Considered by many as the kick-off to Oscar season premiering some of the biggest films of fall, the Toronto International Film Festival will feature 146 world premieres over it’s 11-day run.
Although TIFF always has an impressive lineup, I’ve narrowed it down to what I’m most eager to see this year.
Dallas Buyers Club
Plot: In 1986, the AIDS crisis was still a misunderstood horror, withering then taking its victims, alarming the public and confounding the doctors who sought a cure. In Texas, Ron Woodroof stood beyond the fear of AIDS. He was clueless. So when this boozing, foul-mouthed, womanizing heterosexual contracted HIV, his response was instinctive: Bullshit. Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto star in director Jean-Marc Vallée’s (The Young Victoria, C.R.A.Z.Y.) take on the true story of accidental AIDS activist Ron Woodroof, whose cross-border smuggling network brought much-needed treatments into the hands of HIV and AIDS patients neglected by the medical establishment.
Bottom Line: McConaughey has been a startling surprise the past few years with roles that pushed him to the top of the totem pole of acting (Mud, Killer Joe). This will most likely be his year to take home an Academy Award, and I won’t be shocked to see Leto’s performance in the same ballpark. Leto elicited a dumbfounded “THAT’s him!?” reaction from me after first viewing the trailer.
“McConaughey has had a midcareer renaissance with a string of standout performances in indie films such as Bernie, Killer Joe, Mud and Magic Mike. Dallas Buyers Club could be the vehicle to nudge him toward major awards recognition this year. But don’t count out co-star Jared Leto, who gamely embodies Rayon, a cross-dresser also battling the deadly disease.” Seth Abramovitch via The Hollywood Reporter
12 Years a Slave
Plot: Director Steve McQueen follows the acclaimed Hunger and Shame with this shocking, based-on-fact story of a 19th-century freeman kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South. The enormously talented Chiwetel Ejiofor leads an extraordinary cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Bottom Line: Steve McQueen, Michael Fassbender. The director/actor dream team are both synonymous with producing a superior final product when partnered together. McQueen’s artistic eye behind the camera, and Fassbender’s bone-chilling performances, never fail to disappoint. Shame, anyone??
“Following its debut screening at the 40th annual Telluride Film Festival, the drama 12 Years a Slave, helmed by acclaimed visual artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), left the audience in stunned silence. Even the stars of the film were shell-shocked. Fassbender is utterly terrifying in his unpredictability. You never know if he’ll stab you in the chest, or unleash his teethy smile. Unlike Leonardo DiCaprio’s P.T. Barnum-esque mandingo monster in Django Unchained, Edwin is not a caricature, which makes him all the more menacing. His sadistic obsession with his prized cotton-picker, a teen slave who goes by “Patsey,” played by newcomer Lupita Nyong’o (a revelation), is especially disturbing. The more he yearns for her, the worse he treats her, refusing to even let her wash herself. We haven’t seen a character this revoltingly racist since Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List.” Marlow Stern via The Daily Beast
Plot: The latest film from Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Young Adult, Juno) centers on 13-year-old Henry (newcomer Gattlin Griffith) as he confronts the pangs of adolescence while struggling to care for his reclusive mother, Adele (Kate Winslet). On a back-to-school shopping trip, Henry and Adele encounter Frank (Josh Brolin), a man both intimidating and clearly in need of help, who convinces them to take him into their home. The events of this long weekend will shape each of them for the rest of their lives.
Bottom Line: Jason Reitman did an impressive job directing the offbeat dramedy Up in the Air and the darker comedy Young Adult, which elicited the most comically disturbing performances by Charlize Theron. Labor Day comes across as Reitman veering in uncharted territory, and with Kate Winslet as your leading lady, how can you go wrong? Please don’t go wrong.
“One has to respect Reitman for tackling a project with such a major inherent hurdle, and there’s no question that this film finds him delving past the ironic veneer of “Juno” and “Young Adult” into more sentimental (evoking Clint Eastwood’s “The Bridges of Madison County” and “A Perfect World,” in particular)” Peter Debruge via Variety
Blue is the Warmest Color
Plot: Based on the 2010 French graphic novel Blue Angel, Blue is the Warmest Color (aka Adele Chapters 1 & 2) is a French drama written and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche’s. The film is a passionate and controversial love story about the tempestuous relationship between a sensitive high-schooler (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and an assertive art student (Léa Seydoux) won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Bottom Line: It won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and became the first film to be awarded the prize to both the director and the main actresses. Aside from the prestigious honor it’s received, there’s also been buzz of the explicit sex scene between the girls. Not only that, both girls were quoted saying Kechiche pushed them past their limit and neither will work with the director again. #MovieDrama
“Kechiche also proves once and for all that realism (the default stylistic mode of European art cinema) does not have to be austere or punishing; his film is warm and sensually alive, the camera sticking close to the actors’ faces and bodies without fetishising them, and alternating objective and subjective points of view with fluidity and control. You get so caught up in the fly-on-the-wall thrill of seeing these characters in their everyday lives that it’s easy to forget the tremendous technical craftsmanship involved.” Jon Frosch via The Atlantic
Plot: When three young boys were brutally murdered in the small community of West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993, their deaths led to shock and outrage in this tightly knit religious town. It wasn’t long before three teenagers were arrested, tried, and sentenced — two of them to life imprisonment and one to death — despite the fact that they all claimed innocence. This story of wrongful conviction roiled the American justice system, brought a number of prominent movie stars and rock musicians to the defence of the three young men, and resulted in a trilogy of documentaries, Paradise Lost, that did much to keep the case in the public eye. Atom Egoyan dramatizes the fallout from the notorious 1993 West Memphis murders, focusing on the grieving mother (Reese Witherspoon) of one of the murdered boys as she grows increasingly troubled by the lynch-mob fever that grips the town.
Bottom Line: This is a film that could tank without the right direction or cast, but Reese Witherspoon ( playing Pam Hobbs, mother of Stevie Branch) and Colin Firth (playing Ron Lax, private investigator) are both Academy Award winning actors who don’t choose lousy scripts. On top of that, the story and mystery surrounding the West Memphis Three is a haunting part of the American justice system gone completely awry and brought to light. Check out Paradise Lost Trilogy and skip West of Memphis.
Plot: Where were you when JFK was shot? Dallas. November 22, 1963. 12:38pm. A wounded President John F. Kennedy is rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where a frantic trauma team struggles in vain to save him. Precisely forty-eight hours later, the same personnel would attend to the President’s mortally wounded assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Director Peter Landesman assembles a star-studded cast for this riveting ensemble procedural about the doctors, investigators, and ordinary citizens who witnessed history first-hand.
Bottom Line: With a release date inching closely near the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, it’s hard for a plot like this to not yield interest. Not to mention the cast includes Paul Giamatti Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver and Marcia Gay Harden to name a few.
Plot: Nicolas Cage stars as a hard-living ex-con who becomes friend and protector for a hard-luck kid (Tye Sheridan; The Tree of Life, Mud), in this contemporary Southern gothic tale from acclaimed filmmaker David Gordon Green. Like his earlier films All the Real Girls and Undertow, Joe crafts elevated drama from the raw material of America’s Southern poor.
Bottom Line: It’ll be a refreshing change of pace to see Nicholas Cage go from D-grade movies to a potential career-boosting role. The film also has Tye Sheridan who held his own next to Matthew McConaughey in Mud.
“The film’s furniture may be a little familiar, but Green arranges it with confidence. If that weren’t enough, Joe also stands as a reminder of what a terrific actor Cage can be when he is able to harness and channel his wilder impulses. Here he comes padding bearlike across the yard with his tattooed biceps and his bushy grey beard, a cigarette burning between his knuckles. He looks at home, in his natural habitat, although men like Joe are never truly at home – and therein lies the drama.” Xan Brooks via The Guardian
Kill Your Darlings
Plot: In this dynamic portrait of the early days of the Beat Generation, a young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) and William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) become embroiled in the notorious 1944 murder of Burroughs’ friend David Kammerer by the object of his affection, the Beat muse Lucien Carr. For Beat Generation aficionados, the 1944 murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr has always sparked a morbid fascination. Kammerer was an old friend of William S. Burroughs, and Carr was a charismatic, transgressive figure who inspired many in this group of young literary iconoclasts. Amongst those who fell under Carr’s spell was Allen Ginsberg, and it is Ginsberg who becomes the hero and conscience of Kill Your Darlings, John Krokidas’s darkly alluring film about this formative event in the story of the Beats.
Bottom Line: Dane DeHaan.
“I really can’t say enough good things about Radcliffe and DeHaan. There is a chemistry between the two of them that is more than just sexual. DeHaan’s Bowie-esque stare would have set the Warhol factory ablaze, and Radcliffe’s developed a strong sense of confidence. Foster’s Burroughs gets a lot of the laughs, but there is a sadness behind his crisp suits and otherworldly poise. John Krokidas is an actor’s director, and with this being his first feature, I expect we’ll see a lot more good stuff out of him.” Jordan Hoffman via Film.com