Talk to any professional film critic, and they’ll tell you about the pleasures of the Toronto International Film Festival — and of its anxieties. It is, in many ways, the all-you-can-eat buffet of film fests, a smorgasboard with literally hundreds of titles to choose from, including most of the big fall titles vying for year-end prestige and awards consideration, and, well, there’s only so many hours in the day. Your film editor will be in Toronto for nearly a week, and even with that much time on the ground, I feel like I’m only getting a fraction of the experience, but nonetheless, here are a few of the titles I’m looking forward to taking in.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Two years ago, Barry Jenkins took the indie world by storm and pulled the most memorable Best Picture upset of this lifetime with his second feature, the stirring and gorgeous Moonlight. It was 2016’s best narrative film; the best documentary of the year was the James Baldwin essay film I Am Not Your Negro, so it seems fitting that our top one-to-watch at TIFF fuses those two important artists. Jenkins pens this screen adaptation of Baldwin’s 1974 novel, a Harlem-set love story; his cast includes Regina King, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, KiKi Layne, and Stephan James.
People who like to turn movies into sporting events are already calling this fall a “rematch” between Jenkins and Damien Chazelle, whose La La Land competed for several of the same awards back in 2016 (and won Chazelle the Best Director Oscar). Chazelle’s latest is a dramatization of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, reuniting the filmmaker with his La La star Ryan Gosling as first man on the moon Neil Armstrong. Advance word from Telluride and Venice is that it’s a barn burner, and hey, bonus, it’s already prompted the first of presumably many dumb fall movie controversies.
Steve McQueen’s features to date — Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years a Slave — haven’t exactly been what we’d call “crowd-pleasers.” All are brilliant, to be clear, but in tackling a prison hunger strike, sex addiction, and slavery, he’s positioned himself as a tackler of serious subjects, working in a dourly affecting style. So it’s something of a surprise that, following up his Best Picture win five years ago, he’s made… a Michael Mann-style crime thriller? At any rate, this viewer is anxious to see what he comes up with, particularly when marshaling a cast that includes Viola Davis, Carrie Coon, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, and Robert Duvall.
And here’s something fun for Oscar-watchers: there’s another “rematch” in the works, similar to 2016’s, thanks to new films from 2013 Best Picture winner McQueen and Best Director winner Alfonso Cuarón. He picked up that prize for Gravity, but his latest is closer to his 2001 masterpiece Y Tu Mamá También — set as it is in his native Mexico, and plumbing the depths of his own memories of growing up there in the 1970s. Word is this one is a knockout, and that its inevitable small-screen ubiquity (it’s financed by Netflix, so it will presumably debut there alongside the handful of theaters that will play it) may well shortchange Cuarón’s stunning black-and-white photography.
Karyn Kusama’s is one of the great comeback stories of contemporary moviemaking. After bursting onto the scene with 2000’s Girlfight (which was also the breakthrough film for Widows’ Michelle Rodriguez), she helmed the underwhelming Aeon Flux and Jennifer’s Body, and all but disappeared for six years. But she roared back onto the scene with the chilling, dread-filled, claustrophobic horror thriller The Invitation, followed that up with a host of first-rate TV work, and is now at the helm of this cop drama starring Nicole Kidman and Sebastian Stan. Word from Telluride is it’s a fierce piece of work. Why, it’s almost as though women directors should get the same second chances as their male counterparts.
(‘American Dharma,’ TIFF)
Though he’s best known for true crime documentaries like The Thin Blue Line and Wormwood , director Errol Morris has made a specialty of feature-length interviews with polarizing political figures; he won the Best Documentary Oscar for his Robert McNamara profile The Fog of War, he shined a light on Donald Rumsfeld in the 2013 feature The Unknown Known , and now he sits down with (to put it mildly) controversial alt-right media figure and former White House strategist Steve Bannon. That act may be viewed with similar suspicion as Bannon’s recently-cancelled New Yorker Festival event, but one thing that’s important to remember about Morris: few interviewers are quite as skilled at giving their subjects enough rope to hang themselves.
The Outlaw King
David Mackenzie is fast becoming one of our least predictable journeyman directors, veering from the dystopian romance of Perfect Sense to the brutal prison drama of Starred Up to the gritty neo-Western Hell or High Water to this a 14th century Scottish adventure. Chris Pine stars as the title character, who moved from nobility to royalty, then from criminal to soldier; the supporting cast includes Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Stephen Dillane, and the mesmerizing star of Lady Macbeth, Florence Pugh.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Marielle Heller’s 2015 drama Diary of a Teenage Girl was one of the best movies of that year, a devastatingly honest portrait of teen sexuality that’s downright revolutionary in its complexity and candor. Her long-awaited (in these parts, anyway) follow-up comes from the pen of Nicole Holofcener — also at TIFF with her directorial effort The Land of Steady Habits, from Netflix — and Jeff Whitty, and stars Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, a biographical author who turned to forgery to pay the bills. That combination of talents and elements is, who’re we kidding, downright irresistible.
(‘High Life,’ TIFF)
We’ve been shrieking about this movie for more than three years now, and still can’t believe it’s a thing: a space-set drama, starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche (and André Benjamin and Mia Goth), directed by Claire Denis. It’s her English-language debut, checking off yet another box on her varied and enviable filmography; Zadie Smith, though uncredited, contributed to early drafts of the script.
The Front Runner
All the way back in 1988, the notion of a Presidential candidate who’d been unfaithful to his wife seemed like a big deal — a career-ender, in fact. Allegations of infidelity (with, it seemed, the pictures to back it up) wrecked the campaign of Democratic front-runner Gary Hart, and the story of how that happened, and how it changed political journalism (and by extension, politics itself) is told in this ensemble comedy/drama from director Jason Reitman. It’s his second feature of the year, after last spring’s woefully underrated Tully, and it finds him reuniting with his frequent star J.K. Simmons and Up in the Air’s Vera Farmiga, alongside Hugh Jackman as Hart. Expect plenty of fireworks, and no thinkpieces whatsoever.
Keep an eye on this space next week for my TIFF diary, or follow me on Twitter for mini-reviews throughout the fest.