Friday, September 3, 2010

TIFF Preview: The 23 Films I Will Be Seeing

At TIFF, you win some years and lose others. This year I lost. I ended up in Box 3, and since they drew box 9 (out of 39 total) that means mine was the 6th last box processed. What this means is that films like Black Swan, Another Year and Blue Valentine, which I had hoped to see, join the already long list of films playing at this year’s festival that I not be able to see. Oh well, it happens that way some times.

I will be seeing 23 films at this year’s festival though, and while from the outside looking in, this looks like a weaker year than normal for me, I have high hopes. I do have more what I would call “filler” titles this year than ever before – but sometimes those filler titles end up being the best of the festival. I remain hopeful. So without further ado, here are the 23 films I will be seeing, in alphabetical order.

1. Aftershock (Feng Xiaogang)
This film from China spans the 32 year gap between two epic earthquakes, focusing on the long range impact the first quake, in 1976, has on the people involved – particularly a young girl who was left by her family to die. The film is already a huge hit in China. I am not familiar with the director, but this one could be a sleeper.

2. Amigo (John Sayles)
I have nothing but respect for John Sayles, who is one of the only American directors that you can honestly call completely independent. He makes the films he wants to make no matter what. This one is set in 1900 in the Philippines during the American occupation, a mostly forgotten period in American history. Starring a host of Sayles regulars (like Chris Cooper), this one will undoubtedly tie back to the current excursions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sayles can be somewhat hit and miss, but I hope this one is a hit.

3. Beautiful Boy (Shawn Ku)
Regular readers will know that I have a little bit of an obsession with school shootings. So despite the fact that Shawn Ku is a newcomer, I couldn’t resist this movie, starring Michael Sheen and Maria Bello, as parents who are shocked to discover their son has shot up his college and then turned the gun on himself. School shooting movies can go either way, but let’s hope this is one of the good ones.

4. Boxing Gym (Frederick Wiseman)
Despite his huge reputation in the documentary world, I have to admit that I have never seen a Frederick Wiseman movie. I have no real reason why I haven’t, I just have never done it (perhaps because most of them are hugely long – this one is only 90 minutes though). So I look forward to seeing what this supposed master filmmaker is really like.

5. Casino Jack (George Hickenlooper)
George Hickenlooper is certainly a hit or miss filmmaker. His documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse is perhaps the greatest “making of” doc ever made, and his feature The Man from Elysian Fields is underrated. Having said that his last major film was Factory Girl and that sucked. But here he has a seemingly can’t miss story – that of lobbyist Jack Abramoff who involved Washington in perhaps its biggest post Watergate scandal. Starring Kevin Spacey in the title role, I hope it is a return to form for both director and star.

6. Chico and Rita (Fernando Treuba & Javier Mariscal)
Having missed out on Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist at this year’s festival, I wanted to add another unorthodox animated film to my list – and I think this one set in 1948 Cuba, before moving onto to New York City, set in the world of jazz musicians and their various affairs certainly counts. I don’t know the directors, but it sounds interesting at least.

7. The Debt (John Madden)
John Madden started out his directing career wonderfully – with back to back critical hits Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love in 1997/98 – the second of which actually won the best picture Oscar. He has been trying, unsuccessfully, ever since to replicate that success. His latest film is a thriller (like the Elmore Leonard Killshot he made a few years ago that sat on the shelf for a while). This one stars Helen Mirren as a Mossad agent facing questions about her actions in the 1960s – when she and her partner supposedly tracked down and killed a notorious Nazi war criminal. This could be good – reminiscent of Spielberg’s Munich, but fine nonetheless, as the buzz has so far been positive.

8. Let Me In (Matt Reeves)
I caught some slack last year when I made up a list of the best vampire movies of all time, and put the recent Swedish film Let the Right One In as the best ever. I stand by that position to this day, so I am eagerly anticipating and also equally fearing this American remake of the film about a young boy whose only friend is a vampire. A good cast – Kodi Smith McPhee from The Road as the boy, Chloe Moretz from Kick Ass as the vampire, and Richard Jenkins as her “guardian” makes me think this one may actually be worthy of what came before it.

9. Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
Kelly Reichardt’s last two films – the male bonding film Old Joy and the woman and her dog movie Wendy and Lucy – have both been small, intimate, beautiful and masterful films. So this makes Meek’s Cutoff – a more ambitious film, a period piece about a group of people on a wagon train – one of my most hotly anticipated films of the festival. Michelle Williams is back with Reichardt, and the cast includes Bruce Greenwood and Shirley Henderson for good measure. I like it when directors reach farther than in their past, so here’s hope she pulls it off.

10. Miral (Julien Schnabel)
Julien Schnabel’s Miral has received some critical smackdowns after its Venice premiere earlier this week – but I think that a director his caliber (Basquaint, Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) should be incapable of making a film completely devoid of interest – although a director with his ego (he has publicly stated that he was robbed of Oscars for his two most recent films, which in his mind were “clearly the best film of the year”) could certainly overstep and make a mess of an ambitious movie. And when you are making a pro-Palestinian movie, stretching from 1948 to the present, that would be easy. I still look forward to this one though, because I know Schnabel has a ton of talent.

11. Monsters (Gareth Edwards)
Sometimes, you have to take a chance at the film festival, and that’s what I’m doing with this film. A very low budget film about the aftermath of an alien invasion in Mexico. The film is described as Lost in Translation meets District 9 and that meant I just had to see it. Whether it will be good or not, I have no idea.

12. Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek)
I for one quite liked director Mark Romanek’s debut film, One Hour Photo, and have been waiting for him to follow it up for a while now. He has taken one of the most celebrated novels of the past decade – written by Kazuo Ishiguro of The Remains of the Day – for his latest project, and cast Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly and Andrew Garfield as her students at a very strange English boarding school. I won’t say more in case unlike you haven’t read the book, but I will say that the novel was a masterful blend of English school dramas and sci-fi. One of my more anticipated films of this year’s festival.

13. 127 Hours (Danny Boyle)
Far and away the most energetic screening I have ever attended at the Toronto Film Festival was for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. I have never been with an audience who was more clearly loving the movie they were watching. When you combine that with the fact that I do generally like Boyle’s films, and love actor James Franco, this story about a young man who goes alone into the wilderness in Utah, and becomes trapped, was irresistible to me.

14. Peep World (Barry Blaustein)
Barry Blaustein, a long time comedy writer who made his feature directing debut with The Ringer (a film I have not seen) has assembled a great cast for this film – Michael C. Hall (of my still favorite TV show Dexter – yes, it’s better than Mad Men dammit!), Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Judy Greer, Taraji P. Hensen among others for this comedy about a dysfunctional family. I would watch most of those actors in anything, so to see them all together is making giddy with excitement.

15. Poetry (Lee Changdong)
Out of all of the films I am seeing this year, Poetry has got to be my most anticipated. In 2007, one of the best films I have ever seen at the film festival, Secret Sunshine, stunned me – especially since I saw it on a whim. That film has still not gotten a release of any kind in North America, but here’s hoping that director Lee Changdon’s follow up is as good as that film, and finally gets him the respect on this side of the ocean he deserves. It is the last film I will be seeing, so no matter how bad the festival gets, I will have something to look forward to.

16. The Poll Diaries (Chris Kraus)
If I’m being 100% honest, I have to admit that The Poll Diaries is a film that I am only seeing because I have a hole in my schedule one day, and this was pretty much the only film available to fill it. It takes place in Estonia before the outbreak of WWI. It could be good, I don’t know, but I’m not really looking forward to it that much – it just sounded better than my other options at that time, and I didn’t really want to have to kill 4 hours doing nothing.

17. Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell)
John Cameron Mitchell’s first two films – Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus – were fiercely independent, and wholly original. For his third feature, he decided to adapt a Pulitizer Prize winning play, and cast stars Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman in the lead roles (not to mention Dianne Wiest and Sandra Oh for support). If it’s as good as Mitchell’s first two films, or even as good as Doubt, the last Pulitizer winning play to be adapted, I will be happy.

18. Route Irish (Ken Loach)
Ken Loach has been a hit or miss director for almost his entire career – making some of the best political films since the 1960s, and some of the most labored. Here’s hoping that he, and longtime screenwriting partner Paul Laverty’s, look at the Iraq war is one of his better efforts.

19. The Sleeping Beauty (Catherine Breillant)
I have long since had a love hate relationship with Catherine Breillant. At times, her insistence on pushing sexual boundaries in her films borders on the absurd (Romance anyone?). But she is also capable of making gorgeous, and though provoking films (Fat Girl, The Last Mistress). So, I hope her strange, sexual take on Sleeping Beauty is more like the later (it bodes well that people are comparing it to her latest film, Red Beard, which to me sounds fascinating, even if I still have not had a chance to see it.)

20. Three (Tom Tykwer)
I will, and have, followed German director Tom Tykwer pretty much anywhere – from the raw energy of Run Lola Run, to the metaphysical The Princess and the Warrior, to the Kieslowski scripted Heaven, to the disturbing Perfume, and even his foray into big budget action filmmaking The International. So his latest – about a couple who both start having an affair with the same man behind the others back – is one that I eagerly awaiting.

21. Trust (David Schwimmer)
Former Friend David Schwimmer has been directing for a while – mostly for TV, but he did make a previous feature, Run Fatboy Run, but mostly in comedy. This time, he takes a step onto the dark side, making a movie about a teenage girl who meets a sexual predator online, and the consequences it has on her family (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener are her parents). I like dark stories like this, and I am more than willing to give Schwimmer the chance to impress me.

22. What’s Wrong with Virginia (Dustin Lance Black)
Dustin Lance Black won an Oscar for his screenplay for Milk, and is now making his directorial debut in this story of a small town Sheriff (Ed Harris) who is going to run for State Senate – and the affair he has had for years with the mentally disturbed Jennifer Connelly that threatens to destroy it. Black, who has also written for TV’s Big Love, is an expert at writing stories about the darkness that lurks beneath the surface, and the movie has been compared to the work of David Lynch, Todd Haynes and Douglas Sirk. Let’s hope he delivers.

23. Womb (Bendek Fliegauf)
Womb sounds like a fascinating idea for a movie – that could either turn out to be wonderful, or awful. Eva Green stars as a woman who loses her lover to an accident – but jumps at the chance to be impregnated with her lovers clone – meaning that when the child is born, she is conflicted in her feelings as mother and former lover. If new director Bendek Fliegauf pulls it off, it could be great.

So that’s what I will be seeing at this year’s festival. I’m sure there are some great and not so great films lurking in here somewhere, but for now, I prefer to think that I am going to see 23 great films.


  1. Dave,

    I appreciate you checking out CASINO JACK. Do me a favor and watch the director's cut of FACTORY GIRL. If you are referring to the theatrical release that was Harvey's version. Watch my version on DVD. I think it deserves a second look.


    George Hickenlooper

  2. It would be good if you got your information on Rabbit Hole right. Yes, John Cameron Mitchell is directing it but he did not adapt it - David Lindsay Abaire adapted his own play after being commissioned by Nicole Kidman, the producer of the film, to do so. Kidman INVITED John Cameron Mitchell to direct it and Aaron Eckhart to co-star. Give credit where it is due. Thanks.