If you’re in Toronto this week watching movies, you are going to want to seek these out.
With this year’s edition of the Toronto Film Festival in full swing, we’ve taken a deep dive into the program and pulled together a list of films we can’t wait to see. Our intrepid critics, Matt Hoffman and Victor Stiff, lay our their picks below.
Ask any self-proclaimed TV fanatic and they’ll tell you that The Wire is the greatest television show of all time. Die-hard fans of The Wire may even tell you that the greatest of all time is Treme. Nevertheless, David Simon carries one of the most highly regarded names in the television landscapes. Adding to the recent abundance of nostalgia TV – including recent series I’m Dying Up Here and the quickly renewed and then quickly canceled Vinyl – is Simon’s latest, The Deuce.
Set in the 1970s, the film follows the legalization and then quick popularization of the porn industry. If that logline and Simon’s name are not enough to proclaim this as “must see TV”, know that it stars James Franco as twins. TIFF will be the only place to see the first two episodes on the big screen. They will have a single screening, followed by an onstage conversion with Simon, Franco, and other members of the cast and crew. This one sold out quickly, so get over to that rush line early.
The second of Sebastian Lelio’s films to play at the festival – the first being the already raved about A Fantastic Woman – is the Chilean director’s Disobedience. The film examines a romantic relationship between two women within an Orthodox Jewish community. For his English-language debut, Lelio has cast two massively talented stars, Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams.
Lelio’s 2013 film Gloria was one of my favorites from that year’s festival. In that film, Lelio provides a refreshingly affirming lens to an underrepresented form of female sexuality by delving into the sex life of a woman in her late-fifties. With Disobedience, the director seems to once again be spotlighting a relationship that would be foreign to most moviegoers. At this point, the film does not a distributor, but I’m suspecting that Disobedience will be bought within days of its first screening. Keep an eye open for this one come awards season.
This is a title that sold me on star power alone. The latest from Swedish filmmaker Lisa Langseth stars three of the greatest working actresses in the business: Alicia Vikander, Eva Green, Charlotte Rampling. Another English-language debut, the film features Vikander and Green as estranged sisters who make a difficult attempt at reconciliation. Game of Thrones favorite Charles Dance supports alongside Rampling.
The reunion of Langseth and Vikander is an exciting one. Before her breakout role in 2014 film Ex-Machina, Vikander starred in Langseth’s first feature Pure, and later the moving Hotell. Vikander’s recently released Tulip Fever was an obvious failure, so I’m hoping she’ll do some great work here before fully entering the Hollywood machine with her lead role in the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. Eva Green, on the other hand, has always been one of my favorite actresses, one who I think is rarely casted in roles deserving of her massive talent. Her last great work came in the under-appreciated series Penny Dreadful and Euphoria should provide her with the vehicle she needs to remind Hollywood that she should be one of the most sought after actresses.
Pablo Escobar seems to be all the rage right now. The reason why is unclear, but recent years have seen a wave of Escobar related content, including recent seasons of Netflix’s Narcos as well as TIFF 2014 film Escobar: Paradise Lost. The latest to provide a look into the life Pablo Escobar stars Javier Bardem as the drug lord. Starring alongside Bardem is his wife, Penelope Cruz, playing a journalist who becomes involved with the infamous figure. The roles should allow for Bardem and Cruz to really flex their acting chops in a film that sounds like it will be as fun to watch, as it was to shoot. As a love story of sorts, Loving Pablo should allow audiences to see a yet to be examined side of Escobar, which is sure to separate the film from the Escobar-related content that precedes it.
Director Lynn Shelton is a personal and festival favorite. Her previous films including Laggies and Your Sister’s Sister offer witty examinations of lovely characters put in unusual situations. They are mostly quite films that can easily get lost among the buzz of the festival’s Oscar hopefuls. Regardless, Shelton – who has been directing some unworthy TV scripts since her last feature in 2014 – is a director whose films really warrant a proper in-theatre experience, which can be unattainable outside of festivals like TIFF.
From the brief description offered, Outside In seems like new territory for Shelton. Co-written with Jay Duplass, the film stars the brilliant Edie Falco as a former teacher who enters into a tense relationship with a past student, and now ex-con, played by Duplass. Even in the sole provided still, Outside In seems to do away with the usual light humor found in Shelton’s films. If a change in tone is what the director needs to get the spotlight she deserves, count me in.
If you’re unfamiliar with director Haifaa Al Mansour’s career I recommend taking the time to read up on her and check out her excellent feature, Wadjda. Mansour’s overcome many adversities on her path to becoming Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker and bringing her on board to direct Mary Shelley makes sense on multiple level levels. Born in 1797, Shelley was an artistic soul and a free-thinker held back by her era’s conservative values. Sound familiar?
Shelley took her pain, frustration, and loneliness and channeled it into the gothic horror masterpiece, Frankenstein. The film follows a young Shelley (Elle Fanning) as she endures the tragic events which inspired her book. The film looks great. Mansour and cinematographer David Ungaro do an exceptional job recreating Shelley’s gothic world. The film’s overcast skies, dreary streets, and candle-lit English manors put the viewer in Shelley’s headspace (the film’s press materials depict Shelley writing in a graveyard). Against all odds, Shelley turned tragedy into art and I can’t think of a better director to adapt her story than Haifaa Al Mansour.
Read the synopsis for Stronger and I can’t help but wonder, “How soon is too soon?” Is three, five, or even ten years enough time to process a national trauma before filmmakers swoop in and retell the story? Are films like United 93 and Stronger capitalizing on tragedy, conversation starters, or outlets for emotional catharsis? Stronger’s director, David Gordon Green, finds himself in a tough spot. He must navigate a sensitivity mind-field while remaining true to his artistic vision.
Stronger isn’t even the first Boston Marathon bombing movie to reach theatres. Peter Berg’s take on the events, Patriots Day beat Stronger to the punch by almost a year. Patriots Day did well with critics and then promptly vanished from theatres as well as the cultural conversation. Stronger looks primed for an award season push and arrive in theatres packing a pair of powerhouse performances (Stronger’s entire trailer feels like an Oscar-bait supercut). Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, a bombing survivor who lost both his legs. Co-starring along side Gyllenhaal is Tatiana Maslany who also looks like she’s staking her claim to 2017’s award season conversation. I’m excited to see Maslany jump right into such a juicy role so soon after her run on Orphan Black. Hopefully, Stronger will be the launch pad for Maslany’s long and prosperous film career. With these two dynamos on board and David Gordon Green at the helm, Stronger has the potential to be the year’s most inspiring movie.
George Clooney is probably better than you at everything. He’s handsome, charming, and a notable philanthropist. If there’s one area where Clooney proves he’s merely mortal it’s in his filmography as a director. Over the years, Clooney has periodically stepped behind the camera to mixed results. His better films better films; Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck. are counterbalanced by disappointments like Leatherheads and The Monuments Men.
Suburbicon looks like Clooney’s strongest film yet. For starters, you can’t knock a cast featuring some of the best actors working today: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac. Clooney co-wrote the screenplay with his frequent collaborators, Joel and Ethan Coen. After one quick look at Suburbicon’s trailer, you can see the Coen’s influence is written all over this picture. Suburbicon has elements of the pulpy crime novels and film noirs that inspired films like Fargo and Blood Simple. And the cherry on top? It challenges the “Make America Great Again” movement’s romanticized notion of the nation’s good ol’ days. If Suburbicon’s execution comes close to matching its potential we’ll have one fascinating film on our hands.
For the past month, I’ve been reading Stephen King’s IT every night before bed and I haven’t suffered any bad dreams. Horror movies remain my favorite film genre even though I stopped fretting ghosts, demons, and monsters a long time ago. The movies that come the closest to legit scares are the ones that use atmosphere and tension to unsettle their audience. Sergio G. Sánchez’s horror/thriller, Marrowbone, looks to fit that mold.
Marrowbone’s premise is as generic as it gets. The plot involves a dead parent, a young group of siblings, a creepy house, and a sinister presence. What sets the film apart if its first-time director’s work as a screenwriter. Sánchez’s script for the 2007 horror movie, The Orphanage, put him in horror fans good graces. The Orphanage served up a slice of psychological terror at a time when torture-porn was in vogue. Marrowbone looks like it’s tapping into the eerie elements that made The Orphanage successful. Sánchez understands that the things that scare us lurk in the shadows but the things that haunt us lurk in our pasts.
Battle of the Sexes
It looks like TIFF’s programmers picked the wrong tennis movie for their opening night gala presentation. Janus Metz Pedersen’s Borg/McEnroe will kick off the festival but it’s co-directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s comedic biopic, Battle of the Sexes that will occupy the spotlight. The film premiered just before TIFF and its positive buzz is already starting to snowball. Looking at the talent involved it’s easy to see why; Faris and Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine), screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), and newly minted Oscar winning actress Emma Stone each have award season credentials.
Battle of the Sexes recounts the events surrounding a 1973 tennis match between women’s tennis star Billie Jean King and over-the-hill former pro, Bobby Riggs (played with a blustering swagger by Steve Carell). Much like Suburbicon, Battle of the Sexes uses the past to address timely issues. By layering the film’s themes beneath a comedic layer of 70’s kitsch, it may just declare its bold statements without coming off as didactic. Battle of the Sexes looks has the wit, charm, and exceptional lead performances to go far with critics and casual moviegoers.