Oscars are silly. Golden Globes are even sillier. And in a few months, critics’ awards and Top 10 lists will become an indistinguishable blur of the same handful of names. But if marketing-driven back-patting is what it takes to get smarter, more ambitious movies into the multiplex every year, then that’s a trade-off not too awful to accept. Live with that compromise, and award season can be like Cinephile Christmas.
But first comes festival season, and reading about festival season—which for a certain kind of film fan is like spending every day flipping through a catalog of amazing toys. Over the past week, reports have already started to fly in from Venice and Telluride; beginning today, the Toronto International Film Festival will be screening some of the best movies that have already played at those two festivals, plus some of the best of Cannes and Sundance, and a slew of world premières. Next month, the New York Film Festival will be rounding out the major festivals, leaving regional fests to pick up the slack as the year-end rush heats up. Starting now, we begin to find out which films are going to be dominating our conversations come December and January. And given TIFF’s global scope, now is also when we find out about new directors and new films that won’t get a wider airing until next year.
The Dissolve will be filing daily reports from Toronto, starting tomorrow and running through Saturday the 14th. Your correspondents—Scott Tobias, Mike D’Angelo, and myself—will be taking turns writing the column, focusing primarily on just a handful of movies every day, while leaving room at the end for quick takes on everything else we’ve seen. We’ll be looking for trends, giving some sense of what everyone’s buzzing about, and possibly offering differing opinions on the same films. These columns are by no means meant to be the final word on the major movies of the fall. They’re notes from the field: a kickoff to a discussion that should play out over the next few months. (And for those who can’t wait for our daily dispatches, we’ll be offering some even more immediate impressions via Twitter: @gemko, @scott_tobias, and @NoelMu.)
Schedules are always subject to change, because screenings fill up unexpectedly, a movie on no one’s radar becomes a must-see, advance word turns against other movies, technical snafus occur, etc. But generally speaking, if you’re wondering when we’re going to get around to covering something like Gravity or 12 Years A Slave, consult the list below—which also explains which movies we’re most looking forward to seeing over the next week, and why.
On Friday, September 6, Scott will kick us off with a look at Prisoners, the new film from Denis Villeneuve (director of the Oscar-nominated, Genie-winning Incendies), starring Hugh Jackman as a man determined to find out who kidnapped his daughter, even if that puts him at odds with local law enforcement and his own conscience. The film debuted at Telluride last week, and has been the surprise hit of that festival so far, drawing raves. Scott also hopes by Friday to have seen Jim Jarmusch’s vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive, which was hailed at Cannes for its dry humor and strong lead turns by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston.
On Saturday, September 7, I should have a few thoughts about Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, another Telluride favorite, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northrup, who in 1841 was kidnapped, drugged, and sold into slavery. McQueen was marked as a director to watch after his feature-film debut, Hunger, but his follow-up, Shame, proved more divisive. In addition to Ejiofor, McQueen’s new film includes his go-to actor Michael Fassbender, as well as Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael K. Williams, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, and Quvenzhané Wallis. It has all the markings of a major work. I’ll also be writing about Tim’s Vermeer, a documentary directed by the well-known magician Teller (and produced by his partner, Penn Jillette), about the mystery of how great art is made. It also had a well-received screening at Telluride last week.
Sunday, September 8 brings Gravity, which has already stunned audiences at Venice and Telluride. Mike was one of the few critics who wasn’t enamored of Children Of Men, the previous film by Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón, but he promises to keep an open mind about this science-fiction thriller, which stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who get stranded while on a space-walk. Mike is even more excited to see The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears, the latest neo-giallo exercise by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, who previously made the gorgeously meta Amer.
Come Monday, September 9, we’ll be in the thick of the festival, with several days’ worth of buzz in the air. Every year, this is around the time attendees start tearing up their schedules, desperately scrambling to make room for some masterpiece that none of us yet know about. Nonetheless, there’s a good chance that Scott will be able to give us the skinny on The Unknown Known: The Life And Times Of Donald Rumsfeld, Errol Morris’ feature-length interview with the controversial former U.S. Secretary Of Defense. (Advance word from Venice has been strong, as one would expect regarding a Morris doc.) Also potentially in play on Monday: Enough Said, the new romantic comedy by Nicole Holofcener, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener, and the late James Gandolfini as a man who’s been in relationships with both women; Labor Day, Jason Reitman’s Telluride-approved adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel about an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) and the single mother (Kate Winslet) who tries to help him; and the Jesse Eisenberg-starring Dostoyevsky adaptation The Double, which is Richard Ayoade’s writing and directing follow-up to his beloved feature debut, Submarine.
My column for Tuesday, September 10 is just as crowded and subject to change as Scott’s on Monday, but among the movies I could be writing about are: Can A Song Save Your Life?, John Carney’s proper follow-up to his indie hit Once, with Keira Knightley as an obscure singer looking to get revenge on her famous ex-boyfriend (Adam Levine) by becoming a star; Attila Marcel, a live-action musical from Triplets Of Belleville/Illusionist director Sylvain Chomet; August: Osage County, an adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play, directed by John Wells, the successful TV producer who made his feature-directing debut a couple of years ago with with the not-bad The Company Men; Devil’s Knot, Atom Egoyan’s effort at turning the much-documented West Memphis Three case into a docudrama, starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth; and Under The Skin, an adaptation of Michael Faber’s satirical science-fiction novel, directed by Jonathan Glazer, making his first film since 2004’s Birth.
By Wednesday, September 11, TIFF should begin to change gears again, as most of the biggest movies will have debuted, and festgoers will be looking to catch the second, third, or fourth screenings of films they missed. But Mike will have some major auteurs in his mix, and if all goes well, he’ll be writing about Night Moves, the latest from Old Joy/Wendy & Lucy/Meek’s Cutoff filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard as environmentalists plotting to blow up a dam. It’s already gone over well at Venice, where some have pegged it as the film to beat for the fest’s top prize, The Golden Lion. Last year, that Lion went to Kim Ki-duk’s maligned-by-many Pietà; Kim’s back on the festival circuit this year with Moebius, a graphic depiction of how a deeply dysfunctional family warps its youngest members. Mike, who has liked many of Kim’s films in the past, will likely be checking that one out for us.
On Thursday, September 12, Scott could have a look at another film that’s been much-praised at this year’s Venice festival: The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki’s biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter jet. Miyazaki has had a career-long fascination with aviation, and if The Wind Rises is his final film (as the septuagenarian has implied), it would be an apt way to go out, although The Wind Rises has drawn some criticism, too, reportedly for not digging deeply enough into what the military did with Horikoshi’s amazing planes. So there should be a lot for Scott to get into here. And if that isn’t controversial enough, Scott may also be writing about The Fifth Estate, Bill Condon’s dramatization of the rise of WikiLeaks, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Julian Assange.
Friday, September 13 brings word on the latest from Ben Wheatley, a TIFF regular whose previous two films, Kill List and Sightseers, played the fest in 2011 and 2012, respectively. I really liked the former and strongly disliked the latter, so I’ll be curious to see A Field In England, particularly given that it’s landed in the avant-garde Wavelengths program. A black-and-white evocation of the English Civil War of the mid-1600s, A Field In England is reportedly brutal and trippy, and continues Wheatley’s fascination with ancient British mysticism. I should be writing about that, and may also be taking on the comedy Fading Gigolo, written, directed by, and starring John Turturro, who plays a male prostitute, with Woody Allen playing his pimp. As a filmmaker, Turturro has produced unique work, to say the least. Not always good, but unique.
Our last day of coverage comes on Saturday, September 14, with Mike picking up some of the stray pieces. Among the films he could be covering is At Berkeley, a four-hour exploration of the state of higher education in the United States, courtesy of esteemed documentarian Frederick Wiseman. Also in play: We Are The Best!, a paean to a 1980s teen-girl punk-rock band, which might mark Swedish auteur Lukas Moodysson returning to the lighthearted-but-clear-eyed nostalgia of his wonderful Together, after about a decade of sourer films.
That’s more than 20 movies we’re eager to watch and start talking about—and that isn’t even taking into account the many midnight movies we didn’t mention, and the movies we haven’t heard of yet that will go on to become dark-horse favorites. If you have any requests, leave them in the comments, and we’ll see if we can get to them. And then join us here for the next nine days. ’Tis the season.