Life struck me as several cuts above “meh” but never made me jump out of my seat.
After a year that some considered a disappointment for its 40th iteration, the Toronto International Film Festival had to come back strong in 2016, and they’ve done exactly that, unleashing one of the most impressive first waves of premieres that I’ve ever seen. Not only will many of the most acclaimed films of Sundance 2016 (“Manchester by the Sea,” “Birth of a Nation”) and Cannes 2016 (“Elle,” “American Honey,” “Paterson,” “The Handmaiden,” “Toni Erdmann”) play at TIFF, the festival will feature dozens of world premieres, including the latest from Oliver Stone, Jonathan Demme, Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, J.A. Bayona, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and many more. Canadian/NA premieres (which means films that are likely playing Venice, Telluride, or both) include the latest from Werner Herzog, Denis Villeneuve, Tom Ford, Damien Chazelle, Pablo Larrain, and Antoine Fuqua, who will open the festival with his star-studded “The Magnificent Seven.”
Highlights directly from the press release:
“American Pastoral” (Ewan McGregor)
Based on the Pulitzer Prize–winning Philip Roth novel, "American Pastoral" follows a family whose seemingly idyllic existence is shattered by the social and political turmoil of the 1960s. Ewan McGregor stars in his directorial debut as Seymour “Swede” Levov, a once legendary high school athlete who is now a successful businessman married to a former beauty queen. But turmoil brews beneath the polished veneer of Swede’s life, when his beloved teenage daughter disappears after being accused of committing a violent act. Dedicated to finding her, what he discovers shakes him to the core, forcing him to look beneath the surface and confront the chaos that is shaping the world around him. Also starring Academy Award–winner Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Emmy–winner Uzo Aduba, David Strathairn, Valorie Curry, Peter Riegert, and Rupert Evans.
“Daguerrotype” (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa makes his first film outside Japan with this French-language ghost romance fantasy, about an aging photographer whose obsession with an archaic technique draws his young assistant and beautiful daughter into a dark and mysterious world. With Tahar Rahim, Constance Rousseau, Olivier Gourmet, and Mathieu Amalric.
“Deepwater Horizon” (Peter Berg)
Inspired by the true story of the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that rocked the globe on April 20, 2010, comes this chronicle of the courage of those who worked on the Deepwater Horizon and the extreme moments of bravery and survival in the face of what would become one of the biggest man-made disasters in history. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O'Brien, and Kate Hudson.
“Denial” (Mick Jackson)
Based on the book "History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier," this riveting, true-life drama recounts the courtroom showdown between historian Deborah E. Lipstadt and notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, who accused her of libel when she declared him a Holocaust denier. In the English legal system, in cases of libel, the burden of proof is on the defendant, therefore it was up to Lipstadt and her legal team to prove that the Holocaust had occurred. Starring Academy Award-winner Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius and Alex Jennings.
“JT + The Tennessee Kids” (Jonathan Demme)
In this thrilling concert documentary, Academy Award–winning director Jonathan Demme captures the charismatic and highly acclaimed artistry of Justin Timberlake and The Tennessee Kids’ spectacular closing performances from The 20/20 Experience World Tour at the legendary MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
“LBJ” (Rob Reiner)
On November 22, 1963, one president's life was taken while another's was resurrected. "LBJ" tells the story of politician Lyndon B. Johnson who was at risk of fading into irrelevancy but, upon John F. Kennedy's assassination, seized his moment to rescue a nation and claim his place among the most influential US presidents. "LBJ" is an intimate look into Johnson's masterful political manoeuvring during one of the most difficult times in America's history. Starring Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Richard Jenkins, Bill Pullman, Jeffrey Donovan, and Michael Stahl-David.
“Mascots” (Christopher Guest)
Starring many of his regular troupe of actors, Christopher Guest’s new comedy takes place in the ultra-competitive world of sports mascots where they compete for the most prestigious award in their field, the Gold Fluffy. Cast includes Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Harry Shearer and Ed Begley Jr.
“A Monster Calls” (J.A. Bayona)
This visually spectacular drama follows a lonely 12-year-old boy struggling with his mother’s illness, until an ancient, wild, and relentless monster appears, guiding him on a journey of courage, faith, and truth. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Lewis MacDougall, and Liam Neeson.
“The Oath” (Baltasar Kormákur)
Icelandic action ace Baltasar Kormákur directs and stars in this psychological thriller about a father who tries to pull his daughter out of her world of drugs and petty crime, only to find that danger can be found in unexpected places. Also stars Gísli Örn Garðarsson and Hera Hilmar.
“Queen of Katwe” (Mira Nair)
This vibrant true story follows a young girl from the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess. The support from her family and community instills her with confidence and determination, as she sets out to pursue her dream of becoming an international champion. Starring David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o, and Madina Nalwanga.
“The Secret Scripture” (Jim Sheridan)
A once vibrant and lively beauty in her youth, Roseanne McNulty has spent the majority of her adult life confined to a mental hospital in rural Ireland. She has been institutionalized for so long, no one seems to remember why she was hospitalized in the first place. When a new chief psychiatrist takes a keen interest in her, he finds a hidden memoir she has written over the course of decades. It unravels the mystery of her incarceration, telling the tale of her passionate, yet tortured, life. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Rooney Mara, Theo James, Eric Bana, and Jack Reynor
“Snowden” (Oliver Stone)
Academy Award–winning director Oliver Stone tackles one of the most important and fascinating true stories of the 21st century. This politically charged, pulse-pounding thriller reveals the incredible untold personal story of Edward Snowden, the polarizing figure who exposed shocking illegal surveillance activities by the NSA and became one of the most wanted men in the world—considered a hero by some, and a traitor by others. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Scott Eastwood, Logan Marshall-Green, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Schnetzer, Lakeith Lee Stanfield, Rhys Ifans, and Nicolas Cage.
“Their Finest” (Lone Scherfig)
Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig’s period comedy-drama follows a group of filmmakers struggling to make an inspirational film to boost morale — and inspire America to join the war — during the London Blitz in World War II. A witty, romantic and moving portrayal of a young woman finding her way, and her voice, in the mayhem of war … and movies. Starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Jake Lacy, Rachel Stirling, and Richard E. Grant.
“Trespass Against Us” (Adam Smith)
Three generations of the Cutler family live as notorious outlaws among some of the wealthiest lands in Britain. They spend their time hunting, raiding large estates, and tormenting the police. In the midst of it all, Chad finds himself torn between respect for his father and a desire for a better life for his children. The law is cracking down on his clan, and the decision might not be his to make. Stars Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Lyndsey Marshal, Killian Scott, Rory Kinnear, and Sean Harris.
“A United Kingdom” (Amma Assante)
This biopic tells the true story of Seretse Khama, King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married in 1947 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the British and South African governments. Starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike.
Canadian/North American Premieres:
“The Age of Shadows” (Kim Jee-Woon)
The latest from cutting-edge director Kim Jee woon is an epic-scale period thriller about a double agent sent to infiltrate a band of freedom fighters during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1920s. Starring Korean superstars Song Kang ho, Han Ji min, and Gong Yoo.
“American Honey” (Andrea Arnold)
Star, an adolescent girl from a troubled home, runs away with a travelling sales crew who drive across the American Midwest selling subscriptions door to door. Finding her feet in this gang of teenagers, she soon gets into the group's lifestyle of hard-partying nights, lawbending days, and young love. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keogh, and Sasha Lane. [Click here to read our Cannes 2016 review of "American Honey"]
“Arrival” (Denis Villeneuve)
When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team, led by expert linguist Louise Banks, are brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers. To find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity. Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
“The Birth of a Nation” (Nate Parker)
Filmmaker-actor Nate Parker reclaims the title of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 milestone for this epic chronicle, set against the antebellum South, of the life of Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner accepts an offer to use his preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities—against himself and his fellow slaves—Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom. Starring Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Mark Boone Jr., Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Dwight Henry, Aja Naomi King, Esther Scott, Roger Guenveur Smith, Gabrielle Union, Penelope Ann Miller, and Jackie Earle Haley. [Click here to read our Sundance 2016 review of "The Birth of a Nation"]
“Bleed For This” (Ben Younger)
This film tells the incredible true story of one of the most inspiring and unlikely comebacks in sports history. Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, shoots to stardom after winning two world title fights before a near-fatal car accident leaves him with a broken neck, and he is told he may never walk again. Against all odds and doctor’s orders, renowned trainer Kevin Rooney agrees to help Vinny return to the ring just a year after the accident, for what could be the last fight of his life. Stars Miles Teller, Katey Sagal, and Aaron Eckhart.
“The Commune” (Thomas Vinterberg)
Danish auteur Thomas Vinterberg’s new film focuses on a middle-aged professional couple in 1970s Denmark who decide to experiment with communal living by inviting a group of friends and random eccentrics to cohabit with them in a sprawling house. With Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, and Helene Reingaard Neumann.
“Elle” (Paul Verhoeven)
Michèle seems indestructible. As the head of a leading video game company, she brings the same ruthless attitude to her love life as to business. Being attacked in her home by an unknown assailant changes Michèle’s life forever. When she resolutely tracks the man down, they are both drawn into a curious and thrilling game—a game that may, at any moment, spiral out of control. Stars Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Christian Berkel, Judith Magre, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz, Vimala Pons, Raphaël L Lenglet, Arthur Mazet, Lucas Prisor, Hugo Conzelmann, and Stéphane Bak. [Click here to read our Cannes 2016 review of "Elle"]
“Frantz" (Francois Ozon)
Set in a small German town in the aftermath of World War I, this elegiac tale of love and remembrance follows a young woman mourning the death of her fiancé, Frantz, who was killed in battle in France. She forms a bond with a mysterious Frenchman who has arrived to lay flowers on her beloved’s grave. Starring Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Marie Gruber, Ernst Stötzner, Johann Von Bülow, and Anton Von Lucke.
“The Handmaiden” (Park Chan-wook)
A crook-turned-servant falls for the vulnerable heiress she had originally schemed to swindle, in this audacious, visually sumptuous, and highly erotic period piece from writer-director Park Chan-wook. Starring Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Hae-sook, and Moon So-ri. [Click here to read our Cannes 2016 review of "The Handmaiden"]
“La La Land” (Damien Chazelle)
Writer/director Damien Chazelle captures the story of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for destroying hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams. Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, and Rosemarie DeWitt.
“Loving” (Jeff Nichols)
This film celebrates the real-life courage and commitment of Richard and Mildred Loving, who waged a decade-long legal battle that led to the overturning of the state of Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriage. Their civil rights case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1967 reaffirmed the very foundation of the right to marry. Starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, and Michael Shannon. [Click here to read our Cannes 2016 review of "Loving"]
“Manchester by the Sea” (Kenneth Lonergan)
A reclusive handyman must face his painful past when he returns to his Massachusetts hometown after the sudden death of his beloved older brother, in this emotionally overwhelming and critically acclaimed drama from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan. Stars Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol, and Matthew Broderick. [Click here to read out Sundance 2016 review of "Manchester by the Sea"]
“Neruda” (Pablo Larrain)
Pablo Larraín weaves an engrossing metafictional fable around the 1948 manhunt for celebrated poet and politician Pablo Neruda, who goes underground when Chile outlaws communism and is pursued by an ambitious police inspector hoping to make a name for himself by capturing the famous fugitive. Starring Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco, Mercedes Morán, Diego Muñoz, Pablo Derqui, and Michael Silva. [Click here to read out Cannes 2016 review of "Neruda"]
“Nocturnal Animals” (Tom Ford)
The second feature from writer-director Tom Ford follows the story of a woman who is forced to confront the demons of her past, as she is drawn into the world of a thriller novel written by her ex-husband. This romantic thriller of shocking intimacy and gripping tension explores the thin lines between love and cruelty, and revenge and redemption. Stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Karl Glusman, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen.
“Paterson” (Jim Jarmusch)
Paterson is a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. He adheres to a simple routine, writing poetry and observing the city on his route. His wife, Laura, lives in an ever-changing world. He supports her newfound ambitions; she champions his secret gift for poetry. The film channels the history and energy of the City of Paterson. The quiet triumphs and defeats of daily life are observed over one week, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details. Stars Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani. [Click here to read our Cannes 2016 review of "Paterson"]
“The Salesman” (Asghar Farhadi)
A sudden eruption of violence creates an atmosphere of simmering tension between a husband and wife, in this work of slow-burning domestic suspense from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. Featuring Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidousti. [Click here to read our Cannes 2016 review of "The Salesman"]
“Salt and Fire” (Werner Herzog)
Shot in Bolivia, writer-director Werner Herzog’s "Salt and Fire" follows a mysterious hostage-taking where the leader of a small scientific delegation is deliberately stranded with two blind boys in an area of gigantic salt flats. Starring Michael Shannon, Gael García Bernal and Veronica Ferres.
“Things to Come” (Mia Hansen-Love)
A delicate and affecting tale about a middle-aged professor whose carefully structured life is thrown into disarray when her husband leaves her for another woman, and who finds an unlikely new companion in a former student and radical young communist. With Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob, Sarah Le Picard, and Solal Forte.
“Toni Erdmann” (Maren Ade)
An alternately hilarious and mortifying comedy about the fraught relationship between a repressed corporate consultant and her incessantly prank-playing dad. Starring Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter, Hadewych Minis, Lucy Russell, Ingrid Bisu, Vlad Ivanov, and Victoria Cocias. [Click here to watch Chaz Ebert's video review of "Toni Erdmann" from Cannes 2016]
“Una” (Benedict Andrews)
When a young woman unexpectedly arrives at an older man's workplace looking for answers, the secrets of the past threaten to unravel his new life. Their confrontation will uncover buried memories and unspeakable desires shaking them both to the core. Starring Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, and Riz Ahmed.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A celebration of director David Lynch's filmography in anticipation of an upcoming retrospective at the IFC Center in...
A review of the fourth original Marvel series for Netflix. And the worst.
A classic thriller that moves with a sense of purpose.