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13 to Watch in Toronto

13 to Watch in Toronto

This year’s stuffed edition of the Toronto International Film Festival kicks off today, bringing over 200 features from around the world to Canada’s biggest city.

Ever since the full lineup for the event dropped, we’ve been making our picks of what to see. It hasn’t been easy.

To get the party started, we’ve assembled a list of the 13 films we’re most looking forward to catching in Toronto.

Check them out below. Let us know what you’re most excited to see in the comments.

French filmmaker Christophe Honoré’s previous film, “Love Songs” was a favorite when it came out in 2007 and it was even honored by none other than John Waters with a special screening that he hosted sometime later at the Provincetown International Film Festival. His latest, “Beloved” (Les bien-aimés) stars Chiara Mastoianni, her legendary mother, Catherine Deneuve, Ludivine Sagnier and Louis Garrel (who also hails from “Love Songs”). Set in Paris in the 1960s to London’s modern days, Madeleine and her daughter Vera waltz in and out of the lives of the men they love, according to a TIFF description. But love can be light and painful, cheerful and bitter. An elegy to femininity and passion with musical outbursts. [Brian Brooks]

“Crazy Horse”
Octogenarian documentary legend Frederick Wiseman has shown no signs of slowing down. He follows up a near-experimental study of virility, “Boxing Gym,” with another physically-charged non-fiction work bound to jump off the screen: “Crazy Horse” portrays a Parisian cabaret club, presumably with the same skill the véríte master brings to every topic in his diverse career. [Eric Kohn]

“The Forgiveness of Blood”
American filmmaker Josh Marston proved a very adept filmmaker stepping outside of his native English for a gripping Spanish-language feature, “Maria Full of Grace” back in 2004, which earned then newcomer Catalina Sandino Moreno an Oscar-nomination for Best Actress. With his latest, he swaps Spanish for Albanian and a family drama. In the film, the lives of a teenage boy and his younger sister are thrown into turmoil when a fatal dispute over land pulls their family into a bloody feud. “The Forgiveness of Blood” won the prize for Best Screenplay (Marston and Andamion Murataj) at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year and the film will have its North American debut at TIFF. [Brian Brooks]

“God Bless America”
Bobcat Goldthwait’s second coming as a director of perceptive and unexpectedly moving dark comedies has practically outdone his much longer career as a screaming comedian. After the sexually unnerving relationship story “Story” and the wonderfully satiric Robin Williams vehicle “World’s Greatest Dad,” Goldthwait returns to the director’s chair with something even wilder: A couple of social rejects who go on a killing spree. Only in a universe as twisted as Goldthwait’s could this be the stuff comedy gold; fingers crossed. [Eric Kohn]

“Into the Abyss” / “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory”
Werner Herzog’s documentary presence has taken on a pop culture appeal to rival that of Michael Moore, but Herzog rarely plays the activist. While he might make the same claim here, there’s no doubting that his latest lyrical foray will generate plenty of topical discussion. With the idiosyncratic Bavarian tackling prisoners on death row, “Into the
Abyss” will also make an inadvertent companion piece to the third entry in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s riveting “Paradise Lost” series, which took a dramatic turn when its subjects–the infamously-labeled “West Memphis 3”–suddenly made it out of jail last month. In both cases, expect capital punishment to take a rather eloquent beating. [Eric Kohn]

French directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo pushed certain visceral boundaries and then broke them in the most gratuitous fashion possible with their abortion thriller “Inside.” Now they’re back in the Midnight Madness section with a haunted mansion story undoubtedly like nothing you’ve seen before. Whether it blows people away or simply ticks people off remains to be seen, but the movie has already scored U.S. distribution with the Weinstein Company, so either way the nightmare has a future. [Eric Kohn]

“Miss Bala”
OK, this is a bit of cheating because I saw this in Cannes, but it’s such a great film and with a festival as large as TIFF (and with no North American stars) this could go under the radar. But don’t let it! Stephanie Sigman, the film’s beautiful star, blew the audience away at Cannes. In the film, Sigman plays Laura Guerrero, a young woman from a simple background in the suburbs of Tijuana who dreams of becoming a beauty queen. While attending a party with her close friend, fate intervenes when gangsters sneak into the well-guarded event and go on a killing spree. Worried about the fate of her friend, she asks the police for help. The cop she goes to, however, is in cahoots with the gangsters and turn her over. The leader, Lino (Noe Hernandez) takes a shine to her, though his ‘mercy’ is not without peril. Embedded into the crime family, she finds herself obligated to perform heists and anything else demanded of her. [Brian Brooks]

“The Story of Film: An Odyssey”:
Screening (for free!) in five 3-hour segments during the festival (and then again in two giant segments the final weekend), Mark Cousins’ “The Story of Film: An Odyssey” is clearly going to an epic education in the history of cinema. When I spoke with TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey last week he called it “free film school,” and I suspect that’s quite close to the true. In the film, Cousins adapts his own book of the same title into this ambitious 15-hour documentary. He traces the entire story of film, from the silent era to the digital age, showcasing pivotal film clips from the likes of Buster Keaton, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Fritz Lang, Yasujiro Ozu, Satyajit Ray, Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Youssef Chahine, Agnes Varda, Nicholas Roeg, Ousmane Sembene and Abbas Kiarostami (to name a very few). Making time for the whole thing might be tough (it essentially deserves a film festival to itself), but kudos to Cousins and TIFF for making this happen. [Peter Knegt]

Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz.” TIFF.

“Take This Waltz”:
Sarah Polley’s directorial follow-up to “Away From Her,” “Take This Waltz” is a romantic comedy that stars Michelle Williams as a woman torn between her loving husband (Seth Rogen) and a sexy new dude she meets during a “steamy Toronto summer” (which places it alongside “Scott Pilgrim” as that rare film both shot and set in Toronto). The script (also written by Polley) made the Blacklist a few years back and is truly fantastic, and it will be looking to win over critics and buyers (the film does not have a U.S. distributor) during TIFF. I for one am simply excited to see the next step in Polley’s admirable and eclectic career. [Peter Knegt]

British director Michael Winterbottom is nothing if not versatile. The acclaimed auteur’s follow-up to his raucous comedy “The Trip” and his controversial thriller “The Killer Inside Me,” is an Indian riff on Thomas Hardy’s novel “Tess of the d’Ubervilles,” starring Freida Pinto. Up-and-coming British actor Riz Ahmed (“Four Lions”) stars alongside Pinto in this tragic love story about two doomed lovers. A trailer for the film dropped in August, and it’s among the most beautiful we’ve seen this year. Winterbottom’s longtime cinematographer Marcel Kysing (“A Mighty Heart”) seems to have worked wonders shooting on location in Jaipur, India, and the film’s score, courtesy of Indian film composer Amit Trivedi, sounds like something really special, based on the preview. [Nigel M. Smith]

“Wuthering Heights”
Andrea Arnold, the acclaimed British auteur behind “Red Road” and “Fish Tank,” takes a stab at the Emily Bronte classic in this sure to be ‘one of kind’ adaption. Since coming onto the scene with her Oscar-winning short “Wasp,” Arnold has gone on to mine her uncompromising vision of rural Britain in a series of searing and surprising character studies. Her latest passionately divided critics in Venice where it just had its world premiere. According to early reports, Arnold has gone for an impressionistic take on the tale, favoring mood over pacing. But her most major revision: this version’s Heathcliff is an Afro-Caribbean orphan. [Nigel M. Smith]

“Violet & Daisy”
Oscar-nominee Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”) proved she’s surprisingly adept at action in “Hanna” earlier this year, so it should come as no surprise that we’re psyched to see her play another teenage assassin opposite Alexis Bledel (“Sin City”) in “Violet & Daisy.” In the thriller, Ronan and Bledel play a pair of young killers for hire who get more than they bargained for when their latest target (James Gandolfini), turns out to be not who they thought he was. Ronan has yet to disappoint, so it’s Bledel who has to impress. The Gilmore Girl definitely seems to be playing outside of her comfort zone with this role. Another one with something to prove? The film’s director, Geoffrey Fletcher. This marks his directorial debut, following an Oscar win for penning the screenplay to “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” [Nigel M. Smith]

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