All photos courtesy of TIFF
The Toronto International International Film Festival officially kicks off on Thursday, September 8 and the Tracking Board is excited to hit the ground running when we arrive in the land of poutine, maple syrup, and Drake. This year, the festival boasts 296 feature-length films with 266 being either World, International, or North American Premieres. That’s a lot of films. It would be impossible to take in every single film in a matter of days, so we’ve gone through the very impressive lineup and put together a list of some of the films we’re most looking forward to catching at this year’s TIFF.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, Antoine Fuqua, USA (World Premiere)
Of course, we are going to pick the opening night film of TIFF as one of our picks. Besides the fact that the trailer is making this Western remake unbelievably awesome, anytime Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington team up, magic happens. Plus, did you see the incredible cast list? With Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, and Peter Sarsgaard this movie is the best opening night film for any film festival of the year.
ARRIVAL, Denis Villeneuve, USA (Canadian Premiere)
People are all a-twitter about the Sicario director’s take on an alien invasion. Amy Adams stars as an expert linguist who is hired to communicate with the inhabitants of a mysterious spacecraft just as mankind finds themselves on the brink of a global war. It sounds kind of like Close Encounters of the Third Kind but with less Spielbergian charm and more Villeneuvian intensity.
LION, Garth Davis, Australia (World Premiere)
Dev Patel stars as an Indian boy adopted by an Australian family who sets out to find his lost family he was separated from twenty-five years ago. Hollywood loves a tearjerking “man searching for his long-lost parents” story and this seems to be the pick for 2016. Get the tissues ready.
LOVING, Jeff Nichols, USA (North American Premiere)
Based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who waged a decade-long legal battle that led to the overturning of the state of Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriage, Loving was getting Oscar buzz right out of the gate. It will continue its festival run at TIFF and surely gain more traction for the upcoming awards season based on its timely socially conscious subject matter.
A UNITED KINGDOM, Amma Asante, United Kingdom (World Premiere)
Much like Loving, A United Kingdom tackles racism, oppression, and the socially conscious fodder with the true story of Seretse Khama, King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married in 1947.
LA LA LAND, Damien Chazelle, USA (Canadian Premiere)
Whiplash director Damien Chazelle’s musical homage to old Hollywood charmed audiences right out of the gate with its magical teaser trailer. Now on its festival run, the film, which tells the L.A. story of aspiring actress and a jazz musician struggling to make ends meet is already at the head of the pack when it comes to awards season bait.
(RE)ASSIGNMENT, Walter Hill, Canada (World Premiere)
Michelle Rodriguez plays an ace transgender assassin who is double-crossed by gangsters and a rogue plastic surgeon operating on the fringes of society. That said, this is not your typical revenge tale. In fact, it’s provocative storyline been causing quite a stir, which is even more reason to watch it.
MASCOTS, Christopher Guest, USA (World Premiere)
TIFF is known for having MANY emotionally heavy Award season films in its program, so it’s sometimes great to have something with a little more levity. Enter Christopher Guest’s new comedy that follows the ultra-competitive world of sports mascots. Starring the usual Guest suspects (Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Parker Posey), this comedy has more than enough funny to balance out the drama at the fest.
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, Tom Ford, USA/United Kingdom (North American Premiere)
Tom Ford is known as an impeccable fashion designer, but after he made A Single Man, people were chomping at the bit for his follow-up. Nocturnal Animals follows the story of a woman who is forced to confront the demons of her past, as she is drawn into the world of a thriller novel written by her ex-husband. With the all-star cast of Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and more, Ford’s knack for beautiful storytelling makes this a must-see.
A MONSTER CALLS, J.A. Bayona, USA/Spain (World Premiere)
You can never go wrong with a movie about a boy befriending a gentle monster. In this case, director J.A. Bayona follows a lonely 12-year-old boy, who is struggling with his mother’s illness. When he encounters an ancient, wild, and relentless monster, he goes on a journey of courage, faith, and truth.
SNOWDEN, Oliver Stone, Germany/USA (World Premiere)
It’s been a while since Oliver Stone has released something we can sink our teeth into, but with Snowden, he strikes a chord because of the movie’s timeliness. Starring an all-star cast with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the real-life Edward Snowden, this politically charged, pulse-pounding thriller reveals his untold personal story and how the polarizing figure exposed shocking illegal surveillance activities by the NSA and became one of the most wanted men in the world.
AMERICAN PASTORAL, Ewan McGregor, USA (World Premiere)
Obi-Wan himself, Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut with this drama based on the Pulitzer Prize–winning Philip Roth novel. American Pastoral follows a family whose seemingly idyllic existence is shattered by the social and political turmoil of the 1960s. In the vein of Made Men, McGregor stars alongside Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, and Uzo Aduba in a story about a family that is falling apart in a world that’s just as chaotic.
MOONLIGHT, Barry Jenkins, USA (International Premiere)
The Internet was immediately mesmerized once the visually entrancing first trailer for Moonlight came out. Directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight tells the tender, heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT, Greg McLean, USA (World Premiere)
Written by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and directed by Wolf Creek helmer Greg McLean, The Belko Experiment is an off-the-rails Hunger Games-esque thriller that follows the employees of Belko Industries, who are horrified when they find out that they’ve become
guinea pigs in a company-wide experiment which will lead them to either kill their fellow employees or be murdered themselves.
FREE FIRE, Ben Wheatley, United Kingdom (World Premiere)
Based on the picture alone, the art direction of the ’70s-set action crime drama looks like it’s going to be a menacing, sexy good time. The movie follows two gangs who meet in a warehouse to broker a deal, but once shots are fired during the handover, a heart-stopping game of survival ensues.
BLAIR WITCH, Adam Wingard, USA (World Premiere)
When people found out that The Woods was actually a Blair Witch sequel, everyone was immediately invested — including us. Having screened at Comic-Con, the movie is already getting tons of buzz as a worthy follow-up to the original (we don’t count the ones that happened in between). Even the original director, Eduardo Sanchez, has gone on record to sing the praises of the sequel. If that’s the case, then it must be good.
THE BLEEDER, Philippe Falardeau, USA (North American Premiere)
If you like Rocky, then chances are you’ll be fascinated by the true story of Chuck Wepner, the man who inspired the billion-dollar film series starring Sylvester Stallone. Liev Schreiber stars as Wepner, a liquor salesman from New Jersey who went 15 rounds with the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali. But his toughest fights were outside the ring: an epic life of drugs, booze, wild women, incredible highs, and extraordinary lows.
QUEEN OF KATWE, Mira Nair, South Africa/Uganda (World Premiere)
Shining a light of inspiration on the TIFF stage is this vibrant true story that follows a young girl from the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess. With a super-talented cast that includes David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, the movie is already a winner.
CERTAIN WOMEN, Kelly Reichardt, USA (Canadian Premiere)
Kelly Reichardt’s latest follows the lives of three women as they intersect in small town America. there’s Laura, a lawyer summoned to reason with her client during a hostage situation. Gina, who is building her family a home in hopes to stake her claim on a bit of history. And Jamie, who longs for something more in her simple life when Beth passes through town. It’s guaranteed to have you all up in your feelings one way or another.
ELLE, Paul Verhoeven, France (North American Premiere)
It’s hard to deny a film from the man that gave us RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers, and his pop culture masterpiece Showgirls. In Elle, he tells the story of Michèle, the head of a leading video game company, who gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down an unknown man who sexually assaulted her. It’s definitely a completely different direction from cyborg law enforcers and fame-hungry Vegas dancers. Color us intrigued.
BIRTH OF THE DRAGON, George Nolfi, USA/China/Canada (World Premiere)
It’s been a while since Hollywood has attempted to make a proper movie about the legendary Bruce Lee. Birth of the Dragon aims to fill that void. Set against the backdrop of San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1964, this cross-cultural biopic chronicles Bruce Lee’s emergence as a martial arts superstar after his legendary secret showdown with Shaolin master Wong Jack Man. This may be a long-awaited resurgence of Bruce Lee in the zeitgeist.
THE HANDMAIDEN, Park Chan-wook, South Korea (North American Premiere)
From Oldboy to Thirst, Park Chan-wook isn’t scared to push the envelope when it comes to visually stunning, demented, and erotic storytelling. The Handmaiden follows a crook-turned-servant that falls for the vulnerable heiress she had originally schemed to swindle. The movie has been causing a buzz and the audacious and crazy-tense trailer has it at the top of our list.
CATFIGHT, Onur Tukel, USA (World Premiere)
The dark comedy centers on a reunion between two old school friends that turns into a no-holds-barred war of attrition. It looks this outrageous, crazy, hilarious, and subversive. Count us in.
RATS, Morgan Spurlock, USA (World Premiere)
There are plenty of documentaries playing at TIFF this year, but Rats is probably one of the most fascinating — and grossest — of them all. Inspired by Robert Sullivan’s New York Times bestselling book, Rats is a horror documentary that plunges into the darkest depths to expose human kind’s most insidious parasite. It’s already making our skin crawl.
THE BAD BATCH, Ana Lily Amirpour, USA (North American Premiere)
When the words “cannibal fairy tale” are in a movie’s synopsis, you have no choice but to be intrigued. But when the movie is Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to her amazing horror A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, then it is an immediate must-see.
JULIETA, Pedro Almodóvar, Spain (North American Premiere)
In Almodovar’s latest, he adapts three stories from Canadian Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro for this time-tripping tale about the relationship and eventual rupture between a Madrid teacher and her beloved daughter. The auteur always delivers with his one-of-a-kind storytelling skills. Plus, a film fest wouldn’t be a film fest without the richness and beauty of an Almodovar film.
JACKIE, Pablo Larraín, United Kingdom (North American Premiere)
It’s been a while since there has been a Natalie Portman film that wasn’t confined to the arthouse or cinephiles. Based on the real-life First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her period of grief and trauma after the assassination of JFK, Jackie could be a film that not only has mainstream appeal but also put her in the running for as a contender for awards season.
HEADSHOT, Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto, Indonesia (World Premiere)
Iko Uwais kicked some major ass in The Raid and The Raid Redemption and he continues to do so in Headshot. The Indonesian martial arts stars in the fast and furious pic which follows an amnesiac whose mysterious past as a killing machine comes to the forefront when he takes on the henchmen of a vengeful drug lord. If you need to add some bone-breaking action to your TIFF experience. This is the one to see.
BARRY, Vikram Gandhi, USA (World Premiere)
Southside With You gave us a look at Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date. Now, Barry takes us further back to the early ’80s when the President-to-be was just a college student in New York City. This could very well be the first time in history when two movies about a sitting President have been made. Seems like we just can’t get enough of Obama.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer