A mostly pleasant surprise in a year that has produced a lack of stellar animated outings.
It’s hard to even know where to start when it comes to previewing or planning to cover a festival as big as Toronto. Over the span of about 10 days, dozens of films will have their Canadian and World Premieres. Working with Tina Hassannia, Vikram Murthi, and Nick Allen, we plan to cover as many of them as possible. It can be overwhelming, but in a very good way. So what looks interesting this year? As films have been premiering at Venice and Telluride, including Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!,” George Clooney’s “Suburbicon,” and Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” they’ve been getting worldwide press. Of course, we’re going to cover a lot of the films that premiered at other festivals, but, for the sake of focus, let’s look at 20 movies that are specifically premiering at TIFF. World Premiere highlights from last year included “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” “Colossal,” “I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House,” “Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids,” “Queen of Katwe,” “Lion,” and “Their Finest.” What will make international waves from Toronto this year?
“The Death of Stalin”
Armando Iannucci’s first film since the Oscar-nominated “In the Loop” looks to be bizarre, hysterical, and timely. A political dramedy about the death of Stalin from the man who gave us “Veep” sounds like a ticket that’s simply going to be impossible to ignore. And look at that cast: Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Rupert Friend, Andrea Riseborough, and the icon Michael Palin—all delivering Iannucci’s razor-sharp dialogue. I can’t wait. Premieres Friday, September 8th.
Two Rachels—Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams—headline one of two films at TIFF this year directed by Sebastian Lelio. Adapting Naomi Alderman’s novel, Lelio tells the story of an Orthodox Jewish woman named Ronit (Weisz), who returns home after a death in the family and rekindles a romance with a childhood friend named Esti (McAdams), who now happens to be married to Ronit’s cousin (Alessandro Nivola). Forbidden sexuality in a deeply religious society could make for fascinating drama. Premieres Sunday, September 10th.
Before she won Oscars and acclaim, Alicia Vikander worked with Swedish director Lisa Langseth twice, and the pair reunite for this story of two sisters trying to fix broken bridges. Produced by Vikander, the Oscar winner stars as Ines, sister to Emilie, played by Eva Green. Just seeing Vikander and Green share screen time would be enough to make this list but when you add Charlotte Rampling and Charles Dance to the supporting cast it becomes a can’t-miss. Premieres Monday, September 11th.
“I Love You, Daddy”
Louis C.K. produced, wrote, directed, starred in, and edited this project almost entirely in secret, shooting the whole thing on 35mm black and white. TIFF is very carefully honoring the secrecy of the project, using vague language. As the description says, “the less you know going in, the better.” As for the cast, he let the following folks in on the secret: Chloe Grace Moretz, Helen Hunt, Edie Falco, Rose Byrne, and John Malkovich. The last time Louis did something with little advance fanfare, we ended up with “Horace and Pete.” Premieres Saturday, September 9th.
With his 2007 breakout film “Lars and the Real Girl,” Craig Gillespie looked like he could quickly become one of our most important independent filmmakers. A few stumbles followed, including 2014’s “Million Dollar Arm” and 2016’s “The Finest Hours,” but he returns to TIFF with a major event: the true story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, with a seemingly transformational performance from Margot Robbie as the title character. Premieres Friday, September 8th.
One of the highlights of the 2015 Toronto Film Festival for me personally was the discovery of “Mustang,” a film I went into totally blind and ended up adoring. Writer/director Deniz Gamze Erguven returns to TIFF with a star-studded English-language debut starring Halle Berry and Daniel Craig, two different people living in Los Angeles in 1992, just before the riots. A film about the L.A. riots in 2017 could be timely and powerful or manipulative and awful. We’re hopeful it’s the former. Premieres Wednesday, September 13th.
Mark Raso graduates from Slamdance, where his 2014 “Copenhagen” was a hit, to TIFF with a star-studded dramedy he shot entirely on film, a wonderful touch given the subject matter of his story, the neverending march of technology. Jason Sudeikis plays a music executive dealing with a changing world while his father, played by Ed Harris, is a photographer who wants to visit the last remaining Kodachrome lab before it closes. Elizabeth Olsen co-stars. Premieres Friday, September 8th.
The great Haifaa Al Mansour, director of Ebertfest hit “Wadjda,” comes to TIFF with a biopic of the Frankenstein writer, played by Elle Fanning. There’s something very promising in the idea that Saudi Arabia’s first female director is tackling the story of another female creator who broke through in a male-dominated world. Fanning stars with Douglas Booth, Bel Powley, Joanne Froggatt, Tom Sturridge, and Maisie Williams. Premieres Saturday, September 9th.
Being a great writer doesn’t always translate to being a great director, but it feels like Aaron Sorkin might be best attuned to the unique rhythms of his writing. The Oscar-winning writer of “A Few Good Men,” “The Social Network” and “Moneyball” goes behind the camera for his latest, and dives deep into the world of high-stakes poker with an A-list cast, including Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera and Kevin Costner. Premieres Friday, September 8th.
“The Mountain Between Us”
With a different director and cast, the plot of this survival thriller may not be that enticing—a pair crashes in a small plane and has to march miles to safety—but the names behind this project are intriguing. First, there’s the pairing of Idris Elba and Kate Winslet in front of the camera. They’re two of the best actors of their generation and they could breathe interesting life into stale material. And then there’s director Hany Abu-Assad, who has made challenging films like “Omar” and “Paradise Now.” Premieres Sunday, September 10th.
“On Chesil Beach”
Ian McEwan’s compact beauty about a couple learning a few things about each other on their wedding night has been adapted into a feature starring someone who broke through in another McEwan adaptation, Saoirse Ronan. The last time McEwan and Ronan were in a credit roll together, we got “Atonement.” This time Ronan appears with “Dunkirk” star Billy Howle. With this and the raves she’s already earning for “Lady Bird,” Ronan appears poised to be one of the big stars of TIFF 2017. Premieres Thursday, September 7th.
Lynn Shelton is one of the most consistent and underrated directors on the planet, bringing truth to her films (“Hump Day,” “Touchy Feely,” “Laggies”) and doing great work on TV on everything from “Master of None” to “Casual” to “The Good Place.” She comes to TIFF this year with a character piece starring Edie Falco, Kaitlyn Dever, and Jay Duplass, who plays against type as an ex-con who falls in love with the woman who has advocated for his release, played by Falco. Premieres Friday, September 8th.
Filling the shoes of Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman would be a challenge for any young actors but the pair cast in this remake are two of our most fearless: Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek. They appear in this remake of the adaptation of Henri Charriere’s memoir about his time in the penal colony known as Devil’s Island, and his attempts at escaping. Hunnam is coming off the artistic success of “The Lost City of Z.” Let’s see if he can repeat it. Premieres Thursday, September 7th.
Last year’s Midnight Madness breakthrough was the vomit-inducing “Raw,” and my money is on this flick being the standout at this year’s TIFF (although I’m also eager to see “The Ritual” and “Mom and Dad”). Writer/director Coralie Fargeat offers her own spin on the revenge thriller after a mistress is taken on a hunting trip and, well, things go very wrong. Gender issues, role reversals, and lots of blood are promised on this horrific adventure. Sign me up. Premieres Sunday, September 10th.
“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
Denzel Washington may still be smarting over his Oscar loss to Casey Affleck, but he’s stepping right back into the batter’s box with this effort, another film that appears likely to land him a nomination. Added at the last minute, Dan Gilroy’s follow-up to TIFF hit “Nightcrawler,” stars Washington as an idealistic attorney who teams up with another legal eagle, played by Colin Farrell. Will Gilroy face the sophomore slump or keep his already-intriguing career trajectory in an upward direction? My money’s on the latter. Premieres Sunday, September 10th.
Since his incredibly strong first decade of filmmaking, David Gordon Green has been a bit sporadic in recent years, delivering stuff like TIFF premieres “Manglehorn” and “Our Brand is Crisis.” But the buzz on his latest is already very strong, promising a great performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, and possibly even a better one from Tatiana Maslany. Another film about the Boston Marathon bombing so soon after “Patriots Day” may not seem necessary, but I’m curious to see these two great actors transcend manipulation and find something honestly emotional. Premieres Friday, September 8th.
Wim Wenders is a living legend. The man behind “Paris, Texas,” “Wings of Desire,” “Pina,” and many more, returns to TIFF with his latest, starring James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander. Wenders/McAvoy/Vikander is about all I need to know to be excited, but I’m also intrigued by the visually strong Wenders working again with cinematographer like Benoit Debie, who shot “Enter the Void” and Wenders’ last film, “Every Thing Will Be Fine.” The narrative reportedly moves from the Normandy countryside to the deserts of Somalia, which sounds remarkably ambitious. When Wenders gets ambitious, we sometimes get masterpieces. Premieres Sunday, September 10th.
Oscar winner Brie Larson could coast on her already-remarkable success and make blockbusters and Oscar bait for decades, but she’s already stepping behind the camera for her directorial debut, a project with a great cast. Larson stars as a young lady on the cusp of giving up her artistic youth for the responsibility of adulthood when she’s invited to a hidden store, run by Samuel L. Jackson, where she could, you guessed it, buy a unicorn. The blend of fantasy, whimsy, and quarter-life crisis could be magical or maudlin. We’ll know in less than a week. Premieres Monday, September 11th.
The French dramedy “The Intouchables” never really became a massive hit in the United States but was a behemoth elsewhere, making over $400 million around the world. Yes that’s 4-0-0. A remake was inevitable, and it premieres at this year’s TIFF. Starring Bryan Cranston as a paraplegic and Kevin Hart as the caretaker who becomes his friend, this is one of those projects with a wide range of potential. Cranston and Hart can be very entertaining in the right material, but director Neil Burger will have to avoid sentimental and maudlin traps along the way. It probably helps to have Nicole Kidman in the supporting cast. Premieres Friday, September 8th.
“Woman Walks Ahead”
Jessica Chastain loves good writers. She’s already been in this feature with an Aaron Sorkin script and here she is again with one by the great Stephen Knight (“Eastern Promises”). Directed by Susanna White, this project promises a gender role reversal on the standard Western, chronicling the true story of a nonconformist who became an advocate for Sitting Bull. Chastain is joined by Michael Greyeyes, Ciaran Hinds, and Sam Rockwell in this very promising project. Premieres Sunday, September 10th.
Come back for reviews of as many of the above projects as possible, including films from other fests like "The Florida Project," "The Killing of a Sacred Deer," "The Shape of Water," "Lady Bird," and many more, starting this weekend.
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