’s Toronto Film Festival Preview (Part 1)

It’s that time of the year, where just about every journalist, publicist, filmmaker, distributor, movie actor, paparazzi, stalker and even a few filmlovers travel up to Canada’s world-famous Toronto International Film Festival or as its lovingly known, “TIFF.” The plan is for all of them to immerse themselves in the latest movies from some of the filmmaking greats, discover new talent and leave the festival having scored an early look at the fall movie season. Running from September 4th through the 13th, the Toronto Film Festival is going into its 33rd year presenting some of the best films the world has to offer. Like past years, there are literally hundreds of movies–312 to be exact–of varying degrees of size, quality and scope with many of the bigger movies premiering at the festival in an attempt to get early buzz before their release in the months that follow.

Last year, the festival is where many people got their first look at the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men and the other Oscar nominee Atonement, but it’s also where Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age first started to get critically spanked.

Just because a movie is premiering or showing in the festival, you can’t expect everyone to love it or for it to be guaranteed awards, but it’s the first place where many people saw movies like Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and other movies that made it to many critical Top 10 lists. (It’s also where movies like Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown and Terry Gilliam’s Tideland first got scathing reviews.)

This year’s festival is even more front-loaded than past years with many of the biggest movies, the ones that already have studio distribution and release dates, opening in the festival’s first four days, which means a lot of decisions have to be made, especially when deciding on which galas and special presentations to try to see. There are far more movies than any one person can see even if they try to get to five or six movies a day, because the theaters are scattered throughout the downtown area of Toronto. Even so, if one is patient about standing in line and can stick around for the second week of the festival, there’s a lot to be seen and enjoyed.

We’ll start this week with a preview of some of the most anticipated highlights of this year’s festival and then early next week, we’ll continue into Part 2 with a dozen other movies worth checking out.

The festival kicks off with its opening night selection, Calgary filmmaker Paul (Men with Brooms) Gross’ Passchendaele, about a savage battle during World War I that helped define Canada in the eyes of the world, but at a heavy price. Gross plays a wounded soldier who falls in love with his pretty young nurse and returns to Europe to protect her younger brother when he’s shipped off to the trenches.

In the past, Warner Bros. has used the festival as an opportunity to kick off their fall schedule with soon-to-be released films more geared towards awards and more discerning older moviegoers. It worked well last year for Tony Gilroy’s multiple Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton starring George Clooney and Oscar winner Tilda Swinton, but not so much for The Assassination of Jesse James… with his buddy Brad Pitt. This year they’re premiering another Western, the Ed Harris-directed Appaloosa (NY/LA/Toronto – Sept. 19) in which he plays a traveling gunman-for-hire who shows up in a crime-ridden New Mexico town with his partner, played by Viggo Mortensen, to clean things up, only to have a woman (Renee Zellwegger) come between them.

Viggo Mortensen also stars in Good (THINKFilm – New York Dec. ’08), a drama about the early days of the Third Reich adapted from the play by C. P. Taylor, which follows a literature professor roped into joining Hitler’s S.S. which puts him at odds with his Jewish best friend (Jason Isaacs).

British filmmaker Guy Ritchie is back at Toronto with his fifth film RocknRolla (NY/LA/Toronto – Oct. 8), a return to the more straightforward crime-action flicks of his earlier movies, this time teaming him with producer Joel Silver and an ensemble cast that includes Gerard Butler, Jeremy Piven, Chris Bridges, Tom Wilkinson and Thandie Newton. Its North American Premiere will be at the Elgin on Thursday, September 4, and we’ll have a bunch of interviews from the movie.

Lastly, Warner Bros. will be premiering Gavin O’Connor’s long-delayed Pride and Glory (Warner Bros. – Oct. 24) starring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell on Tuesday, September 9. Picked up during the merger with New Line, it’s a police crime drama set in New York revolving around a family of police officers who come to odds over the murder of a group of policemen that might lead back to one of them. It premieres on Tuesday, September 9 at 6:30 pm at the Roy Thomson Hall.

The Coen brothers’ latest Burn After Reading (Focus – Sept. 12, photo above right) starring the aforementioned Clooney and Pitt will have its Gala Premiere at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday night, September 5, and then another screening Saturday morning at the Visa Screening Room. It’s likely to be the hot ticket at this year’s festival especially with Pitt in attendance. It co-stars John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand in its ensemble cast of eccentric characters trying to get their hands on a CD-ROM containing CIA secrets.

Universal’s Flash of Genius (Universal – Oct. 3), the directorial debut of producer Marc Abraham (The Hurricane, Children of Men) stars Greg Kinnear as university professor Robert Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper whose idea is stolen by the Ford Motor Company for their cars. It premieres on Sunday at the Elgin Theater.

Based on the book by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony – Oct. 3) stars Michael Cera and Katt Dennings as two cool teens who meet at a punk club and spend the night chasing each other across New York’s Lower East Side.

Spike Lee’s latest movie The Miracle at St. Anna (Touchstone – Sept. 26), his first dramatic feature since Inside Man in 2006, takes the black perspective to World War II as it follows five African-American members of the Buffalo Soldiers that become trapped within an Italian village when a Nazi brigade attacks it.

After wowing Sundance audiences with his low-budget crime thriller Brick, Rian Johnson is hoping for a repeat with his second movie The Brothers Bloom (Summit) starring Mark Ruffalo and Adrian Brody as con men who bite off more than they can chew when they target an eccentric heiress, played by Rachel Weisz. It’ll premiere at the Ryerson on Tuesday, September 9 at 9pm and again on September 11 at noon.

After premiering at Cannes earlier this summer, Blindness (Miramax – limited Sept. 26) the new movie from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Fernando Meirelles (City of God) brings José Saramago’s novel about a worldwide epidemic of lost eyesight to the screen with an amazing cast including Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover and Gael Garcia Bernal. It screens at the Elgin on Saturday, September 6 at 9pm and again on Monday, September 8 at 11am.

Rod Lurie’s political thriller Nothing But the Truth (Yari Film Group – NY/LA, Dec. 18, photo left) is getting a great awards- friendly release in mid-December but it’ll be unveiled for its public debut at TIFF on Monday, September 8 at 6:30. Starring Kate Beckinsale as a reporter who uncovers the identity of a female CIA agent played by Vera Farmiga (The Departed), it continues Lurie’s affinity for character-driven political storytelling seen in The Contender and the television show “Commander in Chief.”

Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married (Sony Classics – NY/LA, Oct. 3) stars Anne Hathaway who gets out of rehab just in time for her older sister Rachel’s wedding in their Connecticut hometown. Returning Demme to the relationship comedies of his earlier career, it will premiere at the Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 6:30.

Paramount Vantage will probably hope that their period piece The Duchess (limited release Sept. 19) starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes will be received more like Atonement, which debuted at least year’s fest, rather than Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Debuting on Sunday, Sept. 7 at 6:30pm, it puts Knightley in the role of Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire and the 18th Century “It Girl” who has trouble winning the heart of her new husband, played by Ralph Fiennes.

Fox Searchlight bring The Secret Life of Bees (October 17) to the festival along with its star-studded cast including Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keyes, Sophie Okonedo and Paul Bettany. Directed by Love & Basketball‘s Gina Prince-Bythewood, it will have its Gala Premiere at the Roy Thomson Hall on Friday at 6:30pm.

David Koepp’s comedy Ghost Town (DreamWorks – Sept. 19) starring Ricky Gervais as a man whose near-death experience has him seeing ghosts practically everywhere will have its premiere at the Elgin Theater on Friday night at 9pm, while Kevin Smith’s racy new comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno (Weinstein Co. – October 31) with Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as the porno filmmakers will have a Special Presentation at the Elgin on Tuesday, September 9.

Happy-Go-Lucky (Miramax – limited release Oct. 10), Mike Leigh’s eagerly anticipated follow up to the Oscar nominated Vera Drake, stars Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan, two of that movie’s supporting cast in leading roles, as a chronically happy woman and chronically miserable man brought together by the former’s desire to take driving lessons.

Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York (Sony Classics – NY/LA, Oct. 24, photo below right) takes a similarly eclectic approach as his screenplays for Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as it follows a stage director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose ambitious production ends up taking over the rest of his life.

Michelle Williams has a small part in Kaufman’s movie, and she also stars in Wendy and Lucy (Oscilloscope Pictures – New York, Dec. 10), the new movie from Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy), playing a young woman traveling across the country who gets stranded in Oregon after losing her beloved dog.

Treading similar path as Paris je t’aime and last year’s Cachun con Cinema, the anthology movie New York, I Love You (Palm Pictures – Feb. 13) features filmmakers such as Fatih Akin, Mira Nair and Shekhar Kapur joined by first-time directors Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, all doing segments on various sections of the greatest city in the universe.

The Lucky Ones (Lionsgate – 9/26), Neil Burger’s follow-up to his sleeper hit The Illusionist, stars Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams and Michael Peña as a trio of soldiers on a road trip across the country to return home. It premieres at Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday, September 10 at 6:30.

Danny Boyle’s new movie Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight / Warner Bros. – NY/LA, Nov. 28) is based on Vikas Swarup’s novel “Q & A” about two troublemaking brothers in India who end up living on the streets after the death of their mother, finding a kindred spirit in a feisty girl named Latika. It premieres at the Ryerson on Sunday, Sept. 7.

Local filmmaker and TIFF regular Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Where the Truth Lies) presents his latest drama Adoration (Sony Classics), this one starring Devon Bostick as a teenager looking into the deaths of his parents through a French class project that introduces his detached uncle (Scott Speedman) to his alluring French teacher (Arsinée Khanjian).

Colin Firth stars in prolific filmmaker Michael (Road to Guantanamo, A Mighty Heart) Winterbottom’s latest movie Genova (THINKFilm), playing a widower left alone with two daughters and trying to get his family back together in Italy with the help of a university colleague, played by Catherine Keener.

Last year, Bill Maher previewed some footage from his comedy doc Religulous (Lionsgate – select cities Oct. 3, photo below left) at the festival, and this year, he’s screening the entire finished film which is likely to stir up a lot of controversy when it premieres at the Ryerson on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 9pm.

There are a lot of movies coming to Toronto without distribution knowing that it’s a mecca for studios looking to pick up smaller movies to fill in their release schedules for the next year. Two of the more prominent ones with the most buzz following their premieres at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year are:

The most intriguing one is Stephen Soderbergh’s four-hour biopic of Che Guevarra, Che, which will be shown once in its entirety on Friday, September 12 at the Ryerson, but you can also see it in two easier- to-digest bite-size parts earlier in the week. The movie stars Benicio Del Toro as the Cuban revolutionary leader and word out of Cannes is that it’s another Oscar-worthy performance. (Del Toro won his previous Oscar for his supporting role in Soderbergh’s Traffic in 2000.)

Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler will get its North American premiere at the festival with similar buzz surrounding Mickey Rourke’s performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a former pro wrestler who has a heart attack during a match and is told by a doctor that he’d die if he continues fighting, even though he has the chance at a rematch against his old nemesis. It premieres at the Elgin on Sunday night at 6pm and then plays a couple more shows at the Ryerson over the course of the week.

(Look for more of the distributor-less movies in Part 2 next week.)

As far as the foreign films, there are some doozies this year, but topping the list of must sees is Vincent Cassel and and amazing all-star French cast star starring in the first part of Jean-Françcois Richet’s gangster saga Public Enemy Number One, also known as “L’Instinct de Mort,” telling the story of France’s most notorious gangster Jacques Mesrine, who went from a solider in Algeria to a deadly criminal on the streets of Paris who eventually ends up with a group of Quebec radicals. It premieres on Thursday, September 11 at the Roy Thomson Hall.

Also, Wong Kar Wai’s intriguing Ashes of Time Redux (Sony Classics – NY/LA, Oct. 10) is his attempt to rework and restructure his little-seen 1994 martial arts film, thought to be a great influence on some of the Chinese martial arts epics that followed, including Zhang Yimou’s Hero. With an all-star cast and the always gorgeous cinematography of Christopher Doyle, this is a can’t miss for Wong Kar Wai fans when it premieres at the Ryerson on Monday, September 8.

Check back next week for the second part of our TIFF Preview, looking at some of the other documentaries, foreign films and some of the low-key Toronto premieres that sound promising, and a ton of reviews next weekend.

You can view the entire Toronto Film Festival schedule at the Official TIFF Site and stay tuned to next week as we hit the festival full tilt with lots of reviews of some of the movies mentioned above.


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