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What We Learned from the Fall Film Festivals

What We Learned from the Fall Film Festivals

Venice, Telluride, Toronto, New York and most recently London all feed into each other, igniting and enhancing the buzz that builds during the fall quality release season and the ongoing awards race. “We amplify in a major way,” said TIFF’s Piers Handling. “There’s an amplification process.”

Out of the fall fests emerged Open Road’s “Spotlight,” A24’s “Room” and eventual Paramount pickup “Anomalisa,” none of which were on industry radars ahead of their warm embrace by audiences and critics. Berlin premiere “45 Years” (Sundance Selects) starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay got a sizable fest bump, along with Cannes entry “Carol” (TWC), starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and two Fox Searchlight and Focus Features movies boasting strong performances, respectively, “Youth” starring Michael Caine and “Brooklyn” starring Saoirse Ronan, and “Suffragette,” starring Carey Mulligan and Tom Hooper’s “Danish Girl,” starring Alicia Vikander and Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne. While Sony Pictures Classics got some notice for Maggie Smith in “The Lady in the Van,” Jay Roach’s period drama “Trumbo” (Bleecker Street), starring Bryan Cranston as the black-listed screenwriter, was a bit swallowed in the crowded field. 

The ebullient Toronto welcome for Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” (Fox) pushed the space epic into serious Oscar contention. “It’s not just about the festival screenings,” said TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey. “Everyone and anything said in front of a camera or mic can go viral instantly. The pace is faster, and people are aware of that, things happen.”

Heading into doc contention were populist docs from Davis Guggenheim, “He Named Me Malala” (Fox Searchlight) and Michael Moore’s “Where to Invade Next,” which will be released before year’s end by a new distribution team led by Alamo’s Tim League and the old RADiUS management. Netflix’s “Winter on Fire,” Ukrainian filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky’s sprawling Maidan documentary also came out of the fests with a head of steam. 
The most bracing films to dawn on TIFF this year came from faraway places. Adventurous cinephiles seeking artier, outré fare were richly rewarded by the festival’s world cinema slate. Along with ushering the year’s prime time Academy Awards contenders, TIFF offered a launchpad for a number of this year’s foreign Oscar entries. That included two entries from South America, Chile’s mordantly creepy priest drama “The Club” (whose director Pablo Larraín was nominated in 2013 for “No”) and Guatemala’s exotic “Ixcanul,” which seems inspired by ethnographic cinema. Sony Pictures Classics’ innovative holocaust drama “Son of Saul” consolidated its position as the Foreign Oscar frontrunner that might earn other awards as well, as “Amour” did in 2013. Also gaining traction were Magnolia’s survival thriller “The Wave” from Norway and France’s feminist Oscar entry from Turkey, “Mustang.” 
Gaining junket momentum for their commercial release were Warner Bros.’ Whitey Bulger biopic “Black Mass,” starring Johnny Depp in creepy contacts, Universal’s very similar “Legend,” starring Tom Hardy in impressive dual roles, and Denis Villeneuve’s intense border thriller “Sicario,” which are all unlikely to last through the demanding awards derby (although cinematographer Roger Deakins is a sure shot). Also not likely to sustain itself in the long term is James Vanderbilt’s downbeat Cate Blanchett vehicle “Truth” (Sony Pictures Classics), which got trumped by a much stronger movie that celebrates journalism, “Spotlight.” 
Winners likely to register in 2016 include Sony Pictures Classics’ delightful comedy pickup “Maggie’s Plan” (Rebecca Miller) and A24’s dystopian romance “Equals,” starring Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult. 

READ MORE: Toronto Deal Wrap: What Sold, What Hasn’t and What’s Coming Up

Among the casualties this fall were two Toronto world premieres starring Tom Hiddleston, who demonstrated his stardom by surviving both risky ventures, Hank Williams biopic “I Saw the Light,” which  Sony Pictures Classics is pushing back to 2016, and TIFF Platform title “High-Rise,” Ben Wheatley’s sprawling JG Ballard adaptation. “Some love it, some call it a masterpiece,” said Bailey, “while others are not into it at all. It’s Wheatley’s strong personal vision, if that’s divisive that’s fine.”
Must-See Home-Runs
“45 Years” (dir. Andrew Haigh, Sundance Selects, December 23) 
“Anomalisa” (dir. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, Paramount, December 30)
“Beasts of No Nation” (dir. Cary Fukunaga, Netflix/Bleecker St., October 16)
“James White” (dir. Josh Mond, The Film Arcade, November 13) 
“Maggie’s Plan” (dir. Rebecca Miller, Sony Pictures Classics, 2016)
“The Martian” (dir. Ridley Scott, Fox, October 2)
“Son of Saul” (dir. László Nemes, Sony Pictures Classics, December 18) 
“Spotlight” (dir. Tom McCarthy, Open Road, November 6)
“Steve Jobs” (dir. Danny Boyle, Universal, October 9)
“Victoria” (dir. Sebastian Schipper, Adopt Films, October 9) 
“The Witch” (dir. Robert Eggers, 24, February 2016) 
“Youth” (dir. Paolo Sorrentino, Fox Searchlight, December 4)
Strong Doubles
“Bridge of Spies” (dir. Steven Spielberg, Disney/Dreamworks, October 16)
“Brooklyn” (dir. John Crowley, Fox Searchlight, November 4) 
“Dheepan” (dir. Jacques Audiard, Sundance Selects, 2016)
“Everest” (dir. Baltasar Kormakur, Universal/Working Title, September 25) 
“Heart of a Dog” (dir. Laurie Anderson, HBO Documentary)
“Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words” (dir. Stig Björkman,
Rialto Pictures, November 13)
“Janis: Little Girl Blue” (dir. Amy Berg, FilmRise/PBS, November)
“The Lady in the Van” (dir. Nicholas Hytner, Sony Pictures Classics, December 4)
“Legend” (dir. Brian Helgeland, Universal, November 20)
“The Lobster” (Yorgos Lanthimos, Alchemy)
“Mountains May Depart” (dir. Jia Zhangke, Kino Lorber)
“Mustang” (dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Cohen Media Group, November 20)
“Room” (dir. Lenny Abrahamson, A 24, October 16)
“Sicario” (dir. Denis Villeneuve, Lionsgate, September 18) 
“Suffragette” (dir. Sarah Gavron, Focus Features, October 23)
“Trumbo” (dir. Jay Roach, Bleecker Street, November 6)
“Viva” (dir. Paddy Breathnach, acquisitions title)
“Where to Invade Next” (dir. Michael Moore, year-end release)
“Winter on Fire” (dir. Evgeny Afineevsky, Netflix, October 9)
Solid Singles
“A Bigger Splash” (dir. Luca Guadagnino, Fox Searchlight, 2016)
“Black Mass” (dir. Scott Cooper, Warner Bros., September 18)
“Born to Be Blue” (dir. Robert Budreau, IFC Films, 2016)
“The Clan” (dir. Pablo Trapero, Fox, 2016)
“Closet Monster” (dir. Stephen Dunn, acquisition title)
“The Danish Girl” (dir. Tom Hooper, Focus Features, November 27)
“Equals” (dir. Drake Doremus, A24, 2016)
“Ixcanul” (dir. Jayro Bustamente, Kino Lorber)
“Hitchcock/Truffaut” (dir. Kent Jones, Cohen Media, December 2)
“He Named Me Malala” (dir. Davis Guggenheim, Fox Searchlight, October 2) 
“I Smile Back” (dir. Adam Salky, Broad Green, October 23)
“Lolo” (dir. Julie Delpy, acquisitions title)
“Love” (dir. Gaspar Noé, Alchemy, October 30)
“Miles Ahead” (dir. Don Cheadle, Sony Pictures Classics, 2016)
“Trust” (dir. James Vanderbilt, Sony Pictures Classics, October 16)
“The Walk” (dir. Robert Zemeckis, Sony/TriStar, October 9)
Artfully Arcane
“The Assassin” (dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Well Go USA, October 16)
“Bang Gang” (dir. Eva Husson)
“Chevalier” (dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari, acquisitions title)
“The Club” (dir. Pablo Larraín, Music Box Films)
“Desde Allá” (dir. Lorenzo Vigas, acquisition title)
“Evolution” (dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Alchemy) 
“Embrace of the Serpent” (dir. Ciro Guerra, Oscilloscope)
“The Forbidden Room” (dirs. Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, Kino Lorber, October) 
“In the Room” (dir. Eric Khoo)
“London Road” (dir. Rufus Norris, acquisitions title)
“Right Now, Wrong Then” (dir. Hong Sang-Soo, acquisitions title)
“Spear” (dir. Stephen Page)
“The Treasure” (dir. Corneliu Porumboiu, acquisitions title)
“High-Rise” (dir. Ben Wheatley, acquisition title)
“I Saw the Light (dir. Marc Abrahams, Sony Pictures Classics, 2016)
“Louder than Bombs” (dir. Joachim Trier, The Orchard)
“Women He’s Undressed” (dir. Gillian Armstrong, US acquisitions title)

Anne Thompson’s Fall Fest Top Ten:
1.  “Son of Saul”
2.  “Steve Jobs”
3. “Spotlight”
4. “The Martian”
5. “Carol”
6. “Beasts of No Nation”
7. “Maggie’s Plan”
8. “Room”
9. “Chevalier”
10. “London Road”

Ryan Lattanzio on TIFF:

My favorite film of the fest was Venice Golden Lion Winner “Desde Allá,” which played to capacity crowds in Toronto. A troubling film with venom in its tail, it’s a twisty, anguished gay love story that, unlike so many never-to-be-distributed foreign art films that try to shock but just end up firing blanks, earns its ambiguity. But really, what is left to say about this film after fine assessments from John Anderson and David Ansen? I’ve been pitching it as “Haneke’s ‘Piano Teacher’ as directed by Pedro Almodovar,” which is a pathetic response to this film’s soaring complexities.

Originality won the day in the Vanguard section as well. Among several indie distributors to land pre-buys ahead of the fest was Alchemy, which opened Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s artfully arcane, body horror tone poem “Evolution.” Alchemy also showed Hadzihalilovic’s husband Gaspar Noe’s “Love,” scooped by Alchemy out of Cannes. The sexually graphic 3D romance alienated viewers on the Riviera, but played well at the Ryerson for its Toronto premiere, where I watched it with a twisted smile on my face. It’s going to be a must-see for extreme moviegoers when it opens stateside this fall.

Don’t shoot me, but of TIFF’s big-time awards bidders, I simply didn’t get the love for “Spotlight” which, while its subject material is stirring and the filmmaking competent, felt like a really good TV movie and nothing more.

But my ambivalence for Tom McCarthy’s noble journo drama looks a lot like love when standing next to “The Danish Girl” by Tom Hooper, who keeps the freak flag at half-mast. Muddled trans message aside — it’s more fun to watch as a mental illness drama about a man riven by split personalities, because that’s how the script seems to play it — the filmmaking is tremendously dull, the definition of Handsomely Made. It’s a big fat buffet of nothing, all served in gilded china and glazed with the Tom Hooper special solemnity sauce. He doesn’t direct: he showers everything in faux majesty, and he makes damn sure we see every nook, stitch and cranny of the production, shooting from great distances as if he’s literally afraid of touching his own material. And yet. Alicia Vikander, who proved she could do “dead inside” in “Ex Machina,” blossoms in full breakdown mode. She’s the true Danish star of this Oscar pageant.

READ MORE: David Ansen Surveys Toronto 2015

Ryan Lattanzio’s top 10 films:

1. “Carol” (dir. Todd Haynes)
2. “Desde Allá” (dir. Lorenzo Vigas)

3. “45 Years” (dir. Andrew Haigh)
4. “Beasts of No Nation” (dir. Cary Fukunaga)
5. “The Assassin” (dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien)
6. “Love” (dir. Gaspar Noé)
7. “Anomalisa” (dirs. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson)
8. “Sicario” (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
9. “The Club” (dir. Pablo Larraín)
10. “Evolution” (dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic)

John Anderson’s top 10 films:

1. “Desde Alla”
2. “Carol”
3. “No One’s Child”
4. “In Jackson Heights”
5. “The Assassin”
6. “The Russian Woodpecker”
7.  “Imperial Dreams”
8.  “Miss Sharon Jones!”
9. “The Martian”
10.  “Black Mass”

David Ansen’s top ten films: 

2. “From Afar”
3. “Heart of a Dog”
4. “The Martian”
5. “Victoria”
6. “Spotlight”
7. “Mustang”
8. “Cemetery of Splendor”
9. “Summertime”
10. “Rams”

Meredith Brody’s top ten films: 

1. “Carol,” Todd Haynes.  
Love Cate Blanchett, the costumes, the story, the mise en scene.
2. “Room,” Lenny Abrahamson.  
That kid! (I hope anybody who plans on seeing it can avoid the trailer.)
3. “Todor comenzo por el fin” (“It All Started at the End)”, Luis Ospina.
A three-and-a-half hour documentary about a group of filmmakers, artists, and writers — the Cali Group — who flourished in Colombia in the 70s and 80s. I don’t know their work, but I was totally enthralled and moved by this movie, and could gladly have watched the touching intermingling of past and present for another hour.
4. “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” Kent Jones, and RemakeRemixRipoff, Cem Kaya.  
A witty documentary about filmmakers and movies I know by heart, and a witty documentary about movies I don’t know at all: Yesilcam, the Turkish film industry that often remade American, European, and Indian movies on its own (low-budget) terms. 
5. “Spotlight,” Tom McCarthy, and “Suffragette,” Sarah Gavron.  
Two examples of the well-made film that educates as well as entertains, with terrific performances all around.
6. “Dheepan,” Jacques Audiard.  
Who knew that the new Clint Eastwood would be a Tamil novelist and former child soldier named Antonythasan Jesuthasan ? I even liked the fairytale ending (who knew that England graciously welcomed immigrants?)
7. “Son of Saul,” Lazlo Nemes.  
An in-your-face Holocaust film that starts off bad and gets worse.
8. “Peur de rien” (“Parisienne”), Danielle Arbid, and “La peur” (“The Fear”).
Two French movies from prolific directors whose work I don’t know: an autobiographical story of an immigrant adjusting to Paris, and a dreamlike vision of World War I.  Thanks, Toronto! 
9. “Die Nibelungen,” “L’inhumaine,” “Vertigo” with Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  
At the intermission in Telluride of the four-and-a-half hour long Fritz Lang silent film, I thanked Telluride director Tom Luddy for providing the peak experience of my film year (AND, in true Telluride fashion, they served us free bratwursts and beer!). Telluride was also the location of the screening of the swell Art Deco “L’inhumaine,” seemingly made for its Alloy Orchestra score. And I initially didn’t intend to see “Vertigo” in Toronto, since it’s the movie I’ve seen most frequently in my life — but I’m glad I did, since watching it with the excellent Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing the Bernard Herrmann score right in front of the screen was magical.
10. “No Home Movie.”
 No words.

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