I can’t believe in just under a week, I will be at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)! Last year was my first experience in Toronto, which gave me the perfect opportunity to discover the ins and outs of the Festival, attend all the screenings and press conferences I could, and most importantly meet Kate Winslet! This year will be no different… well, minus Kate Winslet.
So as I sit in my apartment, counting down the seconds until I attend my first screening at TIFF, I wanted to make a list of some of my most anticipated films. What I have been most struck by is that this appears to be the year of the women! Almost all of my picks have a strong female-led cast or female filmmakers at the helm, which is always a win in my book. Of course, this list is not exhaustive and I found myself adding and deleting movies as I went along. But if I didn’t try to limit myself as best I could, this article would be 902309234 words and basically unreadable. One of my favorite parts about film festivals is being surprised by films that weren’t even on my radar and I can definitely see that happening here. So without further ado, here is my list of the movies I’m most excited about at TIFF this year!
A Star Is Born
First and foremost, I am most looking forward to A STAR IS BORN. This is not just my most anticipated film of the Festival, it is my most anticipated film of the entire year! Out of the millions of views on the trailer, I would say at least 3/4 of them are mine. It’s not every day that I can watch a trailer hundreds of times and still come back for more, but I honestly still get excited when I hear the opening notes play. Judy Garland’s version of A STAR IS BORN is in my top 10 favorite films, and I can’t wait to see what Mother Monster Lady Gaga is going to do with the material. After hearing the film received an almost 10 minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, I have my paper bag ready to breathe into. Here’s to hoping I can get a ticket to the premiere screening so I can *fingers crossed* see Gaga perform a song from the film! At least maybe that will hold me over until the soundtrack is released!
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) lives half his life on tour and the other half at the bottom of a bottle. He won rock stardom years ago, and the pressures of fame have isolated him. His much-older brother (Sam Elliott) manages his career, but no one can control his life offstage. One night Jackson wanders into a bar looking for another drink and finds an amateur performer with a shockingly beautiful voice. Ally (Lady Gaga) and Jackson connect instantly. He sees her promise, she sees his experience, and they catch in each other a glimpse of the pain that drives them both. As Jackson nudges Ally onto the stage with her own songs, she’s inevitably drawn into the world that comes with it – after-parties, private jets, and the debilitating glare of the spotlight.
How can I say no to another collaboration between director Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling? After all, their previous hit LA LA LAND is one of my favorite movies of all time.., and now the duo is adding Claire Foy to the mix! As a long-time fan of movies about space and especially the space race—I can’t tell you how many times I have seen THE RIGHT STUFF—I am hoping FIRST MAN will be in that vein. It’s also pretty awesome that Chazelle filmed with an IMAX camera to make you feel you are there during rocket launches. I have heard about FIRST MAN for a long time now, and hope it is as good as everyone is anticipating.
First Man throws us immediately into the cockpit with Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his fellow test pilots as they break record after record, hurtling beyond the stratosphere in shaky metal prototypes that can barely take the strain. Each time they take off they risk death, which bonds them in a camaraderie that can be both noble and steely. At home, Armstrong maintains the taciturn logic that keeps him alive as a pilot, but it tears at his relationship with his wife, Janet (Claire Foy), and sons. When he’s called on with Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll, also at the Festival in Driven) and Mike Collins (Lukas Haas) to join NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to the moon, Armstrong bears down for what might be the ultimate glory… or the ultimate sacrifice.
Jamie Lee Curtis is reprising her role as Laurie Strode for a final showdown with Michael Myers?! Sign me up!!! I have been rewatching all of the films in the HALLOWEEN franchise to get ready for the big Midnight Madness premiere, and cannot believe the Scream Queen herself will be in residence. After following every shred of filming news over the last year, I am going to try not to have a fangirl freakout during the screening. But based on the cast, the gorgeous cinematography in the trailer, and general JLC badassness, I am not convinced I will make it out in one piece.
A profoundly traumatized Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has never ceased anticipating the day Michael might return. This all-consuming paranoia has left her estranged from her family, particularly from her daughter (Judy Greer, also at the Festival in Driven), whose childhood she co-opted into her obsessive rituals of preparation, and who has been determined to shelter her own daughter (Andi Matichak) from her mother’s disturbing proclivities. But when a prisoner transfer goes awry the night before Halloween, Laurie’s greatest fears become justified and horror comes home once again.
Let me be clear. As a long-time Nicole Kidman devotee, DESTROYER was at the top of my list even before the raves out of Telluride. But now that the Oscar buzz is deafening and everyone is saying how amazing Kidman’s performance is, DESTROYER is a can’t-miss. I am Kidman’s biggest fan, and my favorite performances of hers are those that are surprising and challenging, such as her turn as Satine in MOULIN ROUGE or Virginia Woolf in THE HOURS. I think DESTROYER is going to be one to add to this list.
When a new case uncovers traumas from a past undercover operation, an LAPD detective (Nicole Kidman) is forced to face her personal and professional demons, in this genre-defining work from Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body).
Speaking of Oscar buzz, I’ve been hearing about BEAUTIFUL BOY since last year’s award season. Based on a true story about a father-son relationship and a young man’s struggle with addiction, it’s no wonder that some of the best actors working today were chosen to bring this story to the big screen. And coming off of last year’s magnificent CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, I am excited to see what Timothée Chalamet does with this gut-wrenching, difficult role.
Based on the bestselling pair of memoirs by father and son David and Nic Sheff, Felix van Groeningen’s film chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years.
Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy
Um, do I really need to give my thoughts on this film after you see the picture above? If ever there was an image to sell me on a movie, JT LeRoy would be it. Laura Dern in a wig flanked by Kristen Stewart? I AM READY! And based on the description below, and the fact I already know about this fascinating story thanks to the incredible documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of my favorites of the Festival.
In this captivating true story, a young woman (Kristen Stewart) spends years playing the public role of Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy, an enigmatic and celebrated literary persona created by her sister-in-law (Laura Dern).
Oh look, Nicole Kidman is serving us even more amazing content. Written, directed, and starring Joel Edgerton, I bet this film is going to be a tough, yet important watch. As a rebuke on gay conversion therapy and sadly based on a true story, I am interested to see what this film has in store and will make sure to have my box of Kleenex handy.
Jared (Hedges) belongs to a loving middle-class Arkansas family, with his mother, Nancy (Kidman), and Baptist minister father, Marshall (Crowe). Jared gets good grades, plays basketball, and is in a steady — but chaste — relationship with a girl from school. Everything in his life is going according to plan, until a college friend outs Jared as gay.
Surprised, but attempting to be supportive in their own way, Jared’s parents send him to Refuge, a church-supported program predicated on the notion that homosexuality is an affliction, curable through confession, and the reinforcement of gender stereotypes. Overseen by Victor Sykes (Edgerton, in a superbly cagey performance), the program’s bullying and bigotry fosters an environment that is anything but a refuge. Though Jared begins the program desperate to be healed, he begins to wonder if it’s really others who need healing.
You can take a girl out of Washington, DC, but you can’t take Washington, DC out of the girl. Honestly, I don’t know much about Gary Hart and his infidelity scandal, but call it the DC’er in me… I love a good politics-focused movie, especially one based on a true story. I also will see pretty much anything with Hugh Jackman or directed by Jason Reitman (JUNO, UP IN THE AIR, YOUNG ADULT, LABOR DAY).
Having lost the democratic ticket to Walter Mondale in 1984, Gary Hart (Jackman) made a triumphant return to candidacy in 1987, at a moment when his party was desperate to wrestle power back from the Republicans after two terms of Reagan. Hart had everything going for him: intelligence, charisma, and experience as a lawyer, campaign manager, and senator, not to mention an ideal First Lady in wife Lee (Farmiga). But everything starts to crumble when word circulates that Hart is a womanizer – a rumour quickly followed by reports that he had an affair with Donna Rice (Sara Paxton).
As the premiere screening at TIFF, I am relying on OUTLAW KING to be as good as the trailer makes it look and to get me in the mood of seeing good movies at the Festival this year. Admittedly, my favorite sub-genre of film that I will see, no questions asked, is anything based on British royalty so it’ll take a lot for me not to like OUTLAW KING. Plus when you have Chris Pine riding horses, sword fighting, and rocking a Scottish accent… buckle up. I’m honestly surprised it has taken this long to make a film that focuses on Robert the Bruce (and is not BRAVEHEART).
Chris Pine stars as Scotland’s legendary Robert the Bruce. More warrior than statesman, he is fiercely loyal to his men and country, and an equally fierce adversary in battle. He and his fellow Scots bristle at England’s attempts to rule them. When Robert seizes the opportunity to ascend the Scottish throne, England unleashes its fury, forcing the proud king into exile. Now known far-and-wide as an outlaw, Robert must use both strategy and his warrior skills to win back his nation for his people. History buffs and film lovers will know Robert the Bruce from the way his story intersects with William Wallace, the heroic figure at the centre of Braveheart. While there are echoes here, Mackenzie brings his own brand of high-impact realism to the tale, staging scenes for maximum dramatic effect, drawing us ever-closer to his characters.
Along with A STAR IS BORN, I am completely expecting WIDOWS to be on my top ten list at the end of the year. The trailer for this female-led film is one of my favorites, showing the film’s edge-of-your-seat thrills and phenomenal acting from some of our best actresses working today. I am a sucker for heist films, especially those involving a crew of women. And with Viola Davis at the helm, and Steve McQueen behind the camera, what could go wrong?
A heavyweight cast — including Viola Davis, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Jacki Weaver, Colin Farrell, and Michelle Rodriguez — propels Steve McQueen’s white-knuckle thriller (co-written by Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn) about four women left in a deadly lurch when their criminally connected husbands are all killed.
The Hate U Give
I just saw this trailer for the first time today, and I can’t imagine there is going to be a more powerful movie than this at TIFF this year. Based off of an award winning, best-selling, novel of the same name, THE HATE U GIVE could not be any more timely as it tackles police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. With another all-star cast, I wouldn’t be surprised when we start seeing the raves roll out for this one.
Starr Carter (Stenberg) lives two lives. In her working-class neighbourhood, she is Starr Version One, at home among family and friends, just being her teenage Black girl self. At school she is Version Two, code-switching her speech and behaviour to fit in with the rich, white world of her classmates. One night back in the neighbourhood she reconnects with her childhood sweetheart, Khalil (Algee Smith). A blissful ride turns ugly when their car is pulled over by police. Khalil makes one wrong move and is shot dead. There are only two witnesses: the police officer and Starr. Caught between worlds at a time when she is still working out who she is, Starr struggles to make the right choices. Should she testify or keep the code of silence demanded by the neighbourhood drug lord (Anthony Mackie)? Should she listen to her uncle Carlos (Common), a police officer who urges her to trust the justice system? And what can she say to her friends at school, whose opinions on police violence and crime in Black neighbourhoods suddenly opens a gulf she finds hard to bridge.
I will see anything with Elisabeth Moss, especially a movie that has her as a troubled rockstar. Are we going to find out Elisabeth Moss is a great singer too?! It’s just not fair how talented she is! Moss and writer-director Alex Ross Perry have teamed up three times now, with their last collaboration QUEEN OF EARTH being one of my favorite movies of 2015. I can’t wait to see what the duo are up to now. And like Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy, the picture above totally sold me.
In Alex Ross Perry’s star-studded drama, Elisabeth Moss takes centre stage as Becky Something, a talented but self-destructive musician who seems determined to alienate everyone around her — even at the cost of her band’s success.
I don’t know much about this film, other than the small synopsis I copy and pasted below. But I love science fiction and Robert Pattinson has been making some really great choices over the last few years and I am excited to see what made him choose this. Not to mention, I am excited this is legendary French filmmaker Claire Denis’ first film in English.
Master French filmmaker Claire Denis’s long-anticipated English-language debut and provocative sci-fi drama stars Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth, and André Benjamin as a group of criminals sent into deep space.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
One of my favorite things about movies based on real events is getting to hear some truly outrageous stories. The story of Lee Israel is no exception. Directed by Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl), this dynamic character study is sure to be a hit for Melissa McCarthy, who gets to show some of her more serious acting chops. The trailer alone shows this is going to be a compelling story… I am just surprised it took this long to tell it.
A jaded, out-of-work biographer (Melissa McCarthy) resorts to selling forged historical letters on the black market, and grapples with the ethical complications that arise, in Marielle Heller’s charming biopic about bestselling writer Lee Israel.
The Old Man and the Gun
Last but not least, we have another true story based on the life of Forrest Tucker, a career criminal and master escape artist. With an all-star cast and what is rumored to be Robert Redford’s final performance on-screen, this is a Festival must-see.
Having first been put away at age 15, Forrest (Redford) has spent much of his life in jail and much of his energy breaking out – he successfully escaped incarceration 18 times. Forrest is now in his seventies, free, and living in a retirement community, yet he cannot resist the lure of another bank heist. He assembles a gang who, though armed, rely mainly on creativity and charisma to claim their loot. They are pursued by Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), whose official duty is galvanized by the purity of his love for the chase.