This Labor Day, we are laboring over exactly one thing: our schedule for this week’s Toronto International Film Festival. The annual Canadian embarrassment of riches kicks off this Thursday, and we’re in the middle of a mad dash to make sure our schedules and plans allow for viewings of everything we want to see. It’s not easy — in fact, with a slate as stacked as TIFF’s, it’s actually impossible — but we’re dead-set on cramming each day with top-tier talent, Oscar contenders and a few smaller features that just might break out once they unspool during Toronto’s best film event. But what are the true can’t-miss features? We think we may have some idea.
What will be lining up for at this year’s TIFF? Why, the same stuff you should be lining up for, too.
Lauded director Ramin Bahrani tends to be hit or miss around these parts — and, yes, I agree with every word of Caitlin’s Tribeca review of his At Any Price, a film that really is, in a single world, just goddamn “baffling” — but the buzz about his latest is too good to ignore. Starring Michael Shannon as a dirtbag (good already) and Andrew Garfield as a desperate man (also good), 99 Homes takes on the foreclosure crisis through the story of two men and a mess of houses. Emphasis on mess.
The Imitation Game
Here’s the worst thing about TIFF: having to close your eyes and ears to the rash of reviews for TIFF-playing films that also unspool at the Telluride Film Festival mere days before the Canadian fest kicks off. Even blocking hashtags (#theimitationgame, #benedictcumberbatch, #alltheoscars) didn’t totally filter out all the praise the Morten Tyldum-directed and Benedict Cumberbatch-starring Alan Turning biopic picked up over the weekend. I was already excited about this one, but now I’ve rearranged my entire schedule in order to see it as early as possible.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Can Kristen Stewart actually act? Previous experiences point to “no,” but the rumor is that all those expectations will get ripped to shreds in the Olivier Assayas drama. Honestly? I’d love to be proven wrong. I mean that.
Love & Mercy
It’s a Beach Boys biopic that sees Paul Dano and John Cusack starring as Brian Wilson at different points in his career. Sold.
The last time David Gordon Green hit TIFF (uh, just last year), he brought along the wonderful Joe, a dark and moving drama that reminded us that Nicolas Cage can actually act. Is it too much to hope for that same kind of magic here? Or a similar career high note for star Al Pacino?
Men, Women & Children
Director Jason Reitman is back for yet another TIFF premiere — his what? eighty-ninth? we might be aiming too high here, but whatever — with an intriguingly sprawling story about the perils of technology. Reitman’s films tend to be more intimately focused on small groups of characters (Juno uses his largest and most involved cast, and that worked out pretty well), so we’re most interested in seeing how the filmmaker juggles what looks to be an array of characters and storylines all connected by their various levels of disconnection.
Let’s try to keep the hyperbole to a minimum, but everything I’ve heard about the Dan Gilroy film starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a freelance crime journalist (and “journalist” is to be taken very, very lightly) has been absolutely stellar and sterling. This is the film to watch (like, literally watch and also watch to see it set fire to both your Twitter feeds and the Oscar race).
The Theory of Everything
Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne are both teetering on the edge of major breakout — putting them in a Stephen Hawking biopic directed by James Marsh is basically like saying, “here, meet some future Oscar winners.”
While We’re Young
Here’s a fun fact: the latest Noah Baumbach joint (what? you don’t call them that?) actually filmed during last year’s New York Film Festival, with stars Naomi Watts and Adam Driver hitting the red carpet for Captain Phillips in character for the feature about an older couple (Ben Stiller and Watts) who find their humdrum lives sassed up when they befriend a younger couple (Driver and Amanda Seyfried). The film looks to be going for some big time veracity — artsy people in NYC and all that — but it should also benefit from a great cast and Baumbach’s trademark humor. Honestly, the arrival of a new Baumbach film is always worth getting excited about.
The Keeping Room
Hello, The Keeping Room called. It would like you to know that it is a Civil War-set drama about a trio of women — Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and Muna Otaru — who attempt to keep safe and sound while all the men are gone and they’re under constant threat of attack. Does that sound good? Of course that sounds good.
Full disclosure: Kevin Smith films don’t do a whole lot for me (beyond Mallrats, which I love), and that’s okay! Everything is not always for everyone. But Tusk looks too batshit to be believed — which I expect is what Smith is going for here, and I hope will be interpreted as a compliment. Seriously, Justin Long being turned into a walrus by a crazy old man who believes that walruses are the world’s very best creatures? It’s too much. I was sold the moment I saw Long flapping around in the film’s first trailer. Flapping in water. Because he is a walrus now.
The Last Five Years
It’s Anna Kendrick in a musical, you guys. Like, a real musical. My knowledge of stage musicals is basically limited to Jersey Boys, but I suspect that I don’t need to know much about the beloved Jason Robert Brown feature to dive headfirst into this one, only because we know what happens when Kendrick takes the stage and starts belting out songs. Magic happens. TIFF is always heavy on the, well, heavy stuff, and although the Richard LaGravenese film won’t be without its sad moments, this could prove to be the palate cleanser everyone needs after the tear-soaked biopics that litter the festival.
The 39th Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 4th until September 14th.