It’s that time of year again, as the Toronto International Film Festival (also referred to as TIFF) is ready to kick-off ten days of non-stop movies and parties, taking over the theaters and clubs of arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the Northern Hemisphere.
Founded in 1976, the annual festival has become one of three must-attend events for the film industry, mainly because it’s one of the primary markets for new movies from all over the world to show up seeking distribution. Every year, the festival is the chosen place for many of the world’s most prestigious filmmakers to debut their work, but it’s also where studios will premiere their movies opening theatrically over the next couple months, hoping to build buzz at the festivals to help generate awards attention later in the year. (It would be good to note that three of the last four Oscar Best Picture winners premiered at TIFF.)
This will be ComingSoon.net’s third year attending the festival and the first year where you can follow our up-to-the-minute news and quick reviews on ComingSoon’s festival Twitter feed @CSConFest, which will probably be more regular than our festival reports and full reviews.
Before it begins, we’re going to give you a brief look at some of the standouts, both ones that already have distribution and some of the key ones that don’t. There are far too many movies of all the varieties mentioned above to discuss them all, but we’ll look specifically at movies premiering at TIFF that have caught our attention, starting with a couple of the movies we’re most looking forward to seeing and reviewing.
Front and center is the latest from Terry Gilliam, the often-eccentric director whose new movie The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Sony Pictures Classics – Dec. 25) promises to return him to earlier territory by reteaming him with screenwriter Charles McKeown, who collaborated with Gilliam on his most fantastical films, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Besides marking the last screen appearance by the late actor Heath Ledger, it apparently features some equally quirky performances from Johnny Depp, Jude Law and singer Tom Waits.
The Coen Brothers make their third appearance in a row at the festival with A Serious Man (Focus Features – Oct 2), a dark comedy that looks to return them to territory more in the vein of Miller’s Crossing or Barton Fink, starring Michael Stuhlberg as a physics professor in the ’60s who learns that his wife is leaving him, and things go downhill from there.
France’s greatest filmmaker (in this writer’s opinion) Jean-Pierre Jeunet is bringing Micmacs (Sony Pictures Classics), his first film since 2004’s A Very Long Engagement, to the festival. It stars Danny Boon as a man who puts together a group of misfits and stages an elaborate plot to take down a couple of weapons manufacturers he blames for his misfortune.
The Invention of Lying (Warner Bros. Oct. 2), Ricky Gervais’ directorial debut (co-directed with Matthew Robinson), will also have its premiere at the festival, teaming him with the likes of Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Louis C.K. and Jonah Hill, as he becomes the first and only man who learns how to lie in a world where everyone else always tells the truth.
Chilean-born filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar shows up at the festival with his first film since The Sea Inside won the foreign language Oscar in 2005. This time he’s paired with Rachel Weisz for Agora, an epic film that explores the religious conflicts that plagued Alexandria, Egypt during the 4th Century. Anyone who remembers the performance Amenábar got from Nicole Kidman in The Others will be excited to see what he’s able to get out of a talented actress like Weisz.
After being delayed for a year, John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s best-seller The Road (Dimension Films) will have its premiere at TIFF, four years after his debut The Proposition debuted there. It stars Viggo Mortensen as a nameless man trying to survive a post-apocalyptic world with his young son.
I’m also looking forward to seeing Michael Bassett’s movie based on Robert E. Howard’s pulp hero Solomon Kane, starring James Purefoy in the lead role, which premieres as part of the festival’s Midnight Madness programme, having been very impressed with the footage shown at this year’s Comic-Con. (We have an interview with Bassett and Purefoy coming soon.)
Two of the four wide releases opening on September 18 will also be premiering at the festival, including Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!, based on the bestselling novel by Kurt Eichenwald. It stars Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre, a middle management type at the agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland who decides to turn whistleblower, but ends up being a hindrance to the FBI’s attempt to uncover price fixing and embezzlement at the company. (In fact, Matt Damon’s character might fit well in the world created for Ricky Gervais’ new movie.)
Premiering in the Midnight Madness section on Thursday night is Jennifer’s Body (20th Century Fox), Diablo Cody’s long-awaited follow-up to the Oscar winning Juno, this one starring Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfriend as high school best friends who have a falling out when the former starts going through a startling change and the boys around them start dying in vicious and gruesome ways.
One of the more anticipated movies at the festival is Jason (Juno) Reitman’s third movie Up in the Air (DreamWorks – December), based on Walter Kirn’s novel and starring George Clooney as a corporate hatchet man who has become used to life on the road as he amasses millions of frequent flyer miles. It’s already thought to be one of the movies that is guaranteed to receive a number of Oscar nominations, including a third one for Clooney.
Clooney also stars in The Men Who Stare at Goats (Overture – Nov. 9), the directorial debut by Grant Heslov, Clooney’s co-writer on the Oscar-nominated Good Night, And Good Luck. It’s a dark comedy about a secret U.S. military unit involving soldiers with psychic powers who can pass through walls, as claimed by Clooney’s character who needs to find the program’s missing founder (Jeff Bridges).
Soderbergh’s other regular collaborators, screenwriters Brian Koppelman/David Levien, who wrote his recent The Girlfriend Experience, co-direct the drama Solitary Man, starring Michael Douglas as an automobile mogul whose professional life hits the skids due to his infidelities.
Drew Barrymore also makes her directorial debut with the roller derby movie Whip It (Fox Searchlight – Oct 2.), starring Ellen Page, which will have a Special Presentation premiere at the Festival on Sunday night at Ryerson College.
Two smaller movies already getting Oscar buzz due to the amazing performances they showcase include An Education (Sony Pictures Classics Oct. 9) and Jane (The Piano) Campion’s Bright Star (Apparition – Sept. 16). The former is directed by Lone Scherfig from a screenplay by Nick Horny, author of “About a Boy,” based on the memoirs of journalist Lynn Barber. Newcomer Carey Mulligan has received huge amounts of buzz out of Sundance for her performance as Jenny, a 16-year-old honors student in the ’60s who is ready to throw away her educational future when she becomes romantically involved with the significantly older David (Peter Sarsgaard). Mulligan is amazing, as is Alfred Molina as her father. Campion’s latest stars Ben Whishaw as famed poet John Keats and Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne, the 18-year-old neighbor who begins a passionate love affair with him despite the protests of his closest confidante, played by Paul Schneider. Like An Education, the film features many strong performances (particularly Cornish and Schneider) and the lovely costumes and production design should insure Campion’s latest has a presence on Oscar night.
Clive Owen stars in The Boys are Back (Miramax – September 25), directed by Scott Hicks (Shine), also based on a memoir, this one from Simon Carr, a sports writer forced to care for his two sons after the sudden death of his wife from cancer. It’s a powerful film, a real tearjerker, with one of Owen’s most surprising performances as he tries to cope with the problems of being a single father.
I’m also a fan of Tom Hooper’s sports drama The Damned United (Sony Pictures Classics Oct. 9) starring Michael Sheen as Britain’s most notorious soccer coach, Brian Clough, who spent many years trying to defeat the country’s top team Leeds United with his own team, before turning around and taking a job as Leeds’ coach, much to the consternation of the disgruntled team and fans. Once again teaming Sheen with The Queen and Frost/Nixon screenwriter Peter Morgan, it offers equally impressive performances by Tim Spall as his assistant coach and Colm Meany as Clough’s nemesis and former Leeds manager Don Revie.
Toronto native Michael Cera stars in Miguel Arteta’s long-awaited adaptation of C.D. Payne’s cult novel Youth in Revolt (The Weinstein Co. – Oct. 30), playing Nick Twisp, a guy trying to lose his virginity with the lovely Sheeni, played by newcomer Portia Doubleday.
Danish madman Lars von Trier will be testing out Toronto audiences’ meddle with Antichrist (IFC – Oct. 23), the shocking supernatural thriller starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple who retreat to a cabin in the woods to try to repair their troubled marriage only to become entangled in a horrifying nightmare.
While I tend not to cover many documentaries at film festivals, the one that many will be eyeing at this year’s TIFF is Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story (Overture Sep. 23), which celebrates the 20th Anniversary of his debut Roger and Me by looking at how corporations have been dominating American lives. It’s his first movie since 2007’s SiCKO, a doc about the health care system that seems to have foretold the current political climate.
Spain’s Pedro Almodovar has also been a mainstay at TIFF, and for his new movie Broken Embraces (Sony Pictures Classics Nov. 20), he reunites with Penelope Cruz, the Oscar-nominated star of his last movie Volver. It’s a film that explores familiar territory as a screenwriter named Harry Caine tries to escape the dark events of his past that left him blind. It’s another elaborate mystery thriller containing many of the elements that have made Almodovar’s previous work such favorites of many movielovers.
German auteur Werner Herzog has not one, but two movies premiering at the festival this year, including his pseudo-remake The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicholas Cage as a drug-addicted homicide detective who returns to duty after sustaining an injury, and immediately gets involved in seemingly crazy behavior that shows complete disregard for the law he’s supposed to uphold. On the other hand, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? is about a good cop (played by Willem Dafoe) caught in a bad situation when he encounters Michael Shannon, a man who has taken his mother hostage and barricaded himself into his house. It’s supposed to be fairly strange, which is why it’s not surprising that it was executive produced by David Lynch.
Rodrigo Garcia, who has directed some of HBO’s top dramas as well as the indie compendium Nine Lives, returns with Mother and Child, a drama starring Annete Bening as a woman who gave up her daughter (Naomi Watts) for adoption 35 years prior, and Kerry Washington as a woman trying to adopt a child of her own. It also stars Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits and others, and it’s one of the many films premiering at TIFF that is looking for distribution.
Another movie looking for distributor is TIFF mainstay Atom Egoyan who will premiere his new film Chloe, starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore as a happy couple whose marriage is put to the test when she suspects him of cheating and she hires an escort, played by Amanda Seyfried, to seduce her husband. (And if that sounds a lot like the plot of Mike Judge’s Extract, which just came out this weekend, it is! Except it’s doubtful Egoyan is playing that premise like a comedy.)
Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan is back in Toronto with his new fantasy drama Ondine, starring Colin Farrell as a fisherman named Syracuse, who catches a woman in his nets that he believes to be a mermaid. The fact that it’s filmed by Christopher Doyle, who has worked with Zhang Yimou and Wong Kar Wai, guarantees that it will be a gorgeous-looking film indeed.
Since premiering at Cannes, there’ve been a lot of rave reviews for Fish Tank the new movie from British filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Red Road) about a brash-mouthed teen (newcomer Katie Jarvis) and a love triangle she gets into with her party girl mother (Kierston Waering) and a new suitor (Michael Fassbender).
Eclectic indie filmmaker Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Doghouse) has been somewhat hit or miss since his early film, and his new movie Life During Wartime acts as a thematic sequel to his controversial earlier film Happiness, this one starring Ciarán Hinds, Allison Janney, Shirley Henderson and Charlotte Rampling.
Returning to Toronto for the first time since her previous film North Country got Charlize Theron her second Oscar nomination, New Zealand’s Niki Caro’s new film The Vintner’s Luck is set in 19th Century France, centering around a young peasant (Jérémie Renier) who hopes to own his own vineyard and marry the beautiful Celeste (Keisha Castle-Hughes, the Oscar-nominated star of Caro’s Whale Rider), two things that seem more possible when he encounters an angel played by Gaspard Ulliel.
The multi-talented Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Incredible Hulk) wrote and directed the comical Leaves of Grass has gained some interest for the fact that Edward Norton is playing two very different identical twins, one being an Ivy League professor who returns home to Oklahoma (Nelson’s own state of origin) to attend the funeral of the latter. The dysfunctional family comedy also stars Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss and Keri Russell.
I always thought Woody Harrelson would make a great superhero and he finally gets his chance in Peter Stebbings’ Defendor, playing the title character, a makeshift vigilante who saves a young prostitute (Kat Dennings) from being beaten up by a police officer, only to end up being hunted by the law for his effort.
Ben Barnes of “Prince Caspian” fame plays Dorian Gray, the famous figure from Oscar Wilde’s short story about a man who maintains his youthful good looks using a special painting, hiding an ugly past that eventually catches up with him. Directed by Oliver Parker (The Importance of Being Earnest), it will be playing at TIFF simultaneously to its theatrical release in England.
I’m also interested in seeing J. Blackeson’s debut The Disappearance of Alice Creed, starring the always-great Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky) and Martin Compston as two men who have kidnapped a terrified young woman, played by Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace).
Playwright Stephen Poliakoff’s Glorious 39 is a political thriller and family drama set on the eve of WWII, starring Romola Garai as a young actress who seeks the shelter of her family, including her father played by Bill Nighy, only to get caught up in a conspiracy when one of her friends vanishes.
Next, we move onto some of the more interesting foreign language films playing at TIFF, including the new movie from Korea’s Bong Joon-ho (The Host), Mother (Magnolia), a thriller about a mother’s obsessive devotion towards her son. Prolific Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To is back at the festival–he’s seemingly there with a new movie every year–this time with Vengeance, a crime-thriller (of course) starring Johnny Hallyday as a man who hires three professional killers to avenge the gangland murder of his daughter and her family. The lovely Maggie Q stars in Tian Zhuang Zhuang’s The Warrior and the Wolf, a love story set within the context of the ancient war that took place before the unification of China.
French filmmaker Jacques Audiard is responsible for two of my favorite French films that weren’t directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Read My Lips and The Beat My Heart Skipped) and his new prison drama A Prophet (Sony Pictures Classics) has also been receiving raves out of Cannes and Telluride. Same can be said for The White Ribbon (Sony Pictures Classics – Dec. 3), the latest from Michael Haneke (Funny Games), a black and white film set in a small German village on the eve of the First World War. I’m also excited to see Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising, a Viking epic starring Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) as a crazy but deadly warrior known as One Eye who has defeated everyone he encounters. (It sounds a lot like the Viking version of Refn’s previous movie Bronson, which opens theatrically in October.)
French filmmaker Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women) can be hit or miss but we have high hopes for his new film Le Refuge, as we do with London River, the new movie from Rachid Bouchareb, the French-Algerian director of the Oscar-nominated Indigènes. We’re also hoping to catch the latest from German filmmaker Fatih Akin, Soul Kitchen with high hopes of it being as strong as his last two films, Head On and The Edge of Heaven. Two Romanian films that should be of interest to world cinemaphiles are Police, Adjective from Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 to Bucharest) and Tales from the Golden Age, an anthology of tales from the Ceausescu era from a group of Romanian filmmakers including Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days).
Toronto’s Midnight Madness series is near-legendary for some of the movies that have debuted there–Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever for instance–and this year, there’s a mix of newbies and returning veterans. As mentioned above, it’s been the chosen venue for the debuts of Jennifer’s Body and Michael Bassett’s Solomon Kane. Also, Thai martial artist Tony Jaa returns to the role that broke him out with Ong Bak 2: The Beginning (Magnolia – October 23), a sequel which he directed himself. George Romero is back at TIFF with his latest look at his favorite subject matter, zombies, in Survival of the Dead, while Daybreakers (Lionsgate – January 8), the new movie from Australia’s Spierig Brothers (Undead) and Joe Dante’s The Hole (in 3D!) will also premiere at the festival. Lastly, I’m curious about Sean Byrne’s directorial debut The Loved Ones, a thriller about a high school senior put through a horrible ordeal just as he plans to attend the prom with his girlfriend, which sounds like it could have the type of intensity of something like Takashi Miike’s Audition or Eli Roth’s Hostel. It’s always great to discover new voices and visions in horror so let’s keep our fingers crossed on that one.
The above might seem like a lot of movies, and it is, but it’s merely a drop of water in the ocean that makes up the diverse line-up for this large and prestigious festival. If we get to see 25 to 30 of the above over the course of the next week and half, we’ll consider ourselves very lucky indeed.
You can read all of ComingSoon.net’s forthcoming TIFF coverage by bookmarking our Toronto Page and you can also follow us on Twitter for immediate reactions to films seen.