Landing in Toronto always feels like home. I’ve been coming to the Toronto Film Festival for more than four years now, but the vibe here always stays the same: excitingly frantic. The weather is beautiful, it still feels like summer, and the overall excitement can sometimes be contagious. During the next ten days countless screenings, interviews and after parties will be happening, so will lack of sleep and hundreds of media writers scrambling to meet deadlines. The days start early and end late, but everybody’s here for the movies. In fact, people here get drunk off movies; there’s a who’s who of press and industry people here, but Torontonians seem to catch the high as well. Tickets aren’t cheap for some of the galas, but it’s pretty common to meet people who have bought a dozen or so tickets to the showings.
Most industry people come here straight from the other fest that has been stealing TIFF’s spotlight a bit lately. Telluride is more than just a film fest, it’s a getaway retreat that doubles as a film fest. Some films skip TIFF altogether and opt to launch their campaigns in the more relaxed atmosphere of the Colorado ski resort town. Last year’s Best Picture winner, Birdman, went the Telluride route, which I’m sure didn’t please Toronto organizers one bit, but the fact remains that the last five Picture winners have had their debut over there. Toronto isn’t necessarily relegated to being the sub-par fest: the program they have each and every year is tremendous, a dreamy feast for cinematic lovers everywhere, and quite possibly the most comprehensive of any in the world. More than 300 films from 60 different countries will be screened over a span of 10 days.
There are many questions that still remain to be answered and there are movies premiering which might potentially stir up the race and make us all rethink who’s ahead and who’s not. Last year, The Theory of Everything had its debut here, which won Eddie Redmayne the gold. Julianne Moore’s winning performance in Still Alice also had its debut at TIFF. There are so many movies on the program that surprises are bound to happen in spades, maybe every day, and my peers at the fest would love to catch the next big thing. As I am writing this, these are 10 of the most buzzed movies premiering on King Street:
1) The Martian
Director Ridley Scott returns to the genre that made him an auteur to be reckoned with (Alien, Blade Runner). That’s why this film is at the top of my must-see list. It stars Matt Damon as an astronaut who is presumed dead, but who tries to survive until somebody realizes that they need to rescue him. The L.A. Times had a chance to catch a work-in-progress screening of this one and loved it. Based on the popular novel of the same name by Drew Goddard, let’s hope this is the Ridley Scott of Blade Runner and not of Exodus.
2) The Program
When Stephen Frears does biopics, watch out. The Queen was a brilliant film and Philomena was a rousing crowd-pleaser. Both got Best Picture nominated and both bowed at Toronto. The Program is about Lance Armstrong’s doping controversy and stars Ben Foster as the seven-time Tour de France champion. Frears is one of the best filmmakers of the last three decades with an eclectic filmography that includes My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things and The Queen among his very best.
3) Our Brand is Crisis
Many people thought David Gordon Green’s Our Brand is Crisis would premiere at Telluride, but it didn’t. TIFF nabbed the premiere of the film, which is about the American political campaign strategies used during the ’02 presidential elections. The cast, which includes Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie and Ann Dowd looks great on paper. David Gordon Green’s time has also come to shine, as this could be the movie that finally brings him to the forefront of the Awards conversation. His stunning debut was George Washington, which he directed when he was just 25 years old. Ever since then, he’s had his ups and downs, continuously switching back and forth between indie (All The Real Girls, Joe) and Hollywood (Pineapple Express).
I love newsroom dramas. When done right, this genre can truly churn out classics (All the President’s Men, Zodiac, The Insider). Spotlight is the one to beat this fall, but James Vanderbilt’s Truth looks to steal its thunder at this year’s fest. Vanderbilt’s directorial debut stars Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, and Dennis Quaid in a film based on 60 Minutes’ investigation of then President George W. Bush’s military service, which led to a controversial firing. Redford plays Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett is Mary Mapes. I also forgot to mention that Vanderbilt wrote the Zodiac screenplay. I’ve got high hopes for this one.
5) Where to Invade Next
We had no idea Michael Moore was filming a new movie, so it came as a shock when he announced the TIFF premiere of Where to Invade Next. Covering the subject of Infinite War and its consequences, here’s to hoping that we get something fresh from Moore whose last couple of documentaries (Sicko, Capitalism) did not get as much praise or make as much money as his previous ones (Bowling For Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11).
I might regret putting this one on the list, but for now the pedigree of the cast and the filmmaker at the helm more than makes up for the delayed 2016 release of Jean-Marc Vallee’s Demolition. Why did the film get pushed over to next year? The industry has been scratching their heads ever since Fox Searchlight Pictures made the move. Coming off his awards circuit triumphs Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, Thursday night’s screening of Vallee’s film might make things a little clearer for us… or it might not. One thing’s for sure, if the film is well received by the press, why wouldn’t it go for that prestigious 2015 release date? Naomi Watts and Jake Gyllenhaal star.
Ellen Page, Julianne Moore, Steve Carrel and—the always great—Michael Shannon star in a film that deals with LGBT relationships, pension benefits and terminal cancer. Oscar bait much? Freeheld does have the potential to be something very special; Moore’s turn last year at TIFF for Still Alice won her the gold, and the relevant topics that the film presents might be too much for critics to ignore. Director Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) directs, from a screenplay by Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia).
8) I Saw the Light
Loki stars as Hank Williams in a film directed by the producer of The Thing and Robocop remakes. This could work. It worked last year when long-time producer Bill Pohland premiered the Brian Wilson picture that he directed, Love and Mercy. It was a great movie that came out this year with very good reviews. Tom Hiddleston looks like a dead-on Hank Williams and Elizabeth Olsen — always welcome in my books — plays Mrs. Williams.
We all know Bryan Cranston can act the living hell out of a TV role, but can he carry an entire movie? I think he can, and in Trumbo he’s given a great shot to prove himself as a leading man. Cranston stars as the real-life Dalton Trumbo a 1940s Hollywood screenwriter who gets blacklisted for his political beliefs. It all looks just great, with a cast that includes Diane Lane and Helen Mirren among many others. Jay Roach, yes that Jay Roach of Meet the Parents and Austin Powers fame, directs based on a screenplay by John McNamara.
One of the more curious entries at this year’s fest will be director Roland Emmerich — THE disaster movie expert—bringing his newest picture Stonewall to the festival circuit. This is the first time he’s brought one of his movies to a major film fest, which means Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, White House Down, 10,000 BC, Universal Soldier, and Independence Day were never chosen for anything. Surprised? Stonewall recounts the famous 1969 riots that took place in a Greenwich Village neighborhood, a riot known as the single most important event that lead to igniting the LGBT movement.
Already we know three buzzed movies from Telluride will not be making the trip to Canada: Carol, Steve Jobs and Suffragette. One of these could easily become an Oscar frontunner, especially Carol, which is bound to be the critical darling of 2015 and for good reason: Todd Haynes’ movie is a beautifully shot masterpiece that features career best work by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and has socially relevant themes at its core. Haynes’ Far From Heaven in 2002 could not lure Oscar, with not even a nomination for Dennis Quaid’s phenomenal performance. Carol is more accessible and more part of the current zeitgeist than Heaven was — the buzz is already deafening. Steve Jobs I have not seen, but the early reviews have been promising and have established Fassbender as a force to be reckoned with in the Best Actor race, which is turning out to be, yet again, filled up to the brim: Fassbender, Leo, Redmayne, Hardy, Elba and McKellen seem destined for a possible nomination, but many surprises await and many will get knocked out of the final five.
Spotlight and Beasts of No Nation will look to continue the incredible best picture buzz from just a week ago at Telluride and Venice. Whereas Tom Hardy in Legend, Johnny Depp in Black Mass, and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl would love to lock up an acting nomination with another strong showing of screenings, in just ten days’ time we’ll have a much clearer picture of the race and where we’re at.