Our Most Anticipated Films of TIFF 2018
From big guns like ‘First Man’ and ‘Halloween’ to the latest from acclaimed indie directors like David Lowery, these are the films we’re most excited for at 2018’s TIFF.
Today marks the beginning of the 43rdToronto International Film Festival, and with it comes the usual electricity in the city. From all the biggest stars getting picked up from airports and dropped off in downtown Toronto, to the long line-ups for even the smallest movies, the festival is one of the most hyped events in the city for tourists, residents, and the illustrious film industry alike.
This year marks an onslaught of high profile films from directors like Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins (Will there be another Moonlight vs La La Land situation at the 2019 Academy Awards?), as well as Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill’s respective debuts behind the camera. And then there is my personal favourite section: Midnight Madness. Every year it’s a riot, and the staple venue of Ryerson Theater is opened up to a bunch of genre fans waiting to catch the next big obsession.
Among it all there are films waiting to be discovered, the less-talked-about movies itching for that buzz that will push them into the end-of-the-year conversation. TIFF’s People’s Choice Award winner is almost always a safe bet to receive a nomination come award season, so we’ll have an indication of what to look forward to this fall/winter season. There are plenty of movies to get excited about, but these are a handful of the ones we can’t wait to witness on the big screen.
Adapting the memoir of a gay teenager forced into conversion therapy by his religious parents, Joel Edgerton is quickly establishing himself behind-the-camera just as much as he has in front of it. Boy Erased looks to be an incredibly emotional follow up to his directorial debut, The Gift. That film was one of my personal favourites from that year, serving as a taut thriller and a moving look at the way our words can do just as much harm as our actions. With Boy Erased, Edgerton serves on scriptwriting duties again, with an all-star cast that is led by Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and Edgerton himself. This is a movie making its moves at almost every festival this fall, so the push is on to prop it up for an Oscar run — which it looks like it has the potential to achieve.
Damien Chazelle can pretty much do no wrong at this point. With both Whiplash and La La Land receiving universal critical acclaim, and the latter winning Chazelle the Best Director award at the 2017 Oscars, it isn’t surprising to see him come back so soon with Ryan Gosling in tow again. Buzz is already out from Venice about whether this Neil Armstrong biopic reaches the moon or not, and it seems like technically it is a marvel to behold, with Claire Foy standing out amongst a swarm of male actors.
The trailers have all been incredible and the IMAX preview before screenings of Mission: Impossible – Fallout was breathtaking. Once again, First Man is taking on all the film festivals it can, leaving no doubt that people will be hard-pressed not to hear buzz about this film for the rest of the year. It also helps that Chazelle’s last film at TIFF was La La Land, which won the People’s Choice Award that year.
Hold the Dark
The body count is allegedly higher than Green Room, and Jeremy Saulnier is not afraid to let audiences suffer through tension and a dark atmosphere, so to say that Hold the Dark is promising would be an understatement. Saulnier’s particular blend of dread and violence is on full display in the trailer for the Netflix film, but it also feels like his most ambitious effort yet. Mystery plays a larger component, which is all well and good when you have Jeffrey Wright at the helm to uncover it (he’s uncovered enough mystery in Westworld this season). Alexander Skarsgard, Riley Keough, and James Badge Dale round out the cast with the usual appearance of frequent Saulnier-collaborator Macon Blair. Expect a miserable experience of the best kind.
I was unimpressed with the widely celebrated Berberian Sound Studio, which seemed to catapult Peter Strickland to arthouse stardom, but The Duke of Burgundy is a hell of a sensory experience, and it stood out as something unique and utterly compelling from its sound design and editing. Strickland returns again with an entry in the Midnight Madness programme that sounds like someone taking the title Phantom Thread extremely literally. Sidse Babett Knudsen returns after her stint on Westworld and starring in The Duke of Burgundy, and alongside Game of Thrones’ star Gwendoline Christie, this makes for what will undoubtedly be a trip and a half.
The Midnight Madness lineup has two of the biggest films of the year headlining it: The Predator and David Gordon Green’s Halloween. While Shane Black’s take on the Predator franchise looks promising, it’s about time there was a good version of Halloween since John Carpenter unleashed Michael Myers on the world in 1978. Co-written by Green and Danny McBride, with the blessing of Carpenter (and a new score from him), this film is forgetting that any of the sequels happened, and picking up decades after the original. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is back, and prepared for the inevitable moment when Myers returns for more. The trailer is extremely promising, and TIFF is building this “One Night Only” event up as something that can’t be missed before the film releases wide in October. Add the impact that Blumhouse has had on the horror genre, and it’s hard not to get your hopes up just a little bit.
Steve McQueen is back from his 2013 Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave to offer something that looks both powerful and thrilling. Viola Davis leads a group of widows whose husbands all died on a heist, and they decide to step up and finish the job. The plot alone is rife with potential, but it’s that cast that demands attention. Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, and Daniel Kaluuya aren’t even all the ones worthy of talking about. With Sean Bobbitt shooting the film and Hans Zimmer contributing the score, as well as Gillian Flynn co-writing with McQueen, this is an easy sell come awards season. Whether it holds up beyond its incredible talent is the question, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where this isn’t one of the most talked about films of the festival.
Playing in the Masters platform, Killing is Shinya Tsukamoto’s latest film — and one of his longest, even though it clocks in at only 80 minutes. The Japanese actor/writer/director has had a wild filmography filled with oddities that would fit perfectly in a Midnight Madness slate (I’m looking at you Tetsuo: The Iron Man). Sometimes not for the faint of heart, yet often entrancing to say the least, Tsukamoto tends to veer into obscure territory with a plot that can twist and turn in the same frantic way the camera does. Killing is exciting because it is placed within the very well-worn samurai genre, and images from it look to lean less into the insanity that Tsukamoto is known for. This could be a tamer film than we’re used to from the director, but what excites me is how he will work within a genre so familiar.
A Star is Born
Okay, we’ve heard the story a million times, and we have no idea whether Bradley Cooper can take what he’s learned from being on film sets and translate it to a directing role. What are probable guarantees is that the soundtrack for A Star is Born will be great, both Cooper and Lady Gaga will likely be a great duo on-screen, and it’s hard not to get a little excited after all of the buzz from Venice. Lady Gaga has been making her acting chops slightly known on American Horror Story, as well as from her music videos, which are lavish affairs that demand a star. The story is tried-and-true, but placing Lady Gaga in the lead female role is an absolute certainty for success. The buzz has been positive, and every time I hear Lady Gaga sing in the trailer I get goosebumps. This is definitely one of the movies that cannot be missed from the awards season.
Controversy is the last thing you should be thinking about when going into a Gaspar Noe film. The man is trying to provoke you, so just walk into all of his films knowing that upfront and putting it in the back of your mind. If you do that, this Sangria-fueled dance nightmare looks to be less inaccessible, yet still filled with the kind of insanity Noe fans have come to expect. Climax fits right at home in the Midnight Madness slate, pitting itself up against movies like The Predator and Nekrotronic just to see how crazy they’re willing to go. But most importantly, how far are you willing to go through this delirious-looking movie? We saw it at Cannes this year and can attest to its entertainment value.
If Beale Street Could Talk
I mentioned earlier that we may have a recurrence of the La La Land and Moonlight debacle this awards season. If you’ve seen the trailer for Barry Jenkins’s latest effort, you can understand why. While a movie like First Man looks like an easy frontrunner for the Oscar, La La Land also looked like that when it lost to Moonlight, the little movie that could. As powerful as the latter is, If Beale Street Could Talk seems primed to be another moving film that will have you holding back tears while equally thinking about the world we live in. Place Regina King in anything and I’m there, but adapting a James Baldwin novel and following up the masterpiece that was Moonlight adds more hype to a movie that really shouldn’t need to make its name known. We should already be looking forward to this, and I suspect after its World Premiere at TIFF, we will.
Hotel by the River
South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo has been on a rapid-fire streak the last few years. He directed three films last year (all varying degrees of excellent), and already has another movie under his belt from earlier this year. Hong’s switch to lower budgets and digital photography has helped speed up his pace and give him the freedom to experiment. His relationship with actress Kim Min-hee (The Handmaiden) has also replenished his art; Kim is the strongest actor Hong has even worked with. The bigger names have mostly disappeared from his recent films, but her presence makes up for any perceived talent drain. Hotel by the River shares the same gorgeous black and white cinematography of recent works like the excellent The Day After, but it promises to be darker and more emotional than that film, or its even more buoyant counterpoint, Claire’s Camera. Hong is operating at the height of his powers, and each new film is an occasion for celebration.
One of my favorite discoveries from 2014 was Christian Petzold’s Phoenix. Petzold wasn’t exactly new, but that film, an inversion of Vertigo set in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, was a simultaneously brutal and ravishing portrait of a woman reclaiming her identity. The director again explores identity, this time focusing on a man who adopts the identity of a dead writer, and begins to obsess over the dead man’s wife. It sounds quite a bit like The Passenger on paper, but Petzold’s film promises to strike out toward a bold new territory.
Paul Greengrass has already made one of the defining films of a national tragedy in United 93, and here he returns with 22 July, another austerely titled film that takes as its subject the tragic terrorist attack that devastated Norway. The killer, a reactionary right-winger, targeted a leftist youth camp, slaughtering 77 people and injuring hundreds more using explosives and high-powered rifles. Greengrass’ film is based on the excellent One of Us, the definitive history of the massacre. Despite using Norwegian actors, the film is in English, which may leave it open for some possible Oscar love. The Academy Awards aren’t crazy about films focusing on international subjects, but Greengrass might just have enough clout to catch their attention.
Claire Denis has long been esteemed among cinephiles, but her films haven’t always been easy to come by in North America. The more readily available works have been hopelessly dour meditations that leave one with a sour taste in the mouth. Yet last year’s Let the Sunshine In was a bold new step for Denis. Its romantic comedy rhythms were new for her, yet utterly arresting and fresh (and the final scene with Gerard Depardieu is one of the single best moments of film from the past decade). Denis now makes her English-language debut with High Life, a science fiction film starring Robert Pattinson, and also reunites her with Juliette Binoche. Denis has experimented with genre filmmaking before, but never to this extent. Considering that Pattinson’s last few roles (Good Time, The Lost City of Z) have been his best work to date, this new collaboration with Denis is sure to be exciting.
The Old Man & the Gun
It’s clear that Robert Redford doesn’t mind being a bit coy about his future projects. The legendary actor and director has made it clear that The Old Man & the Gun will be his last acting project, though he still plans to direct (and he’s not opposed to returning to acting if a role speaks to him). David Lowery, who made last year’s heartbreaking meditation on loss, A Ghost Story, returns to work with Casey Affleck, who plays a detective chasing after Redford’s charmingly polite bank robber. Lowery is one of the strongest voices in independent cinema at the moment, yet he has also shown an ability to effectively steer studio creations like Pete’s Dragon. Redford’s greatest sin as an actor is that he has rarely challenged himself in the last few decades, but Lowery is someone who can push him to go out on a high note.
Those are the ones we’re most looking forward to, but who knows what surprises await? Goomba Stomp will be covering the whole festival, so check back for our daily coverage of 2018’s Toronto International Film Festival!
‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past
Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.
After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.
The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.
The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.
However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.
A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.
Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?
The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.
‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.
‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire
Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.
Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous.
This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection.
Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom.
When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness).
These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us.
Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results.
Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.
‘Ford v Ferrari’ Drives Fast with Little Under the Hood
A classic Hollywood drama with fast cars and a stellar Christian Bale performance that feels great despite a lack of emotional substance.
Many directors always struggle with producers and other businessmen to retain their vision. What might work most for that vision may not be what focus tests and audiences have proven to enjoy, so the film gets reworked and reworked until it becomes a box office hit, and potentially retains a director’s intent. Ford v Ferrari doesn’t necessarily feel like that — this is a James Mangold film in many regards — but by the end of its story of vision and skill versus marketing and business agendas, Mangold’s latest wrestles with placing trust in an individual against an entire body of suits.
When Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is approached by Ford Motors to create a car fast enough to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (an annual racing event where drivers go all day and night around the same track), he is forced to fight tooth-and-nail to get the best driver for the job: Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Shelby’s fight is singular; he wants to win the Le Mans, and knows that Miles is the only one who can do it. Yet, Ford Motors is still a company with many eyes on them, and employing the hot-headed Miles as a driver could be disastrous. So begins a struggle for Shelby and Miles to have their desires met by a company looking at the bottom line. That struggle — one that underscores every decision made by the characters in the film — is what sits at the core of Ford v Ferrari, and keeps things interesting. Set that aside, however, and the film loses a lot of momentum.
Still, the racing will grip audiences throughout. The final Le Mans challenge runs for a decent portion of Ford v Ferrari and is engaging throughout, but there are several other races and practices where Mangold’s craftsmanship as a filmmaker shines bright. Miles sits in the driver’s seat of all of these moments, and Bale’s performance is never stronger than when his character has that need for speed. Miles is a passionate driver with pure intentions, and Bale gives him a lot of wit and heart in between huge swings of emotion. It’s a performance that stands tall but doesn’t distract, instead meshing extremely well with the action.
Meanwhile, the other performances are also solid. Matt Damon is very good in the role of Shelby, though his character is quite often reserved because he has to be. When you put him against Bale, however, it’s clear that Shelby pales to the race car driver’s fleshed-out character, as we follow the latter’s family, his rejections and successes, and his pure heart. In the backdrop is a wide array of supporting actors, including Caitriona Balfe as Mollie Miles, Josh Lucas as the thorn in Shelby’s side, Jon Bernthal playing a standard Jon Bernthal role, and Tracy Letts chewing up scenery whenever he can as Henry Ford II. Letts and Lucas in particular give great caricatured performances, planting Ford v Ferrari into a more standard Hollywood drama.
Largely that’s the problem: Ford v Ferrari is a technical achievement with some incredible craftsmanship and performances that just never feels as great at slow times as it does when it’s moving past 7000 RPMs. It has a need for speed, and the pacing shows that, but it also doesn’t really rise very high above what’s needed to please an audience. Mangold is great at deriving emotional substance out of a subject, but a lot of that in Ford v Ferrari is left on the shoulders of Bale’s performance. Instead, the film focuses heavily on the bureaucratic side of things, and how that hinders talented people from being who they are destined to be. While fun to watch, there isn’t much more that will have Ford v Ferrari lingering with audiences. Instead, this will be a movie that resonates with racing fans and those that struggle against restrictions, keeping general audience satisfied in their big Hollywood dramas for the time being.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14 as part of our coverage of The Toronto International Film Festival.
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