50 Buzziest TIFF Films: what to see, what to skip and how to slice through the hype
Tickets go on sale tomorrow for all the screenings at TIFF 2010, but with over 300 titles, guessing at what film is worth the money (and queuing) is as challenging as ever. Well, fear not: our guide cuts through the hype surrounding the 50 most anticipated flicks to reveal which films are likely to give the most bang for your buck.
Writer-director John Sayles goes the no-stars route again (à la Men With Guns) with this movie about an American soldier embroiled in the early-20th-century Philippine-American War. The always well-intentioned Sayles tends to be at his most maladroit when tackling overtly political, large-canvas tales such as this, but we’ll cross our fingers anyway.
It may not have scored any awards at Cannes, but everybody seems to love Mike Leigh’s latest, about a happy, aging couple (Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent) and their numerous messed-up singleton friends. Long-time Leigh regular Lesley Manville is said to give a standout performance as a depressed, booze-soaked secretary. And when has Leigh ever made a less-than-worthwhile film?
This Danish documentary, which follows soldiers fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, racked up numerous plaudits on the festival circuit earlier this year and even became the first documentary to win the Critic’s Week competition at Cannes. People who’ve seen Armadillo say it makes Restrepo (an American doc about U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan) look like Little Miss Sunshine.
The Bang Bang Club
Best known as a TV documentarian, director Steven Silver makes his feature debut with an adaptation of the 2001 non-fiction tome about four young, white South African combat photographers. The actors—Ryan Phillippe, Taylor Kitsch—aren’t exactly A-list, but the film looks intriguing because the photogs aren’t supposed to be journalist heroes, but reckless, morally compromised individuals.
Making a movie out of Barney’s Version—Mordecai Richler’s final, Giller Prize–winning novel about a jerky Canadian television producer—has been a pet project of big Canadian film producer Robert Lantos for more than a decade. Now that it’s finally come to fruition with Richard J. Lewis (Whale Music) in the director’s chair and Paul Giamatti (Sideways) in the lead, it seems like a patriotic duty to at least pretend to like it.
Most people already know how they feel about Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel), so we’ll just note that critics didn’t have much nice to say about his latest at Cannes. Nevertheless, star Javier Bardem managed to win the best actor prize there, so who knows? If you can get through Bardem’s yammering in the trailer—“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm”—add a point or two to our rating.
The hype is high for this one. Judging by the trailer, director Darren Aronofsky has returned to the hysterical, fevered style of his Requiem for a Dream with this ballet-world takeoff of All About Eve. Our guess: the setting (and star Natalie Portman) will imbue the film with a touch of class, but not enough to conceal its gaudy B-movie heart.
Derek Cianfrance’s look at the dissolution of a relationship, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, received nearly unanimous raves at Sundance and Cannes, with the two stars garnering plenty of spurious Oscar talk. Our only concern: will the film’s scrambled chronology and relative plotlessness be artistic beauty or directorial wankery?
One film stars Ryan Reynolds as a man trapped in a coffin, while the other stars James Franco as a man trapped under a boulder. Our guess is that the former, Buried, will be the better film, because all it wants to be is an entertaining genre exercise. 127 Hours, however, is based on the true story of unfortunate hiker Aron Ralston and will thus be burdened by seriousness and likely seem as long as its title. (Plus, does anyone really want to see a guy cut his own arm off with a dull army knife?)
Score: 3 (Buried)
Score: 2 (127 Hours)
Fans of Academy Award winner The Secret in Their Eyes would do well to check out this follow-up from star Ricardo Darin. Directed by the talented Pablo Trapero (Rolling Family, Lion’s Den), Carancho is about a conflicted lawyer who haunts emergency rooms hoping to make clients of traffic accident victims. Some who’ve seen it say it nails the gritty urban realism that Martin Scorsese only partially captured in Bringing Out the Dead.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog! Spelunking! France! Ancient art! In 3-D!
Nobody seems to know much about this Robert Redford–directed gala film, which, as of right now, doesn’t even have a release date. Of course, that hasn’t stopped Oscar prognosticators from predicting a best actress nod for Robin Wright, who stars as a mother accused of aiding her son in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. We’d feel more confident, however, if Redford had ever displayed an aptitude for period pictures. (Remember The Legend of Bagger Vance? Neither do we.)
The trailer for this Hilary Swank legal drama has every single Oscar-baiting cliché known to man. Based on the undoubtedly inspiring true story of working mom Betty Ann Waters, who put herself through law school for the sole purpose of defending her brother from wrongful imprisonment, Conviction looks set to join Amelia and Freedom Writers in Swank’s growing catalogue of unendurable biopics.
Everything Must Go
First, it got Robin Williams. Then Tom Hanks and Jim Carrey. And now it’s claimed Will Farrell: the dramatic acting bug. In this adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story, Farrell stars as a motivational speaker whose wife has locked him out of the house and thrown all of his belongings on the lawn. Consequently, he makes the lawn his permanent residence. Farrell will likely get to do some funny stuff here, but it’ll almost certainly be muted. And isn’t muted Will Farrell missing the entire point of Will Farrell?
The First Grader
This supposedly true story about an uneducated 84-year-old Kenyan man who enrolls in a remote primary school has “heartwarmer” written all over it, but will it be too cloying for its own good? Director Justin Chadwick didn’t show much talent for understatement in his debut, The Other Boleyn Girl, so we’re skeptical. On the other hand, we can easily see this winning the People’s Choice Award, so what do we know?
Director Clint Eastwood makes his first appearance at TIFF in more than 20 years with this three-pronged tale of a reluctant psychic (Matt Damon), a journalist who survives the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (Cécile de France) and a London boy who loses someone close to him around the time of the 2005 Tube bombings. If that sounds like a lot to pull together, keep in mind the script is by Peter Morgan, who wrote The Last King of Scotland, The Queen and Frost/Nixon—swell pictures all. The buzz is so loud around this one that we can barely hear Clint calling it his “French movie.”
I Saw the Devil
South Korean director Kim Ji-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters; The Good, the Bad, the Weird) returns with this thriller about a rogue secret agent on the trail of a depraved serial killer. This being a Kim Ji-woon film, however, the hero reveals himself to be nearly as depraved as his antagonist. Expect some real directorial flair, but don’t expect a morally edifying night at the movies.
French animator Sylvain Chomet’s hand-drawn follow-up to The Triplets of Belleville, based on an old, unproduced Jacques Tati screenplay about a struggling magician, received raves in Britain when the film was released there in August. Expect similarly enthusiastic notices here.
I’m Still Here
Does it even matter if this thing—Casey Affleck’s long-awaited fly-on-the-wall account of Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarro 2008 transformation into a humourless, monosyllabic hip-hop artist—is good or bad? We want to see it simply to find out if the whole thing was a put-on. Then again, we can probably save ourselves the trouble by simply reading about it on-line the day after the screening.
If you were one of the many people who couldn’t get tickets to Wajdi Mouawad’s hugely acclaimed play Scorched when it was performed at the Tarragon in 2007 (and again in 2009), here’s another chance to see what all the fuss was about. This adaptation was helmed by Montreal filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, whose recent Polytechnique won the 2010 Genie Award for best film.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Early word of mouth on this comedy-drama—a major departure for directing duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar)—is that it’s a gamble that paid off. Psych ward inmate Zach Galifianakis (the breakout star of The Hangover) plays mentor to a stressed-out 16-year-old kid who’s been placed in the adult ward while the youth ward undergoes renovations. We want to see it based on its kooky, confident trailer.
This Spanish thriller, about a woman whose vision begins to fail while she’s investigating the mysterious death of her sister, is produced by the Mexican master of the macabre, Guillermo del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth), and the trailer is filled with allusions to everything from Psycho to Wait Until Dark to Un Chien Andalou. Expect classy, old-fashioned chills.
For a while there, it looked as though American indie veteran Gregg Araki had finally moved on from his juvenile, nihilistic early features (The Doom Generation, Nowhere) with the recent one-two punch of Mysterious Skin and the woefully underrated Smiley Face, but word is he may have gone back to his old tricks with this phantasmagoric sex comedy/drama/thriller/horror/science-fiction epic. Still, he’s earned the benefit of the doubt, no?
TIFF closing-night films have often been bummers (Stone of Destiny, anyone?), and this one doesn’t look set to change the pattern. Completed long ago and collecting dust on the Miramax shelves ever since, Last Night stars Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington as a husband and wife tempted to do some mutual philandering. Word is that the film didn’t fare well with test audiences, and, really, has there ever been a more boring Australian export than Sam Worthington?
This Mexican debut film, winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes, takes place in a one-room apartment, features only three speaking parts, and looks at the sad, sadomasochistic sex life of a young journalist (Mónica Del Carmen). Not to be skeptical, but why do supposedly progressive art films always depict S&M as the exclusive domain of sad, lonely people? Surely there are plenty of perfectly happy S&M fans out there. Guess we’ll find out at the screening.
Let Me In
Fans of the 2008 Swedish vampire coming-of-age film Let the Right One In were aghast that Hollywood would dare remake the beloved original, but early word is that director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has done a pretty good job of it. We regret to report, however, that the infamous cat scene has apparently not made it into the new version.
Brazilian director Andrucha Waddington (Me You Them, House of Sand) is one of the most criminally underrated filmmakers alive, but his latest—a large-scale biopic about famed Spanish playwright and poet Lope de Vega—may change all that if it finds decent international distribution. If nothing else, see it for Waddington’s typically ravishing visuals.
This glossy-looking French thriller features Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool, A Girl Cut in Two) as an up-and-coming businesswoman and Kristin Scott-Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long, Gosford Park) as the abusive, dragon-lady boss who terrorizes her and inspires dreams of bloody revenge. This could be classy fun or trashy pulp. Either way, we are so there.
Kelly Reichardt’s follow-up to her acclaimed Wendy and Lucy features Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood and Paul Dano as settlers who become hopelessly lost on the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s. According to reports, the shoot in the Oregon desert was nearly as arduous as the real-life crossing on which the film is based. That undoubtedly sucked for the cast and crew, but we’re betting it was great for verisimilitude.
Director Julian Schnabel’s follow-up to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, about the building of an orphanage in Jerusalem in the wake of the establishment of Israel, is being touted as a showcase for Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto, but we’re more excited to see the always marvelous Hiam Abbas (The Visitor, The Syrian Bride) as Hind Husseini, the real-life founder of the orphanage.
Selected by Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes, this low-budget Vanguard title—directed by British visual effects artist Gareth Edwards—is being called the next District 9, mostly because it’s about aliens landing in a foreign country (in this case Mexico). Beyond that, however, it sounds more like Jurassic Park, with the heroes trying desperately to make it out of a quarantined area alive. Solid fun potential.
This debut feature by Ukrainian documentary director Sergei Loznitsa was an out-of-nowhere critical darling at Cannes, but no one who saw it seems able to describe it. Apparently it’s about a truck driver who encounters misfortune and Lynchian weirdness in the backwaters of Russia. Film Comment editor Gavin Smith recently called Loznitsa “the most exciting Russian director to have emerged since, oh, Alexei German the elder.” (We don’t know who that is, either—but we do know that he’s actually Ukranian, not Russian.)
Never Let Me Go
This adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s much-admired 2005 novel is being positioned as awards bait, but it faces some potential stumbling blocks. On the one hand, it has a strong cast (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Charlotte Rampling), a script by underrated writer Alex Garland, and an always awards-friendly English boarding school setting. On the other hand, it’s helmed by the man who directed the misfire One Hour Photo (Mark Romanek), and the narrative turns on a twist that’s less Howard’s End and more Clone High. If you’re uncertain, just wait—it gets a wide release before TIFF even ends.
This one’s getting chatter for ridiculousness potential. Passion Play is screenwriter Mitch Glazer’s directorial debut, described in the TIFF notes as a—shudder—“modern fable.” It stars Mickey Rourke as a down-and-out trumpet player who falls in love with Megan Fox, a carnival sideshow freak with wings. Oh yeah, and Bill Murray co-stars as a character named Happy the Gangster. Surely no good can come of this.
An odd choice for a gala, this comedy stars Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman and Michael C. Hall as squabbling siblings who gather for their father’s 70th birthday party. Barry Blaustein also directed Johnny Knoxville’s Special Olympics comedy The Ringer and wrote the screenplays for Police Academy 2, Coming to America and both of the Nutty Professor movies. You do the math.
Adapted from David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play about a couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) coping with the death of their son, Rabbit Hole is a surprisingly sombre project for director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus). Our big concern is that none of the recent films made out of Pulitzer-winning plays—Doubt, Proof, Rent—have turned out very well. And let’s be honest: most coping-with-grief movies are just dullsville Oscar showcases for actors.
Score: A Hockey Musical
This Telefilm Canada–funded ode to all things Canuck—with cameos by everyone from Wayne Gretzky to Margaret Atwood to George Stroumboulopoulos—runs the major risk of becoming the next Men With Brooms–style national embarrassment. The likely headline for the impending newspaper reviews? Score: 0.
The trailer for this crime drama starring Edward Norton, Robert DeNiro and Milla Jovovich is fairly ho-hum, but early on-line reviews claim that Stone is more interesting than it appears, that Norton is excellent, and that DeNiro has risen from the grave. Other reasons to be excited: the director is John Curran (the excellent but under-seen The Painted Veil) and the writer is Angus MacLachlan (Junebug).
Griff the Invisible
As if the recent Defendor and Kick-Ass weren’t enough, here are two more movies about ordinary schmoes turned superheroes. Super, which features the decidedly unheroic Rainn Wilson as a guy trying to win back his girlfriend by fighting crime, looks just slightly more promising than Griff the Invisible, an Australian flick starring True Blood hottie Ryan Kwanten as a superhero in love. Both look like straight-to-DVD fodder.
Score: 1 (Super)
Score: 1 (Griff the Invisible)
After a series of deeply serious outings (Standard Operating Procedure, The Fog of War), maverick documentary filmmaker Errol Morris appears to have returned to the marginal, all-American weirdness of his earlier pictures (Vernon Florida, Gates of Heaven), and no one could be happier than us. This one is about a former Miss Wyoming who allegedly kidnapped a Mormon missionary and forced him to have sex with her.
British director Michael Winterbottom has always been wildly hit-and-miss. The release of his most recent film, the controversially violent The Killer Inside Me, was curtailed due to poor critical and public reception, but his earlier film with Steve Coogan, Tristram Shandy, was an acclaimed comic gem. So let’s hope that The Trip—starring Coogan and Rob Bryden as two friends on a comic tour of northern England—resembles the latter more than the former.
Friends alum David Schwimmer gets ultra-serious for his sophomore directing effort, in which suburban parents Clive Owen and Catherine Keener discover that their teenage daughter has been raped by a 40-year-old man who poses as a 16-year-old boy on-line. Kudos to Schwimmer for moving on from Run, Fatboy, Run, but the trailer makes this look more like a lurid, hackneyed thriller than an honest drama. Yikes.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
If you’ve seen the earlier films of the acclaimed Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady, Syndromes and a Century), you know better than to ask what this Palme d’Or–winning movie is about. More useful questions are, How confused will I be, on a scale of one to 10? And how many characters are going to turn into woodland creatures mid-film?
Score: 5 for the fans, 0 for the art-film averse
Vanishing on 7th Street
Director Brad Anderson has been doing consistently underrated work in the genre trenches for years (Session 9, Transsiberian), and his latest has an excellently creepy-sounding premise: a group of strangers (Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo) wakes up one day to find that the rest of humanity has disappeared and that all of the world’s light sources—including the sun—are quickly dimming. Making matters worse, something not so friendly appears to be lurking in the growing darkness.
Admittedly, this Midnight Madness selection—about an institutionalized young woman who sees ghosts—hasn’t received much buzz, but because it marks the long-awaited return of beloved horror maven John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing), you can bet the fanboy crowd will be out in force.
If you were a once-famous movie actor—like, say, Emilio Estevez—and you wanted to make a movie about a man grieving the death of his beloved son, would you cast your own dad (Martin Sheen) as the man and yourself as the son? No, you wouldn’t, because that would be totally tacky.
What’s Wrong With Virginia
Oscar-winning writer Dustin Lance Black (Milk) is kind of asking for it with that title, but there’s no reason to think his directorial debut—about a small-town sheriff (Ed Harris) whose senate bid is threatened by a two-decades-long affair with a mentally ill woman (Jennifer Connelly)—won’t turn out all right. Still, there’s little advance word on it, and screenwriters don’t always make the best directors of their own work.