TIFF 2013: Top Picks for the Fest so Far

Festival opener The Fifth Estate
Every Oscar junkie within travelling distance of Toronto was jumping for joy today. TIFF’s first wave of announced films gives a pretty strong indication that the festival is being embraced for its influence on the end of the year races. One could make a case for many of these star-studded pics to go all the way. The list of 70 Galas and Special Presentations isn’t even a third of the festival’s programming, so it looks as if TIFF will be another eleven days of excellent, if insanely busy, festival-going.

The announced film list is extremely strong and one can note the festival’s growing influence with the number of clear Oscar contenders listed as World Premieres in the announcement. There are a handful of North American Premieres in the mix, too, like Stephen Frears’ Philomena, which is presumably Venice-bound. (It would be nice to see Frears rebound after the bomb of Lay the Favourite.) Venice hasn’t unveiled its competition list yet, although we know that TIFF Special Presentation Gravity will serve as its opener. One can assume that future announcements from TIFF will have more North American Premieres of the Golden Lion contenders.
A big surprise for the festival announcement was also that of its opening night selection, the WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate. I don’t think anyone called that. Regardless, it sounds like a bold choice to open with such a timely and relevant drama. It will surely put star Benedict Cumberbatch in the spotlight for his performance as Julian Assange. Even if The Fifth Estate goes the way of festival openers like Score: A Hockey Musical, TIFF goers won’t have to let one bad apple ruin a whole Cumberbatch, as Mr. Benedict also appears in two of the obvious Oscar hopefuls in the line-up, August: Osage County and 12 Years a Slave. (On that note, Cumberbitches can expect to be extremely busy during the general chaos of Weekend 1.)

My original prediction for opening night, the biopic Diana starring Naomi Watts as Princess Diana, didn’t even make the announcement. I tweeted last week that Diana seemed more likely to open at the Princess of Wales theatre than at Roy Thomson Hall, though, so I’m not surprised that it isn’t in the first wave. It seems like one of the most Toronto-friendly upcoming flicks that is not on the early programme, though, so it could pop up in later announcements.

Other notable omissions include The Monuments Men by festival charmer George Clooney, the Grace Kelly biopic Grace starring Nicole Kidman (it will probably do Venice first since distributor The Weinstein Company already has August: Osage County and Philomena secured for TIFF), and the director and stars of last year’s TIFF champ Silver Lining Playbook, as director David O. Russell could have pulled a one-two punch with American Hustle while Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper could have been back together in Serena. I was also hoping to see Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups and the Nick Hornby adaptation A Long Way Down on the list. Similarly, very few Cannes films are on the list, aside from world cinema selections such as Blue is the Loneliest Colour and The Past. American hits from the Croisette, such as Nebraska, The Immigrant, and Inside Llewellyn Davis left more slots on the press release for World Premieres. It’s still early though, so any of these films could appear.
The Grand Seduction
TIFF’s first taste of the line-up also offers a decent dash of Can Con, as the festival has three Canuck Galas—The Grand Seduction, The Right Kind of Wrong, and The Art of the Steal. That’s one more than the two Canadian films, Midnight’s Children and Inescapable, that played the main hall last year. Many writers and TIFF buffs speculated that Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners would open the festival. Prisoners seemed like a logical choice, since it’s a major American studio release directed by a Canadian and crammed full of A-list stars. It would also have capitalized on the festival with its September release. Opening night at TIFF didn’t really seem to be much of a coveted spot until last year’s Looper gave Toronto its biggest kick-off in years, though, so perhaps the big players still see the first weekend as more desirable than the first night. (Warner Bros., which has Prisoners, usually enjoys a strong showing on the opening weekend. See: Argo, Cloud Atlas, The Town.) Canada has an even stronger presence among the international titles of the programme, as directors Atom Egoyan, Paul Haggis, and Jean-Marc Vallée will appear alongside Denis Villeneuve in the Special Presentations programme with the world premieres of Devil’s Knot, Third Person, and Dallas Buyers Club, respectively. The announcement of Canadian titles is still to come, so I’ll cross my fingers for some of these titles, especially for Bruce McDonald’s Baby, How’d We Ever Get This Way!

What is already on the list is pretty darn good. I’m playing “Sophie’s Choice” at present with the films before the other announcements are made and there’s still six weeks to go. (Preferences go out the window on the first weekend, though, when one sees that everything good is playing at the same time.) I’ve nevertheless whittled a list of my ten most anticipated films from the line-up.

The films I am most keen to see at TIFF this year are:

August: Osage County

If you missed my mass-hysteria this morning over the news that Meryl Streep could potentially be at TIFF, then you can catch it in person at the red carpet. And if Streep doesn’t come to town for this Oscar-hopeful, I suppose I could still settle for a Gala screening with Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, and Margo Martindale. Mr. Harvey Weinstein seems to know how to win an audience award, though, so I bet he will have Meryl on hand to join her cast in saying “We love Toronto!” before the screening. August: Osage County seems more like a “TIFF movie” than anything else on the roster (re: an Oscar hopeful featuring stacked cast that should play just as well with discerning and casual viewers alike), so I’m prepared to camp outside for tickets to this one.

Labor Day

Kate Winslet, in addition to Meryl Streep, is one of my favourite stars that I haven’t seen at the festival. It would be the chance of a lifetime to see her talk about her next role during a Q&A, as the part of Adele in Labor Day is a killer. The book by Joyce Maynard is a dark, yet surprisingly funny read, and is probably in good hands with Jason Reitman, who handles tone and unlikeable characters so well in films like Up in the Air and Young Adult. (It’s a quick read, so make sure to read it before Labor Day!) It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Labor Day emerged from the festival as one of the Oscar season’s strongest candidates. Streep versus Winslet, round two?


I’m a big Denis Villeneuve fan so I hope to see what he does with a Hollywood budget. On the other hand, though, Prisoners comes out five days after the festival ends, so it will likely be the first of my must-sees to be removed from my spreadsheet during planning even though it’s right near the top of my list. But it would be hypocritical of me to skip the new film from the director of Incendies, right?

Devil's Knot

One Egoyan, two Egoyan, new Egoyan, blue Egoyan. Atom’s Devil’s Knot will hit the festival while we wait to see what happens with Queen of the Night. His tale of the West Memphis Three sounds especially good for a comeback project, though, as festival-goers can see a signature spin on a story that’s been in the headlines for decades. The book by Mara Leveritt is a scathing dissection of the mishandled case that puts the three accused boys as three additional victims, but Devil’s Knot sounds more like a Sweet Hereafter-y tale on parents dealing with the aftermath of unimaginable loss. It’s a perspective we haven’t seen on a story we’ve heard before.

12 Years a Slave

Announced proudly via Twitter by Cameron Bailey, the festival’s artistic director, prior to the scheduled announcement, 12 Years a Slave poses a significant get for TIFF. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Steve McQueen would debut his hotly anticipate film at Venice after making a successful world premiere there in 2011, but McQueen’s jump to TIFF shows how much the festival has grown in stature the past few years. With an important story, a fresh director, and a roster of talented stars including Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejiofor (who looks like a Best Actor candidate based on the film’s impressive trailer), Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson, and Quvenzhané Wallis, it wouldn’t surprise me if 12 Years a Slave is the hottest ticket of the festival.

Dallas Buyers Club

Missing Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café de flore at TIFF 2011 was a major regret since it ended up being one of my favourite films of that year. I probably won’t make that mistake again this year. Dallas Buyers Club marks the director’s first American film to date, although it’s not his first Anglophone film, as the Quebecois director put a unique spin on British heritage films with the Oscar-winner The Young Victoria, which closed TIFF 2009. While Emily Blunt probably just missed the Best Actress ballot for The Young Victoria, Dallas Buyers Club is sure to have plenty awards nuts on the lookout to see how Matthew McConaughey performs as AIDS activist/smuggler Ron Woodruff. McConaughey seems to be brilliant in three or four films a year, so will he every finally be nominated for this one?

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her

Did I ever mention that time I declined to wait at a red carpet with my brother because I had to pay for parking and he ending up seeing Jessica Chastain? What a sad moment that was. However, the only opportunity better than one film for Chastain-spotting is two films for Chastain-spotting! She’s bound to come and chat about her peculiar sounding companion piece film that sees one story told from different perspectives in two different films, right? Parking ticket or no parking ticket, Jessica, get ready to say “cheese!”

Enough Said

I’m first in line for any Nicole Holofcener film—her previous film, Please Give, made myTop 10 of 2010—but I’ll be racing against other festivalgoers, as her latest project includes one of the two final appearances by Sopranos star James Gandolfini. Enough said.

Hateship Loveship

Based on the short story Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro, this film by Liza Johnson is one of the adaptations I’m more keen to see at the festival. It might be tough for this drama starring Kristen Wiig, Hailee Steinfeld, Guy Pearce, and Jennifer Jason Leigh to follow the other story of this Alice Munro collection to became a feature, Sarah Polley’s remarkable Away from Her. I’m very intrigued to see this take on the story, though, for what Johnson has done to transform the setting seems very out of character for an Alice Munro tale: it was shot in New Orleans, far from the quaint rural Canadian towns known unofficially as “Alice Munro country.”

Third Person

Haters gonna hate, but I liked Crash. Details of Paul Haggis’s latest film are scant, yet Third Person sounds like a return to the powerful multi-narrative ensemble film that made Crash such a winner. Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, James Franco, Olivia Wilde, Maria Bello, and Kim Basinger provide the star power in this globe-trotting story that intersects the lives of three men as it follows their connections across various paths and through different cities. Haggis already has two Oscars on display in the Lightbox. Will he add a third?

Can a Song Save Your Life?

Can a Song Save Your Life? poses one of the biggest novelties of the line-up. A Keira Knightley film? I’m there! (Cough, cough, AnnaKarenina was the best film of 2012.) A John Carney film? I’m there! (Cough, cough, he made Once.) Co-starring Adam Levine and CeeLo Green. I’m … there? (Cough, cough, Norah Jones opened Cannes, so this isn’t that weird.) There are simply too many pluses and oddities to turn this film down!


Emmanuelle Devos should have a shelf full of awards for her fascinating performance in Kings & Queen. She’s one of the best, most reliable actresses in France, so I’m surprised that she hasn’t become a bigger star. She hasn’t had an international hit à la Marion Cotillard or Audrey Tautou, though, so perhaps Violette will be it. There project is worth keeping on a festival radar, though, as this biopic about the relationship between French writers Violette Leduc and Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kimberlain) sounds like the kind of material that goes places. Oh, and it’s director Martin Provost scored a surprise Best Picture win at the Césars, besting the likes of Cannes winner The Class and Kristin Scott Thomas showpiece I’ve Loved You So Long. It’s always an added treat of a festival announcement when you get to the end of a list and a film you hadn’t heard of jumps out and becomes a must-see.

What TIFF films are you most excited to see?