In an attempt to codify and condense its massive slate and offer a better experience for filmgoers, the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the largest publicly attended film festivals in the world (one once described by Variety as “second only to Cannes”), has scaled back the number of movies it will be showing this year while also eliminating some of the programmes.
Even so, it seems the difference is negligible; there is still a lot happening. It can be overwhelming, but surely there is something for everyone. Choosing might not be the easiest task, considering there are so many curious films. The key is simply to choose carefully.
Noteworthy stars are making directorial debuts — think Aaron Sorkin, Brie Larson, and Greta Gerwig. We’ve a lot of historical sporting events being dramatized: there is The Battle of the Sexes and I, Tonya, and the fest opens with Borg/McEnroe. Then, of course, there are movies from recently established actors-turned-directors Angelina Jolie and George Clooney, and there are big star–powered dramas with Jake Gyllenhaal, Alicia Vikander, and Melissa Leo.
But what’s striking? What’s weird? What may not become available for a while — if ever it gets a release? When we discuss anticipating films, it’s not the excitement of going to the red carpet premiere to see Idris Elba or Jessica Chastain, however wonderful that might be. It’s about the films that are slightly off–centre; those that aren’t of the purest mainstream, like so many of TIFF’s selections are. It’s about finding something that you haven’t often seen, that has a chance to surprise or challenge you.
With that in mind, here are our most anticipated TIFF selections.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
There were those who had an adverse reaction to Yorgos Lanthimos’ exceedingly peculiar, darkly comic drama The Lobster. It featured peculiar language, acts of humiliation, machismo, and a general acceptiveness by every major character that the dystopian world in which they live has strict, arcane rules. It was terrific and weird and new.
Thus, his follow up, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, is hotly anticipated. And if you enjoyed The Lobster, I find no real reason to know anything about Deer ahead of time. Just know that it also stars the wonderful Colin Farrell, as well as Nicole Kidman, and that we can safely expect a general darkness — and that it will be wonderfully bonkers.
For culturally relevant and important issues, there is no better place to start than by welcoming, encouraging, and embracing different stories from different voices. With Mudbound, African American director Dee Rees (Pariah) tells a tale set in the 1940s/Jim Crow era south amid geopolitical changes, racial tensions, and natural disasters.
With a cast that includes Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, and Garrett Hedlund, Mudbound, based on an award-winning Hilary Jordan novel, looks to be a compelling and informative period piece. It surely seems we need many more of these stories told by those with informed, invested perspectives.
Call Me By Your Name
Romance looks to blossom in Call Me By Your Name, a film by Italian director Luca Guadagnino, who has proven with his previous films that he knows how to craft lush, beautiful, and romantic experiences onscreen. Here, it’s passion set against a summer in Italy—of course—between a French teenager (Timothée Chalamet) and his 20-something tutor (Armie Hammer).
Call Me By Your Name seems both instantly familiar and wonderfully new. There’s summer love, youthful curiosity, and sexual and emotional discovery. But what’s not often seen in films with such talent—in front of and behind the camera—is that it’s about two men.
I have no idea if this film will be exciting and visceral or silly and goofy — and I’m not actually sure which one I’m rooting for. Legendary action director John Woo is part of this year’s festival with the thriller Manhunt, and I want it to badly be great. Woo is noted for some iconic American 90s action movies that are cheesy and still enjoyable, like Face/Off and Broken Arrow. Here he continues a stretch of gritty Chinese-language stories. The plot sounds simple—not that it needs to be complicated—as it follows a man on the run after being wrongfully convicted of a crime. The premise isn’t new, but hopefully the execution, from a man that has proven masterful at action, will be worthwhile.
TIFF shouldn’t only be about films that emotionally challenge you and ask you to look at the world in different ways. It should also be to scare you out of the theatre and keep you up at night. At least, that’s the hope with Marrowbone, a psychological drama and horror film from Sergio G. Sanchez, the writer of The Orphanage and The Impossible. This, his directorial debut, seems a good fit considering one of those films was a horror and the other a family drama. Here the genres are combined as four kids, following the death of their mother, discover that their new home is filled with sinister elements.
There are a few potentially genuinely terrifying films in the Midnight Madness program, but this one (and perhaps The Ritual, to a lesser extent) seems the most promising.
Honorable Mention: I Love You, Daddy
So Louis C.K. secretly made a movie. The TIFF summary says the less you know the better, so that’s what I’m going in with. Fingers crossed.