While there might be some overlap with Venice and a little stolen thunder (at least for hardcore cinephiles) thanks to Telluride, that doesn’t make the TIFF lineup this year any less spectacular. In fact this year’s slate — that runs as deep as it does long — works more than ever to make those other festivals, impressive though they may individually be, feel a little like the throat-clearings before the main event. Boasting a staggering array of splashy premieres, the latest from a barrage of auteurs and a host of indie efforts that have hitherto flown below the radar but that could surprise in a big way, it feels like the TIFF 2013 program may be their most packed ever (though we seem to say that every year). So whilst our attendees face the unenviable (but actually extremely enviable) task of working out their schedules, we’ve dug through the near and far corners of this embarrassment of riches to highlight the 15 films we’re most anticipating from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It wasn’t an easy choice.
To make it slightly more manageable, however, we’ve excluded the following films because we’ve already seen them very recently in either Venice or Telluride (titles are linked to reviews): Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day,” Jonathan Glazer’s “Under The Skin,” starring Scarlett Johansson; Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity”; the Michael Fassbender-starring “12 Years A Slave”; Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves”; Ralph Fiennes’ “The Invisible Woman“; Ti West’s “The Sacrament“; David Gordon Green’s “Joe” starring Nicolas Cage, John Curran‘s “Tracks,“and Hayao Miyazaki‘s alleged last film, “The Wind Rises.” And what with Venice being ongoing we’ll still be getting reviews from there, including one of our Venice most anticipated: Errol Morris‘ “The Unknown Known,” which should arrive later today.
And there is also a clutch of Cannes or Sundance titles that we caught earlier in the year and so won’t feature here, including: Joseph Gordon Levitt’s “Don Jon,” “Kill Your Darlings,” Guillame Canet‘s “Blood Ties,” Alex van Warmerdam‘s “Borgman,” “Claire Denis’ “Bastards” and Palme D’Or winner “Blue Is The Warmest Color.” But despite all these exclusions, TIFF 2013 still gave us a run for our money in narrowing the field of our most anticipated down to 15, but we did it, and here they are.
“Dallas Buyer’s Club“
Synopsis: Based on a true story, the film is set in the ‘80s and centers on Ron Woodruff, newly diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live. Fighting for his life and against the system, Ron begins to take and distribute non-FDA approved drugs extending his life, as well as others infected with the disease.
What You Need To Know: Could Matthew McConaughey’s streak of acclaimed films end with an Oscar nomination? Well, he’s certainly giving the Academy the kind of stuff they love, dropping down to a skeletal weight, and playing an everyman struck down with a life-ending illness. But beyond that, this years-in-the-making picture has attracted headlines for a while now. Previous incarnations that didn’t get off the ground included a version with Marc Forster directing Brad Pitt (they would ultimately collaborate on this summer’s “World War Z”) and a take with Ryan Gosling starring for his “Lars And The Real Girl” helmer Craig Gillespie. But this time around it’s rising filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee who has gotten behind camera, proving himself with two very well-received but perhaps underrated efforts in “C.R.A.Z.Y.” and “The Young Victoria.” Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn and a rather surprising turn by Jared Leto round things out in support, and it could all be a prescription for a success. Watch the trailer here.
“The Railway Man”
Synopsis: Based on the memoir by Eric Lomax, this true story tells the tale of a Scottish second lieutenant who was captured by the Japanese in Singapore during the war, and shipped off to a camp in Thailand, where he suffered terrible tortures and became a forced labourer. Years later, he still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, until his second wife, Patricia Wallace, helps him to seek out closure by contacting his former captors.
What You Need To Know: The pairing of Colin Firth with Nicole Kidman is all you really need to know, with the duo apparently getting on so famously that they are already looking for another project to do together. But the other credits are strong too, with Frank Cottrell Boyce (“Millions,” “24 Hour Party People“) penning the script and Jonathan Teplitzky (who delivered the buzz-building “Burning Man”) behind the camera. In addition, we’ve also listed this one as one of the 10 Awards Season Movies That Could Be Surprise Contenders, noting that early buzz has been good, particularly around Hiroyuki Sanada who plays the cruel Japanese guard and ruthless torturer of Eric. The movie currently has no U.S. distributor but prognosticators will be keeping an eye out to see how it plays and if it wins over audiences, this could be quickly summoned into the race.
Synopsis: A troubled university lecturer discovers he has a double, an identical lookalike, or a possible twin who is married with a baby on the way.
What you need to know: Academy Award-nominated Best Foreign Language Film director Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”) and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver a double shot at the Toronto International Film Festival this year and “Enemy” is the second of this one-two punch. It could prove to be as lethal as their first shot, the abduction crime thriller “Prisoners” which wowed audiences in Telluride, including our critic (read our review here). An adaptation of the Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago’s novel “The Double” (and not the thematically similar Dostoyevsky book of the same name which confusingly, features elsewhere on this list) this psychological thriller sounds a little bit more damaged and arthouse than Villeneuve’s aforementioned studio film and given uncompromising nature of that picture, we’re rather psyched to see how “Enemy” turns out. There’s also Jake Gyllenhaal who’s pulling double duty as the doppelgängers and that’s always a fascinating challenge. Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon and Isabella Rossellini round out what is an impressive supporting cast.
“The Fifth Estate”
Synopsis: Chronicles the early days and rise of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, as he navigates the line between moral responsibility and journalistic ethics with co-founder Daniel Domscheit-Berg.
What You Need To Know: No drama arriving this fall is as plugged into the current newscycle and zeitgeist as “The Fifth Estate.” With Bradley Manning recently sentenced, Edward Snowden on the run and Assange still holed up in an Ecuadorian embassy, all as more continues to leak about the reach and extent of the NSA’s nefarious activities, this movie couldn’t be arriving at a better time. But will it vilify Assange or make him the hero? That’s the crucial question here and there are significant perils in going too far in either direction. But while the cast is rock-solid, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl as the Wiki founders and friends who later fracture, and a knockout supporting lineup in Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Peter Capaldi, Carice van Houten, Dan Stevens, Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney. The question here is director Bill Condon, who is coming off two “Twilight” movies and whose previous effort was the flashy “Dreamgirls.” Could this been the meaty movie he’s been aching to bite into? If so, it could have considerable punch.
“August: Osage County”
Synopsis: Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tracy Letts, the story follows the women of the Weston family who are brought back to the family home in the wake of a crisis and forced to confront each other and their past.
What You Need To Know: The Weinstein Company certainly weren’t messing around when casting up this project, with heavyweights Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts leading an all-star cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Abigail Breslin, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis and much more. On paper this sounds like a no-brainer home run: celebrated play + dream team cast = awards glory, right? Well, that will be up to director John Wells, whose last time out was the respectable economic crisis drama “The Company Men.” But so much of the heavy lifting is done already with this one that if the sparks fly like they should — and given this talent, there’s no reason they shouldn’t — this could be irresistible both to audiences and critics at large.
Synopsis: Based on the case of the West Memphis Three, when three young children are found brutally murdered, suspicion is immediately cast on a trio of friends, and outsider teens. But their arrest and conviction is just the start of a case where darker truths are yet to surface.
What You Need To Know: Is there anything left to say about the West Memphis Three after four acclaimed documentaries (and much more) about the case which gripped the nation and galvanized scores of activists? The answer may be no, but in dramatizing this tragic, haunting, infuriating and disturbing story director Atom Egoyan, working from a script from Scott Derrickson, may find a new way to tell this familiar tale. The participation of Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr — two of the three real-life accused — as executive producers does potentially promise some unique insight into the story, while an outstanding cast (Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Dane DeHaan, Mireille Enos, Bruce Greenwood, Elias Koteas, Amy Ryan and more) could potentially bring further shades and textures to an already gripping saga. While Egoyan hasn’t always been the most consistent director, when he’s on top of his game he’s hard to beat, so this is another distributor-less picture that could shake up the fall season if it breaks out at TIFF.
“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her” & “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him“
Synopsis: Two companion-piece films that examine the dissolution of a marriage after the wife decides to go back to college, shown from the different perspectives of each half of the couple, as they struggle to regain their old connection.
What You Need To Know: Brimful of ambition, the intriguing concept of making two interlocking but distinct films out of a single relationship drama is certainly novel and the fact that it has overcome potential distribution difficulties, and tricky marketing conundrums to get made at all is a clear signal that someone up there has great faith in the scripts, and in first-time writer/director Ned Benson. Another clear signal is the mouthwatering cast; quite aside from perennial Playlist favorites Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy in the lead roles, there’s Viola Davis, Ciaran Hinds, Nina Arianda, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, Jess Weixler and Bill Hader in support. We’re not sure how this is going to make its way to theaters and while it has a lot of potential, as we mentioned in our Awards Dark Horses feature, the two-part structure could end up working against it in terms of categorisation for awards purposes. But we’ve been following this one pretty closely since we first heard about it and are anxious to see if neophyte Benson makes good on a vertiginously high concept. And we can’t help but root for a project that bets so high. (Side note: this will be screening in Toronto as a “work-in-progress” rather than a completed film).
Synopsis: A downtrodden government employee encounters a mysterious doppelgänger, who resembles him completely but is his opposite personality-wise: confident, charismatic and good with women. Slowly, the newcomer begins to take over his life.
What You Need To Know: We were fans of Richard Ayoade‘s off-kilter, low-key debut “Submarine,” and for his sophomore outing, the comic actor-turned-writer/director is leaping up a grade in terms of ambition and potential risk in adapting the famous story by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and transposing it to contemporary America. The script, written by Ayoade and Avi Korine, will be helped along by a strong cast, not least Jesse Eisenberg whose “The Social Network” turn proved he can navigate morally ambivalent and socially awkward roles with ease. And when you have ringers Mia Wasikowska (who it feels like has had a different film in every 2013 festival we’ve been to) and Noah Taylor also featuring, and early pictures that evoke the uneasy mood as clearly as these, the portents are very good indeed. And happily there’s little danger of anyone confusing it with the Richard Gere/Topher Grace movie of the same name, because pretty much no one saw that.
Synopsis: A masseuse, also a divorcée and single parent, finally finds a man she likes only to discover he’s the ex-wife of her new friend.
What You Need To Know: While it’s another, likely tender and funny dramedy from observant humanist Nicole Holofcener, first and foremost it’s the penultimate screen appearance by the great James Gandolfini who passed away early this year unexpectedly. His untimely death will probably give the film an extra boost, but it shouldn’t really need it in a perfect world. Holofcener’s films (“Lovely & Amazing,” “Walking And Talking“) are always a soulful mix of comedy, drama and tragedy (relative personal tragedy anyhow) and are always a welcome breath of fresh air each year that they arrive. Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late Gandolfini, the movie also co-stars Toni Collette, Catherine Keener, Ben Falcone (Melissa McCarthy’s husband), Toby Huss, Eve Hewson, Michaela Watkins and Tavi Gevinson. Holofcener’s last film “Please Give” ended up on many of our year-end lists in 2009, so while we’re not expecting “big things” exactly — that’s hard to say about small scale dramas about regular people — we are, as usual, excited and grateful that we live in a world where, despite all the tentpole tendencies, there’s still a very viable space for Holofcener to make movies.
Synopsis: An aging New York bookseller recommends a down-on-his-luck friend for a “menage” and soon find himself acting as a pimp to the middle-aged neophyte hustler.
What You Need To Know: We’re not going to pretend we have any particularly high aspirations for this one aside from it hopefully being an enjoyable, entertaining comedy, but the presence of Woody Allen in a so-rare-it’s-endangered acting-only role certainly has piqued our interest in the John Turturro-directed and -starring story. It’s not just the veteran director’s presence that gives it the feel of a Woody Allen premise — there’s clearly a fond, romanced view of New York throughout; it’s a largely Jewish setting; and it features a cavalcade of improbably attractive women lining up as Turturro’s clients — Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Vanessa Paradis among others. And if that doesn’t get you going then the Manhattan penthouse porn that the trailer hints at probably should. If the lines Allen delivers as the money-oriented “manager” don’t feel quite as sharp or witty as the ones he might have written, overall the impression we get from early peeks is of a warmhearted, glossy comedy about late-life love, the battle of the sexes and the fragility of the male ego. Sometimes that can be enough.
Synopsis: Based on the novel by Emile Zola, a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage embarks on a passionate affair with her husband’s best friend, with tragic consequences for all concerned.
What You Need To Know: With the clock rapidly running down on the possible use of the words “unfairly overlooked” and “underrated” as descriptors for Oscar Isaac, in advance of the release of his star-making turn in the Coens‘ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” we get another chance to sample his talents in “Therese,” in which he co-stars alongside the terrific Elizabeth Olsen, who plays the titular heroine. Corset-y period dramas of repression and oppression are not normally our go-to bag but aside from the leads, who we’d queue to see read an old-timey phone book, the film’s setting is much grimier and more sordid than the drawing room/china teacup variety of period drama (in keeping with the naturalism and class setting of Zola’s novel) and gives the advance look we’ve had an impressively distinctive look and feel. And with Jessica Lange, Tom Felton and Matt Lucas rounding out the eclectic cast, and first-time feature director Charlie Stratton at the helm, we’re optimistic that this film may deliver a fresher, realer take on an often stuffy genre.
“Can A Song Save Your Life?”
Synopsis: An aspiring singer-songwriter new to New York forms a bond with a record producer and his young daughter.
What You Need To Know: Whether “Once” director John Carney can bottle lightning a second time out is the question that hangs over his next musically-leaning tale (Carney’s two other movies in the intervening years were “Zonad” and “The Rafters,” neither of which went anywhere at all really). Because it really does feel like “Once…Again!,” albeit on a bigger scale; instead of Dublin, it’s Manhattan, instead of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, it’s Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley (in a role originally earmarked for Scarlett Johannson). We’re hoping Carney can bring the same heartfelt quality and true understanding of the genre to this bigger, higher-profile canvas that will come with a weight of expectation he hasn’t really had to contend with before. Helping him step up is producer Judd Apatow, in a rare excursion away from full-on comedy, and a solid supporting cast includes Hailee Steinfeld (as Ruffalo’s daughter), Catherine Keener and James Corden. Adam Levine also makes a bid for acting cred, while the film will have cameos from musical figures like Mos Def and Cee Lo Green.
Synopsis: A young girl tricks a quiet caregiver into falling for her estranged father, but the caregiver mines previously unimagined resourcefulness and criminality in her bid to get the unwitting object of her newfound desire to notice her.
What You Need To Know: Based on the Alice Munro short story collection “Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage,” director Liza Johnson‘s feature follow-up to the solid, well-received “Return“ (starring Linda Cardinelli) is a multi-stranded tale featuring a mouthwatering cast. Starring Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, Christine Lahti, Nick Nolte, Hailee Steinfeld (for the second time on this list — see “Can a Song Save Your Life?“), Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sami Gayle, it’s the kind of lineup which can’t but pique our interest, especially with Pearce and Wiig front-and-center, both of whom we have oceans of time for (and we’re especially rooting for Wiig, whose post-“Bridesmaids” output hasn’t really done her justice so far). While a film based on a short story collection might ordinarily give us pause in terms of whether it can really hang together in a coherent whole, the stories in Munro’s book are all already interconnected so we’re hopeful that it won’t be as much of an issue. Certainly if the script and the cast can capture even a fraction of the humanism and insight of the original tales then the film will be onto a very good thing indeed. First look pics here.
“How I Live Now”
Synopsis: An American girl comes to England to visit her cousins and falls in love for the first time, only for society to collapse following a nuclear war while she’s there.
What You Need To Know: While we’ve faced apocalypses aplenty this year already, one thing we haven’t seen so far is a coming-of-age, human drama-based take on the cinematic staple. We’re intrigued as to whether director Kevin Macdonald has delivered just that with his adaptation of Meg Rosoff‘s best-selling young adult tale. Penned by Jeremy Brock (“The Last King of Scotland“) and Tony Grisoni (The “Red Riding” Trilogy, the much-hyped “Southcliffe” which also screens at TIFF), it’s got tough subject matter — not least from a quasi- incestuous romance at the center — but it certainly looks the part judging from the trailer that features the halcyon, sun-kissed “before” as well as scenes of a violent, militaristic “after.” If Macdonald’s last non-documentary film, “The Eagle” was disappointing, he has certainly already proven his dramatic chops with the underrated “State of Play” and, of course, “Last King of Scotland“, and boasts one of the most talented young actors of her generation, Saoirse Ronan in the lead. She’s alongside “The Impossible” breakout Tom Holland and we’re expecting this to be the one to substantially transcend the slew of samey YA adaptations that continue to bedevil our multiplexes.
Synopsis: After 12 years in prison, a larger-than-life safecracker reteams with a pal and goes about trying to collect what he’s owed for keeping his mouth shut about his boss, while also trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter.
What You Need To Know: Returning to the crime-caper-comedy genre that yielded strong, if underseen results before with 2005’s “The Matador” (and to a lesser extent, 2007’s “The Hunting Party” which nobody saw), writer/director Richard Shepard heads to the big screen after racking up a few TV credits on “Criminal Minds” and “Girls” among other shows, with “Dom Hemingway.” In a rare move these days, the film features Jude Law in the lead role, albeit one that seems a far distance away from his first go-round at straight-up, matinee idol, leading man status. In fact if the splashy and self-consciously sensationalist promotional material so far is anything to go by, his Dom seems like the kind of loudmouth cockney wideboy who’d be a supporting character elsewhere, but has been given his own movie here. It could all come crashing down around our ears, but with a supporting cast including Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir and Emilia Clarke and a director versed in pulling of this kind of offbeat, blackly comedic tone, we’re cautiously optimistic.
Needless to say with such a crammed schedule, TIFF has many more titles we’re curious about and will be looking to check out. Some of those that have us pricking up our ears but just missed out on our top picks are the Dennis Lehane-esque “Felony” written by and starring Joel Edgerton; the Australian WWI survival film “Canopy“; the adaptation of acclaimed novel “Half Of A Yellow Sun” starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton; Alejandre Aja‘s “Horns” with Daniel Radcliffe; Kevin Kline-starring Errol Flynn biopic “The Last Of Robin Hood“; “Life Of Crime” with Jennifer Aniston, based on the late, great Elmore Leonard‘s novel “The Switch“; Ron Howard‘s “Rush“; “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner‘s “You Are Here” starring Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler and Zach Galifianakis; “Hotell” starring Alicia Vikander; “The F Word,” with Daniel Radcliffe (again); Jason Bateman‘s directorial debut “Bad Words“; potential awards dark horse “Belle”; “All Is By My Side” with Hayley Atwell and Imogen Poots; Catherine Breillat‘s “Abuse of Weakness” with Isabelle Huppert; Idris Elba-starring biopic “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom“; “Pioneer” from original “Insomnia” director Erik Skjoldbjærg and Keanu Reeves‘ “Man of Tai Chi.” We’ll be bringing you reviews and other coverage from TIFF 2013 from Thursday onward. Wish us luck.