From Natalie Portman’s lesbian-ballet drama to Ben Affleck’s comeback, five TIFF films with major buzz

From Natalie Portman's lesbian-ballet drama to Ben Affleck's comeback, five TIFF films with major buzz

All right, now that we’re past the “OMG! Don Draper is coming to Toronto to find a new Betty!” stage after TIFF announced its lineup yesterday morning, let’s go through the five films the critics are keeping their eyes on.*

1. The Town
The stars: Jon Hamm, Ben Affleck, Blake Lively, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall. Plot: A career criminal (Affleck) falls in love with a bank manager, while an FBI agent (Hamm) is hot on his trail. Buzz factor: The movie, which Affleck also directed and co-wrote, is based on Chuck Hogan’s Hammett Prize–winning crime novel Prince of Thieves, which Stephen King called one of the 10 best novels of 2004. Some critics are calling the film Affleck’s best shot at a comeback.

2. Biutiful
The stars: Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib. Plot: The film revolves around Uxbal (Bardem), who probably has the worst life ever: he’s a prostate-cancer sufferer who’s verbally abusive to his kids, and has a bipolar wife who’s sleeping with his brother, who happens to be Uxbal’s partner in crime—they run a drug ring, a shady construction company and a sweatshop. Buzz factor: Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s past projects include the epic and fairly well-received 21 Grams and Babel. Some reviewers have found the film too depressing (and not in a good way), but Bardem won the best actor award at Cannes for the film.

3. Black Swan
The stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder. Plot: A psychological thriller set at a New York City ballet company, where a veteran ballerina (Portman) is threatened by newcomer Lily (Kunis). Lesbian subplots all around! Buzz factor: Did we mention the lesbian subplots? The Portman-Kunis sex scene has been titillating on-line forum commenters for the past year—we didn’t say the buzz has to be highbrow—and the fashion world is set to salivate over the Rodarte-designed costumes. Plus, the film is directed by Darren Aronofsky of The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream fame. We’ll hear more about the film when it premieres at the Venice Film Festival on September 1.

4. The King’s Speech
The stars: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham-Carter, Guy Pearce. Plot: Although it sounds like an all-male version of My Fair Lady, King’s is a historical drama about King George VI (Firth) hiring a speech therapist (Rush) to get rid of his stammer. Bonham-Carter gives Judy Dench a rest by playing Queen Elizabeth. Buzz factor: Director Tom Hooper has been on a hot streak, with 2009’s The Damned United getting fantastic reviews at TIFF and his HBO miniseries John Adams pretty much sweeping last year’s Emmys and the Golden Globes.

5. A Screaming Man
The stars: Emile Abossolo M’bo, Youssouf Djaoro, Dioucounda Koma, Hadke Fatime N’Goua. Plot: Sixty-something former swim champ Adam works as a pool boy at a hotel in Chad and is humiliated when the hotel gets new owners, who replace him with his son. The film is set during the country’s civil war; Adam is forced to contribute to the war effort and has nothing to offer but his son. Buzz factor: A Screaming Man won the Jury Prize at Cannes, and reviews from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety are promising, with the latter saying it is “pure-grade art cinema for high-end distribs.”

* Yes, yes, we realize Woody Allen has a film here, but aside from Vicky Cristina Barcelona, his films have been lukewarm in the past decade.


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