by Philip Price
In one week's time I will be venturing out for my first experience at the Toronto International Film Festival and I'm pretty pumped. Having sat back and watched coverage of this festival come pouring in over the past few years wishing I was part of the discovery it is honestly a dream come true to be able to not only attend, but cover the festival. I will arrive in Toronto on Thursday, September 10th at 2:12 pm. If time permits the first film I'd like to catch would be director Denis Villeneuve's latest in “Sicario,” but given it starts at 3:00 pm I'm not counting on it. This is no big loss as I'll be able to see the film two weeks later as it will open in my market on September 25th, but still, it would be nice to knock it out. If “Sicario” doesn't pan out I'm looking at my first film being the opening night film, Jean-Marc Vallée's “Demolition” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts that doesn't open stateside until next April. From this point out, if all goes according to plan, my wide-eyed enthusiasm will have me experiencing five movies a day over the next six days (with days three and four giving me something of a break with only four screenings a piece). On my final day in Toronto, the 17th, I fly out at 5:57 pm leaving me time to catch “Black Mass” at 11:45 that morning, a day before it opens wide. Given ‘Mass’ is already on my most anticipated of the fall list and it more or less was the only option on my last day besides “Mississippi Grind” (which will be on VOD soon so I won't waste festival time on it) don't expect to see it here though there are definitely a few repeats from my most anticipated of fall article. That said, let's take a look.
10. “Our Brand is Crisis”
Director David Gordon Green's “Our Brand is Crisis” was given an Oscar-friendly October 30th release date just before it was announced the film would premiere at TIFF. I have to think this bodes well for the quality of the project. The film is an adaptation of the 2005 documentary of the same name, which follows a group of American consultants who accept the challenge of getting an unpopular Bolivian president re-elected. Sandra Bullock plays maverick political consultant, "Calamity" Jane Bodine, who comes out of retirement to lead the team, while Billy Bob Thornton portrays her nemesis, Pat Candy. Zoe Kazan, Anthony Mackie, Scoot McNairy, Ann Dowd and Joaquim de Almeida also star.
I saw the first trailer for director Lenny Abrahamson's “Room” near the end of July and was taken with it immediately. The premise is intensely engaging and the fact it stars Brie Larson is always a bonus. Larson is one of those actors who you want to see in anything she does simply because you trust her decision making. “Room” is apparently based on a novel by Emma Donoghue who also penned the script. The plot synopsis is vague in that Larson stars as a woman who is being held captive with her five-year-old son in a single small room for what appears to be several years. The trailer shows them escaping, but the circumstances of their situation are a mystery I'm anxious to solve. Joan Allen and William H. Macy also star.
8. “The Program”
Biopics are always interesting to me (as you'll note given this is the first of three on this list alone), but sports biopics are a different game unto themselves. They are a genre largely capitalized by Disney and the likes of inspirational fodder that doesn't always ring as authentic as some moviegoers would like. Of course, you have your “Raging Bull” and “Moneyball” or what is more in line with my number eight pick, something like 2013's “42” or “Rush.” “The Program” is a sports biopic for sure, but it is not one of glory and triumph. Rather, the film chronicles the hard fall of cyclist Lance Armstrong. Ben Foster as Armstrong who was the subject of a performance enhancing drug scandal that climaxed with his appearance on Oprah Winfrey's show in January of 2013 where he admitted that the accusations against him were true. Director Stephen Frears will undoubtedly focus in large part on the doping scandal, the fact Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times and survived a battle with cancer. “The Program” is based on David Walsh's book, Seven Deadly Sins, with an adapted screenplay from John Hodge and co-stars Chris O'Dowd, Lee Pace and Jesse Plemons.
Now, onto a different kind of biopic. This one dealing more with the circumstances of a prominent figure than the figure himself, but nonetheless “Trumbo” will no doubt be billed as something of a biography as it deals in the life of late screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo. Bryan Cranston plays the titular screenwriter whose successful career came to a crushing end when he and other Hollywood figures were blacklisted for their political beliefs. “Trumbo” tells the story of his fight against the U.S. government and studio bosses in a war over words and freedom, which entangled everyone in Hollywood from Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne to Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger. Elle Fanning, Diane Lane, Alan Tudyk, John Goodman, Louis C.K. and Michael Stuhlbarg also star.
Here's one I'm surprised doesn't rank higher, but am thrilled at the fact given how anxious I am to see if director Tom McCarthy's latest can live up to its dramatic promise and still know there are five other films that rank above it. Written by McCarthy and Josh Singer the film is about The Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative unit in the United States and their coverage of the Massachusetts Catholic sex abuse scandal, for which The Globe won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The film stars Michael Keaton as legendary reporter Walter 'Robby' Robinson with Mark Ruffalo filling the role of Michael Rezendes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and political writer for The Globe. Rachel McAdams, Brian d'Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber and Billy Crudup also star.
The aforementioned “Demolition” is this year’s opening night film and is a highly anticipated picture on my end not only for its status as one of the "bigger" films of the festival, but because of the several solid credentials it has going for it. The leading credential is of course that it stars Jake Gyllenhaal who has been on more than a hot streak lately. Sure, “Southpaw” didn't go over as well as his previous efforts, but the guy is clearly hitting a stride and I can only anticipate “Demolition” will continue that streak. The film tells the story of Davis (Gyllenhaal), a successful investment banker who struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash. Despite pressure from his father in law Phil (Chris Cooper) to pull it together, Davis continues to unravel. What starts as a complaint letter to a vending machine company turns into a series of letters revealing startling personal admissions. Davis’ letters catch the attention of customer service rep Karen (Naomi Watts) and, amidst emotional and financial burdens of her own, the two form an unlikely connection.
4. “The Witch”
Ever since premiering at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year to resounding praise I've been anxious to see what the big deal was concerning “The Witch.” At Sundance, the film won the Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category and was acquired by A24 Films for a 2016 theatrical release. When the trailer premiered a few weeks ago it seemed to hit all the right spots and hint at a truly terrifying experience that I can't wait to dig into. Taking place in the 17th century, the film tells of a Puritan family who live alone on the edge of a New England wilderness. It is when their infant son disappears that their daughter is suspected of witchcraft and the family begins to break down in the face of an unknown evil.
3. “I Saw the Light”
I keep a running list of my favorite films throughout the year so that when we reach the time to make the annual top ten list I have a strong point of reference and don't simply pull from the batch of Oscar contenders that crowd theaters at the end of the year. So far in 2015 I have five films on my list that I've ranked higher than any others and two of those happen to be music biopics. And so, for the third biopic on my list, the one that I'm anticipating the most, we have another music biopic. In director Marc Abraham's Hank Williams biopic Tom Hiddleston plays the iconic country singer and while we have yet to see a trailer for the movie I can't wait to see what this film holds in terms of performances and conveying the rather sad story of Williams who died at the young age of 29. The film will have its world premiere at TIFF and is based on the book Hank Williams: The Biography by Colin Escott, George Merritt, and William (Bill) MacEwen. Elizabeth Olsen co-stars as Williams’ wife, Audrey.
Tom Hardy has already starred in one of the most critically lauded blockbusters of the summer and will be a part of what is no doubt a front-runner in the awards race this season (“The Revenant”), but the man will seemingly make his own bid for Best Actor with director Brian Hegleland's “Legend.” With the success of “Mad Max: Fury Road” Hardy has become a more visible star than ever and “Legend” seems perfectly poised to be that definitive performance that forever puts him on the map as one of the greats. In the film, Hardy plays both Ronald and Reginald Kray who were identical twin gangsters that essentially ran the London crime scene in the 1950s and ‘60s. I'm somewhat surprised this massive gangster epic is having a showing on the festival circuit given its being distributed by Universal Pictures and has a secure release date in early October, but as one of my most anticipated of the fall I'm more than ecstatic to be seeing it early. Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palminteri, Tara Fitzgerald and Taron Egerton co-star.
1. “The Martian”
While “Legend” initially ranked higher than “The Martian” on my most anticipated list for the fall movie season as I've made it further into Andy Weir's novel I've become more curious as to just how director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard will adapt this sci-fi opus. “The Martian” tells the story of Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. Watney survives and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he is forced to draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal Earth that he is, in fact, still alive. “The Martian” is by far the biggest film of the festival and while it may seem cliché to be the most excited for the most commercial film at a festival originally intended for independent cinema it's largely unavoidable to feel less than ecstatic when it comes to a new science-fiction film from Ridley Scott. Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Peña and Donald Glover co-star.