The Toronto International Film Festival may be known more as a platform for fall season movies than a market, but there are plenty of strong films in each year’s lineup looking for U.S. distribution. While films ranging from the Margot Robbie vehicle “I, Tonya” to Louis C.K.’s “I Love You, Daddy” landed sturdy deals during TIFF, many other highlights remain homeless. Here’s a look at a few of them, presented in the hopes that distributors will take note.
If Eminem got a PhD in English without sacrificing his hip-hop talent, he might have turned out something like Adam (Calum Worthy), the scrawny white hero of Joseph Kahn’s “Bodied.” Kahn’s long-awaited follow-up to his snarky teen slasher comedy “Detention” is a hyper-stylized rap satire that plays out like Scott Pilgrim stumbling into “8 Mile” and stealing the spotlight. Set in an assaultive world of underground rap battles in which Adam finds himself unexpectedly talented, “Bodied” delivers the provocative goods at an alarming rate, and boasts Eminem as an executive producer as if to embolden its point. It’s the most subversive movie about hip hop ever made, one of the most exciting modern portraits of race relations period, and a daring assault on white liberal privilege that checks it from the inside out. It deserves a bold distributor willing to capitalize on its provocations to stimulate the same conversations about political correctness at the center of its wildly entertaining plot. —EK
Sales Contact: ICM Partners
As a white guy from Chile, Sebastian Lelio isn’t the most obvious source for the feminist gaze, but his growing filmography suggests otherwise. From “Gloria” to “A Fantastic Woman” and “Disobedience,” the writer-director has shown a profound capacity for representing strong female characters better than virtually any other filmmaker working today. With “Disobedience,” he makes a successful push into the English-language market with a powerful look at two women in love against the backdrop of a strict ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in London. Rachel Weisz, who also produced the project, gives one of her most nuanced performances as a woman who left the community in her youth only to return when her father dies; it’s there that she rekindles a romance with Esti (Rachel McAdams), who’s now stuck in a marriage against her will. Lelio manages to treat the religious backdrop with a surprising degree of sensitivity even as he draws out its oppressive qualities, suggesting that this is the rare provocative movie that could play for multiple audiences at once, with its “love conquers all” message resonating for all of them. —EK
Sales Contact: FilmNation
“Foxtrot” spends its first half hour as a bleak drama about distraught parents mourning their dead son, and then it becomes something entirely different. Israeli director Samuel Maoz’s brilliant followup to his debut “Lebanon,” which took place within the confines of a tank, deals with a very different kind of confinement — being imprisoned by an ambivalent world, and forced to deal with whatever random tragedies it chooses to dish out.
Yet despite its dreary overtones, Maoz pierces his milieu with flashes of perceptive satire, an animated interlude, and a touching, romantic finale, all of which adds up to a wonderfully unexpected hodgepodge of insights into intergenerational Israeli frustrations. It starts with middle-aged couple Michael (the ever-reliable Lior Ashkenazi) and Daphna (Sarah Adler, in a fiery turn) being visited by a pair of soldiers bearing the bad news that their son has been killed in the line of duty. But that’s only the first act of a story that later shifts to a remote Israeli outpost in which the malaise of daily Israeli life sets the stage for a number of fascinating twists and turns. By turns sad, funny and profound, “Foxtrot” is above all unpredictable. The movie is filled with rewarding moments and deserves all the audiences it can get. —EK
Sales Contact: ICM Partners
“Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle”
Flying under the radar at TIFF was a delightful passion project from Goya-winning Spanish actor Gustavo Salmerón: a documentary portrait of his indomitably charismatic 80-year-old mother (Julita Salmerón) and his sprawling family as they weather Spain’s financial crisis and unload the overwhelming contents of their castle. He adroitly blends vintage home movies, new footage and interviews with his father and five siblings. And their comfortable intimacy yields amazing moments, like one in the bedroom when, his father asleep, his mother reveals a fork that stretches into a prod to keep her husband from snoring. “Lot of Kids, A Monkey and a Castle” won the top documentary prize at Karlovy Vary 2017, and is seeking a buyer. —AT
“Who We Are Now”
Told with the full texture of real life, Julianne Nicholson’s second collaboration with “From Nowhere” filmmaker Matthew Newton is a close-up character study that explores notions of forgiveness and self-worth with surgical precision. It’s also a devastatingly authentic drama that’s as guarded and unforthcoming as its protagonist. The only thing we’re told about Nicholson’s character is that her name is Beth; everything else we’re left to sort out — or pry out — for ourselves. Eventually we learn that she’s been in jail for the last 10 years and is fighting for custody over her son, and the story of her legal case becomes a profoundly affecting portrait of sacrifice, redemption, and accepting the fact that the present is the only part of your life that you have the immediate power to change.
Audiences have earned good reason to be wary of any micro-budget American indie that grapples with those themes, and there are so many places where this film could have gone wrong, where it could have been trite or treacly. But “Who We Are Now” very seldom feels like it’s just serving its big ideas, and it handles each of them with such a rare degree of specificity that it often seems like a movie without precedent. Watching the gears spin behind Nicholson’s eyes, or the astonishing long take in which she finally bares her soul while struggling to save a piece of it for herself, Newton’s writing surrenders to an ineffable honesty that blots out everything on both sides. This is a phenomenal film, and Nicholson’s performance in it might be the one to beat in 2017. — DE
Sales Contact: UTA