Keith Simanton's "Toronto Films I'm Most Excited to See"
First off there are several terrific films at Toronto that I've already seen. I recommend them highly but they won't be on this list. They include: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, THE HANDMAIDEN, PATTERSON (my favorite film from director Jim Jarmusch) and LOVING. PS: Full disclosure, I do work for Amazon and most of the preceding film were all from Amazon Studios (LOVING is not). -- by Keith Simanton
I had this as my No. 1 film for TIFF before the rapturous reviews started coming in from the Venice Film Festival, where it opened the fest. The initial, dream-state trailer made Damien Chazelle's follow-up to WHIPLASH look like a true gamble with shades of ONE FROM THE HEART, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and Paul Mazursky's TEMPEST. None of those shades boded well for the final film as those were all through-and-through misses with achingly beautiful moments. Here's hoping the center holds here, as many intimate that it does.
Villeneuve has shown an adept hand at tackling varied genres, from the action-intrigue of SICARIO, to the SILENCE OF THE LAMBS drama-thriller PRISONERS to the international mystery of INCENDIES. But it's his work on ENEMY, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal's main character as he searches for his double, that intrigues me. The film continually interspersed the action with nightmarish visions of monstrous spiders, on the ceiling and ultimately towering over a city, that proved the director's ability to manifest a grand visionary landscape of fear.
Advance word on this Amazon Studios pickup is that it is a riveting work. Director Farhadi's past films, the brilliant, Oscar-nominated A SEPARATION and the knowing THE PAST, have shown he can take the most mundane of circumstances and prove that they're really Gordian knots tied around nooses on his characters' necks and involve us in their untangling them.
J.A. Bayona made THE IMPOSSIBLE, the woefully under-seen film about a family trying to survive the tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004, giving Spider-Man Tom Holland his first feature film role. Bayona also made the truly creepy, also woefully under-seen film THE ORPHANAGE, about a woman who returns to her childhood home, a haunted orphanage. It was a film that was haunting in an entirely different sense than a horror film attempts to convey. What wonders will he produce with a film that evokes Spielberg? Particularly since it seems, with the BFG as proof, that Spielberg can't do Spielberg anymore? The film has moved to an awards-friendly slot in December meaning Focus Features thinks it has a chance there.
Every time I've met Anne Hathaway she has been genuine and engaging. What I'm excited about here, however, is the return of writer/director Nacho Vigalondo. He directed the mind-messing TIMECRIMES (which was great) and EXTRATERRESTRIAL (which was pretty damn good). His mix of characters with the super-natural is always welcome. Plus it's got Dan Stevens and that guy is my next "boy, he's gonna break out here soon" pick.
I heard a lot of "Wow, brutal but memorable" comments from the folks who saw this at Sundance. What was lacking was a measure of appreciation for the experience. Regardless of the controversy swirling around writer/director Nate Parker the film, based upon historical events, looks to be another welcome chapter in the messy investigation of the history of the United States.
A raft of reasons to be interested here. Ben Younger directed BOILER ROOM, a cut-rate but extremely clean WALL STREET and one of the few films to leverage the brilliance of Giovanni Ribisi. Also gives Miles Teller to step outside of ensembles like WAR DOGS and FANTASTIC FOUR and stand on his own in the ring. I'm there.
Sure, sure, Natalie Portman, Lily-Rose Depp, and all that. The reason to see this film is that it's the follow-up film for director Rebecca Zlotowski. Her film before this was the superb GRAND CENTRAL, with Lea Seydoux and Tahar Rahim. GRAND was in Un Certain Regard in 2013 in Cannes (and should have won) and it also took the François Chalais Award. Her films are worth seeking out.
If you've seen Laura Poitras's CITIZEN FOUR then you have to be hoping beyond hope that Stone can tone down the rhetoric and just play this one out straight. It won't need his military complex/Bilderberg theories. This chilling, true, wake-up call is more than potent enough and this American hero deserves his ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. I have a fear, however, that Donald Sutherland's Mr. X, from stone's JFK, is going to make an appearance to prove how all the pieces fit together in a giant conspiracy to elect Donald Trump and restart the Vietnam War. Boy I hope that doesn't happen.
Director Lone Scherfig directed AN EDUCATION. She also directed ONE DAY but, as is human nature, time heals wounds and I've forgotten ONE DAY, by and large. And I'm very fond of AN EDUCATION. I also love nearly everyone in her THEIR FINEST cast, particularly Arterton, whom I want to see waltzing around during awards season. Maybe not for this film and maybe not this year but soon. Scherfig too.
Mira Nair has long proven herself adept at films with social messages and with crowd-pleasing spectacle. The Disney marketing machine is behind this one in a big way, which they only do when something is worth watching. Will also be interesting to watch Nyong'o in her first substantial role since 12 YEARS A SLAVE.
BELLE was an elegant, stylish film and director Amma Asante brought Gugu Mbatha-Raw to our attention. She returns here with what sounds like a conventional tale of unconventional (for its time) love. LOVING is so sedated (though Ruth Negga is wonderful) I wonder if Asante's film will end up the better regarded.
Reiner, the director of such beloved films such as THE PRINCESS BRIDE, THE SURE THING, THIS IS SPINAL TAP, MISERY, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY and more slaps prosthetics onto one of the few guys who can act through a pound of pancake batter, Woody Harrelson. How will they play him? Villain? Buffoon? Visionary? All of the above?
When an actor sits in the director's chair it can often spell trouble. Ryan Gosling had fits putting out LOST RIVER, for example. But McGregor is such an old soul, and he also done every kind of film, that you have to believe that that wealth of knowledge and experience could come to bear on this production, even if the plot sounds like a complete bummer.
Cannes had a number of films that split the critics. This was one of them alongside THE NEON DEMON and PERSONAL SHOPPER but HONEY rides in on a wave of good vibes versus critical acclaim as the other two films did.
A film from the director of THE CURE, starring Tahar Rahim, the star of A PROPHET, GRAND CENTRAL and THE PAST? This is one of those rare occasions for discovery at a film festival that can't be overlooked.
Like Michael Winterbottom I will watch anything that Francois Ozon directs. Yes, he often breaks my heart but just as often he produces something fresh and unexpected (SWIMMING POOL). So I'm stuck and I'll be seeing FRANTZ, if I can.
This film enters TIFF with little fanfare given its extraordinary cast. The gangster family sub-genre has had its ups and downs with two Tom Hardy films, LEGEND and LAWLESS, under-whelming while ANIMAL KINGDOM (my gosh, was that really 2010?) earned Oscar noms and boosted careers.