by Norman Wilner, Glenn Sumi, Susan G. Cole, Radheyan Simonpillai | Last Updated 6 months agoTweet
It is, of course, almost impossible to narrow my list of hotly anticipated TIFF movies down to just five; there are at least two dozen movies I badly want to see. But these are the five for which I’ll clamber over my colleagues in the press line. (Guys, you’ve been warned.)
1) The Cobbler
For the first time in more than a decade, I’m excited about an Adam Sandler movie. That’s because this project puts the actor in the hands of writer/director Thomas McCarthy. After his note-perfect character studies The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win, I trust him absolutely. Yes, it’s about a New York City shoemaker who magically quantum-leaps into other people’s lives or something, but whatever. “Adam Sandler plays a salesman with rage issues” sounded pretty flimsy, too, and we got Punch-Drunk Love out of that one.
September 11, 9 pm, Elgin; September 12, 9:45 am, Scotiabank 1
2) Miss Julie
Literally every time I have interviewed Jessica Chastain, the eponymous heroine of August Strindberg’s searing stage play somehow comes up in conversation. She’s been wanting to play this role for a very long time. And now she’s doing it – opposite Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton – in a screen version adapted and directed by Swedish legend Liv Ullmann. Chastain is the greatest female actor of her generation; I can’t wait to see what she does with a part she knows this well.
September 7, 2 pm, Winter Garden; September 9, 5:30 pm, Scotiabank 12; September 12, 11:30 am, Scotiabank 2
Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson makes movies that are instantly, identifiably his – films of elaborate tableaux, meticulously constructed and choreographed, which play out absurdist existential conflicts for our amusement. In 2000, Songs From The Second Floor followed a glum businessman as the world ended around him. His 2007 film You, The Living brought a tuba to the dark night of the human soul. I know nothing about his latest beyond TIFF’s assertion that “it muses on man’s perpetual inhumanity to man.” And really, that’s all I need.
September 8, 7:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; September 10, 5:15 pm, Scotiabank 2; September 13, 3:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
In 2009, Jon Stewart invited Iranian journalist and documentary filmmaker Maziar Bahari onto The Daily Show to discuss his country’s ongoing political convulsions. Shortly after returning home, Bahari was imprisoned, interrogated and tortured for five months on suspicion of collaborating with Western governments. Last year, Stewart went to Jordan for three months to shoot a fictional drama about Bahari’s ordeal, starring Gael García Bernal as the reporter. Stewart has spent a decade and a half telling people he’s a comedian, not a political commentator. We’re about to find out what happens when he embraces the other role.
September 8, 6:30 pm, Princess of Wales; September 9, 12:30 pm, Winter Garden
In Noah Baumbach’s latest, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a long-married couple who meet a pair of younger lovers (Amanda Seyfried and Adam Driver) and start to hang out as a foursome, leading to blurred generational lines and at least a little emotional confusion. Stiller was pretty high on it when we spoke last Christmas. Having loved pretty much everything Baumbach’s done, I’m curious to see whether this will somehow merge the mid-life flailing of Greenberg (which starred Stiller) and the youthful ebullience of Frances Ha (which featured Driver in a small role). But whatever it is, it’ll be interesting.
September 6, 7 pm, Princess of Wales; September 7, 12:30 pm, Roy Thomson Hall; September 11, 11:30 am, Elgin
Hey, I like big starry premieres as much as the next guy. Last year’s TIFF features Gravity and 12 Years A Slave both made my Top 10 Movies list. But there are other films that provide more intimate pleasures. Here are five that should fit the bill.
1) Winter Sleep
Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s slow, meditative films aren’t for everyone. As in his 2011 masterpiece Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, there’s often more mood and character than conventional narrative. His latest, which won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes, is loosely inspired by Chekhov stories and concerns a former actor who runs a mountaintop hotel. It’s 196 minutes. Sounds like bliss.
September 5, 3 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; September 14, 9 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
Visionary director Julie Taymor obviously has a thing for Shakespeare. She’s directed bold film adaptations of Titus Andronicus and The Tempest, and even her best-known work – the revolutionary stage production of The Lion King – is essentially a retelling of Hamlet. And now comes this film version of her acclaimed production (from Brooklyn’s Polonsky Center) of the Bard’s most popular comedy. Expect lots of imaginative visual effects and a deep humanity. After the screening, part of the Mavericks series, Taymor stays for an extended talk. Will anyone dare mention the Spider-Man musical debacle?
September 8, 5 pm, Isabel Bader
3) I Am Here
There have been many documentaries about the new China, but few as powerful as Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home, which captured the painful generational split within one family during the New Year’s holiday. His new film looks at the finalists of one of China’s most popular TV shows, a singing competition called Super Boy. It looks a little lighter than Last Train, but I’m sure there’ll be just as many insights, not to mention some rousing music.
September 9, 6:30 pm, Scotiabank 1; September 11, 12:30 pm, Bloor Hot Docs; September 14, 9 pm, Scotiabank 11
The irresponsible high school teacher is a familiar figure in films (think: Election, Bad Teacher), and now that sub-genre gets a Canadian twist in Guidance, about an alcoholic former child star (writer/director Pat Mills) who happens to luck into a job as a guidance counsellor for troubled kids. Mills is known for his award-winning shorts, including the queer charmer Pat’s First Kiss (which played at TIFF), and he should get the child actor details right since he was part of the YTV series You Can’t Do That On Television. His feature debut is part of the Discovery series. Sounds about right.
September 5, 6:30 pm, Scotiabank 3; September 6, 4:30 pm, Scotiabank 8
Is there such a thing as a “gay voice”? Documentarian David Thorpe takes a look at this politically incorrect but potentially hilarious concept, talking to acting coaches, linguists and celebrities like comic Margaret Cho, actor George Takei, fashionista Tim Gunn and writer David Sedaris. Thorpe and NOW’s Savage Love columnist, Dan Savage, who’s also in the film, discuss it afterwards. See ya there, girlfriend!
September 7, noon, Ryerson
When I check my TIFF list, I’m looking for works by smart women, films with strong performers and entries that challenge political norms. Here’s what I found in 2014.
I love it when artists fight about aesthetics – and sex, for that matter – which is why this Alan Rickman-helmed pic about a landscape designer rattling the cage of King Louis XIV’s chief architect is high on my list. Kate Winslet plays the designer – it’s always promising when an Oscar winner’s around – but it’s her pairing with Matthias Schoenaerts (superb in Rust And Bone) that makes this an intriguing entry. A period piece set at Versailles, it’s an art director’s wet dream, too.
September 13, 6:30 pm, Princess of Wales, and 8 pm, Roy Thomson Hall; September 14, 9:45 am, Scotiabank 1
François Ozon’s follow-up to Young And Beautiful again steps into taboo terrain with this story of a woman (Anaïs Demoustier) who finds out that the husband (Romain Duris) of her recently deceased best friend is a cross-dresser, which leads to a surprising friendship. Y&B – about a middle-class teenager turning tricks – wasn’t exactly a laugh riot, but Ozon is known for exploring gender and sexual identities with humour and subtlety. This one should be a lot more sly.
September 6, 6:30 pm, Roy Thomson Hall; September 7, 1 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; September 13, 9 pm, Elgin
It’s a relief to see that Denmark’s Susanne Bier, foreign-language Oscar winner for In A Better World, is returning to drama after her much less assured English-language comedy Love Is All You Need. This time out, she tells the story of a police officer who reconnects with his junkie parents and is forced to make a difficult decision. Few filmmakers explore moral complexity as skilfully as Bier.
September 9, 6 pm, Elgin; September 10, 11:30 am, Elgin; September 14, 9:45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
As the world watches Gaza go up in flames, observers are wondering what artists are doing to develop new strategies for peace. Riffing off a quote from Nelson Mandela – “Education is the only power to change the world” – Tamara Erde does her part in a revealing documentary about how three Palestinian and three Israeli schools are teaching the history of this painfully persistent conflict.
September 7, 7 pm, Scotiabank 13; September 9, 10 pm, Scotiabank 9; September 13, 9:15 am, Scotiabank 3
5) October Gale
Patricia Clarkson was a revelation in Ruba Nadda’s 2009 Cairo Time. The two collaborate again in this film in which Clarkson plays a doctor who takes in a man (Scott Speedman) washed ashore at her cottage who’s been wounded by gunfire. Nadda’s last pic, the political nail-biter Inescapable, was a departure for the Canadian director and not as successful as the small, tender stories she had become known for. She’s stayed with the taut thriller genre here, but Clarkson’s been a gift for her before and could make magic again.
September 11, 8 pm, Winter Garden; September 12, 9:15 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice is skipping Toronto so it can premiere weeks later at the New York Film Festival. I’m hoping at least one of the following films makes up for that massive disappointment.
Fresh off his stints for Canada’s Denis Villeneuve in Enemy and Prisoners, Jake Gyllenhaal goes gaunt in his latest thriller. The actor/producer lost about 20 pounds to play Louis Bloom, a petty thief turned driven freelance crime journalist who chases scenes of mutilation like the paparazzi chase celebrities. There isn’t a lot of info around this title, directed by Dan Gilroy. But the marketing has been particularly appetizing, kicking off with a Craigslist ad posted by Gyllenhaal’s character selling his mantra in a video resumé. If the movie is as impressive as the viral campaign, this could be our generation’s Network.
September 5, 9 pm, Elgin; September 6, noon, Ryerson; September 12, 9 pm, Ryerson
The last film from the Dardenne brothers, The Kid With A Bike, played TIFF 2011 and never returned to a Toronto theatre. So I’m going to make a point of catching their latest. This one stars Marion Cotillard, whose recent string of glamour-free, down-and-out characters (Rust And Bone, The Immigrant) makes her a natural fit for the Belgian filmmakers. In their latest working-class, neo-realist tale, Cotillard’s Sandra tries to rally her peers in a factory to help save her job. Word from Cannes is that Two Days, One Night is more of the same from the Dardennes, which is exactly what I’m hoping for.
September 9, 8 pm, Winter Garden; September 10, 12:30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
For the past decade, writer/director Christian Petzold (Jerichow, Barbara) has been a talent to watch, tinkering with Hitchcockian influences in national allegories about today’s Germany. His latest is a post-WWII drama starring regular muse Nina Hoss as a concentration camp survivor whose face has been disfigured to the point that her husband, who may have betrayed her to the Nazis, doesn’t recognize her.
September 5, 6 pm, Elgin; September 6, 11:30 am, Elgin
4) Top Five
Chris Rock writes, directs and stars in this dramedy about a comic/movie star who wants to be taken seriously. So essentially, he’s playing himself. This insider look at the industry is produced by Scott Rudin, an award magnet whose stellar track record includes The Truman Show, There Will Be Blood, The Social Network and so much more. Makes me think this one could be a surprise hit. If not, at least we get to see Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler and Whoopi Goldberg join forces in the supporting cast.
September 6, 10 pm, Princess of Wales; September 7, noon, Princess of Wales; September 13, 9 pm, Ryerson
5) The Good Lie
I approach this film with cautious optimism. The trailer makes it look like shameless Oscar bait: Reese Witherspoon plays a saintly but sassy white woman out to help those poor, funny Sudanese refugees. This could be The Blind Side all over again. But it’s directed by Philippe Falardeau, one of Canada’s finest exports, whose last two films, It’s Not Me, I Swear! and Monsieur Lazhar, gave us plenty of reasons to be proud. Here’s hoping Hollywood hasn’t spoiled one of our most treasured talents.
September 7, 3 pm, Elgin; September 8, 12:30 pm, Roy Thomson Hall; September 12, noon, Princess of Wales