The Toronto International Film Festival is a ludicrous bounty of cinematic riches, showcasing hundreds of potentially amazing films both old and new. That it’s all crammed into only 10 days means it’s too much for any one mere mortal to even get a proper grasp of. With that “problem” in mind, here’s a painstakingly narrowed list of 30 to try and catch.
David Cronenberg’s son Brandon’s first feature, Antiviral may well sate the appetites of Cronenberg fans who lament the director’s late-career turn into (relatively) middlebrow fare. The creepy teaser promises eerie, creeping body horror, artfully executed, of the sort Daddy used to make.
The ABCs of Death
Horror anthologies are always a tantalizing prospect, but rarely do the segments come together to form a satisfying whole; usually, a weak effort or two sours the bunch. The ABCs of Death might well be the most ambitious film of its kind, ever: 26 (!) morbid shorts helmed by 25 reputable genre filmmakers and one competition winner. Regardless of the likelihood of hit-or-miss execution (no pun intended), any film that features contributions from Ti West, Nacho Vigalondo, Ben Wheatley, Simon Rumley, Jason Eisener, Adam Wingard, and Jorge Michel Grau should be worth any genre-film nerd’s time.
The Act of Killing
Produced by documentary titan Errol Morris and eternal oddball Werner Herzog, The Act of Killing purports to examine “killers who have won, and the societies they have built.” The approach to examining these figures would seem to include segments in which the killers in question walk us through their violent crimes – not in talking-head format, but in segments they’ve scripted to emulate their favorite films. The approach sounds both queasily appropriate and almost comically provocative – if it clicks, it might well be one of the most horrifying movies ever made.
Chilean director Nicolás López collaborates with star and co-writer Eli Roth on this apocalyptic horror outing, which has its World Premiere at the fest. Roth’s been quiet since he turned in the hilarious Thanksgiving trailer for Grindhouse, but his pulling double collaborative duty here is intruiging, perhaps tempering his taste for po-mo flourishes with a more straightforward approach.
At Any Price
Now here’s a strange one. Writer-director Ramin Bahrani rose to arthouse prominence very quickly a couple of years back with his widely acclaimed Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo; for a quick primer, seek out his fantastic Futurestates short, Plastic Bag, narrated by Werner Herzog in the titular role. (You read that right.) With At Any Price, Bahrani segues into mid-level indie with this surprisingly star-studded drama, which stars Zac Efron (!), Heather Graham, Dennis Quaid, and the great Kim Dickens. It remains to be seen if Bahrani is pulling a David Gordon Green, but it should be fascinating to behold either way.
Berberian Sound Studio
Toby Jones gets a rare starring turn in this stunning-looking thriller from UK writer-director Peter Strickland. Jones plays a sound designer who agrees to work with an Italian horror director, at which point things start to get more than a little obsessive and creepy. It’s already been released to raves overseas, and we’re way overdue for an aesthetically luxurious genre film this year.
Neil Jordan’s Ondine was a delightful surprise back in 2009, a modern-day mermaid fable that managed to balance its allegorical elements with its real-world setting admirably, while playing host to rock-solid performances. If anything, Byzantium looks even stranger: it stars Gemma Arterton and Saiorse Ronan as a mother-and-daughter vampire duo. Jordan’s The Company of Wolves proved he could tackle supernatural phenomena normally reserved for more spectacular fare with psychological acuity; here’s hoping Byzantium coalesces into something similarly memorable.
The End of Time
Peter Mettler is one of the most legendary filmmakers Toronto has ever produced; the expreimental documentarian and cinematographer’s first feature in a decade looks to be as ambitious and challenging as anything he’s done, tackling nothing less than human perception of time. This should challenge, if not outright dwarf, Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder for metaphysical derring-do.
After taking a quick sojourn into helping write other people’s projects – HBO’s aborted series adaptation of The Corrections and, er, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – Noah Baumbach gets back in the director’s chair for Frances Ha, his follow-up to the rightly divisive Greenberg. Like so many American indie auteurs, Baumbach appears to have caught the Greta Gerwig bug; she toplines here, along with Girls standout Adam Driver. The synopsis describes Gerwig’s heroine as being blessed with “unaccountable joy and lightness,” which rings a MPDG alarm bell or two, but count on Gerwig to make it work.
Ginger and Rosa
Sally Potter is one of the most idiosyncratic directors around, whether she’s guiding Tilda Swinton through a gender-bending, centuries-spanning saga of love (Orlando), casting herself in a semi-autobiographical drama (The Tango Lesson) or presenting a romance in iambic pentameter (Yes). Her latest, Ginger and Rosa, appears on the surface to be a less doggedly conceptual affair than some of her other films, but the 1960s UK setting promises to make up for it in political import.
Tobias Lindholm’s new film comes following a flurry of prestigious screenwriting activity: Lindholm is currently one of the principal forces behind the acclaimed Danish political chronicle Borgen, and he co-penned the last two features by Dogme 95 architect Thomas Vinterberg. His second outing as director tackles the phenomenon of modern-day piracy – the oceanbound sort, not the internet sort – through a crisis that erupts when a Danish freighter is taken by Somali pirates. It’s a fascinating subject, one that Lindholm will hopefully manage to do justice to without heavy-handedness.
Depending on who you ask, The Hunt, which premiered at Cannes and netted Mads Mikkelsen a Best Actor trophy, is either a powerful, affecting drama, or an utter crock. Mikkelsen stars as a schoolteacher who finds himself the subject of a child-abuse accusation; if Vinterberg’s last film, the very dark, brooding family chronicle Submarino, is anything to go by, don’t expect anyone to come out unscathed.
I Declare War
TIFF is replete with heavy dramatic material this year, so why not decompress with some wholesale slaughter commited by children? I Declare War consists of a group of kids innocently playing a wargame – only thanks to a subjective approach, their battles are staged with real weapons. One of the most buzzed-about Canadian features in ages, War should slot alongside Alexandre Franchi’s The Wild Hunt as an unorthodox, genre-defying take on the pull of fantasy and the nature of violence.
In the House
Kristin Scott thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner star in the latest from writer-director François Ozon, which would seem the skew closer to the likes of Swimming Pool than lighter fare like Potiche. The (sorry, French-only!) trailer promises a tense meditation on class, family dynamics, and adolescent desire, along with what what appears to be an intriguing meta-textual element.
John Dies at the End
It’s a cult marriage made in heaven: hallowed oddball Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep, The Beastmaster) takes on Jason Pargin’s beloved, surreal novel for what appears to be one of the more enjoyably ludicrous genre movies of the year. Toplined by newcomers but buoyed by familiar faces like the always-great Paul Giamatti, John seems poised to either be an idiosyncratic pleasure or at least a noble failure.
The Land of Hope
Another year, another Sion Sono movie; the guy is developing into the Japanese arthouse equivalent of Woody Allen. The trailer promises “Nuclear disaster, Sion Sono style,” but that statement appears to mean something very different than it would have only a couple of short years ago: there’s no elaborate sadism or formal experimentation on display here, instead replaced by what appears to be straight-up, sincere melodrama, albeit infused with a smidgen on Sono’s aesthetic energy.
Not since Timecrimes has there been a time-travel movie worth getting excited about. While The Brothers Bloom didn’t work for me – at all – Rian Johnson is still one of the more promising young American filmmakers around, and Looper appears to be his most ambitious outing to date, boasting big names, big ideas, and a high-concept sci-fi premise that Johnson seems uniquely positioned to exploit for its mind-bending possibilities.
This one should need no introduction, but in case you needed reminding: Paul Thomas Anderson has yet to make a bad or even iffy film, and between the incredible cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix, returned from his bizarro exile), no-brainer premise and setting, 70mm cinematography, and Jonny Greenwood score, The Master will be a hell of a thing to catch in packed house on the biggest screen possible.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
Alex Gibney does not mess around. Whether he’s tackling the political life of Hunter S. Thompson, the rise and fall of Enron, or the American military’s pesky tendency to torture and kill terror suspects, his documentaries are, without fail, some of the most riveting and solidly constructed around. While the topic of child abuse in the Catholic Church has already been the subject of one excellent film (Amy Berg’s lacerating Deliver Us From Evil), Gibney’s proven track record of tackling institutional corruption should be an excellent fit with the subject matter.
Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul returns, albeit in truncated form. After taking the world by storm in the most eccentric, amorphous manner possible with the stunningly cryptic Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the director returns with a medium-length outing. Love him or dismiss him, but no one is making anything remotely like him, and even if it’s only for a hair under an hour, Joe’s universe is always a distinct one to immerse oneself in.
Salman Rushdie has been one of the most alternately beloved and controversial writers of the last few decades, but his work has never once been adapted for the big screen. That’s no longer the case, and Deepa Mehta (the Elements trilogy) is a gob-smackingly fitting figure to finally make it happen. Midnight’s Children returns Mehta to the subject of partition-era India while adding an element of supernatural allegory; it’s an ambitious undertaking that Mehta seems uniquely primed for.
Much Ado About Nothing
It’s been Joss Whedon’s world all along, as it turns out; we’re just living in it. After years spent struggling to get his projects off the ground, the adored writer-director-showrunner now has carte blanche to do pretty much whatever the hell he wants, thanks to The Avengers. As it turns out, “whatever the hell he wants” happens to include a low-budget, modern take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, complete with the most Whedon-y cast ever (Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Franz Kanz, Alex Denishof, etc.). For a writer known for his patter, Much Ado About Nothing should feel just like going home.
Pablo Larrain (Tony Manero) exploits vintage technology to render the story of the anti-government activists who were granted fifteen minutes of airtime every day to bring down Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Larrain has already been feted as one of contemporary cinema’s more potent satirists, so No should be a refreshing experience in an age of (mostly) politically inert movies.
Brian de Palma is due for redemption. Chris Dumas’s Un-American Psycho recently framed the divisive director’s ouevre as a politically subversive, perennially misunderstood body of films, and the debate rages as to whether de Palma is a ripoff artist or the genuine article. Passion looks to reignite the debate in a big way; based on the trailer, de Palma has remade the French thriller Love Crime as a spectacularly smutty affair, complete with sadomasochistic sex scenes between Rachel MacAdams and Noomi Rapace. At the very least, it’s unlikely to be boring.
The Place Beyond the Pines
Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) returns with a crime thriller that joins a very short list of movies set in Schenectady, NY. (Really, only one other movie springs to mind.) Cianfrance reteams with Ryan Gosling who, as in Drive, once again portrays a vehicular stuntman who also happens to deal in the world of crime. Cianfrance’s first film was heavily reliant on a lengthy workshopping process that reaped huge performative dividends; Pines would seem to remove that advantage in favor of a more conventional approach, but hopefully his clear gift for eliciting great performances will remain intact even in the context of a thriller.
Matteo Garrone’s follow-up to his realist mob movie Gomorrah looks like an odd duck indeed, with the director moving from stately crime exposé to a “working-class” take on reality television and the notion of modern celebrity and identity. On top of that, the Grand Prix winner boasts an already-hallowed performance by Aniello Arena, a newcomer who has spend the last two decades in prison, where he remains, for murder; Garrone has stated that Arena’s living conditions made him uniquely suited to the role.
If the recent Sight and Sound polls have proven anything, it’s that obsession may be the most cinephile-friendly subject of all time, and Stanley Kubrick was one of the most infamously obsessive filmmakers ever. So his work (The Shining is the primary focus here) is particularly suited to a feature-length ode to the way we obsess over the hidden meanings and symbols in this most visual of mediums. Room 237 should be a must-see just for the chance to see it with friends and debate which theories have merit and which are just a crock.
Promising black comedy number one: In Bruges‘s Martin McDonagh hits Midnight Madness with this madcap caper about dognappers and the man who wants to kill them. Honestly, even without the wacky premise, the phrase “ensemble action-comedy with Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Colin Farrell” should translate as take my money now please to most sane people.
Promising black comedy number two: Ben Wheatley made one hell of an impression with his hybrid arthouse horror flick Kill List last year, but the already-warmly-received Sightseers, which screened at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, seems likely to boost his profile even further. If the trailer is anything to go by, expect a very violent, very funny take on the joys and perils of new love. And also serial murder.
Harmony Korine is no stranger to bringing a solid dose of WTF to TIFF. His experimental mindfuck of a last “film,” Trash Humpers, had its world premiere there; the Q&A that followed may have been the funniest ever witnessed by yours truly. Korine is back with an absolutely ridiculous-looking prospect, a technicolor heist movie featuring an array of teen-pop stars and a dreadlocked James Franco, not to mention a score by brostep maestro Skrillex. It’s as though Korine has decided to take on Gregg Araki at the Kitsch Olympics.
To The Wonder
According to those in the know, Terrence Malick’s latest, and his first movie ever to be completed in short order after his previous one, is more akin to his early, more character-based work than to the expansive likes of The Tree of Life. That squares with the relatively modest runtime (112 minutes!) and the straightforward-sounding plot synopsis proffered by the fest. Don’t assume Malick has shed all of his tricky tendencies, though: as with The Thin Red Line, a slew of actors were cut from the film, indicating that his idiosyncratic methods remain intact.
West of Memphis
There is no modern true-crime saga as movie-friendly as that of the West Memphis Three. Already the subject of an entire trilogy of documentaries (Joe Berlinger and Bruc Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost series), the case comes pre-loaded with noble heroes, wanton corruption, investigative twists, and a feel-good (if deeply compromised) “ending.” As the first film to span the entire case, from the ghastly crime itself to the freeing of the three men who still maintain their innocence, Amy Berg’s West of Memphis carries a heavy burden, especially since it’s going to beg comparison to the most beloved advocacy doc ever made, but Berg (Deliver Us From Evil) should be up to the task.