TIFF2014 :: Hand Picked Films From A Toronto Film Festival Director

by Shannonn Kelly
06:45AM, EST, September 04, 2014

Go to Character actor Timothy Spall gets his own light in Mr. Turner, directed by Mike Leigh.
The UK’s ‘go to’ character actor Timothy Spall gets his own light in “Mr. Turner”, directed by Mike Leigh.

While Cannes, Sundance, Telluride and TIFF fight over policy and premiere status, the good news is for audiences is that around 30 films from Telluride this past weekend and Cannes festival in May and Sundance, will premiere to Toronto audiences at the 39th Annual Toronto International Film Festival starting today.

What TIFF doesn’t really get is that most cinephiles don’t travel all over the world to see films at other film festivals. This is mainly what film festival programmers do. So no matter where a film has premiered outside of the country of Canada before, it’s still a premiere to Toronto audiences.

According to the TorontoStar.com:

TIFF’s new policy states that all films playing during the fest’s first four days, from Thursday through Sunday inclusive, must be either be a World or North American premiere. Films failing to meet these criteria will screen in the last week of the 11-day event.

Cannes Winners coming to TIFF that I highly suggest are:

  1. MR. TURNER (UK) director (the incredible) Mike Leigh cast (the incredible) UK character actor staple, Timothy Spall in the ultimate “Art film” where Spall shines brilliantly in this biopic period piece that starts in 1826 about J.M.W. Turner, one of the greatest English landscape painters of all time. Timothy Spall won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his outstanding performance.
  2. LEVIATHAN (Russia) director Andrey Zvyagintsev  Won Best Screenplay at Cannes and is the story about a proud patriarch fighting to protect his family home from a corrupt local official in post Soviet Russia.
  3. FOXCATCHER (USA) director Bennett Miller won for Best Director at Cannes in May. He also directed “Capote” (2005) and “Moneyball” (2011). It stars Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as brothers in the true life story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, whose relationship with sponsor John du Pont and brother Dave Schultz would lead to unlikely circumstances. It also stars Anthony Michael Hall, Steve Carell and Sienna Miller.
  4. MOMMY (Quebec, Canada) director Xavier Dolan won the Jury Prize, and an extended standing ovation, at Cannes for his latest feature.

Other films on my list include:

  1. AN EYE FOR BEAUTY / Le règne de la beauté (Quebec, Canada) According to TIFF: Romantic drama becomes a means for a sharply observant societal critique in the new film from Academy Award winner Denys Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions), about a married Québécois architect who embarks upon a torrid love affair with a young Toronto woman. While many critics say the story doesn’t live up to the usual ‘Arcand’ standards, the film should still be heads above a bad ‘Canadian’ film.
  2. A LITTLE CHAOS, (UK) director Alan Rickman also stars as King Louis XIV in this historical drama of the female landscape-gardener of Versailles played by Kate Winslet. This is Rickman’s 2nd feature that he directed. His first was 17 years ago, “The Winter Guest” starring Emma Thompson.
  3. A SECOND CHANCE / En chance til (Denmark) director Susanne Bier. This is the 2nd film from Denmark on my list this year. Bier directs this story that asks how far would decent human beings be willing to go, when tragedy blurs the line between just and unjust?
  4. BOYCHOIR (Quebec, Canada) director François Girard who directed “Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould” and “The Red Violin”. Two of my favorites. This family friendly film stars Dustin Hoffman who had his directorial debut last year at the age of 76 with “Quartet”. Hoffman also stars in the highly anticipated “The Cobbler”.
  5. CAKE (USA) director Daniel Barnz gives Jennifer Aniston her “Blind Side” role as the acerbic, hilarious Claire Simmons who becomes fascinated by the suicide of a woman in her chronic pain support group. While I am NOT and never will be an Aniston fan, I’m as curious as the next person to see her in this film which didn’t have the best start in pre-production. The film also stars Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, William H. Macy and his lovely talented wife, Felicity Huffman.
  6. COMING HOME (China) Director Yimou Zhang who helmed the excellent “House of Flying Daggers” (2004), directs this script from novel turned screenplay about a Chinese man who is forced into marriage and flees to America, but when he returns home, he is sent to a labor camp. It stars the lovely Li Gong, and the dashing Daoming Chen.
  7. EDEN (France) director Mia Hansen-Løve. Felix de Givry, Greta Gerwig, Pauline Etienne star in this underground dance music film which traces the rise of the French electronic-music boom in the 1990s and the DJ who’s credited with inventing “French house” music. Music in the film includes Daft Punk, Joe Smooth and Frankie Knuckles.
  8. FOREIGN BODY / OBCI CIALO (Poland) Director Krysztof Zanussi – According to TIFF: A dashing young Italian in Poland finds himself caught between two women — a novitiate nun and a ruthless corporate ladder-climber — in this lacerating vision of contemporary Poland.
  9. GETT, THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSALEM / GETT, LE PROCÈS DE VIVANE AMSALEM (Israel) directors Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz bring you a riveting and timely courtroom drama where in Israel there is neither civil marriage nor civil divorce. Only rabbis can legitimate a marriage or its dissolution. But this dissolution is only possible with full consent from the husband, who in the end has more power that the judges. Viviane Amsalem has been applying for divorce for three years. But her husband Elisha will not agree. His cold intransigence, Viviane’s determination to fight for her freedom, and the ambiguous role of the judges shape a procedure in which tragedy vies with absurdity, and everything is brought out for judgment, apart from the initial request.
  10. ITSI BITSI (Denmark) director Ole Christian Madsen (Flame & Citron) directs this 1962 countercultural romance based on events where Peace activist Eik Skaløe meets Iben and falls head over heels in love, but when Iben refuses to commit herself to one man, Eik tries to win her over by transforming from poet to writer, nomad, junkie and eventually lead singer in the destined-to-become-legendary band STEPPEULVENE.
  11. LIFE IN A FISHBOWL / VONARSTRÆTI (Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic) director Baldvin Zophoníasson presides over an intriguing, According to TIFF: multiple-narrative drama that follows three people — a struggling single mother, a former athlete trying to scale the corporate ladder, and a once-acclaimed author turned full-time drunk — whose lives intersect in surprising ways.
  12. MAGICAL GIRL (Spain) director Carlos Vermut conducts a stylish noir thriller about the father of an ill girl who tries to obtain his daughter last wish, the dress of the main character of a Japanese TV series.
  13. MAY ALLAH BLESS FRANCE !  (France) director Abd Al Malik is a French rapper, author, and spoken word artist. This is his directorial debut with this adaptation of his 2004 autobiography, chronicling his upbringing in the crime-and drug-ridden streets of Strasbourg and his life-changing encounters with hip hop and religion.
  14. NIGHTCRAWLER (USA) director Dan Gilroy. Two words. Jake Gyllenhaal. He’s a down and outer who  stumbles upon the underground world of L.A. freelance crime journalism. This film also brings back Rene Russo who we haven’t seen in quite awhile
  15. OVER YOUR DEAD BODY  / KUIME (Japan) director Takashi Miike A theatre troupe rehearsing a classic play of murder, betrayal and vengeance find life bloodily imitating art backstage at a Kabuki performance.
  16. PRIDE (United Kingdom) director Matthew Warchus Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Paddy Considine star in this story of UK gay and lesbian activists work to help Welsh  miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984.
  17. SHELTER (United Kingdom) the directorial debut of actor Paul Bettany. I’m recommending this as a study more than a powerhouse outing. Bettany was born into a ‘theatre family‘. His maternal grandmother, Olga Gwynne was a successful actress, his maternal grandfather, Lesley Kettle, was a musician. Bettany’s father, Thane Bettany, is still an actor, his mother, Anne Kettle, now retired, was an actress. Bettany’s older sister is a writer. I want to see what he can do first hand… besides being almost transparent eye candy. Bettany has also (of course) cast his wife, actress Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Mackie who I think does some pretty good work.
  18. SPRING (USA) directors, co-editors Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead serve up a love story, horror, romance with a supernatural twist when an American backpacker (Lou Taylor Pucci, “Evil Dead”) while in Italy, falls in love with a beautiful young woman harboring a dark “primordial” secret, played by the stunning German actress Nadia Hilker. Well, I know Italy doesn’t have moors, so there goes that guess.
  19. TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER (USA) directed by Nick Broomfield this documentary delves into a cold case about a notorious serial killer known as the “Grim Sleeper,” who terrorized South Central Los Angeles over a span of twenty-five years. The man thought to be the suspect was incarcerated in 2010, but the ongoing investigation has stalled because as the premise surmises, the suspect is black…
  20. THE LITTLE DEATH (Australia) director Josh Lawson. I’ve had an on-going love affair with Australian films. There’s a quirk and a darkness that’s similar to films from Denmark, Iceland, Norway, but still a very distinct and different voice. This dark, sex comedy is another multi-story narrative: A woman with a dangerous fantasy and her partners struggle to please her. A man who begins an affair with his own wife without her knowing anything about it. A couple struggling to keep things together after a sexual experiment spins out of control. A woman who can only find pleasure in her husband’s pain. A call centre operator caught in the middle of a dirty and chaotic phone call. And the distractingly charming new neighbour who connects them all.
  21. THE ELEPHANT SONG / La chanson de l’éléphant (Quebec, Canada) director Charles Binamé has a goldmine on his hands with actor, filmmaker Xavier Dolan who plays Michael, a troubled psychiatric patient.
  22. THE GOLDEN ERA / HUANG JIN SHI DAI (China) director Ann Hui. According to TIFF: The prodigious output of Chinese essayist and novelist Xiao Hong, long overshadowed by the careers of more established male writers in her literary circle, has only recently been discovered. Directed with both authority and grace by Ann Hui, The Golden Era bridges the gaps and tells the story of an exceptional life marked with tragedy and the signs of genius, Hui’s film is a wondrous reflection of China’s turbulent 1930s.
  23. TOKYO TRIBE (Japan) According to TIFF: Midnight Madness favorite Shion Sono (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, winner of the 2013 People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award) (which I absolutely loved) ventures even further into uncharted cinematic territory with this yakuza-street gang-hip hop-musical epic. Avoiding the usual fresh young faces of Japanese films, Sono chose to cast real rappers, tattoo artists and stunt performers in many of the main acting roles, a rebellious move that brings vibrancy and freshness to his outlandish street-fighting epic.
  24. WETBUM (USA) director Lindsay Mackay in her directorial debut is getting a lot of buzz on her first outing of a story about Sam is a self-conscious yet stubborn 14-year-old girl who, like many teenagers, is searching for a place to belong. After landing herself into trouble, she is forced to work as a cleaner in the retirement home run by her mother. In between shifts at the home, she tries to find solace in the only place she can, the pool, but it becomes the place where deepest insecurities collide with her raging hormones.
  25. WHIPLASH (USA) director Damien Chazelle has had my attention since Sundance where he won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury prizes on this film about A young musician played by Miles Teller who struggles to make it as a top jazz drummer under the almost masochistic tutor J.K. Simmons (Law & Order, Oz)
  26. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (New Zealand) director Taika Waititi (Boy, Eagle vs Shark) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) co-direct and star in this hilarious mockumentary about a trio of vampires living in a New Zealand suburb who struggle to adapt to life in the 21st century.
  27. WINTER SLEEP / KIS UYKUSU (Turkey) director Nuri Bilge Ceylan who won the Palme D’Or and the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes, brings us a drama set in central Anatolia about a small-town innkeeper whose cultural pretensions and smug self-satisfaction are fatefully undermined over the course of an eventful winter.

You know every year since I’ve been doing this list I always promote world cinema and steer clear of Hollywood films that have distribution and are going to hit theaters in the next 3-4 months. But sometimes you have to break that rule. Here’s why in 2014:

  1. INFINITELY POLAR BEAR (USA) director Maya Forbes cut her writing teeth on The Larry Sanders Show and as a co-writer on Monsters vs. Aliens (09), and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (12). A little surprised this is a Gala event. Given this is based on her family growing up and a writer should always write what they know, this may be a good choice. But a Gala…? Mark Ruffalo plays a loving husband and father struggling with manic depression, who is forced to raise his two young daughters on his own. Mark Ruffalo, J.J. Abrams also serve as executive producers. Did I mention it stars Mark Ruffalo…?
  2. THE JUDGE (USA) director David Dobkin. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall respectively play a defense attorney father and a judge in this tight legal drama, where they also play father and son. This is a film loaded with ‘acting chops’ when you also figure in co-starts, Billy Bod Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, and Jeremy Strong.
  3. MAPS TO THE STARS (Canada / USA) director David Cronenberg with a satirical drama about a Hollywood family chasing fame and and trying to come to grips with ghosts from the past. While the film itself may not be great, the performance of Julianne Moore is.  Moore won the Best Actress Award after its Cannes premiere. The film got its theatrical release in France on May 21 right after Cannes. It also stars Robert Pattinson(yes he can act) and John Cusack. Right now the buzz is Moore may lose a shot at an Oscar nod, because  Focus World, who acquired the United States distribution rights will not be giving it a theatrical release until 2015. All Oscar contenders have to screen before the end of November.
  4. THE COBBLER (USA) director Thomas McCarthy is an actor turned director, with some pretty impressive outings helming, The Station Agent (2003) and “The Visitor” (2007) both exceptional films with an indie feel that garnered tons of award nominations, including Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Richard Jenkins. McCarthy himself won the BAFTA (UK equivalent of the Oscar) for The Station Agent and nominated for and Oscar for “Up” in 2010. The Cobbler which opens in USA theaters September 11th, stars Adam Sandler as the Cobbler, Dan Stevens, Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, Ellen Barkin and the incredible Marlon Brando meets Billy Bob Thornton-esque actor Glenn Fleshler who played the villain Errol Childress in “True Detective”.

The 39th Annual Toronto International Film Festival runs September 04-14. For Programs and Tickets, please Click HERE.