The 50 buzziest films of TIFF 2012: we slice through the hype so you don’t have to

The 50 buzziest films of TIFF 2012: we slice through the hype so you don’t have to

The 50 buzziest films of TIFF 2012
Single tickets for the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival go on sale this Sunday, September 2. And with a record 372 films being screened (146 of them world premieres), it can be daunting trying to figure out which ones are actually worth the $20 (or $40, for galas and special presentations) and hours in line. The solution: our guide to the 50 most talked-about movies at the festival this year, in which we scrutinize the advance hype (and the buzz from Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and Venice) to separate the must-sees from the flicks that only a mother could love.

See all our picks and rejects »

The 50 Buzziest films of TIFF 2012: Auteurs

We haven’t heard a single bad thing about this film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in May. Given Austrian director Michael Haneke’s previous works—Funny Games, Caché, The White Ribbon—the title almost sounds like a put-on, but word is this is an authentically humane and touching (if super sad) look at love (go figure). It stars the great Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as a married couple in their twilight years, one of whom has a terminal illness. A frontrunner for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Score: 4

Dormant Beauty
The consistently daring Italian director Marco Bellocchio (Fists in the Pocket, Vincere) returns with this look at an infamous right-to-die case that divided Italy for years. The movie is a fiction that looks at several characters tangentially related to the case: a senator preparing for a parliamentary vote on state-assisted suicide, a singer with a comatose daughter of her own and a meth addict with a death wish. Bellocchio is one of the greatest living directors, but his last few films didn’t even get distribution in Canada, so see this one while you can. Score: 4

Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang
French director Laurent Cantet (The Class) gets points for coming to Sault Ste. Marie to film this adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates novel set in the 1950s. It’s about a bunch of small-town New York girls who band together as a sort of proto-Riot Grrrl group in order to battle male chauvinism and patriarchy. Kind of odd subject matter for Cantet, but there’s not one pretty poseur among the cast of non-professionals he gathered to play the girls, which bodes very well indeed. No matter what happens, it’ll be better than the 1996 Angelina Jolie version. Score: 3

Frances Ha
Indie auteur Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) made this movie completely under the radar, so not much is known about it. What we do know: it’s in black-and-white, it’s set in Brooklyn and it’s reportedly a love letter to his girlfriend, Greta Gerwig, who plays an adorably under-achieving dancer-artist. The script is by Gerwig, too. And the TIFF program notes call it a “modern fable.” Those with an allergy to indie tweeness should bring antihistamine for the hives. Score: 1

The Master
Arguably the most highly anticipated movie of the year, P.T. Anderson’s followup to There Will Be Blood is a thinly veiled look at the origins of Scientology, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the L. Ron Hubbard–like title character. Expectations are so high it’s hard to know how they’ll ever be met, but sneak previews of the film—which was shot in glorious, old-school 70 mm—have gone over very well, eliciting high praise from viewers. Not so much from Tom Cruise, though. Score: 5

Okay, so Brian De Palma hasn’t made a good movie in years—but so what? We still love the guy and live in hope he’ll return to form. His latest, a loose remake of the 2010 French thriller Love Crime, features Rachel McAdams as a high-powered advertising exec who steals credit for the work of her assistant, played by Noomi Rapace. This somehow leads to murder and girl-on-girl canoodling in the back of a limo. We’re a little concerned about the casting of McAdams, who seems both too young and too nice to play a scheming exec. Why not bring Kristin Scott-Thomas back from the original? Score: 2

Silver Linings Playbook
Despite his well-documented anger issues, director David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter) is one of the most original, underrated filmmakers working today. We’d be 100 per cent stoked for his latest if Mark Wahlberg hadn’t been replaced by Bradley Cooper in the role of a recovering depressive, and if the source material, a novel by Matthew Quick, didn’t sound like something you’d purchase at Pottery Barn. Still, the trailer contains legitimate laughs, and the supporting cast—Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jackie Weaver, Julia Stiles and Chris Tucker (!)—is golden. Score: 4

Something in the Air
French director Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep, Summer Hours, Carlos) has been on a hot streak of late, and this semi-autobiographical work looks likely to continue it. Set shortly after the Paris riots of 1968, it’s about a high school student who disappoints his politically engaged friends by wanting to be a painter and filmmaker instead of a professional agitator (gotta love those ’60s France career options). Fans of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers will want to check this out, as will the Cahier du Cinéma crowd. Score: 4

To the Wonder
Another Terrence Malick movie? Dude—slow down the conveyor belt. Movies are art, not widgets. Jeez. Score: 5

Next up: Oscar Bait »

The 50 Buzziest films of TIFF 2012: Oscar Bait

Anna Karenina
It’d be easy to dismiss this as the very definition of Oscar baiting—a costume drama based on a classic novel made by Academy-approved director-actress-screenwriter combo Joe Wright, Keira Knightley and Tom Stoppard—but admit it: the trailer looks kind of splendid. Plus, Wright has taken the creative risk of filming the whole thing on a single soundstage with interlocking sets, which should set it apart from the typical historical drama. We’d be lying if we said we weren’t cautiously optimistic. Score: 3

The no-longer-embarrassing Ben Affleck directs himself in his most ambitious bid for Oscar glory yet. Argo tells the true story of a CIA operative (Affleck) who used the cover of a fake Hollywood film to rescue six foreign operatives held hostage in Iran in 1979. The script, written by Chris Terrio (and based on a Wired Magazine article), was on the 2010 Black List of the best unproduced screenplays, and the rest of the cast—Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Bryan Cranston—could fill out a ballot of supporting actor nominees all by itself. Score: 4

Cloud Atlas
Overprotective fans of David Mitchell’s cult 2004 novel—which tells six loosely related stories—have already written this adaptation off as an abomination, which strikes us as a little premature. Sure, the trailer is all over the place, the visuals look extravagantly literal-minded, and leads Tom Hanks and Halle Berry could single-handedly kill the film with their excruciating earnestness, but the tag-team writer-director trio of the Wachowskis (The Matrix trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) have done great things in the past. Or in the far-off, distant past, at least. Okay, who are we kidding? This will be an abomination. Score: 2

Great Expectations
This is, what, the bazillionth adaptation of the Dickens classic? Don’t high school students already have enough ways to avoid reading it? If we must have another, British director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) is certainly a good match for the material, being intelligent, a good craftsman and a wee bit boring. Meanwhile, the cast, led by Jeremy Irvine and Ralph Fiennes, is well chosen. But the best reason to see it may well be Helena Bonham Carter, who’s been rehearsing the role of Miss Havisham for at least 10 years. Score: 2

Hyde Park on Hudson
This movie—in which President Roosevelt welcomes King George VI to his upstate New York home for a weekend—would never have been made if it weren’t for the success of The King’s Speech, but that’s no reason to hate it. Bill Murray is an inspired choice to play FDR, screenwriter Richard Nelson is a Tony-winning playwright best known for his Chekhov adaptations and director Roger Michell (The Mother, Enduring Love) has a pretty decent track record. Go ahead and add this to your Oscar pool right now. Score: 4

The Impossible
Spanish director J.A. Bayona made an impressive debut with the 2007 chiller The Orphanage. Happily, he’s assembled the same creative crew for this followup, a drama about a married couple searching for their children in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Unhappily, he’s cast the extremely talented but extremely white Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as the couple. We suppose this doesn’t necessarily invalidate the entire movie, but it certainly invites heckling. Score: 3

On the Road
The Brazilian director Walter Salles (Central Station, The Motorcycle Diaries) has been trying to get this Kerouac adaptation off the ground for years. Now that it’s finally here—starring Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund and the suddenly reviled Kristen Stewart—it must answer the question that’s been dogging it since the beginning: why bother? The movie has no chance of rivalling the book, but the talent involved should ensure it functions as a worthwhile bit of supplementary material. Score: 3

Dustin Hoffman makes his directing debut with this adaptation of a not-very-well-regarded Ronald Harwood play. It’s about four aging opera singers who end up in the same nursing home together, and it works the same crowd-pleasing, chuckles-and-heartbreak terrain as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Sure, the always delightful Maggie Smith as a former diva is hard to resist, but save this one for your next outing with the parents. Score: 2

The Sessions
This comedy-drama about a man in an iron lung (John Hawkes) who sets out to lose his virginity with a professional sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) has been riding a wave of Oscar buzz since it debuted at Sundance last January. The subject matter is certainly fresh, and we can’t think of anyone better than Hawkes for the role, but is it just us, or is the trailer completely nauseating? It’s all so cozy-cute and harmless. Plus, William H. Macy as a long-haired priest = adorableness overload (in a bad way). Score: 2

Next up: Celebrity Rehab »

The 50 Buzziest films of TIFF 2012: Celebrity Rehab

At Any Price
In a bid to shed his image as a teen heartthrob, Zac Efron teams up with indie auteur Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Goodbye Solo) to play a hunky, rebellious farmer’s son who dreams of being a race-car driver. (Baby steps, Zac, baby steps.) Also on hand are Dennis Quaid as the dad and Heather Graham as an undisclosed character, probably a hot chick or something (such is her lot). We’ll have a better idea how this turned out after its debut at the Venice Film Festival next week. Score: 3

The Paperboy
In another bid to shed his image as a teen heartthrob, Zac Efron teams up with indie auteur Lee Daniels (Precious), playing a naïve hunk who falls for a skanky Southern sexpot (Nicole Kidman). Zac and Nic aren’t the whole show here—there’s also Matthew McConaughey as a crusading reporter, John Cusack as a death-row inmate and Macy Gray as a housekeeper. But who cares about them when Zac is running around in his tighty-whities and Nic is peeing on Zac’s face? Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar was set to direct this Cannes succès de scandale as his English-language debut, but something in him decided to hold off. Taste, probably. Score: incalculable

End of Watch
In a bid to shed his image as somewhat washed-up, Jake Gyllenhaal trades his Prince of Persia togs for an LAPD uniform in director David Ayer’s followup to the poorly received Street Kings. Ayer knows the LAPD terrain well (he wrote Training Day and Dark Blue, and was writer-director of Harsh Times), but his movies have become rather repetitive, and the twist he’s added for this one—found footage—is way tired. Gyllenhaal and co-star Michael Peña reportedly spent five months training for their roles, which is about four months longer than this thing is gonna hang around theatres. Score: 2

Jayne Mansfield’s Car
In a bid to shed his image as a jerk, Billy Bob Thornton returns to the director’s chair more than 15 years after Sling Blade with this Alabama-set comedy-drama. Robert Duvall plays the patriarch of a small-town clan, while Thornton, Kevin Bacon and Robert Patrick play his sons. The plot has something to do with Duvall’s character struggling with the death of an estranged wife. Great cast, but reviews out of the Berlin Film Festival last February were uniformly unenthusiastic. Score: 2

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
In a bid to shed her image as Hermione Granger, Emma Watson teams up with writer-director Stephen Chbosky on an adaptation of his own popular YA novel. As three high-schoolers who become fast friends in early-’90s Pittsburgh, Watson, Ezra Miller and Logan Lerman pretend to be gawky, uncool misfits rather than dream teens with high-fashion eyebrows—and if the trailer is any indication, they spend most of the movie doing life-affirming things like making snow angels and refusing to wear seatbelts in moving automobiles. Score: 2

Seven Psychopaths
In a bid to shed his image as box-office poison, Colin Farrell re-teams with Anglo-Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh to play a struggling screenwriter caught up in a ludicrous dog-napping scheme. Farrell was excellent as a conscientious hit man in McDonagh’s debut, In Bruges, and pairing him with Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken here is likely to produce similarly great results. Other pluses: a supporting turn from Tom Waits, and Woody Harrelson as a bloodthirsty gang lord. Score: 4

Spring Breakers
In a bid to shed his image as a flake, James Franco teams with indie auteur Harmony Korine (Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy) to play a cornrowed gangster who turns four young students (including Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens) into his own personal entourage. Actually, this probably won’t do anything to change Franco’s image. Score: 1

Next up: Outliers »

The 50 Buzziest films of TIFF 2012: Outliers

Arthur Newman
No one seems to know much of anything about this Colin Firth vehicle, except that it was once suicidally titled Arthur Newman, Golf Pro. Firth plays the title character, a man who fakes his own death and takes up a new identity as, yes, a golf pro. Things get more complicated when he meets a woman named Mike (Emily Blunt) and lets her in on his ruse. The director, Dante Ariola, has no credits to his name, and screenwriter Becky Johnston’s eclectic career consists solely of The Prince of Tides, Seven Years in Tibet and—wait for it—Under the Cherry Moon. Score: 2

Berberian Sound Studio
This sophomore film from U.K. director Peter Strickland (Katalin Varga) got great buzz on the festival circuit. It’s about a British sound engineer (Toby Jones) who goes to work on a lurid Italian horror film, only to clash with the director and crew. Working on his own in a tiny studio, he begins to succumb to paranoia, claustrophobia and suspicion. Strickland reportedly used sound as a character, eliciting comparisons to the work of David Lynch and Blow-Out–era Brian De Palma. Score: 4

After the success of Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig took the opportunity to tackle this long-sidetracked pet project, scripted by friend and Saturday Night Live writer Michelle Morgan. Wiig plays the title character, a New York playwright who fakes her own suicide just to get her ex’s attention, then ends up forced to live with her hated mother (Annette Bening) in Atlantic City. Wiig got the duo of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor) to direct, so the project seems to be in good hands. The movie doesn’t have a distributor yet, but that should change post-fest. Score: 3

In 2009, filmmaker Lucien Castaing-Taylor directed one of the most visually arresting documentaries of the decade: Sweetgrass, about modern-day Montana shepherds marshalling their flock through the mountains. Now he’s back—with a new co-director, Véréna Paravel—and tackling the world of commercial fishing. The two reportedly got really into the experience, tethering cameras not only to various parts of the ships but to the fishers themselves. We can’t imagine how this could be anything less than marvellous. Score: 5

This sci-fi time-travel thriller percolated in writer-director Rian Johnson’s brain for a long while before finally seeing the light of day, but early word of mouth says it was worth the wait. Emily Blunt, who co-stars alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, is on the record saying it’s the best thing she’s ever been in (and she doesn’t strike us as the b.s. type). Our only nitpick: did Johnson really need to alter Gordon-Levitt’s face to make him look more like Willis (who plays his future self)? Now he just looks like Mickey Rourke. Score: 4

Much Ado About Nothing
Sometime during principal photography on The Avengers, geek godhead Joss Whedon found time to invite a bunch of actor pals over to his house to make a faithful black-and-white adaptation of a classic Shakespeare comedy. We’re just guessing, but this probably wouldn’t be going the theatrical route if The Avengers hadn’t been such a gargantuan hit (in all likelihood it was meant to be another web effort à la Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along). Basically, this is an opportunity to see Whedon’s house for $40. Score: 5 for Whedonites, 1 for everyone else

The Place Beyond the Pines
This movie by Blue Valentine writer-director Derek Cianfrance runs the risk of becoming an informal referendum on modern-day male hotness. What’ll it be, ladies and gays: hipster-hot Ryan Gosling as a motorcycle stunt driver-turned-criminal or douchey-hot Bradley Cooper as a rookie police officer? Actually, this multi-generational saga is rumoured to be highly ambitious—evocative of The Godfather, even—so maybe we should stop being so shallow about it. Score: 4

Room 237
One of the most acclaimed titles out of Sundance, this documentary by Rodney Ascher looks deep into Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining—maybe too deep. Ascher interviews a number of obsessive fans who insist the film contains secret messages about Native American genocide, government conspiracies and god knows what else. Because the movie uses a trove of clips—not just from The Shining, but from an array of movies—the possibility exists that distributor IFC Midnight could have trouble with rights issues. Which means: see it now. Score: 4

The Sapphires
The always-savvy Weinstein Company picked up this Australian film before its first screening at Cannes earlier this year. It tells the true story of a Supremes-like girl group—made up entirely of Aboriginal singers—who performed for GIs during the Vietnam War. Rising adorable star Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, The IT Crowd) has a supporting role as the girls’ manager. Though the movie’s supposed to have great musical numbers, word is the story is—shocker—fairly cheesy and sentimental. Score: 2

U.K. director Ben Wheatley is going to break out any year now. His no-budget debut film, Down Terrace, was a small, macabre gem, and his followup, last year’s Midnight Madness title Kill List, freaked out horror fans all over the world via festival screenings and VOD. His latest, which got great notices at Cannes, is about a frumpy couple who head out in an RV to see the English countryside. Somehow, their innocent journey turns into a Bonnie and Clyde-style bloody spree. Score: 4

Australian writer-director Robert Connolly showed Spielbergian flair in his little-seen debut film, The Bank, which screened at the 2001 festival. Since then, Connolly’s worked mostly in TV, but Underground might mark a breakthrough. It looks at the formative years of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, when he was just a junior hacker working on a Commodore 64 in his mom’s basement. Connolly did an excellent job visualizing the flow of data and money in The Bank, so he’s almost certainly the right man for the material. Only concern: this was made for Australian television, so production values might be low. Score: 3

Next up: Foreign »

The 50 Buzziest films of TIFF 2012: Foreign

This Chilean film, directed by Pablo Larrain and starring Gael García Bernal, was loved by everybody when it screened at Cannes (where it won the top prize in the Director’s Fortnight sidebar). It tells the true story of an adman who mounted a snappy campaign against Pinochet in 1988, paving the way for the dictator’s ouster. The movie was shot on deliberately icky-looking video stock to match the news footage of the period, but the potentially gimmicky approach reportedly works just fine. Sony Pictures Classics is clearly anticipating a Foreign Film Oscar nod, having scheduled the film for the optimal post-nomination period early next year. Score: 5

Beyond the Hills
Romanian director Cristian Mungiu charmed and delighted art-house audiences everywhere with his black-market abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Now he’s back with this loose adaptation of The Sound of Music, in which a high-spirited young woman tries to escape her lesbian past by living as a nun in an orthodox monastery. According to those who saw it at Cannes, the question “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” has been answered in surprisingly harsh fashion. Score: 3

Having incurred the wrath of the Italian mafia with his last film, Gomorrah, director Matteo Garrone now prepares to trash Italian reality television. Aniello Arena plays a small-town fishmonger convinced by his family to audition for Big Brother; not altogether surprisingly, the promise of short-lived fame proves quietly destructive. It could be a bit heavy-handed, or it could be a worthy successor to Luchino Visconti’s classic Anna Magnani vehicle Bellissima. Score: 3

A Royal Affair
This historical romance from Danish writer-director Nikolaj Arcel (screenwriter of the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) sounds like it has a bit more on its mind than the rustling of corsets. Mads Mikkelsen plays an 18th-century German doctor eager to bring enlightenment to Denmark. Though he has the ear of the king, he also has the hots for the king’s wife (Alicia Vikander), forcing him to choose between love and the greater social good. You can probably guess how that turns out. Score: 3

Rust and Bone
Rising French auteur Jacques Audiard follows up his acclaimed A Prophet with this look at two wounded individuals: a small-time boxer (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) horribly maimed by her star pupil. That last detail positions the movie just across the street from Camp Town, but Cotillard is said to be very affecting in her role. Notices out of Cannes were otherwise mixed. As a side note, this was adapted from two short stories by Canadian author Craig Davidson. Neat! Score: 3

The Suicide Shop
French director Patrice Leconte (Monsieur Hire, The Man on the Train) has been missing in action for a while now. Turns out he was just switching gears, prepping his entry into feature-length animation. Described in the TIFF program notes as a “merrily malignant musical,” this adaptation of the 2007 novel by Jean Teulé tells of a family business specializing in the accoutrements of self-harm: nooses, rusty razor blades, rat poison, etc. The plot turns on a problem of succession: how to hand the business over to the eldest son, the black-sheep optimist of the family? Sounds awesome. Score: 4

Thérèse Desqueyroux
Audrey Tautou was never quite able to capitalize on her Amélie success, at least not in North America (madcap pixie sprites having trended downward in recent years). Wisely or not, she’s moved into the sphere of costume dramas, her latest being this adaptation of François Mauriac’s Madame Bovary–like classic novel. Director Claude Miller (Betty Fisher and Other Stories) passed away shortly after completing the film, so let’s hope it’s a good send-off. Score: 3

White Elephant
One of our favourite films of TIFF 2010 was the Argentine thriller Carancho, which never made it to Toronto screens, even though it was hugely smart, stylish and accessible. Director Pablo Trapero’s followup features two of the same leads—Ricardo Darin (The Secret in Their Eyes) and Martina Gusman—and adds French actor Jérémie Renier. It’s about two priests caught in the middle of a drug war in one of Buenos Aires’ most notorious slums. It got lots of good notices at Cannes, but apparently it wasn’t arty enough to land any awards. That’s a plus in our book. Score: 4

Next up: Canadian »

The 50 Buzziest films of TIFF 2012: Canadian

Meet Brandon Cronenberg. He’s a lot like his dad, David Cronenberg. His debut movie, Antiviral, could actually be one of his dad’s early movies, like Rabid or Videodrome—which would be totally okay except we don’t really get the premise, which is something about ordinary citizens paying good money to be infected with the viruses of their favourite celebrities. Call us myopic, but is this ever likely to be a thing? (Also, critics at Cannes summed the movie up as “boring.”) Score: 2

One of only two Canadian films chosen as galas this year, this movie by Ruba Nadda (Cairo Time) is about a Syrian-Canadian man (Alexander Siddig of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame) whose daughter goes missing in Damascus. Unfortunately, it looks like it wants to be the next Taken, with Siddig busting an unlikely number of heads in the recently released trailer. Also, we love Marisa Tomei, but her accent sounds, er, problematic. Score: 2

Laurence Anyways
Divisive Quebec phenom Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats) is back with his most ambitious work yet, a decade-spanning three-hour film about a man (Melvin Poupad) who decides to become a woman. Though word from Cannes was that the film overreaches and doesn’t quite merit its epic running time, the notices were still largely positive. Having seen the stylish, hurtling trailer, we’re ready to give Dolan the benefit of the doubt (again). Score: 3

Midnight’s Children
Academy Award-nominated director Deepa Mehta (Water) may have bitten off more than she can chew with this ambitious adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s epic novel of Indian independence. Rushdie’s stylish, colourful prose pretty much demands a cinematic equivalent if it’s to work onscreen at all, and Mehta has always been more of a quiet, earnest filmmaker. Still, Rushdie handled the adaptation himself, and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens (Water, Three Kings) has done amazing work in the past. Score: 3

Formerly titled War Witch, this film from Montreal director Kim Nguyen came out of nowhere to earn raves, as well as a best actress prize for young star Rachel Mwanza, at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. It looks at a 14-year-old girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo who gets dragged into the jungle and inducted into an army of child soldiers. Grim stuff, to be sure, but apparently conveyed with intelligence and tact. Score: 4

Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley’s third feature—reportedly an uncategorizable combo of documentary and essay film—has been kept tightly under wraps. The TIFF program notes don’t even mention who appears in it, describing the film only as “a loving homage to one key player who is no longer here to share her vision.” But just yesterday, before the first screening in Venice, Polley spilled the beans—the film is a multi-voiced history of the until-now secret story of her own parentage. Score: 4