Last weekend, the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr – an excellent film critic not normally prone to such nonsense – caused a bit of a flurry in cinema circles with a piece surmising that, “someday we may look back on 2016 as the year the movies died.” It’s a forgivable leap, coming as it does at the end of a summer of mainstream movies as dire as this one, but if cinema is dying, it’s making noises like that old man in the cart in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And it will continue to howl at the Toronto International Film Festival, which kicks off an ambitious program today. As the Ebert-sanctioned starter pistol for “Good Movie Season,” the eleven-day movie orgy is the showplace for the films we may spend the fall and winter (and sometimes even next spring) buzzing about. Your correspondent will be on site, filing daily festival diaries with capsule reviews and general impressions; here are the ten I’m looking forward to most.
Most filmmakers are lucky to make one great movie in calendar year; if the Cannes critics were right, Jeff Nichols may have blessed us with two. He follows up last spring’s Midnight Special with a hard right turn from that sci-fi/action adventure, telling the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a Virginia couple whose landmark Supreme Court case invalidated laws against interracial marriage. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton star as the Lovings, while Nichols’s good-luck charm Michael Shannon appears as photographer Grey Villet.
Tom Ford has taken his sweet damn time crafting a follow-up to his masterful feature directorial debut A Single Man – seven long years, to be precise. But early word from Venice is that it was worth the wait. His adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan is a two-pronged narrative, of a writer who gives a book manuscript to his ex-wife, and the story told inside that book. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal star; the impressive supporting cast includes Isla Fisher, Jena Malone, Armie Hammer, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Laura Linney, and (again!) Michael Shannon.
Adams is making a bit of a play for fall festival dominance, top-lining not only the aforementioned Animals but the latest from director Denis Villeneuve (who was at Toronto with Sicario just last year). And if it sounds, on paper, a tad familiar – an alien spacecraft lands on earth, scientists are brought in to communicate, etc. – this is one filmmaker who’s proven adept at making the old new again.
The Bad Batch
Two seasons back, Ana Lily Amirpour made one of the most striking feature breakthroughs in recent memory with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night , a moody, black-and-white, Iranian vampire Western hangout flick. It was a low-budget picture stocked with unknown performers, but as is so often the case after a debut like that, the stars lined up for her sophomore feature: Keanu Reeves, Jason Momoa, Jim Carrey, and Diego Luna are among the big names on hand for this dystopian psychedelic cannibal Western.
If there are two actors on this planet I’ll watch in pretty much anything – okay, not Pan, but pretty much anything else – it’s Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn, so the idea of them facing off for an hour and a half in this adaptation of David Harrower’s acclaimed play Blackbird sounds pretty much like a dream come true. Bonus: a supporting role for The Night Of’s Riz Ahmed.
Director Christopher Guest and his peerless crew of improv-proficient comic actors turned out three of the best comedies of our time – Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind. But the more tightly scripted For Your Consideration fizzled, and the six-episode HBO series Family Tree didn’t leave much of a footprint. So they’re understandably returning to what they do best with this improvised portrait of charming weirdos and the world they inhabit, and hi-ho, the gang’s (mostly) all here: Guest, Jennifer Coolidge, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., Harry Shearer, Don Lake, Michael Hitchcock, and Jim Piddock, plus new kids like Zach Woods and Sarah Baker.
Park Chan-Wook’s last feature, the dizzyingly delicious Hitchcock homage Stoker, was one of the best movies of 2013, but you dummies slept on it. Let’s not make that mistake again with the Oldboy director’s latest, a story of love, theft, and deception set in Korea during the Japanese occupation.
Director Lone Scherfig took the festival circuit by storm back in 2009 with the evocative and wonderful An Education, and if her two subsequent pictures (One Day and The Riot Club) didn’t quite make the same waves, she’s still one of our most consistently compelling filmmakers. Her latest sounds like pure movie nerd catnip – the story of British filmmakers turning out propaganda movies during WWII. And her cast includes a pretty staggering number of your Brit crushes: Gemma Arterton, Bill Naghy, Jack Huston, Jeremy Irons, Eddie Marsan, and Richard E. Grant, to name but a few.
Into the Inferno / Salt and Fire
In his recent (and wonderful) WTF interview, Werner Herzog noted that the drawback of digital film production is that the speed of filmmaking has far eclipsed the efficiency of distribution. And, in the case of a director as prolific as himself, he’s right. Just a few weeks after the release of his Lo and Behold, he has two films at TIFF, showcasing his moviemaking duality: Into the Inferno, a documentary that finds our intrepid director exploring dangerous volcanoes around the world (seriously, find a more Hergoz-ian logline than that), and Salt and Fire, a narrative riff on similar themes, starring Gael García Bernal and, yes, somehow, Michael Shannon.
The Toronto International Film Festival begins today. Watch out for our daily festival diaries, starting tomorrow.