Losing Weight Isn't a Bad Thing: Thoughts on the TIFF Announcement

C'est la vie starring Suzanne Clément (centre) closes TIFF '17.
Courtesy of TIFF
Losing weight is rarely a bad thing. A diet looks to be boding well for the Toronto International Film Festival after reducing its belly by 20%. With today’s announcement of the first wave of programming, TIFF’s earliest slate of Galas and Special Presentations seems to have resisted the sugary cravings and empty calories. There’s a healthy mix of stars, indies and world cinema, and the effort to spotlight women directors (about 30% so far) and multiculturalism is appreciated given that this portion of the line-up draws heaviest from the Hollywood side of things, which still has a ways to go. Those numbers will improve with the forthcoming announcements of documentaries, indies, and international titles. TIFF’s eating its veggies even if most members of the press have little more than black coffee and free booze come September.

The big story once again out of TIFF Bell Lightbox is the absence of an Opening Night Gala.
This gap isn’t the first time that TIFF has unveiled its initial wave of titles without the hot ticket, since 2014’s festival randomly announced The Judge (remember that film?) as the opener about a week after it was announced as a Gala. My guess is that TIFF’s lack of an opener isn’t an easier choice and that a homegrown favourite was set for the spot but had to step back. (Further speculation would be indecent on my part.) There is a notable bit of Can Con in the Closing Night Gala with Mommy star Suzanne Clément headlining C’est la vie! by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, directing duo behind the hit Les intouchables and festival favourite Samba.

TIFF adds Opening and Closing Night films to the Special Presentations this year with Greta Gerwig’s first solo feature as a director, Lady Bird, opening and Sheikh Jackson, Amr Salama’s story of a young imam and Michael Jackson fan, closing the programme. This move also shows that the festival team is listening and assessing the structure/style of its line-up, and owning the sense that TIFF is really more like a half dozen simultaneous festivals, rather than one big gong show that kicks off at Roy Thomson Hall. The move takes pressure off the opening night Gala, which always puts a film under extra scrutiny, and risks being eclipsed by a showy title, like when Michael Moore’s wild and timely Where to Invade Next all but stole the opening night of 2015 away from Jean-Marc Vallée’s solid Demolition.
I, Tonya
Courtesy of TIFF
The titles set for TIFF are a promising bunch whether or not one judges success by a world premiere to Oscar nomination ratio. The hotter tickets at the festival include I, Tonya starring Margot Robbie as notorious figure skate/assailant Tonya Harding, Boston Marathon drama Stronger starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Toronto’s own Tatiana Maslany, and the Idris Elba/Kate Winslet survival drama The Mountain Between Us. Survival is one of the running themes of the festival, apparently, as noted by TIFF CEO Piers Handling at the press conference. This sense is reflected in the festival’s lone doc and Canadian Gala so far, Long Time Running, which chronicles the farewell tour of The Tragically Hip following Gord Downie’s diagnosis with terminal brain cancer. That Gala is bound to be one of the sentimental highlights of the festival regardless of whether Downie walks the carpet in person or in spirit.
Darkest Hour
Courtesy of TIFF
On the Oscar front, two promising star vehicles come in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour featuring Gary “Is this his Oscar year?” Oldman as Winston Churchill and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool starring Annette “Is this her Oscar year?” Bening as Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame. Other contenders that will presumably eye Toronto as a launch pad for bigger campaigns include Fox Searchlight’s duo of Battle of the Sexes starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell as tennis stars Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, and Guillermo Del Toro’s Toronto-shot The Shape of Water, which looks to make Sally Hawkins a double threat for Best Actress after last year’s festival gem Maudie.
First They Killed My Father
Courtesy of TIFF
Other awards hopefuls that have me really excited include Darren Aronofsky’s mother! with Jennifer Lawrence, Luca Guadagnino’s Sundance hit Call Me By Your Name, and Maggie Betts’s Novitiate, which jumped to my must-see list a few weeks ago when I read a description of it as “Whiplash but with Melissa Leo in the JK Simmons part as a nun.” Titles popping up that seem very promising regardless of their awards potential include Angelina Jolie’s Cambodian film First They Killed My Father and Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal) taking on Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, which stars Emma Thompson as a family judge weighing in on a child’s right to refuse treatment on religious grounds. And finding a very TIFFy blend of stars and world cinema pedigree is Kings from Mustang director Deniz Gamze Ergüven with Halle Berry and Daniel Craig in a drama about the LA riots. (How many boxes does that title check?)
Mary Shelley
Courtesy of Search Engine Films
On the international front, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun unveils his drama A Season in France after attending TIFF last year with the devastating documentary Hissein Habré, a Chadian Tragedy, while Cannes Palme d’or winner The Square and Grand Prize winner 120 Beats Per Minute both make their North American premieres at Toronto. Among the most intriguing surprises of the announcement, finally, is Mary Shelley, a biopic of the Frankenstein author with Elle Fanning in the title role, directed by Wadjda’s Haifaa Al Mansour.

TIFF drops its documentary titles next week and the big Canadian announcement comes August 9. All this dieting gives an appetite for poutine!

Get the full list of titles at TIFF.net.