Melissa McCarthy, Claire Denis, and Lady Gaga: 8 Highlights From the TIFF 2018 Lineup

TIFF's most prominent section has plenty of awards contenders, but that's not the whole story.
"A Star Is Born"
TIFF 2018 Lineup Highlights, From Melissa McCarthy to Steve McQueen
TIFF 2018 Lineup Highlights, From Melissa McCarthy to Steve McQueen
TIFF 2018 Lineup Highlights, From Melissa McCarthy to Steve McQueen
TIFF 2018 Lineup Highlights, From Melissa McCarthy to Steve McQueen
40 Images

For the film industry, fall movie season begins in the summer. That’s when the major fall festivals begin to announce their slates, and the Toronto International Film Festival gets the conversation going. While the Venice Film Festival has already announced a handful of higher-profile titles including Damien Chazelle’s Ryan Gosling-starring Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man,” Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white Mexican saga “Roma,” and the Bradley Cooper-Lady Gaga musical drama “A Star is Born,” TIFF’s Galas and Special Presentations section has all those titles and a lot more.

TIFF artistic director and co-head of the festival Cameron Bailey threw down the gauntlet: “I don’t think you’re not going to see a better lineup at any festival this fall,” he said.

Bailey had plenty of promising endorsements for some of the bigger awards-season movies in TIFF’s current announcement, including “Roma,” which he called “magnificent” and — acknowledging the 65mm-shot film will be released by Netflix — “hard to duplicate even in an extensive home theater.” (TIFF may not be able to screen the film in 70mm, but the festival’s Bell Lightbox will be able to utilize the Dolby Atmos sound mix.) Bailey also referred to Chazelle’s “First Man” as “really gripping” and confessed he was surprised that “A Star is Born” came out so well.

“It just hit me in the gut,” Bailey said. “You’re never sure — it’s his first time directing a film, Lady Gaga’s never had a role like this before — but somehow, all the pieces came together to such a satisfying watch.” Moments after the lineup was released, the festival also squeezed in a world premiere for Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk,” his followup to “Moonlight,” which got a big boost in awards season at TIFF two years ago.

However, among the nearly 50 films so far announced from a lineup that typically includes as many as 300 titles, there are plenty of others with the potential to generate interest in the weeks ahead. Here are a few that stand out.

McQueen’s Return

It’s been five years since Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” erupted on the fall festival circuit and went on to win best picture. Since then, the filmmaker has kept busy with his other career as a visual artist. Now he’s back in the game, from another direction. With “Widows,” the director adapts Gillian Flynn’s screenplay based on a 1983 British TV series about a group of women who attempt to finish a robbery after their husbands were murdered during the first attempt.

Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry in Twentieth Century Fox’s WIDOWS. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.
“Widows”Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth

The cast, which includes Viola Davis and Michelle Rodriguez, looks scintillating in the trailers — and while early buzz suggests it’s more of a commercial title than an awards-season play, that may be just the elegant escapism many audiences want. Bailey said he was especially happy to have wrestled the movie away from competing festivals to secure the world premiere. “It’s spectacular,” he said, “a very fun, breezy approach to the crime thriller genre.” Fox releases it on November 16.

Demange Goes Commercial

French director Yann Demange was an overnight discovery with his 2014 debut “’71,” a bracing war movie set in Belfast starring Jack O’Connell that made anyone who saw it excited for whatever Demange did next. It’s finally here: With “White Boy Rick,” Demange follows the exploits of Richard Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt), who at 14 was the youngest FBI informant in the ‘80s. He was recruited to inform on drug dealers in his Detroit neighborhood, and wound up serving 30 years in prison as a result. The cast also includes Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Dern, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Bailey said the movie had a more commercial feel like than “’71,” but would satisfy anyone familiar with his worke. “Obviously, it has big actors and a bigger scale, but it still feels very much like his stuff,” Bailey said. “He’s got this tight, muscular style. It just has that visceral appeal on a gut level, and a view of Detroit at a certain moment that’s inherently dramatic and cinematic.” Sony Pictures releases the film September 14.

Melissa McCarthy’s Next Big Moment?

Marielle Heller was a Sundance breakout with 2015’s “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” her adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel starring Bel Powley. Since then, Heller’s had several major projects in development, and one of them is finally ready for a premiere. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is the story of Lee Israel, a celebrity biographer who forged hundreds of letters by prominent writers and actors before she was discovered.

The screenplay includes a writing credit for Nicole Holofcener (whose latest directorial effort, Netflix-produced “The Land of Steady Habits,” will also premiere at TIFF), but Bailey said the true standout is Melissa McCarthy as Israel. “It’s one of those weird true stories that you couldn’t make up, it just seems too incredible,” he said. “She’s playing a difficult character who’s hard to like, but because Melissa McCarthy has charisma and just a great screen presence, you follow her wherever she goes. It’s a tough story in some ways in terms of what happens, but it’s incredibly fun to watch.”

“Eric Rohmer in an African American Context”

Stella Meghie was a breakout at the SXSW Film Festival in 2016 with her debut “Jean of the Joneses,” the story of a resilient African-American family coping with an unexpected death. Since then, Meghie made her way into the studio system with “Everything, Everything,” a YA adaptation released by Warner Bros. She returns to a smaller scale with “The Weekend,” the story of two couples that spend a few days together while wrestling with their complicated romantic histories.

“It’s essentially four characters overlapping across the weekend,” Bailey said. “There’s a lot of talk, a lot of great, snappy dialogue and romantic sparks. It has a kind of philosophical approach in terms of its musings on relationships. People will be reminded of Noah Baumbach’s work, some of Woody Allen’s work, maybe even Eric Rohmer’s work, but specifically in an African-American context.” Bailey added that the new movie would help solidify Meghie’s stature as a filmmaker worthy of serious attention. “In three feature films, she’s really established herself,” he said. “She’s working very frequently, mostly in Hollywood, and she’s still able to deliver something like this.”

Broken Families Are Big This Year

“Call Me by Your Name” turned Timothée Chalamet into an overnight sensation, and with “Beautiful Boy” — which finds him playing the drug-addled son to a father played by Steve Carrell — every indication is that the young actor will continue to impress his growing fan base. “You’re looking at a whole new level here,” Bailey said, but noted that it wasn’t the only notable movie from the lineup dealing with father-son troubles. “We saw a number of films this year, some we invited and some we didn’t, about teenagers going through family crisis,” he said.

“Ben is Back”

Another one was “Ben is Back,” directed by Peter Hedges and starring his son, “Manchester by the Sea” Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges, alongside Julia Roberts. The project from the elder Hedges (best known for “Pieces of April”) unfolds over a 24-hour period, when the younger Hedges’ character returns home and the family realizes he’s serious trouble. “It’s set in a relatively affluent family that’s just broken apart by the actions of the son,” Bailey said. “It’s really strong, with great performances, but it also feels very much of the moment in terms of talking about something that a lot of families in North America are going through.” Roadside Attractions releases it December 7.

A Commercial Look at Heavy Themes

George Tillman Jr. may be best-known as the commercial director behind the “Barbershop” franchise, but he has also dipped into more serious-minded dramas like “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete.” For “The Hate U Give,” the filmmaker adapts Angie Thomas’ 2017 novel about a young woman who becomes an activist after seeing police shoot her unarmed friend. The movie, which stars Amandla Stenberg and also features Regina Hall, Common, and Issa Rae, struck Bailey as unexpectedly sophisticated. “On one level, it’s a commercially-driven movie based on the book, but it’s got this very strong political theme to it as well,” Bailey said. “You rarely see political themes dealt with in any nuance in commercial projects, but this one pulls it off.” Fox releases the movie October 19.

Claire Denis Could Be Commercial

One of the more anticipated movies at Cannes this year was the latest effort from French auteur Claire Denis, with possibly her first English-language project — a CGI-laced space adventure starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche in the story of criminals traveling to a black hole. It didn’t make the cut at the May festival, and when Bailey saw it in Paris at Denis’ invitation, it still wasn’t quite ready. “I saw it before most of the effects were in,” he said. “She’s doing something brand new, but it’s a science-fiction movie in Claire Denis’ own way. She can do anything.” He singled out Andre Benjamin’s supporting role in the film as worthy of discussion alongside Pattinson and Binoche, and predicted that buyers would be interested. “The major distributors including streaming companies are picking up more titles earlier, but you’re still going to see things like the Claire Denis film that come in with strong sales interest based on the reputation of the filmmaker and the actors involved,” he said.

Lowery Looks to Film History

"The Old Man and the Gun"
“The Old Man & the Gun”Fox Searchlight

David Lowery has already shown his versatility as a filmmaker by moving from his Disney remake “Pete’s Dragon” to the microbudget “A Ghost Story,” winning over critics with very different projects united by his lyrical style. Now, he’s returning to the expressionistic crime genre he last explored with “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” on a grander scale. Based on a true story, he cast octogenarian Robert Redford as a retired bank robber keen on completing one last job in “The Old Man & the Gun.” Bailey said Lowery “clearly is a real cinephile and knows his film history,” and that the movie “feels like it was made in the late sixties or early seventies in terms of the film language. It has some of the biggest stars of that era, at a remove of several decades.”

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