We've got about a month left of summer movie season, but the studios are about to start unveiling their Oscar candidates—that is, the films they think are actually good. A lot of these get their launch at the Toronto Film Festival, which will run from September 6 to 16.
Though it opens after the other two major fall festivals, Venice (August 29 to September 8) and Telluride (August 31 to September 3), Toronto is one-stop shopping for prestige films: Many movies that will play the other two festivals (as well as Cannes) find their way to the Canadian event.
I'm going to be going to Toronto, and although the whole slate hasn't yet been announced, a bunch of it has. And I'm very pumped. Listed alphabetically, here are 10 films I'm particularly jazzed to see:
The sort of prestigious thriller-drama you tend to get around awards season—think The Town or The Ides of March—Argo is based on a too-good-to-be-true incident from 1979 in which the CIA attempted to rescue six Americans hiding out from the Iranian government at the Canadian embassy. The plan? Stage a covert operation to make everyone think that they're actually part of a film crew working on a sci-fi flick being shot in the Middle East. The trailer makes it look like Ben Affleck, the director, has concocted a real-life Ocean's Eleven with all that film's style and added dramatic oomph.
Tom Hanks's John Travolta-esque look is disconcerting in the trailer, but it's hard not to be excited about a film this baldly ambitious. Based on David Mitchell's novel, Cloud Atlas jumps across time and stars several actors playing multiple roles, including Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. It's co-directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski, which brings together the filmmakers of The Matrix and Run Lola Run for what looks like an attempt to conjure Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Fountain. The "Everything Is Connected" tagline suggests that this intends to be an Important Film. We'll see if it is.
French director Laurent Cantet is the man behind Time Out, Heading South and The Class, the Palme d'Or-winning drama about a grade school teacher that was free of Hollywood's insulting inspirational-teacher cliche. Foxfire, is Cantet's English-language debut, adapting the Joyce Carol Oates novel about a 1950s teen girl gang in upstate New York. Cantet has long been a chronicler of working-class life, but how will he acclimate to a very American story?
The Last Supper
No, not that Last Supper. Chinese filmmaker Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death was a terrific war film chronicling the Battle of Nanking, and his new movie is also a historical drama, based around the Hongmen Banquet, which occurred around 206 B.C. If you don't know your Chinese history, then just know that Lu is a master of mixing spectacle and human-scale drama.
Looper filmmaker Rian Johnson and I went to school together, so my interest in his career (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) is personal as much as it is professional. With that said, I'm excited to see what he does with this science-fiction thriller involving time travel and a hitman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who squares off against his older self (Bruce Willis). Best case scenario, Looper brings the mind-bending logic and indie cachet of Pi and Primer to the masses without sacrificing ingenuity or smarts.
Paul Thomas Anderson's "Is it about Scientology or not?" period drama will premiere at Venice before it arrives in Toronto, thereby giving The Master a chance to experience a particular festival-film phenomenon: Because many reviewers don't attend both Venice and Toronto, it's possible for two separate and different critical consensuses to form. I heard great things about A Dangerous Method out of Venice, but most people I spoke to at Toronto were more mixed about the David Cronenberg film (as was I). Considering that some people are already touting its Best Picture-winning chances, The Master (which opens September 14) will be this year's first big, serious Oscar prospect. But last year's was The Ides of March, and look how that turned out.
With a few exceptions, ESPN's "30 for 30" series was a happy surprise, successfully turning sports history into engaging documentaries that, at their best, examined how sports are little microcosms of everyday life. That's why I'm interested in 9.79*, director Daniel Gordon's look back at Ben Johnson's world-record run in the 100-meter dash at the 1988 Summer Olympics that was nullified because of a positive drug test. One caveat, though: A shorter version of the documentary aired on the BBC this month, and apparently you can watch that version online for free.
The Place Beyond the Pines
In 2010, director Derek Cianfrance divided audiences with his raw, beautiful romantic drama Blue Valentine, which most people still probably know about chiefly for its silly NC-17 "controversy." Cianfrance spent more than a decade bringing Blue Valentine to the screen, but his follow-up, The Place Beyond the Pines, is already here. It stars Blue Valentine lead Ryan Gosling as "a professional motorcycle rider who turns to bank robberies to support his newborn son." The film also has Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, and Eva Mendes, and it promises to be a gritty thriller and a change of pace from Blue Valentine's microscopic look at a marriage falling apart.
Toronto's Midnight Madness section features a fun, unpredictable slate of genre films—often horror—that can sometimes launch a cult fave like The Raid. That's why it's intriguing that the comedy Seven Psychopaths is premiering in this section. Writer-director-playwright Martin McDonagh, who previously made the great In Bruges, has made this one about "a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends (Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell) kidnap a gangster's (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu." If a film playing in Midnight Madness isn't a horror movie, that usually means it's sick, twisted, weird, and possibly really gory. Can't wait.
To the Wonder
More than a year after first seeing The Tree of Life, I'm still wresting with Terrence Malick's ambitious mysteries-of-the-universe/autobiographical-family-portrait drama. Usually you have years between Malick movies to digest each one. But he's back already with To the Wonder, a romantic drama concerning a married couple (Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko) who face different kinds of temptation in the form of Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams. At this point, everyone's sorta guessing what the movie's about, but everyone knows they want to see it just because it's Malick.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.