The Toronto International Film Festival is the unofficial beginning of the Hollywood Prestige Film season. Debates begin here and trend pieces start here. The festival held in the heart of Toronto is continually the only place where you can discuss and dismantle what’s deserving of pre-award buzz.
This year’s festival features 21 world premieres, seven international premieres, eight North American and 11 Canadian premieres—six directed by people of colour, and five directed by women. From the golden boy return of Timothée Chalamet, Ryan Gosling’s re-entrance as Neil Armstrong, adaptation of the YA book The Hate U Give, and the directorial comeback of Berry Jenkins, here are the select few that’ll be talked about and no doubt argued about for months to come.
Beautiful Boy (Directed by Felix Van Groeningen)
This Felix Van Groeningen directed film has all the right stuff for some classic Oscar bait. It’s packing in the tear-jerky drama through true events, and comes bundled with an apparent beautiful boy (Timothée Chalamet). The fact that it releases on October 12—right on the heels of award season—kinda makes the Oscar push blatant. Golden kid Chalamet—fresh off of the amazing year that took him from a small-time actor to Oscar-nominated celebrity via Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird—plays a meth addict going through Meth Addiction as his father Steve Carell sees him through the struggle. Even if we don’t end up crying, there’s no way this movie isn’t landing in the conversation.
First Man (Directed by Damien Chazelle)
You and I may be too young to have experienced this, but once upon a time in 1968, a bubble-helmeted, space-suit wearing Neil Armstrong bounced carefully across our dusty moon—I’m told that the event was absolutely historic and was viewed by 600 million people and definitely not shot in a soundstage. Director Damien “ La La Land was overrated, sorry/not sorry” Chazelle is biopic-ing the moment with beloved Canadian Ryan Gosling, who will play the legendary astronaut.
What They Had (Directed by Elizabeth Chomko)
A couple of Oscar points we can check right off the bat: Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, sad story about the impact of a parent’s mental decline, Hilary Swank crying, and a film generally guaranteed to make zero dents at the box office. The stuff Oscar winners in some shape or form are made of.
The Hate U Give (Directed by George Tillman Jr.)
While Amandla Stenberg seems to attract herself to YA-novel-to-movie adaptations like a bad typecasted habit ( The Hunger Games), in this case we can feel good about it. For those not in the know, this one is based on the novel of the same name (writer: Angie Thomas) starring a young teen named Starr Carter, who navigates in a world between her white prep school and her black neighbourhood. When she witnesses bad cops doing bad cop shit (shooting a her young black guy friend), she has to manoeuver between dealing with a death and fighting for the injustice that befell her childhood friend. This may not not get any of that prestige attention, but it’ll most certainly aid existing conversations.
High Life (Directed by Claire Denis)
This is director Claire Denis’ first English-language feature, which follows a group of convicts assigned to a laborious space mission in the gullible belief that they’ll be freed if successful. Robert Pattinson plays one of the convicts who ends up with a daughter via artificial insemination and predictably comes to love her. There’s a general lack of cinema that really delve deep into the struggles that fathers have in raising their daughters, and adding a sci-fi element to amply that battle can’t hurt.
Widows (Directed by Steve McQueen)
I’ve long since declared Viola Davis as the best snot-nosed cryer on the face of the Earth, which speaks to her tremendous acting ability. This one sets itself in a contemporary Chicago involving four women (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki), who are left behind by their deadbeat, criminal doing husbands only to be faced with fending for themselves. But to be honest, I just want to see what a Liam Neeson and Viola Davis relationship looks like on camera—I imagine it’s going to be… weird.
Life Itself (Directed by Dan Fogelman)
I can smell an Oscar cooking because Dan Fogelman is involved—the orchestrator of primetime tear sucker This Is Us. But take in this plot: A young New York couple goes from a college romance to marriage and the birth of their child. But an unexpected twist of their journey creates reverberations that echo over continents through lifetimes….Jesus Christ Dan.
The Public (Directed by Emilio Estevez)
Ever since Michael Kenneth Williams held the shotgun in The Wire as Omar I’ve admitted to being a Williams stan. His talent however ( Boardwalk Empire), has been in need of more contemporary setting that has the respect for what he can bring to the table ( Superfly...). In the case of The Public, written and directed by—and co-starring—Emilio Estevez, it seems to scratch an Oscar itch. Plot wise, this one takes place in a public library in Cincinnati where librarian Stuart Goodson (Estevez) welcomes in Jackson (Williams) who leads an Occupy-styled sit-in for the homeless during a particularly cold winter in the city. The issue of the right to public spaces rests is rarely touched upon, so it’s begging for proper cinematic look.
Red Joan (Directed by Trevor Nunn)
This Trevor Nunn directed movie revolves around the story of Joan Stanley who was exposed in 1999 at the age of 87 as the KGB’s longest-serving British spy. Given that we’re talking about the legendary Judi Dench here, and with America in that whole Russian fiasco, it all seems very timely.
A Star Is Born (Directed by Bradley Cooper)
I always love a good directorial debut and this is Bradley Cooper’s. In this new—but kinda the same—take on a tragic love story, Cooper plays musician Jackson Maine, who discovers, and of course falls in love with a struggling artist Ally (Lady Gaga), who we can assume will blossom into a flower because we’re supposed to believe Gaga isn’t already an amazing musician or something. Either way, the trailer hits all the right dramatic spots for an award nod at the very least.
Can You Forgive Me? (Directed by Marielle Heller)
Melissa McCarthy is fit for the whole “dramatic actor” thing as long as her talent isn’t defiled by producers Ben Falcone and Paul Feig. That’s not to say she isn’t a great comedian, but Can You Forgive Me feels like the perfect tool for McCarthy to expand her range. In this Marielle Heller film, we’re given the real life story of Lee Israel, a famous best-selling celebrity biographer who became a literary forger and thief. A Melissa McCarthy that isn’t attempting to make us laugh should be a thing to witness.
The Front Runner (Directed by Jason Reitman)
If you’ve ever seen the pseudo-intellectual, slightly pretentious Juno or Tully, you already know what director Jason Reitman is about. This time around, he’s taking another stab at things with The Front Runner, which chronicles the rise and fall of Gary Hart, a US senator and potential 1988 Democratic presidential nominee who had an extramarital relationship with Donna Rise. At this point, the contrast with what we’re dealing with now feels ripe and ready for further conversation.
Hotel Mumbai (Directed by Anthony Maras)
While there’s a touching and astonishing story about the victims and survivors of the devastating attacks on Mumbai here, we’re also getting Dev Patel who has a talent for attracting Oscar buzz like honey to bees.
If Beale Street Could Talk (Directed by Barry Jenkins)
Moonlight director Barry Jenkins is helming this, folks, so I should just end it here. But as a follow up to his Oscar-winning debut, Jenkins is using a short story of the same name from the legendary novelist and social critic James Baldwin. Story wise, it’s about a woman from Harlem who attempts to desperately prove her black fiance’s innocence of a crime while carrying their first child. The cast alone spells something strong (Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Brian Tyree Hendry, and Regina Fucking King). And If anything can be stripped from the talent of Jenkins, it’s in his ability to illustrate the black experience with the subtle care it deserves.
Monsters and Men (Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green)
Another win for diversity here. In the aftermath of a police murdering a black man, the entire ordeal is told through the eyes of a bystander who manages to film the whole act. A black police officer and high-school baseball phenom rise to the occasion to take a stand. If this won’t be current, I don’t know what will.
The Old Man & the Gun (Directed by David Lowery)
David Lowery, recent director of A Ghost Story, is heading into biopic territory surrounding Forrest Tucker, a man known for his unprecedented string of heists that ended with his escape from San Quentin prison at the age of 70. Cast wise, you also can’t go wrong with Elisabeth Moss, Robert Redford, John Davidson Washington, and...Casey Affleck—who is in fact all kinds of wrong, but this is the Oscars, and they care not for feelings having to do with sexual harassment and such.
The Sisters Brothers (Directed by Jacques Audiard)
Anything that can bring Jake Gyllenhaal back to the station he belongs—as a Brokeback Cowboy—deserves some sort of nod. Director Jacques Audiard is taking us back to a 1850s Oregon, where a gold prospector is chased by a duo of assassins, the Sister Brothers (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix).
Where Hands Touch (Directed by Amma Asante)
The plot reads as a rite of passage story of a biracial teen struggling for survival in Nazi Germany, but what this actually looks like is a biracial teen falling in love with a damn Nazi. Come on Amandla Stenberg, I just gave you a little credit some levels above. I’ll at least hold my breath on this one given black director Amma Asante’s track record for telling complex stories of blackness maneuvering around whiteness is a commonplace. But still, it’s a safe bet to assume that this may produce more ugly conversations then it will “good”.
White Boy Rick (Directed by Yann Demange)
Drugs, crack, detroit, The War on Drugs, Darren Aronofsky (producer) and Matthew McConaughey—all that alone sounds like some good watching. But there’s also a true-to-life plot here around undercover police informant turned drug dealer, turned permanent convict.
Wildlife (Paul Dano)
Oscar award shows are often suckers for the directorial debuts of those who live within their ranks. Paul Dano is coming strong with this 2018 drama about a boy who witnesses his parents’ marriage fall apart once his mom finds another man. I guess I’m expecting strong performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan, but this is still the exact flavour of “niche” the Oscars will love to suck on.
Other TIFF announcements include:
Galveston, Mélanie Laurent, USA
Everybody Knows, Asghar Farhadi, Spain/France/Italy
First Man, Damien Chazelle, USA
Hidden Man, Jiang Wen, China
Husband Material, Anurag Kashyap, India
The Kindergarten Teacher, Sara Colangelo, USA
The Land of Steady Habits, Nicole Holofcener, USA
The Public, Emilio Estevez, USA
Shadow, Zhang Yimou, China
Widows, Steve McQueen, United Kingdom/USA
SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS 2018
Ben is Back, Peter Hedges, USA
Burning, Lee Chang-dong, South Korea
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Marielle Heller, USA
Capernaum, Nadine Labaki, Lebanon
Cold War, Paweł Pawlikowski, Poland/United Kingdom/France
Colette, Wash Westmoreland, United Kingdom
Dogman, Matteo Garrone, Italy/France
Giant Little Ones, Keith Behrman, Canada
Girls of the Sun (Les filles du soleil), Eva Husson, France
The Hummingbird Project, Kim Nguyen, Canada
Maya, Mia Hansen-Løve, France
Manto, Nandita Das, India
Mouthpiece, Patricia Rozema, Canada
Non-Fiction, Olivier Assayas, France
Papi Chulo, John Butler, Ireland
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico/USA
Shoplifters, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan
Sunset, László Nemes, Hungary/France
Through Black Spruce, Don McKellar, Canada
The Weekend, Stella Meghie, USA
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