peter Knegt, Sophia Savage and Nigel M. Smith contributed to this article.