TIFF 2016: The First Wave

The inactivity on this blog is done. At least momentarily. I’m back in Toronto, but lived in Portland for four years (where I had my TIFF hiatus) and now, I’m going to get back to focusing on cinema.

Here are the GALA films announced by the Toronto International Film Festival Group today (and reminders to myself on which I intend to see):


Arrival — directed by Denis Villeneuve (Paramount Pictures : Canada/U.S.)

An adaptation of Ted Chiang’s 1999 short story Story of Your Life, the film is about beings from spacecrafts on Earth, a doctor (Amy Adams), who becomes the seminal figure in sustaining communication between them and us, and her the team that unifies with her in preventing global calamity. A keynote is that this film centers around nascent psychic communication and the metaphysical beyond a close encounter.

Count me in. Also starring Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Tzi Ma and Michael Stuhlbarg. (8/10 priority for TIFF, American theatrical release is November of 2016)


Deepwater Horizon Peter Berg (Lionsgate / Summit Entertainment : U.S.)

From the writer of The Kingdom and World War Z (Matthew Michael Carnahan) comes another spectacle-type film. Seemingly about the circumvention of all types of laws and incoming calamity, Berg and Carnahan’s latest collaboration documents the 2010 BP Oil Spill and stars Mark Wahlberg.

Although the Peter Berg film of the year has already been released (and directed by Michael Bay), the Friday Night Lights director’s latest film is scheduled for a late September release and if his track-record can speak for itself, Berg’s latest should be a provocative enough action-drama. It also has the largest budget of any film ever shown at the festival with $150,000,000. (6/10 priority for TIFF, American theatrical release is September 30th)


The Headhunter’s Calling Mark Williams

From one of the co-writers of The Judge (Bill Dubuque) comes a film about a corporate headhunter, a person who seeks the best opportunities/deals they can for their employer, his domestic unraveling and the competitiveness of his career. With Dafoe, Molina, Brie and Gretchen Mol co-starring, we can assume the rival he’s pitted against is probably Dafoe, with the boss being Molina, because Brie might be too young to be Butler’s wife and Mol seems the right fit for that part.

The writer also has The Accountant slated for the year (the Ben Affleck/Gavin O’Connor awards prospect), so you know, you can wish the best for this one. This is the director’s debut. (5/10 priority for TIFF, with no American distributor or release date as of yet, although Spain’s Inopia Films has it lined up for a year-end release)


The Journey is the Destination Bronwen Hughes

While there is very little information about this project on IMDb, it is co-written by Jan Sardi of Shine and most recently TIFF lauded Mao’s Last Dancer fame.

Actually, I decided to do a little research and thanks to THR, a Maria Bello interview reveals much about the film. It’s about a young photojournalist (Ben Schnetzer), his adventures, and his mother who emotionally deals with his journey; sounding almost reminiscent of Into the Wild, I know that I will certainly get around to seeing this. As for Hughes, her credentials speak for themselves; an accomplished television director who has a cult favorite under her belt, Harriet the Spy. (8/10 priority for TIFF, with no distributors)


JT and the Tennessee Kids Jonathan Demme

It’s a Justin Timberlake concert documentary. I don’t know what more I can say about that, but um, if you love Justin Timberlake, he’s most definitely going to be at Gala of this one. It would be ultra cool if he stuck around for the second-run morning screening for big-time fans, though. (5/10 priority for TIFF, with no distribution yet)


LBJ Rob Reiner

Rob Reiner is a name in American cinema that will stand by it forever. Like Oliver Stone, like Brian DePalma, like Steven Spielberg, while Reiner isn’t nearly as accomplished as his peers of the 80s, he’ll always be known for his off-camera personality and genuine love of cinema. Even in a film such as Flipped, you can sense that Mr. Reiner enjoys filmmaking.

Since Ghosts of Mississippi, he has seemed content making the stories he enjoys come to life. While they haven’t garner Oscar nominations or been very prestigious, this latest offering is a Lyndon Johnson biopic starring Woody Harrelson and it might be a return to a form people have wanted from him since The Bucket List sounded like it could be macabre. With Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird Johnson and Bill Pullman, as well as Richard Jenkins in support, this might be the film champions of Reiner have been waiting for. (7/10 priority for TIFF, with no distribution anywhere as of yet)


Lion Garth Davis

I’m just going to copy and paste the IMDb synopsis because the first thing I thought was “Wow, sounds like an attempt at another Slumdog Millionaire-type award run by The Weinstein Company”.

“A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.”

From the writer of the Ledger/Cornish romance Candy (interesting) and the director of some Top of the Lake, this encouraging and probably uplifting film stars Nicole Kidman and David Wenham with Rooney Mara as the good white people and DEV PATEL?! (Get out/10 for TIFF anticipation, set for the late November release in America)


Loving Jeff Nichols (Focus : U.S.)

Even with as dissatisfying as his framework has become since Shotgun Stories, or perhaps for it, Jeff Nichols’ is the most salt-of-the-Earth director today. He works at an incredible clip – Midnight Special premiered in Berlin this year, Loving at Cannes – but beyond that, the actors in each of his films and the stories they create together are always convey a level of personal revealing that is seldom matched at as consistent of a rate.

That’s why I say, of all the Galas, this is assured to be a good ticket. Lion will have a lot of people fawning for it, especially with the more gentle attendees of the festival, but with Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton playing an interracial couple in 1950s Virginia, I doubt you will find a more sincerely tender film all festival. With Michael Shannon in support. (9/10 TIFF priority, set for a early November U.S. release)


The Magnificent Seven Antoine Fuqua (Sony Pictures / MGM : U.S.)

I know I won’t see this one at the film festival (opening night gala, I usually don’t even go on the Thursday unless there’s an interesting midnight madness movie), but I figure it is a gala presentation, so…

Denzel Washington is one of the few actors who, when not paired alongside Mark Wahlberg, will get me to see his film. That said, I’ve seen both Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven on the big screen, so I’m hoping for a more modern, perhaps manic (see: 13 Assassins) approach to the material, rather than an attempt at working the script into something for everyone. However, it is rated PG-13 and co-stars Chris Pratt so I don’t know. Also starring: Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio (watch out for him) and Byung Hun-Lee (frequent Park Chan-wook collaborator). Set for a late September theatrical release across North America.


A Monster Calls Juan Antonio Bayona

This will be a spooky film. From the director of The Orphanage, this one is a fantasy (probably bordering on horror) about a child (Lewis MacDougall) who copes with his mother’s terminal illness by befriending a tree monster. Felicity Jones is his mother and Sigourney Weaver is in a role called “Grandma,” and with Toby Kebbell in a role and Liam Neeson as a monster, this should be an emotionally devastating, if family friendly film. (7/10 TIFF priority, set for a theatrical release in North America come October)


Planetarium Rebecca Zlotwoski

The film debut of Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose, this promises to be a special interest viewing to many tabloid-reading folk. Co-starring Natalie Portman as her older sister, the pair star as psychic-mediums in France (the country of Zlotwoski’s most recent feature). There, they are discovered by a producer who surely wants to exploit them.

The film festival has a handful of these films in the Gala Presentations every year. These aren’t necessarily bad movies – especially since no one has seen them – but they serve more as cultural fodder or a commodity and this sort of fits both categories. It’s foreign, it’s undoubtedly well-produced; it’s co-written by Laurent Cantet collaborator Robin Campillo. I just hope those who go to its world premiere enjoy it for more than the prospect of seeing its stars because if not for the who, this would not be a Gala presentation. (7/10 TIFF priority, only scheduled for a mid-November theatrical release in France so far)


Queen of Katwe Mira Nair

Lupita N’yongo and David Oyelowo. If seeing great actors, who oftentimes do not get the interesting lead roles they deserve finally get them appeals to you, then this is a must-see. While N’yongo is the more untested talent, she has proven her capabilities in the past, and in this role, she plays a Ugandan woman training to become a chess champion. 

It may sound dry, and from well-regarded director and one of the co-writers of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, this may be one of the well-liked, but ultimately forgettable films of the festival. However, it won’t be for some, and I really do hope for Nair and Oyelowo to find more success soon. From ESPN writer, Tim Crothers. (7/10 TIFF priority, set for a September 23rd release across North America)


The Rolling Stones Ole Ole Ole: A Trip Across Latin America Paul Dugdale

There’s no IMDb page for this one, but I’m going to take shelter and assume that this one is self-explanitory. If not, I will be shattered. (6/10 priority for TIFF)


The Secret Scripture Jim Sheridan

The names attached to this one are intriguing to say the least, with the director being the largest wild card of the bunch. Starring Rooney Mara and Vanessa Redgrava as Roseanne McNully, a woman who spent time in a mental asylum and kept a diary. 

Knowing Sheridan, this will have sentimentality in spades, but hopefully it’s the kind of approach administered in In America and not of the Brothers remake. (7/10 TIFF priority with no date set for its release, although Relativity Media holds its rights and is probably going to see if this is the right movie to release for awards’ play)


Snowden Oliver Stone

A biopic about Edward Snowden, the former TSA employee-turned-government traitor, who exposed the lies about the American citizen’s privacy. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has recently been exploring a lot of biographical films of late, this will undoubtedly be a good movie, but how good will it be? 

We know Oliver Stone has the potential to deliver with explosive material, but also that in recent years he has become less angry in his approach to cinema and more empathetic to his subjects. If this is met with the coldness and odd humor of W., it may serve the almost surreal material a little better, but until we see this, it’s impossible to know what kind of Oliver Stone film this will be. Co-starring Shailene Woodley and Zachary Quinto as the first journalists to interview Snowden in Russia. (6/10 TIFF priority, the film is set for a theatrical release during the film festival (September 8th to 18th)


Strange Weather Katherine Dieckmann

From the director of 2006’s Diggers (and an apparent Uma Thurman disaster called Motherhood I missed), Katherine Dieckmann is back with her first feature since 2009. It stars Holly Hunter who travels back home, to America’s south, after the death of her son. I don’t know if she’s there to settle a score or rectify a situation, but IMDb describes the film as a movie about grief and forgiveness. 

Co-starring Carrie Coon. There are two fine actresses to view here, but this doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. I like my southern flicks directed by David Gordon Green, anyway. (5/10 TIFF priority, no release date slated yet, although Great Point Media holds world-wide distribution rights)


Their Finest Lone Scherfig

A comedy about propaganda? Well, okay. 

Starring Jack Huston, Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy, the film is set in England during WWII. I don’t know who’s in charge, but after Germany’s Blitzkrieg, members of this cast are tasked with creating films (or a film?) to raise morale of the civilians at home, fearful of Hitler’s rise. This is also an adaptation of a novel by the same name, so if you’re curious, by all means run out to a bookstore and let me know if this sounds good. Shoot, if I do it first I’ll post a one-two. (7/10 TIFF priority for me with no distribution anywhere set) 


A United Kingdom Amma Asante

Potentially on-par with the message of Jeff Nichols’ latest offering, Amma Asante (director of Belle) and the writer of the quietly explosive Eye in the Sky and Five Minutes of Heaven (Guy Hibbert) come together with David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike to tell the story of love beyond race in a racist world. 

Co-starring Tom Felton (DRACO!), Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey) and Jack Davenport (you’ll know him if you see his face), this film about the Prince of Botswana marrying a British woman in late 1940s will undoubtedly slap the pro-UK taste right out of your mouth, especially if you’ve just seen the aforementioned Their Finest at the festival, Amma Asante will probably crush the sophomore curse and we can all expect an American distributor soon. (7/10 TIFF priority, slated for a mid-November theatrical release in the Kingdom. I would say U.K., but I don’t know if the U exists anymore.)

Alright, thanks for reading, or skimming this post. I’ll try and keep at it for the next few weeks. On that note, I’ll work on a piece for Special Presentations tomorrow. Peace.