A wild whirlwind of a mess, without any coherence, without even a guiding principle.
For a few years now, there’s been a creeping sense that the Toronto International Film Festival was losing a bit of its luster due to major films premiering the week before in Venice and Telluride. For example, last year’s Oscar-winning “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” started their award-caliber momentum not in Canada but in Italy. Sure, there are always some major films that bypass Europe and Colorado to start in Toronto (“I, Tonya” did last year, for example), but could TIFF regain some of that power this year? It looks like that might be the case. Yes, there are films doing the earlier fests that will matter this year including “A Star is Born” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (and we will hit those from multiple festivals) but the slate of World Premieres at TIFF 2018 is the best in the five years that I’ve been going. Alphabetically, the 20 films we’re most excited to cover for you, and come back for full-length reviews, dispatches, interviews and more by yours truly, Monica Castillo, Tomris Laffly, and Vikram Murthi.
Fans of Timothee Chalamet’s Oscar-nominated breakthrough in “Call Me By Your Name” hope he builds on that with this year’s “Beautiful Boy,” based on a true story. Chalamet co-stars with Steve Carell, an actor clearly hoping for a big, possibly Oscar-inclusive Fall, with this entry and “Welcome to Marwen.” There are rumors in the ether that this was turned down by Venice—not a good sign—but let’s hope they just got this one wrong.
“Ben is Back”
Speaking of hot young actors who appeared in “Lady Bird,” Lucas Hedges is not even remotely close to letting the opportunities afforded him by his “Manchester by the Sea” Oscar nod pass him by. Hedges appeared in that Best Picture nominee in 2016 and landed two more in 2017 (Gerwig’s film and “Billboards”). Could he make it a hat trick in 2018? He appears in three TIFF films, one of which is actually premiering at Telluride (“Boy Erased”) and arguably looks the most promising of the three, and he’s in Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, “Mid90s,” which you’ll find further down this list. “Ben is Back” has a mysterious plot summary that’s really right there in the title. Hedges’ son Ben returns to Julia Roberts’ mother Holly after an extended absence. Watch for our review and we’ll offer some more hints on what happens next.
“The Death and Life of John F. Donovan”
Cannes golden boy Xavier Dolan couldn’t hold his latest until next year’s festival, choosing instead to World Premiere his English-language debut at his home country’s #1 festival. Love or hate the Quebecois enfant terrible of the cinema scene, you can’t deny the cast he’s assembled here, which includes Natalie Portman, Jacob Tremblay, Bella Thorne, Thandie Newton, Sarah Gadon, Kit Harrington, and Susan Sarandon. We’ll be there day one.
Anyone else surprised that it took Michael Moore almost two whole years to release his first film explicitly about the 2018 election and the unrest it unearthed in this country and around the world? One of Roger’s favorite documentarians, Moore is unapologetically releasing this Trump takedown in time to influence the mid-term elections in November. I’ve been a little cold on his last few works, but this project feels like it could bring back the heat of his best projects, films like “Roger & Me” and “Bowling For Columbine.”
Sebastian Lelio made waves last year with two films at TIFF 2018, the acclaimed “Disobedience” and the future Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, “A Fantastic Woman.” A late announcement to this year’s line-up he returns with what could easily be another Oscar vehicle for star Julianne Moore in this remake of Lelio’s own 2013 film, which starred Paulina Garcia (and you really should see if you haven’t yet). A Moore star vehicle is always worth a look—after all, “Still Alice” premiered here in 2014 and earned one of the best living actresses her first Academy Award.
Peter Farrelly, the auteur behind “Dumb & Dumber” and “Hall Pass,” may not seem like an obvious choice for a TIFF dramatic premiere, but here we are. The filmmaker helms this true story about a white bouncer driving a black pianist on a tour in the 1960s in the South. Hopefully, this is not mere manipulation but a film with something to say about race 50 years ago and today. The most promising thing about it? The two leads are played by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and shoulda-been-an-Oscar-winner-by-now Viggo Mortensen.
He may not get the attention he did in the years after “The Crying Game,” but we’re here to tell you that a Neil Jordan movie is always something to which cinema fans should pay attention. Even some of his recent, less-seen films like “Ondine” have been interesting. And this thriller pairs the filmmaker with the timeless Isabelle Huppert, who plays a widow who befriends a younger woman, played by Chloe Grace Moretz. That’s about all we know and that’s all we want to know. A Neil Jordan thriller starring Isabelle Huppert? Sign us up.
Is it really time for another remake of arguably the best horror film of all time? It hasn’t really been that long since the two Rob Zombie movies, has it? And what more could really be added to the original saga? Wait, you say Jamie Lee Curtis is returning? And David Gordon Green is directing? And Danny McBride is co-writing?!?! What the HECK is this going to look like? Even if it’s a failure, it’s almost certain to be an interesting one. Yeah, we can’t wait either.
Alex Ross Perry reunites with the star of his best film, “Queen of Earth,” Elisabeth Moss, for this mysterious project that casts the “Handmaid's Tale” Emmy winner as a “self-destructive punk rocker” (there are really no other kinds of rockers in movies). Perry found a different angle of Moss’ repertoire in their previous collaboration, and we’re hoping he does the same here.
Just as Xavier Dolan is doing with “Donovan,” Claire Denis, the recipient of this year’s Ebert Tribute, bypassed the European festivals for Toronto as the place to launch her English-language debut, which has one of the most intriguing plot summaries we’ve ever read: “A father and his daughter struggle to survive in deep space where they live in isolation.” The father? Robert Pattinson. The cast also includes Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, and Mia Goth, but it’s the potential that it feels like Denis could tap in Pattinson that makes this one of the most exciting projects of TIFF 2018.
“Hold the Dark”
Jeremy Saulnier made waves with his previous two thrillers, “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room,” and he’s back with another adventure to the dark side in this adaptation of William Giraldi’s book by regular Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair. The star this time around is the phenomenal Jeffrey Wright, joined by Alexander Skarsgard, Riley Keough, James Badge Dale, and Blair in this thriller set in in the icy elements of the Alaskan wilderness. We can’t wait. (Note: Dale is also in another TIFF World Premiere called “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek,” which we’ll be covering. Nice to see him doing so well.)
“If Beale Street Could Talk”
How do you follow up the best Best Picture winner in years? What could Barry Jenkins possibly do after “Moonlight”? We’ll find out early next week when this adaptation of the James Baldwin novel hits Toronto for this highly-coveted World Premiere. It’s hard to put into words how excited most cinephiles are for this flick, so we’ll just the trailer do the talking for us:
Peter Strickland’s “The Duke of Burgundy” made waves at TIFF back in 2014, and it’s taken four years for him to return with a just-as-kinky follow-up, this one about a cursed dress. There are echoes of Argento and Hammer in what promises to be one of the most divisive and truly strange World Premieres of TIFF 2018. It feels like one of the films this year that people will be talking about, love it or hate it.
“Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy”
Justin Kelly’s recent output has been a little mediocre (sorry, “I Am Michael” and “King Cobra” fans) and I wasn’t a big fan of the documentary “Author: The JT Leroy Story” about the fascinating story of JT Leroy, but there’s something about this that feels like the perfect blend of filmmaker and subject matter that has us intrigued. Of course, that intrigue is enhanced greatly by the participation of Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart in the lead roles. Like most logical people on Earth, we love both of them.
“The Land of Steady Habits”
Speaking of women we love, it’s been too long since Nicole Holofcener had a new movie, but her latest drops on Netflix before TIFF is even over, landing on the service on 9/14. The writer/director of “Enough Said” and “Please Give” directs Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco, Bill Camp, Elizabeth Marvel, and Connie Britton—an ensemble that could be called Actors We Love. We’ll have a full review and an interview with Holofcener right after the World Premiere.
Hiding in the Masters program is the latest dramedy from the writer/director of the Oscar-winning masterpiece “The Great Beauty.” Paolo Sorrentino’s latest reunites him with star Tony Servillo, the man who anchored his best films, “Beauty” and “Il Divo.” His last film, 2015’s “Youth,” was something of a disappointment, but this feels like an obvious bounceback flick, especially since it’s about Silvio Berlusconi, and Sorrentino excels at capturing insecure men in positions of extreme power.
Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is what sounds like a personal project in that it’s about a 13-year-old kid in L.A. in the titular decade when, well, Hill would have been a 13-year-old kid in L.A. Hill wisely avoids the likely draw of casting his celebrity buddies for an ensemble of largely fresh faces, allowing his involvement to be the major draw. Can he transition from being in front of the screen to becoming a major player behind it? We’ll know soon.
The Opening Night film has been a movie that could most politely be described as “meh” over the last few years. Think “The Judge,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and last year’s “Borg vs. McEnroe.” But this year’s entry holds more promise than any of those because it’s directed by a Scotsman who has yet to make a bad film, David Mackenzie, the director of “Hell or High Water” and “Starred Up.” Reuniting Mackenzie with “Hell” star Chris Pine, this is a period piece about Robert the Bruce defeating the English army. Could this be Pine and Mackenzie’s “Braveheart”? Or will it fall victim to the TIFF Opening Night curse?
There are a few films at this year that seem to be speaking to the moment of race relations in 2018, including the aforementioned "Green Book," the adaptation of “The Hate U Give” and this drama about a skinhead (Jamie Bell) who decides to leave his life of hateful violence behind. Co-starring Danielle Macdonald, Bill Camp, and Mike Colter, and produced by the always-interesting Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”), this is one of those projects that feels like it could easily sneak up on people in Toronto.
There will be no sneaking for Steve McQueen’s long-anticipated follow-up to “12 Years a Slave.” Again, much like we did with Jenkins’ film above, it feels like the trailer can do all the hyping we possibly could in words. This movie looks incredible. Let’s hope it lives up to the 2:24 below:
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