By Kim Hughes, Liam Lacey, and Jim Slotek
It’s at once unnerving and exhilarating to realize that another year has passed and another edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (the 43rd annual for anyone keeping track) is almost upon us. So many films! How do they all get scripted and financed and cast and shot and distributed? It really is a marvel.
As with any festival of this size, there’s room for all sorts of viewing strategies. You could target the small, obscure films that may never screen again, tour the world vicariously (as OC’s Liam Lacey likes to do) or go gonzo for blockbusters that will dominate from now until awards season. Whatever your tack, the main thing is to try and see something between September 6 and 16, possibly with a mind to taste-testing from various programming buckets, all striving for something unique.
For instance, Midnight Madness titles tend to be weird or violent (or both) whereas Contemporary World Cinema offers so-called global perspectives (a.k.a. films not from Hollywood) while Discovery showcases filmmakers widely viewed as emerging. Docs, galas, and shorts are self-explanatory. At every program, there is guaranteed to be a break-out hit… and a colossal dog; finding out which is which is half the fun.
Individual tickets are on sale to the public now. After exhaustively reading the lineup, Original-Cin offers a sneak peek of a few recommended titles grouped by general interest. We hope it sparks some thought… be sure to take a chance on something with an intriguing title or country of origin. You may stumble on something amazing. And be sure to scroll down for our sidebar survey of the best of Cannes coming to TIFF.
Original Cin will be offering capsule previews of many (many) films, as well as daily press conference updates and other high-minded ephemera, beginning September 6. And for proof of our collective brilliance, see what we flagged as winners and losers last year.
For big stars in deep cover…
Nicole Kidman has been drawing comparisons to Charlize Theron’s award-winning fugly turn in Monster in this gritty drama about a tough-as-nails L.A. cop decidedly not falling on the glam side of police work.
Hugh Jackman plays onetime U.S. presidential hopeful Gary Hart, whose career was sidelined by revelations of an extra-marital affair, arguably the 20th century’s ground-zero moment of tabloid press seeping into mainstream politics. Jason Reitman directs; Vera Farmiga co-stars.
For watching actors becoming directors…
Cult star Paul Dano’s directorial debut features Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllehhall as a married couple in post-war America whose marriage is slowly falling apart as impressionable son (Ed Oxenbould) looks on. The look of this film is exquisite judging by its trailer courtesy cinematographer Diego García.
Moneyball star Jonah Hill explores skateboard culture among disenfranchised pre-digital–age teens in Los Angeles. The era-specific soundtrack is smoking and early buzz has been strong, especially for stars Sunny Suljic (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and the ever-amazing Lucas Hedges, also at TIFF 2018 in Boy Erased and Ben is Back.
In actor Max Minghella’s (The Handmaid’s Tale) feature debut, a shy 17-year-old (Elle Fanning) dreams of pop success, a proposition that might be impossible were it not for an unlikely friendship with a washed-up opera star. Teen Spirit could also be filed under “films about singers,” both of the aspiring variety (see also Wild Rose) and with imploding careers (Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell, starring Elisabeth Moss in a bravura role allegedly based loosely on Courtney Love).
For #MeToo proponents…
Gender parity in Hollywood (or the lack thereof) is the subject of veteran filmmaker Tom Donahue’s doc which offers a voice to marquee names on both sides of the camera, including Meryl Streep, Geena Davis, Rose McGowan, Shonda Rhimes, Judd Apatow, Alan Alda, Sandra Oh, Jessica Chastain and many other advocates for #TimesUp.
Alex Bloom’s chronicle of the rise and fall of the Fox News powerhouse and Republican party influencer — now arguably best remembered as one of the first seemingly untouchable execs to fall amid dastardly sexual misconduct accusations — is certain to repel and beguile in equal measure.
For the horrors of addiction…
This highly anticipated Gala film, based on best-selling books by father and son David Sheff and Nic Sheff, tells a story told from opposite perspectives about how Nic’s meth addiction took control of both their lives. The wattage of erstwhile Oscar nominees Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) and Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) is the pre-sell for this one.
Spurred by her infatuation with a punk girl named Stella (Eyrún Björk Jakobsdóttir), Reykjavik teen Magnea (Elín Sif Halldórsdóttir) goes from A-student/gymnast to party animal, and takes to disappearing into the city’s drug-world, as her father posts Missing Girl pictures. Balvin Z’s fact-based drama counterpoints the events that lead to Magnea’s fall with her future as a pariah and street person, jumping frequently and often from the teen Magnea and Stella, to their wildly different lives and awkward encounters 12 years later.
For sexually liberated women…
Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice) gives us Keira Knightley as real-life author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a country girl who married a self-promoting Parisian bon vivant who wrote under the nickname Willy (Dominic West), and who was convinced by him to write novels to be published under his name. Her autobiographical Claudine novels fly off the shelves, inspire young girls, and were marketed with everything from Claudine chocolates to soap. Along the way, Colette and Willy became a celebrity couple, before Colette finally took steps to emancipate herself.
Bourgeois mom Marie-Claire (Brigitte Poupart) cheats on her husband with multiple partners. She then takes skin samples from those partners for her university research into dermal-sexual reaction. Is she being a thorough researcher, or simply shedding social convention? Quebec director Renée Beaulieu’s provocative film (salope translates directly as “slut”) is a cold-eyed denunciation of sexual double standards with a dash of contrary #MeToo comment thrown in.
For those captivated by space travel…
This in-depth look at the life of famed American astronaut and NASA moon-walker Neil Armstrong (based on James R. Hansen's book, which had Armstrong's collaboration) reunites Ryan Gosling with his La La Land director Damien Chazelle. The strong supporting cast includes Claire Foy and Lukas Haas.
For her hotly anticipated English language debut, French director Claire Denis (Beau Travail, White Material) tells the story of criminals (led by Robert Pattinson) who are sent into space. But things really don’t go to plan. Elsewhere, A Fantastic Woman director Sebastián Lelio remakes his own 2013 film Gloria as Gloria Bell, in English, with Julianne Moore playing a free-spirited, middle-aged divorcee hoping to find love on the dance floor.
For Moe Dunford fan-club members…
The dashing and fast-rising Irish actor known for his roles in Vikings has three star-making performances at TIFF 2018 including:
In this very dark debut from brothers Andy and Ryan Tohill — which scooped the Best Irish Feature at the 2018 Galway Film Fleadh — we follow Ronan (Dunford), just sprung from prison for killing local girl Neve. Only Ronan can’t remember the crime (he was drunk) or where he might have buried the body. Neve’s father has spent the last 15 years digging for remains; Ronan’s only chance to heal and find the truth is to grab a shovel and get to work.
Written and exec-produced by Roddy Doyle and helmed by director Paddy Breathnach (I Went Down), this gut-wrenching drama follows a working class family’s sudden descent into homelessness and their valiant fight to preserve their dignity despite overwhelming odds. Dunford plays the father of four opposite a riveting Sarah Greene. Also see Dunford in historical drama Black 47. You heard it here first, kids.
For film-loving bookworms…
Director Nicole Holofcener adapts Ted Thomson’s mesmeric 2014 novel about a comfortable suburban man who pulls the rug out from under his own life… only to find the cliché about the grass being greener is savagely accurate.
Angie Thomas' YA novel about police violence towards black citizens circa Black Lives Matter comes to the screen under the direction of George Tillman, Jr. The film stars fast-rising Amandla Stenberg, also at TIFF in what could be a deliriously bad howler about a young black girl in love with... wait for it... a Nazi (Where Hands Touch).
Sam Taylor-Johnson directs husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the adaptation of James Frey’s wildly controversial (and largely discredited) “memoir” of his experiences in rehab while forging a new career as a writer. Could be the rubber-necking sensation of the festival.
Author William Giraldi’s pitch-black thriller about starving (and maybe possessed) wolves snatching children in the Alaskan winter comes to the screen via Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair, whose previous films Blue Ruin and Green Room have established them as the genre’s most dynamic duo.
For barstool activists…
The provenance of your seafood might spoil your appetite, as this doc chronicling the abuses suffered by workers in the global fishing industry reveal. Often, workers aboard ships won’t see land for months or years, as their cargoes are unloaded to mother ships at sea. The film follows Thai human-rights activist Patima Tungpuchayakul as she attempts to thwart these practices while freeing essentially enslaved fishermen from across Southeast Asia.
We borrow directly from the TIFF braintrust here: “In Rithy Panh's (The Missing Picture) latest exploration of the lasting effects of the Cambodian genocide, a 13-year-old boy who loses most of his family begins a search for their graves.” Heavy, and yet judging by the trailer, also lovely and inspirational.
For music lovers…
Arguably the greatest opera singer in the world (sorry Renée and Enrico), the late Greek-American superstar and longtime lover to Aristotle Onassis — even post-Jackie — is explored and revisited through multiple mediums, some previously thought lost. Director Tom Volf, a Callas mega-fan and biographer, updates the legend while exploding myths. Her voice alone is reason enough to watch this film.
Legendary (and tireless) 85-year-old producer and musician Quincy Jones is spotlighted by daughter Rashida Jones in this doc which, by definition, is star-studded and a testament to the great man’s achievements. Notably, the younger Jones doesn’t gloss over her dad’s fallibilities, presenting a multi-dimensional portrait.
For sports fans…
The doping scandal that enveloped major league baseball, tarnishing stars like Alex Rodriquez and Manny Ramirez, gets a deep and deliciously salacious spin in this gripping doc framed in part by Miami New Times journalist Tim Elfrink’s expose on the subject. Filmmaker Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys) gets the goods straight from the source: Anthony Bosch, the South Florida specialist who wielded the drugs. By all accounts, the film is funny, probing, acerbic, and unforgettable.
In 1989-90, 24-year-old Briton Tracy Edwards created history alongside the first all-female sailing crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World Race, a bastion of maleness. This documentary follows the women on that journey, fighting sexism and hostility at every step. Using a combination of archival materials and new interviews, filmmaker Alex Holmes chronicles a game-changing event.
La crème de Cannes
After the best in world cinema has been filtered through the beaches and bubbly at the Cannes Film Festival in France, most of the top films make their North American premiere at TIFF.
This year's festival includes Shoplifters, the Palme d'Or winner from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Afterlife, Nobody Knows), a drama about a destitute, make-shift Tokyo family surviving through scams and shoplifting. When they find a homeless girl, they bring her into their clan.
TIFF also brings us the North American premiere of Jury Prize winner Capernaum, from Lebanon's Nadine Labaki (TIFF's 2011 People's Choice winner for Where Do We Go from Here?). The film, named after a Lebanese town, follows a 12-year-old boy who, inspired by a television show, decides to sue his parents for their failure to provide for him.
Also showing: Cannes top director prize-winner, Poland's Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida) for Cold War, a black-and-white drama about a love affair between a pianist and a singer that crosses back and forth across the Iron Curtain, and over more than a decade. And we get one of the two films tied for best screenplay, a feminist Iranian drama 3 Faces, written by Nader Saeivar, and directed by Jafar Panahi. (The screenplay prize was shared with Alice Rohrwacher's Happy as Lazzaro.)
TIFF is also introducing the best actor-winning film, Dogman, by Matteo Garrone (the 2004 mob drama, Gomorrah) which stars Marcello Fonte as a devoted single-father who provides for his daughter by grooming dogs — and dealing coke on the side — in a run-down crime-ridden beach town near Naples. The film follows Marcello's encounter with the neighbourhood bully, a crime and Marcello's transformation from submissive lapdog to avenging beast.
Both a first-film (Camera d’Or) prize-winner and a critics' favourite, Girl, from Lukas Dhont, is a film is about a pre-op transgender teen, Lara (Victor Polster), and her quest to become a ballerina at one of Belgium's top dance academies.
The film that won the won over the critics this year, both on the FIRPRESCI jury (International Federation of Film Critics) and in a critics’ poll by the website, Indiewire, was Korean director Lee Chang-Dong's thriller Burning, based on a short story by Haruki Murakami. Lee (Secret Sunshine, Poetry) was also picked as top director in the same poll.
Girl ranked second overall in the critics' poll, and won a prize from the FIRPRESCI jury as well, which adds up to a remarkable amount of attention for a first film. No surprise, then, that Girl has also secured a Netflix distribution deal.