Toronto Film Festival 2016 Preview

Toronto Film Festival 2016 Preview

For forty years, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has brought together filmmakers and film lovers in eleven days crammed full of some of the most diverse and varied film programming one can find at any given film festival. The Toronto Film Festival 2016 is no exception, as they once again offer films by some of the greatest filmmakers that promise to bring some of the most celebrated actors and actresses to the Canadian city to celebrate their love of film.

There are a number of movies having their World Premieres at the Toronto Film Festival 2016 that no one has seen beyond the filmmakers, but then other movies that already premiered at the Cannes Film Festival over the summer and others that maybe played the other recent festivals, like Venice or Telluride.

As you’ll notice, a lot of the movies premiering at TIFF already have distribution — listed, along with the release date, when applicable — but there are still a few hidden gems in there looking for distribution.

Of course, we have to start with TIFF’s Opening Night Gala, a Western that reunites Denzel Washington with director Antoine Fuqua, whose previous remake of The Equalizer played at TIFF two years back. This time they’re joined by Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and more for a new take on the classic Western that was itself based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.

(Sony – Sept. 23)

Closing this year’s TIFF is this teen comedy, the directorial debut by Kelly Fremon Craig, starring Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) as awkward high school student Nadine, whose best friend (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother (Blake Jenner). Woody Harrelson stars as Nadine’s history teacher.

(STX – Nov. 18)

One of the films at this year’s TIFF looking for distribution is the new film from director Marc Forster, last here with Machine Gun Preacher. This one stars Blake Lively as a blind woman who regains her sight only to discover new details about her marriage to Jason Clarke.

Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut with this Philip Roth adaptation, in which he co-stars with Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning, playing Seymour “Swede” Levov, a wealthy businessman who starts having problems when his daughter Merry (Fanning) starts rebelling against the war in Vietnam. It also stars David Strathairn, Uzo Aduba and Molly Parker.

(Lionsgate – Oct. 21) 

Quebec’s Denis Villeneuve has brought almost all his previous films to TIFF, and he follows up last year’s Sicario with an even more anticipated foray into science fiction. It stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as two experts called to the American landing site of an alien spacecraft—one of twelve worldwide--with the mission to find out what they want. Forest Whitaker plays the colonel in charge of their mission.

(Paramount – Nov. 11)

This “Midnight Madness” offering from Troll Hunter director André Ovredal stars Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch as a father-and-son forensics team having to perform an emergency autopsy on the corpse of an unknown woman found at a violent crime scene.

Ana Lily Amirpour brings her highly-anticipated follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night to TIFF’s “Vanguards” section. The film stars Suki Waterhouse (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as a girl traveling across a cannibal-infested desert, who gets caught between two tribes. It also stars Jason Momoa and Keanu Reeves.

The second movie of the year based on the history of our current President, Vikram Gandhi’s biopic stars Devon Terrell as the younger Barack Obama during his college years, and it co-stars Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch, Jason Mitchell from Straight Outta Compton and Ellar Coltrane from Boyhood.

Written by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn many, many years ago, this thriller directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) plays as part of TIFF’s “Midnight Madness.” It involves the members of an office who are forced into a kill or be killed situation when their building is put into lock-down.

The biopics keep a-comin’ with this movie directed by George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) about the secret showdown between Bruce Lee, as played by Phillip Ng, and fellow martial artist Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia).

Miles Teller plays boxer Vinny Paz in this biopic directed by Ben Younger (Boiler Room). The movie follows the young boxer’s rise to fame as the first American to hold world titles in three different weight classes.

(Open Road – Nov. 4)

Another boxing movie, this one from French-Canadian filmmaker Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar) with Liev Schreiber playing Chuck Wepner, “The Bayonne Bleeder” who was the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, who was better known for the fights he lost against the likes of George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. It also stars Elisabeth Moss and Naomi Watts.

Based on Carren Lisnner’s 2003 bestseller, producer Susan Johnson’s directorial debut stars Bel Powley (Diary of a Teenager) as an intelligent but socially awkward 19-year-old from London (named Carrie Pilby, if you didn’t figure that out) who finds herself trying to navigate the New York dating scene, which connects her to Jason Ritter.

Director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg follow up their 2013 hit Lone Survivor with another real-life drama based on the tragic oil rig explosion and spill that killed eleven and devastated the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It also stars Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, John Malkovich, Dylan O’Brien and Gina Rodriguez.

(Lionsgate – Sept 30)

Another TIFF regular, British filmmaker Ben Wheatley (High-Rise), returns to “Midnight Madness” with his new action-thriller starring Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson and Sharlto Copley about a weapons deal gone horribly wrong for those trapped in a warehouse.

(A24 - 2017)

Colm McCarthy, who has helmed episodes of “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock,” brings his second feature to TIFF”s “Midnight Madness” section. The film is about an afflicted young girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua), who may hold the key to a zombie epidemic as she’s kept chained to a desk and locked in a cell to keep her from devouring her caretakers, including Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close as three of the adults who are dealing with Melanie’s “condition."

In Mark Williams’ directorial debut, Gerard Butler plays Dane Jensen a corporate headhunter at odds with a younger rival (Alison Brie) trying to get the soon-to-be-vacated job he wants heading the company, a rivalry he needs to set aside when his 10-year-old son gets sick.

Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain (Tony Manero, No) returns to TIFF with two movies, including this one about the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy as told through the eyes of his wife Jackie Kennedy, as played by Natalie Portman. Larrain’s other film is Neruda, which stars Gael Garcia Bernal as an inspector tracking down Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. That one premiered at Cannes and will be released by The Orchard on December 18.

Multi-hyphenate Nick Cannon adds another job to his resume by directing and starring in this movie about a Brooklyn man who gets caught up in the Kingston music scene during a visit to Jamaica.

Filmmaker Rob Reiner shifts gears a little with this movie starring Woody Harrelson as Texas politician Lyndon B. Johnson, who followed John F. Kennedy as POTUS after his assassination in 1962. His contributions to the Civil Rights movement were marred by his decision to involve the United States in the Vietnam War. There’s no distribution yet, but Harrelson famously received his first Oscar nomination playing a real person in The People vs. Larry Flynt.

Probably one of the more anticipated films at TIFF is Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his 2010 Oscar-nominated film Whiplash, which just opened the Venice Film Festival to raves. It’s a musical drama starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress who fall in love on their way to stardom.

(Lionsgate - Dec. 2)

Filmmaker Hope Dickson Leach makes her feature film debut with this film starring Ellie Kendrick as a woman who returns home to Somerset after hearing her brother died, apparently of suicide, to find her family home in ruins, and having to confront her father (David Troughton) about what happened.

Matthew Vaughn’s frequent co-writer and collaborator Jane Goldman adapted Peter Ackroyd’s novel for Juan Carlos Medina (previously at TIFF with Painless), a 19th Century London thriller starring Bill Nighy as Kildaire, an inspector brought on to solve a grisly series of murders in London’s Limehouse district.

Garth Davis’s directorial debut, based on Saroo Brierley’s memoir “A Long Way Home,” begins with the author as a young boy adopted by an Australian couple after he ends up in an orphanage in Calcutta. As a grown man 25 years later, Saroo (played by Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel) tries to find his original home using Google Earth. It co-stars Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara.

(The Weinstein Co. – Nov. 25)

Having already received raves out of the Cannes Film Festival, the latest film from Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special) will be continuing its festival run on its way to Oscar night as it tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving (as played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga from “Preacher”), a Virginia couple arrested in 1958 for their interracial marriage but who fought for justice to get the law against mixed marriages overturned in the state.

(Focus Features – Nov. 4)

It’s crazy that it’s been ten years since Christopher Guest’s last “mockumentary” For Your Consideration, and he brings together his usual ensemble of Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Ed Begley, Jr., John Michael Higgins, Bob Balaban, and Fred Willard with a few new members in Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) and Zach Wood (HBO’s “Veep”) to explore the world of team mascots. In this case, it showcases the contestants into the World Mascot Association’s Gold Fluffy Award.

(Netflix – Oct. 13)

Sally Hawkins plays esteemed Canadian artist Maud Lewis, born Maud Dowley, in Aisling Walsh’s film that co-stars Ethan Hawke as fishmonger Everett Lewis, who hires Maud as his housekeeper before marrying her weeks later. Maud’s hobby doing art soon reaches acclaim as demand to commission her work gets her better known.

Another film likely to get a lot awards attention this year is the second film from Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy), telling the story of a young boy named Chiron, who grows up in the crack-infested area of South Beach, Miami, and has to fight to not become another statistic. It follows him from childhood to becoming an adult, as played by Trevante Rhodes. It also stars Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris.

(A24 – Oct. 21)

Filmmaker J.A. Bayona follows his acclaimed films The Orphanage and The Impossible with this adaptation of Patrick Ness’ novel about a young boy named Conor O’Malley (newcomer Lewis MacDougall) who deals with school bullies and his mother’s cancer by interacting with a talking tree monster, voiced by Liam Neeson. Felicity Jones plays the boy’s cancer-stricken mother in another Oscar-worthy performance, while Sigourney Weaver plays his strict grandmother he’s forced to stay with. (Sadly, this was recently pushed back two months so you’ll have to wait a little while longer to see it.)

(Focus Features – Dec. 21)

Fashion designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford returns to TIFF with his follow-up to his debut A Single Man, which earned Colin Firth an Oscar nomination, with this adaptation of Austin Wright’s “Tony And Susan,” starring Amy Adams as an art gallery owner dealing with demons from her past as she’s drawn into the world of a novel written by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal).

(Focus Features - Nov. 18)

Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur is another TIFF veteran, and though he’s transitioned to Hollywood with films like Everest, Contraband and 2 Guns, this is another one of his Icelandic films, one in which he plays a doctor dealing with the death of his father and his daughter’s behavior that may have to do with her new boyfriend and possibly drugs.

Filmmaker Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) also returns to TIFF with the premiere of her new film based on Tim Crothers’ book about Phiona Mutesi, a young girl from Uganda who trains to become a chess master. Newcomer Madina Nalwanga plays Phiona, while David Oyelowo (Selma) plays her teacher and it also stars Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o.

(Disney – Sept. 23)

It’s not often that you see a documentary in the “Midnight Madness” section, but when it’s a movie by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) about the rat population of New York City, well let’s just say that it’s a scary enough thought that TIFF decided to give Toronto natives their own scare about vermin.

Filmmaker Werner Herzog regularly brings his films to TIFF and this year, he has two movies including his first narrative film in many years, this one being an ecological thriller starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Michael Shannon as a scientist and corporate CEO on two sides of the debate about a volcano on the verge of eruption. Herzog is also screening his companion doc Into the Inferno, about active volcanoes, at TIFF, and this is while his internet doc Lo and Behold is still playing theatrically.

With multiple Oscar nominations under his belt, director James Sheridan returns with his first film in five years, starring Rooney Mara playing a woman who writes about her extended stay at a mental hospital. Eric Bana plays her doctor.

Son of Rambow director Garth Jennings has written and directed the latest animated movie from Universal and Illumination Entertainment that isn’t just talking animals as much as it is singing animals with Matthew McConaughey voicing a koala who puts on a singing competition. It also features the voice of Reese Witherspoon—who really isn’t known for her singing—as well as Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson and John C. Reilly, who actually do sing quite a bit.

(Universal – Dec. 21)


Oliver Stone’s anticipated biopic about Edward Snowden, as played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, will premiere at TIFF barely a week before its national release, which is nothing that uncommon for a festival often used to promote movies that already have distribution. (Because that worked so well for DreamWorks’ The Fifth Estate a few years ago.)

(Open Road – Sept. 16)

Seven years after her previous film Motherhood, director Katherine Dieckman returns with a movie starring Holly Hunter, as a Southern woman whose son committed suicide years earlier. She learns that his college pal (Shane Jacobsen) has stolen her son’s idea for a restaurant chain, so she heads to New Orleands to confront him.

Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig (An Education) returns to TIFF with this film starring Gemma Arterton (another TIFF regular) as an uncredited screenwriter tasked with bringing a female perspective to war films produced by the Ministry of Information’s Film Division. Also starring Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston and Richard E. Grant.

Set just after World War II, director Amma Asante’s follow-up to Belle is this biopic of African royal Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), who had a controversial marriage to a white Englishwoman (Rosamund Pike, who co-starred with Oyelowo in Jack Reacher) and later became the first president of Botswana after leading his people to independence from the British Empire.

Bruce McDonald is another Canadian filmmaker who regularly premieres his wares at TIFF, movies like Pontypool and The Tracey Fragments, starring Ellen Page, so it’s no surprise he’s back with a movie about two teens from Nova Scotia who go on the road in July 1976, accompanied by the ghost of Andy Warhol.


There are a lot of other movies playing at the Toronto Film Festival 2016, and while I wish I could tell you more about all of them, there will be a few from returning veteran filmmakers that have already played at Cannes that will also be screened at TIFF.

Some of these include:

Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann (Sony Pictures Classics – Dec. 25)

Pedro Almodovar’s Julietta (Sony Pictures Classics – Dec. 21)

Andrea Arnold’s American Honey (A24 – Sept. 30)

Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper (IFC Films)

Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden (Magnolia – Oct. 21)

Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman (Cohen Media – Dec. 9)

Mia Hansen Love’s Things to Come (IFC – Dec. 2)

Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson starring Adam Driver (Bleecker Street – Dec. 28) and his Iggy Pop doc Gimme Danger (Magnolia – Oct. 28)

Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake (IFC Films – Dec. 23)

Kleber Mendoca Filho’s Aquarius (Oct. 14)

Francois Ozon’s Frantz (Music Box Films)

Lee Tamahori’s The Patriarch

Michael Dudo de Wit’s animated The Red Turtle (Sony Pictures Classics – Jan. 20, 2017)

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (Sony Pictures Classics – Nov. 11)

Thomas Winterberg’s The Commune

Kim Jee Woon’s The Age of Shadows (Sept. 23) 

Beyond the films mentioned, there are many, MANY more movies at the Toronto Film Festival 2016 than we can possibly include in this preview, but part of the joy of going to the festival is discovering new movies that you might not have checked out otherwise.

The Toronto International Film Festival begins on September 8 and runs through September 18.