15 for TIFF '15: Most Anticipated Films of the Festival

Michael Caine stars in Youth.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
This year’s festival is a beast with more films than ever and they all look tempting. The only way to navigate the TIFF programme really is to look at the festival as a dozen or so little festivals: do you want a festival of documentaries? Short films? Canadian films? Glitzy Hollywood prestige projects? Independent world cinema? TV? A ten-day horror show? Pick a stream or two/three, or simply get a taste of everything.

Me, personally, I like to break the festival into about 4 streams: Canadian films, documentaries, adaptations, and high profile buzzy stuff. (With an odd film here or there to check off boxes.) This strategy lets me enjoy the festival, catch films that are a good fit for the blog/coverage, cover films repped by people I work with throughout the year, and get a decent survey of various pockets of the programming without being too concentrated on one area or spread too thin across several.

I’m still playing festival Tetris on TIFFR, the handiest festival planning tool, but here are the fifteen films I’m most excited to see at TIFF ’15:

Top picks: #1 must-sees for each “Pat programme”


Dir. Guy Édoin (Wetlands) | Canada
TIFF programme: Special Presentations
Pat programme: Can-con

Why it’s a TIFF must: Ville-Marie checks all the boxes for a plum festival film. It ushers in the sophomore work of a promising Canadian filmmaker, but shows an altogether different side of his approach to film form. Ville-Marie looks like a stylish and sophisticated turn from the dark, poetic Wetlands. This intriguing puzzle, previously profiled on the list of Canuck Oscar contenders (although it’s a better bet for next year if it delivers), also boasts what looks to be a striking performance from international star Monica Bellucci.


Dir. Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) | Italy/France/United Kingdom/Switzerland
TIFF Programme: Special Presentations
Pat Programme: High Profile Buzzy Stuff

Why it’s a TIFF must: Youth makes its North American debut at TIFF after a sensational premiere at Cannes where many critics/pundits tapped it for top honours. It went home empty-handed, presumably because of the recent Oscar victory of director Paolo Sorrentino and of the star status of its veteran cast that includes Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Jane Fonda. If the Cannes jury felt that Youth simply didn’t need the boost, then Toronto audiences can (and probably will) give a second wind to this gorgeous looking film that reportedly boasts an award-calibre performance from Caine and a volcanic cameo from Fonda.

Miss Sharon Jones

Dir. Barbara Kopple (Harlan County USA) | USA
TIFF Programme: TIFF Docs
Pat programme: What’s Up, Docs?

Why it’s a TIFF must: 2015 is the year of the music documentary with What Happened, Miss Simone?, Amy, and Montage of Heck re-writing the art form, so it will be very exciting to see how one of documentary’s most seminal voices contributes to the field. Kopple will also be on hand in the TIFF Cinematheque to present Harlan County, USA, which screened at the inaugural edition of TIFF in 1976 before going on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary. Is there a better way to satisfy one’s doc bug than with a one-two punch of the best documentary ever made and the latest film from its creator?

Miss Sharon Jones!
Photo courtesy of TIFF.


Dir. Lenny Abramson (Frank) | Canada/Ireland
TIFF programme: Special Presentations
Pat programme: From Page to Screen

Why it’s a TIFF must: The book. OMG the book! Room brings to the screen the fantastically imaginative novel by Emma Donoghue, which tells the harrowing story of Jack (played by Jacob Tremblay), a boy born into captivity when his mother (played by Brie Larson in the film) is kidnapped, raped, and held in an isolated prison. Room sees the world through Jack’s innocent eyes and Donoghue’s disarming play on language. The film brings a screenplay penned by Donoghue herself, which always adds an extra layer of novelty to an adaptation. This year’s Gone Girl?

Runners-up, in alphabetical order:

Al Purdy Was Here

Dir. Brian D. Johnson (feature debut) | Canada
TIFF programme: TIFF Docs
Pat programme: Can-con; What’s Up, Doc?

Why it’s on the list: English-lit filmgoers can dust off their anthologies and return to the Quinte Hotel this festival. This doc by film critic Brian D. Johnson pays tribute to Canada’s unofficial poet Laureate Al Purdy with a who’s who of the Canadian literary and music scene. (Boasting a credit list with Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Gord Downey, and Sarah Harmer, it’s hard to find a film with bigger star status in the Canadian film programming at TIFF this year.) Purdy’s slice-of-life blank verse invites one to liken him to being the Alice Munro of Canadian poetry, and this doc invites audiences to celebrate the timeless character of his work through interviews and songs inspired by his poetry.


Dir. John Crowley (True Detective) | Ireland/UK/Canada
TIFF programme: Special Presentations
Pat programme: From Page to Screen, High Profile Buzzy Stuff, Can-con

Why it’s a must: I’ve mentioned Colm Tóibín’s lovely book Brooklyn here a few times, and this Sundance hit is an award-season hopeful looking to connect with Toronto audiences who swoon for feel-good period films. Brooklyn mostly holds promise for Saoirse Ronan’s first real grown-up performance as young Irish lass Eilis Lacey who forges a new life for herself in America. Anyone looking for a bittersweet love story at the festival is bound to find it in Brooklyn.

Closet Monster

Dir. Stephen Dunn (We Wanted More) | Canada
TIFF programme: Discovery
Pat programme: Can-con

Why it’s a must: Stephen Dunn’s short films mark him as an one of the rising Canadian filmmakers to watch. This feature debut, a coming-of-age and coming-out-of-the-closet drama, expands upon the promise of his shorts (and looks like it delivers on them, too). The film stars Blackbird’s Conor Jessup alongside Isabella Rossellini as talking hamster because why not?

The Danish Girl

Dir. Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) | UK
TIFF programme: Special Presentations
Pat programme: From Page to Screen / High Profile Buzzy Stuff

Why it’s a must: Tom Hooper and Eddie Redmayne carry “Academy Award winner” statuses to their names that owe some credit to the successful TIFF launches of The King’s Speech and The Theory of Everything, respectively. The Les Mis teammates are back together in this adaptation of David Ebershoff’s novel The Danish Girl, which tells a fictionalization of the story of Lili Elbe, one of the first people ever to receive a successful gender reassignment surgery. The heart of the book, however, lies in Lili’s wife and friend Gerda, played by Alicia Vikander in the film, who guides her husband Einar through the transformation and struggles to accept that love changes along the way.


Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild) | USA
TIFF programme: Galas
Pat programme: High Profile Buzzy Stuff

Why it’s a must: C’est Jean-Marc! Wild was my favourite film of last year's festival and of 2014 overall, so I'm very excited for whatever Mr. Vallée has in store!
Jake Gyllenhaal stars in TIFF's opening night film Demolition.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.

He Named Me Malala              

Dir. Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) | USA
TIFF programme: TIFF Docs
Pat programme: What’s Up Docs?

Why it’s a must: Malala Yousafzai became an odd sort of celebrity in 2012 after she was shot in the head while riding a bus after campaigning for a girl’s right to have an education. She could have become another sort of pseudo-celebrity, but this doc tells the story of how she uses the experience to champion her cause on a wider scale. Malala brings one of the more topical stories to the documentary sidebar of the festival and offers the ideal gateway drug for audiences who don’t usually pick non-fiction films.


Dir. Alan Zweig (15 Reasons to Live) | Canada
TIFF programme: Platform
Pat programme: Can-con; What’s Up, Docs?

Why it’s a must: HURT marks a notable entry in the inaugural edition of TIFF’s competitive Platform sidebar for being both the only documentary and the only Canadian film (correction: only North American film) in the running for the $25 000 prize. The home team better be rooting for Zweig, who brings this underdog story of Steve Fonyo, a runner who ran across Canada after losing his leg to cancer, but has never found the same level of fame or national mythology as Terry Fox. It seems like a fitting choice of subject matter for Zweig with which to get the next boost with Platform, since he’s an underdog of his own sorts despite winning a Genie in 2009 for A Hard Name and a TIFF prize in 2013 for When Jews Were Funny.


Dir. Kent Jones (A Letter to Elia) | France/USA


Women He’s Undressed

Dir. Gillian Armstrong (Little Women) | Australia
TIFF programme: TIFF Docs
Pat programme: What’s Up, Docs?

Film buffs get a double-bill of insider’s insight with the docs Hitchcock/Truffaut and Women He’s Undressed. The former film explores the legacy of François Truffaut’s book Hitchcock/Truffaut, which features a series of interviews between the filmmakers examining Alfred Hitchcock’s career. The latter film shines a spotlight on the life and work of three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Orry-Kelly (An American in Paris). Both films pay tribute to some maverick talents in the film industry while looking behind the curtain at changes in the field that shaped the careers and lives of both men.

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble

Dir. Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) | USA
TIFF programme: TIFF Docs
Pat programme: What’s Up, Docs?

Why it’s a must: How’s this for prolific? Morgan Neville follows his 2013 Oscar win for 20 Feet from Stardom with two docs at TIFF, the Yo-Yo Ma film and another on Keith Richards, which top off an impressive year that began with the acclaimed Best of Enemies. The Music of Strangers is higher on my list than the Keith Richards doc is (although I plan to see both) simply because the film hints at another deep look at the universal connections music makes in our lives. The director skilfully draws voices together in Stardom, so let’s see how he creates a chorus with this doc that chronicles cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s effort to bridge cultures with music.

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.

The Witch

Dir. Robert Eggers (feature debut) | Canada/USA
TIFF programme: Special Presentations
Pat programme: Can-con

Why it’s a must: This year’s festival features two horror films shot in the 613—The Witch and February—but thunderous Sundance buzz said that The Witch officially threw down the gauntlet for horror movies in 2015 and it’s spine-tingling trailer confirms it. This eerie-looking film about a village mired by evil spirits in the years before the Salem Witch Trials promises to scare the bejeezus out of audiences. It’s a horror show without the beach ball.

Honourable mentions: Beasts of No Nation, Freeheld, In Jackson Heights, Into the Forest, Remember, The Waiting Room, Where to Invade Next, Zoom

Plus, check back soon for reviews of additional great films! 
(Winners so far include Invention and Dégradé!)

TIFF runs Sept. 10-20.
Please visit www.tiff.net for more info on this year's festival. 

What are you most excited to see at TIFF?