|Ryan Gosling in Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049|
The Toronto International Film Festival drops its first wave of programming announcements on Tuesday, July 25. The bulk of the Canadian programming gets unveiled fairly late this year (August 9th), but it’s not too early to start listing all the titles one hopes to see at the festival.
The pressure’s on TIFF this year, though. The festival announced earlier this year that it plans to reduce the line-up by 20%. Given that TIFF generally has around 300 titles, that’s about 60 films less than usual.
Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner update just might be the biggest film ever made by a Canadian director. The film matches the $200 million budget of James Cameron’s Titanic, but it arguably brings even higher expectations given the popularity of the original. Fellow Canuck Ryan Gosling headlines the film with Harrison Ford and, after dominating last year’s festival and award season (well, most of it) with La La Land, Gosling couldn’t be hotter right now. It’s a major coup for Villeneuve more than anything, though, since the impressive trailer shows the Incendies and Arrival director working on his biggest scale yet.
Odds: Possibly? All of Villeneuve’s films have played Toronto since Maelstrom save for Polytechnique, but Warner Bros has a lot to risk with unleashing this one early, unless they tap the Venice/Telluride/TIFF trifecta for the full effect.
Long Time Running
Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier return with this doc about The Tragically Hip’s farewell tour following news that frontman Gordon Downie has terminal brain cancer. This behind the scenes doc highlights the build up to a defining moment in Canadian pop culture, since Downey’s farewell performance was a rare moment in which the nation collectively glued itself to screens for something other than hockey. The Hip is Canada’s best musical act and the bittersweet song swan of their finale deserves a great portrait.
Odds: Safe bet. Long Time Running has a fall release and broadcast date set, so TIFF is the ideal kickoff. There are few major Canadian titles on the radar, and this film by Canada’s top documentary duo more than makes up for a potential lack in CanCon at the fest. Plus, Baichwal is on the board at TIFF and a figure in its new effort to promote women behind the camera, so the omission of this title would be a bit odd politically and a missed opportunity to let Downie walk the red carpet.
Joe Wright returns with the Winston Churchill drama darkest hour. I’m a big fan of Wright (cough, cough Atonement and Anna Karenina), but Pan was a spectacular bomb and Winston Churchill isn’t too hot right now with the critically maligned Churchill in theatres. But perhaps Wright and Churchill will both rebound with Darkest Hour, which looks to be a major contender in the Best Actor race for the long overdue Gary Oldman. Oldman is unrecognisable in the early footage of his turn as the British Prime Minister and the physical transformation is just the least of it. It’s also John Hurt’s final film and bound to be a sentimental favourite of the season.
Odds: Good. Distributor Focus Features consistently launches award season hopefuls at TIFF with great success. See: The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl, Loving, Dallas Buyers Club.
Break a leg, Margot Robbie! The Suicide Squad star is on the rise to becoming the hottest talent in town and her performance as notorious figure skater-turned assailant-turned pro wrestler Tonya Harding could be a turning point in her career. There’s a great element of novelty to this story about Harding’s foul play act of plotting to oust rival skater Nancy Kerrigan with a tire iron, so it’s the kind of part Robbie could chomp at with relish while showing the dramatic chops she displayed in Z for Zachariah, which didn’t quite find an audience. Early footage of her work looks promising, and I, Tonya could easily be her Monster if all goes well.
Odds: Why not. Seems like the right kind of indie film with broader appeal that TIFF likes. Plus: stars!
|Margot Robbie in I, Tonya|
La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes
Simon Lavoie, part of the directing duo of last year’s TIFF Canadian winner Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves, is back on solo duty with La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes. (The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches.) This drama about two teens who must fend for themselves after they find their father hanging in his bedroom sounds like a bleak and difficult picture, but I’m interested in seeing whatever Lavoie does next after the exhilarating and ambitious Graves. The source novel by Gaétan Soucy was a sensation in Quebec and won several prizes with critics and fans praising its haunting blend of horror and magical realism.
Odds: Good. Telefilm Canada’s been showcasing it at festival markets and there’s bound to be an interest in keeping Lavoie a TIFF staple after Graves rocked the Platform programme with the most formally audacious love-it-or-hate-it film of the festival.
|Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in Our Souls at Night|
Our Souls at Night
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford star in this adaptation of the final novel by late author Kent Haruf. The book is a sweet golden-age romance between two neighbours who connect following the deaths of their partners. It’s a sparse and seasoned read and the two veteran actors couldn’t be a better fit to play Addie and Louis, who struggle to find the right balance between the intimacy they desire and the family obligations they have. Ritesha Batra, director of the TIFF hit The Lunchbox, takes the helm.
Odds: IMDb lists a Venice premiere date, which isn’t entirely reliable since other films have listed festival dates in previous years and failed to play, but the star power makes it a good fit for TIFF, as does the festival’s relationship with Batra. Our Souls at Night also happens to be a Netflix original and TIFF’s Cameron Bailey came out in support of giving a platform to films regardless of where they choose to play after their festival runs after Cannes’ Thierry Fremaux said that films in future competitions will require a theatrical release in France. Our Souls at Night might help position TIFF as a viable launchpad for films exploring non-traditional distribution.
It’s nearly impossible to see one of Ingrid Veninger’s films unless one can catch it at a festival or one-off screening. I won’t make the mistake of being tempted by stars like I was when i am a good person/i am a bad person hit the festival in 2011 or the gaffe of being out of town when her live-score experiment He Hate Pigeons had its solo Toronto screening. The new film from the dreadlocked queen of Toronto indie film tells the stories of young girls and women in cottage country. The film is funded and executive produced by Oscar winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter), who was roused by Veninger’s DIY spirit at the Whistler Film Festival and put her support for female filmmakers into practices with Porcupine Lake.
Odds: What reason would there be for this film not playing the festival? (Sundance?)
Movie No. 1
One of the best discoveries at Hot Docs this year was Flames by Josephine Decker and Zefrey Throwell. This challenging and intimate self-reflexive docudrama/hybrid/undefinable film chronicled the breakdown of a couple’s relationship as they documented their lives and saw the camera influence their behaviour. Decker has had a relative degree of success on the indie film scene, yet her previous directorial efforts Butter on the Latch and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely never made it north of the border for whatever reason. Her latest film, Movie No. 1, might have more luck with Canuck Molly Parker starring alongside Me and You and Everyone We Know’s Miranda July in a story of a theatre director confronting the all-consuming power of determined rising star.
Odds: Sundance might be a better fit, but this film seems like something TIFF’s American indie team would notice, particularly if the festival aims to make good on its commitment to women in film.
|Sarah Gadon in Octavio is Dead|
Octavio is Dead
Sook-Yin Lee’s Year of the Carnivore was the first film I ever saw at TIFF, so I’m really excited to see where she’s gone since her debut feature. Her sophomore feature Octavio is Dead is another unconventional story of sexual awakening. Sarah Gadon stars as Tyler, a young woman who escapes her mother (Rosanna Arquette) and dabbles in the occult by getting to know the spirit of her deceased father, Octavio (Raoul Trujillo), a little more intimately. Lee does a really fun Q&A and Gadon is Canada’s rising star, so this film could be a choice for the festival.
Odds: See above. It’s almost inevitable that Gadon’s Alias Grace will be a major ticket at the fest, so why not double dip?
The cinematic universe of Taylor Sheridan gets an Avengers-like twist. The screenwriter’s thematic trilogy of violence in the American west comes full circle this summer with the release of his directorial debut Wind River (check back soon for a review!), but somewhere in between Sicario and Hell or High Water comes Soldado, a direct sequel to Sheridan’s 2015 breakthrough film Sicario. While Denis Villeneuve, unfortunately, doesn’t direct this film—he’s been a bit busy, as noted above—Soldado brings Sicaro stars Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro back into the mix for a return to the unforgiving violence of the war on drugs. Emily Blunt, however, isn’t coming back since Sheridan told reporters that he felt her character’s arc was complete—at least in the context of this specific storyline. While this film feels a bit more low key than the others with Italian director Stefano Sollima at the helm, Sicario left TIFF audiences, including this reviewer, so stunned that walking away from the theatre was no easy task on the knees.
Odds: A smart choice if it’s ready and worthy of its predecessor.
Other hopefuls: A Bigger Splash's Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria; Mina Shum’s new Sandra Oh vehicle Meditation Park; Hotell director Lisa Langseth reteams with Alicia Vikander for Euphoria; Rachels Weisz and McAdams team up for Disobedience; Phoenix director Christian Petzold returns with Transit—if it’s ready; TIFF favourite Amma Assante (A United Kingdom) works on a bigger canvas in Where Hands Touch; and Alanis Obomsawin completes her five-film saga on the rights of Indigenous children with Norway House.