It’s here! Your handy guide to the big, splashy and/or trashy films coming to the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. We’ve organized our picks into ten categories to help you get your head around them. And we’re only getting you excited about films you might actually get to see someday - which means that epic tale of a yak farmer crossing the Mongolian border and finding a hidden colony of deaf orphans didn’t make the cut. But maybe it will next year, when it’s remade by Clint Eastwood.
-By Kim Linekin and Norman Wilner, MSN.ca
There are some big directors coming to TIFF this year. Clint Eastwood is bringing Hereafter, a film he describes as a "supernatural chick flick" about three people touched by death in different ways, starring Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard and Jay Mohr. Robert Redford has The Conspirator, a drama about the only woman accused of plotting to murder Abraham Lincoln, starring Robin Wright and James McAvoy. But the film everyone’s dying to catch a glimpse of is I’m Still Here, an alleged documentary about an actor-turned-rapper (Joaquin Phoenix), directed by his brother-in-law, sometimes actor Casey Affleck. The interviews they give - or decline to give - will likely be as intriguing as the film itself. Buzz is also building about Let Me In, the Hollywood remake of the Swedish horror hit Let the Right One In, starring Chloe Moretz as an ageless vampire who appears 12 years old. And don’t forget Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s attempt to make ballerinas evil, starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as rival twinkle toes. Big names are good, but this weird stuff is even better.
TIFF Spotlight: Let Me In
WHO? Chloe Grace Moretz (aka Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass), Kodie Smit-McPhee (Viggo Mortensen’s son in The Road) and invaluable character actor Richard Jenkins assemble for an English-language remake of the art-house smash Let the Right One In, about a troubled young boy who befriends a child vampire. Cloverfield’s Matt Reeves directs.
WHAT? It’s either the most anticipated horror film of the year, or the least wanted, depending who you ask – there are those who believe no remake is necessary, and others curious to see what Reeves does with the chilly material, relocated from 1980s Sweden to 1980s New Mexico.
WELL? Who knows?
TIFF Spotlight: The Town
WHO? Ben Affleck, directing and co-writing as well as starring alongside Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite.
WHAT? A bank teller (Hall) embarks on a charged relationship with a charming stranger (Affleck) – who, unbeknownst to her, is the leader of the crew that just robbed her place of business.
WELL? Fully rehabilitated after the awesomeness of Gone Baby Gone, Affleck sets a high bar for himself by taking the lead in his sophomore feature. But we’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
THE HOTLY ANTICIPATED
There are films that people get excited about, and then there are films that get people excited, if you know what we mean. The thought of watching Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams make out is enough to make Blue Valentine a hot ticket, even though the film actually charts the demise of their characters’ relationship. And the thought of watching Javier Bardem headline a whole film unto himself, especially one called Biutiful in seeming tribute to his hotness, is enough to put that film on people’s must-see lists, even though it’s actually about his character dying and communicating with the dead and other miserable things. Then there’s Never Let Me Go, a moody British flick about three boarding school friends in love, starring It girl Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield, all of whom are hotter than Toronto right now. But their characters are all sort of doomed – we don’t want to give too much away. So unfortunately, hotness and sadness are inextricably combined. That’s TIFF for you.
TIFF Spotlight: Never Let Me Go
WHO? Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightley and Andrew Garfield – three of the biggest names in young British cinema, especially now that Garfield’s been cast as the next Spider-Man – assemble for a new drama from One Hour Photo director Mark Romanek.
WHAT? It’s an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s eerie science-fiction novel about the lives of "donors" and "carers" in an alternate-reality England where medical science has made some very impressive – if ethically disturbing – advances.
WELL? It’ll be hitting screens just a week or so after its gala TIFF premiere – a sign that Fox Searchlight wants to capitalize on any buzz that could be generated there.
With the festival’s Midnight Madness movie series increasingly leaning towards comedy instead of genuine horror, what’s a fright freak to do? Comb through the list carefully. Instead of SUPER, a film whose one scary prospect is seeing Rainn Wilson in superhero tights, try Buried, a movie about one guy – Ryan Reynolds – who’s buried alive with a cell phone that’s about to run out of juice. Instead of Fubar 2, the sequel to the Canadian hit about loveable headbangers, try Vanishing on 7th Street, a thriller starring Canadian Hayden Christensen as one of few survivors of a blackout who hole up inside a tavern trying to stay alive. Or, if you dare, pay a visit to The Ward, starring Amber Heard as a troubled young woman who gets terrorized by invisible bad guys as well as four other bad girls locked inside a 1960s mental institution. Her doctor is Jared Harris, better known as Lane Pryce on Mad Men, and one of the bad girls is Mamie Gummer, better known as Meryl Streep’s daughter. But the scariest thing is that the director is John Carpenter, better known as the guy who inflicted Hallowe’en, The Fog, The Thing and Escape from New York on us. He’s had ten years to cook up this new concoction. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
TIFF Spotlight: Buried
WHO? Ryan Reynolds. And only Ryan Reynolds.
WHAT? In this intriguingly designed thriller, Reynolds plays a truck driver who awakens in a coffin, and must figure out his escape with only a failing cell phone and a dwindling supply of oxygen at his disposal.
WELL? They loved it at Sundance, and Reynolds is box-office gold these days. He’s also at his most interesting when working with unusual material – ever see The Nines – and this one’s way outside the box, as it were.
There’s no Midday Giggles programme to offset Midnight Madness, so we’re going to have to make one up ourselves. First pick: Everything Must Go, starring Will Ferrell as a motivational speaker who’s fired from his job and returns home to find his wife has changed the locks and thrown all his possessions on the lawn. He decides to hold a yard sale and start over. This plot sounds pretty funny, but we’re hearing it’s actually Ferrell’s first serious role. Oh well, onwards to pick #2: It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Keir Gilchrist of United States of Tara stars as a depressed teen who gets a second chance at happiness in an adult psychiatric ward, where his fellow patients include Zach Galifianakis. Depression and psychiatric wards make it sound like kind of a not funny story. So let’s try #3: Easy A, about a straight-laced teen (Emma Stone) who pretends to lose her virginity so she can be more popular. Bingo! We hear this film is witty and smart in a Mean Girls sort of way. Sounds like a good matinee pick-me-up after seeing The Ward.
TIFF Spotlight: Easy A
WHO? Emma Stone – the husky-voiced scene-stealer of Superbad, The Rocker, The House Bunny and Zombieland – gets her first starring vehicle, backed up by Cam Gigandet, Amanda Bynes, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Lisa Kudrow, Thomas Haden Church and Malcolm McDowell.
WHAT? Stone’s character finds herself living out a high-school version of The Scarlet Letter when she claims to have had sex in order to move up the social ladder – and finds herself scorned by her fellow students.
WELL? The trailer positions it as the next Mean Girls, and trailers totally never lie.
THE SORTA TRUE
TIFF is usually biopic central, and this year is no exception. Besides Robin Wright playing the Abraham Lincoln hater in The Conspirator, the life stories we’ll get to witness include Jack Abramoff’s in “Casino Jack,” starring Kevin Spacey as the Washington lobbyist whose influence peddling led to his conviction for fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion. In “The Whistleblower,” Rachel Weisz tackles Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who went to Bosnia as a peacekeeper and blew the whistle on a sex trafficking cover-up. And in Julian Schnabel’s “Miral,” “Slumdog Millionaire” star Frieda Pinto plays a woman growing up in East Jerusalem whose story is connected to that of Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass of “The Visitor"), a real-life figure who founded an orphanage after the 1948 partition of Israel and Palestine. If these three films sound too serious for you, “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle is back with 127 Hours, starring James Franco as Aron Rolston, the mountain climber who got trapped under a rock in 2003 and had to cut off his own arm to escape. From the looks of the fast-paced, jovial trailer, most of the movie follows his adventures before he got trapped.
TIFF Spotlight: 127 Hours
WHO? James Franco, co-starring opposite a very big rock for director Danny Boyle.
WHAT? It’s the true story of mountaineer Aron Ralston, who spent five days trapped under a boulder after a climbing accident, ultimately sawing off his right hand to survive. So, you know, it’s an upbeat tale of the human spirit.
WELL? The triumph of “Slumdog Millionaire” gave Boyle some major Oscar juice – enough to green-light this amazing true-life survival story, a risky proposition given its grisly trajectory. The audience reaction when it premieres at the festival should help Fox Searchlight gauge its Oscar prospects; the studio didn’t put its full force behind “Slumdog” until it won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF 2008.
THE REALLY TRUE
Instead of seeing a dramatic recreation of a person’s life story with creative licenses taken at every turn, wouldn’t you sometimes rather just see that person telling his or her own story? If so, TIFF presents “Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie,” a documentary about Canada’s favourite environmentalist that promises to show a previously unseen side of him. Alex Gibney, director of “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” promises a fresh perspective on disgraced New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer in “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” featuring interviews with the escort-lover himself as well as his favourite lady of the night. And Matt Damon narrates “Inside Job,” a documentary from “No End in Sight” director Charles Ferguson that promises to point the finger at those responsible for the current financial crisis. No word yet on whether those people have agreed to tell their own stories.
TIFF usually loves not only true stories, but true stories about people who died a really long time ago. Last year’s opening and closing galas were about Charles Darwin (“Creation) and Queen Victoria (“Young Victoria), for pity’s sake. But this year is a different story. The costume dramas seem to be limited to Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator,” which promises the pleasure of some hideous hairdos and beards, and “The King’s Speech,” whose pleasures include Colin Firth as a stammering King George VI, Helena Bonham Carter as his wife Elizabeth (parents of our current queen), Guy Pearce as King Edward VIII, Michael Gambon as King George V and Geoffrey Rush as the commoner hired to help “Bertie” overcome his speech impediment and lead the country into war. Timothy Spall also plays Winston Churchill, and if that doesn’t sound like jolly good fun to you, you’re welcome to return to the present day.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A tough corrections officer (Robert DeNiro) is pitted against a hothead criminal (Edward Norton) whose girlfriend (Milla Jovovich) seduces him as part of a bigger scheme. That’s the plot of “Stone,” but it sounds so familiar that if you substituted Jimmy Smits, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Kristen Bell, it wouldn’t seem out of place on late-night TV. Same goes for “Conviction,” the true story of Betty Anne Walters (Hilary Swank), an ordinary mom who goes to law school for the sole purpose of getting her brother (Sam Rockwell) released from prison for a murder she thinks he didn’t commit. Golly, you think she overcomes all the obstacles thrown her way? If these retreads aren’t bad enough, prepare yourself for TIFF’s requisite worshipping of actors-turned-directors, this year featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman’s “Jack Goes Boating,” a romantic melodrama about a couple coming together and another falling part, and David Schwimmer’s “Trust,” a thriller about a teenage girl preyed upon by an online friend. It could be worse – Emilio Estevez directs dad Martin Sheen in “The Way,” about a guy who travels to France to come to terms with his estranged son’s death.
There are a bunch of great Canadian films at TIFF this year. Honest! After banging your head along with “Fubar 2,” get ready for “Trigger,” Bruce McDonald’s ode to girl bands and to the late Tracy Wright, who costars with Molly Parker as rockers who reunite for a benefit concert twelve years after their band broke up. Wright’s husband Don McKellar, Sarah Polley and Callum Keith Rennie round out a fun cast. On the boy side of things there’s “Score! A Hockey Musical,” which unites the two things heterosexual men love the most: hockey and, um, musicals. Let’s try that again. Hunky Scott Speedman makes patriotic appearances in two Canuck entries. In “Barney’s Version,” he’s the womanizing friend of the titular hero (Paul Giamatti) dealing with three wives (including Rachelle Lefevre, who was dropped from the “Twilight” series when she made this film) and one crazy dad (Dustin Hoffman). And in “Good Neighbours,” Jacob Tierney’s Hitchcockian follow-up to “The Trotsky,” Speedman plays a guy in a wheelchair who lives in a Montreal apartment building with “Trotsky” star Jay Baruchel and Emily Hampshire while a serial killer operates in their neighbourhood. Two first-time Canadian directors have nabbed actual Americans for their debuts: Kat Dennings stars in Mike Goldbach’s “Daydream Nation,” about a small town teen in lust with her teacher (Josh Lucas), and Zach Braff stars in Deborah Chow’s “The High Cost of Living” as a careless driver who hits a pregnant woman (Isabelle Blais) and surreptitiously returns to woo her. Finally, a Canadian film that gives us the creeps. Seems like it’s been awhile.
TIFF Spotlight: “Score: A Hockey Musical”
WHO? Newcomers Noah Reid and Allie MacDonald take to the ice – and burst into song – alongside such musically inclined performers as Olivia Newton-John, Marc Jacobs, Nelly Furtado and Hawksley Workman.
WHAT? Like the title says, it’s a hockey musical, with Reid playing dashing hero Farley Gordon, an unassuming Toronto stickhandler vaulted to overnight stardom when he’s promoted to the big leagues. But as dozens of other movie characters found out before him, fame and fortune aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.
WELL? After taking Joshua Jackson on a motorcycle tour of our nation’s landmarks in “One Week,” writer-director Michael McGowan seems bent on claiming the mantle of our nation’s most self-celebratory filmmaker. Actually, scratch the “claiming” bit; securing the opening-night slot at TIFF 2010 pretty much locks that down.
TIFF is generously giving freebie screenings of past festival hits. If you’re feeling too cheap and/or nostalgic to pay for tickets to new movies, you can enjoy “American Beauty,” “The Big Chill” and “The Princess Bride,” or “Roadkill,” “Water” and “Away From Her” if you’re also feeling patriotic. Be warned, though – if you turn up on the wrong night, you may have to sit through Paul Haggis’s “Crash” again. And life’s too short for that.