Xavierpop Previews #TIFF12 – MovieJay Breaks Down The Special Presentations Part I
The 45 movies announced so far in the Special Presentations program for TIFF ’12 are a strong and varied crop, and represent just how bursting-at-the-seems that Toronto has become in kicking off the big fall movie season. Previous Special Pres’ have included Slumdog Millionaire, Juno, Atonement and The Wrestler.
When you go to a Special Pres’ screening, you’re going to find reliable international directors and actors and just as many “big” films as you’d find in the Gala section. From Oscar bait to hidden gems, foreign flicks to common narrative themes, here’s an attempt to make some sense of this year’s selections in the most crowded programme of films at TIFF.
Going for the Gold
These Oscar contenders have been preparing for this moment all of their lives. Ok, that’s post-Olympics fever talking. I don’t know how long they’ve been preparing, but this group of films are looking to launch big at TIFF this year, propelling them right into the busy fall Oscar season.
To the Wonder
Incredibly, Terrence Malick makes his first appearance at Toronto with To the Wonder, his new marital character drama featuring Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams. It’s already a wonder how he has managed to pull off making movies in consecutive years, also a first for Malick. With cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki returning–Tree of Life, Children of Men, Sleepy Hollow–this mostly Oklahoma filmed production promises to be another feast for our eyes.
When the directing team of Tom Tykwer, Andy and Lana Wachowski dropped their 5-minute trailer and subsequent interview on the net a couple weeks back, the buzz on this huge international production of the David Mitchell bestseller only increased about ten fold. It fashions together 6 stories, all of which are told in different eras. Fans of hyperlink movies, where many characters and story threads weave into one big tapestry that is meant for us to sometimes draw our own conclusions, should have a good time. With what looks like a fine piece of dramatic, sci-fi pop-philosophy the film stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant, among many others.
Will the third time be the charm? Pride & Prejudice and Atonement director Joe Wright and star Keira Knightley team up again with a lush production of what Leo Tolstoy referred to as his first real novel. Jude Law and Aaron Johnson co-star, but the overlooked story here is that this pic represents the return of writer Tom Stoppard after a hiatus of a decade at the movies. He’s been missed since Shakespeare in Love and Enigma.
The Place Beyond the Pines
Say what? Ryan Gosling‘s a stunt guy again? Sure is, this time he gets out from behind the wheel and onto a motorcycle in what appears to be another dramatic, existential thriller. Director Derek Cianfrance could move straight to the A-list after his Oscar nominated Blue Valentine, also with Gos. Bradley Cooper–aka the guy who’s in everything lately–co-stars along with Eva Mendes and Ray Liotta.
At Any Price
I’m hoping for Iranian-American indie director Ramin Bahrani to make a big splash with his new middle-American drama set against the backdrop of agribusiness in these tough times. He came to the festival previously with Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo and brings a refreshing neo-realism to American cinema that we’re more accustomed to with European and Middle-Eastern productions. This time he’s got a budget and big stars in Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron–who is looking for more serious cred here, playing Quaid’s rebellious son. This isn’t on the radar yet, but I’ll bet the farm it will be very soon.
Caught in the Web
One of the most intriguing foreign films looking to break out this year comes from Chinese director Chen Kaige (Farewell, My Concubine, Sacrifice) and his social commentary piece involving three women, the internet, how rumors can go “viral”, all set against the backdrop of a fast-moving cultural revolution in China.
Rust & Bone
Jacques Audiard just keeps getting better and better. After his arthouse hits with the romantic thriller Read My Lips and the crime drama The Beat that My Heart Skipped, he went onto an Oscar nomination and a Grand Jury Prize win at Cannes for his crime saga The Prophet back in 2009. He’ll be looking to launch another Oscar run from France again this year when this family drama-thriller starring Marion Cotillard premieres at TIFF. She plays a killer whale trainer this time. Can’t wait.
End of Watch
David Ayer, the screenwriter of Training Day and Dark Blue, was last at TIFF with his directing effort Harsh Times, starring Christian Bale. He returns with another cop drama, this time with Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal and the dependable Michael Pena (Crash, The Lucky Ones) in tow.
Is Michael Shannon the most interesting American actor working at the moment? From Bug to Take Shelter to his supporting work in Revolutionary Road, he casts a spell over us onscreen and our fascination with him should continue here. He’s playing Richard Kuklinski, the lifelong contract killer and loving family man who apparently killed over 200 people in the over 30 years he was active in that, umm, profession.
Juan Antonio Bayona directed the first-rate ghost thriller The Orphanage in 2008, and now he turns to real life and this devastating recreation of the deadly Christmas tsunami in southeast Asia, starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. He transcended the horror genre with his ghost flick; here’s hoping he can do the same for disaster epics.
And Now for Something Completely Different…
A Liar’s Autobiography – The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman
Monty Python fans are salivating over this one, an animated movie about the late Chapman, known mostly for being the “dead one” but who will no doubt conjure nostalgia with this special screening. Chapman stars posthumously in this one from archived commentary he made decades ago from his own personal treasure-trove of memoirs, and everyone else is back for this one too, including John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin and Terry Jones. Can’t wait.
Much Ado About Nothing
Joss Whedon takes a break from his superhero antics of The Avengers to direct a modern-day reinventing of the classic Shakespeare comedy, shot in 12 days and starring Angel’s Amy Acker and How I Met Your Mother‘s Alexis Denisof. Remarkable change of pace for Whedon. Should be interesting.
Andrew Adamson is another director switching gears this year. The Shrek and Chronicles of Narnia helmer goes to Bougainville to recount the 1991 war over a copper mine on the small South Pacific island. The story follows a young teenage girl played by newcomer Xzannjah Matsi in a performance generating a lot of pre-festival buzz, who becomes obsessed with Charles Dickens‘ Great Expectations, which is being read to her school by the only white guy around for miles, played by Hugh Laurie.
Dustin Hoffman proves you really can teach an old dog new tricks. The two-time best actor Oscar winner–for Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man–goes behind the camera for the first time, at 75 years young this year. What’s it about? Retired opera singers played by Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith, among others.
A Late Quartet
Every year at TIFF you get your schedule, you make a long list of must-sees, and invariably there are a couple of titles everyone mixes up. Is A Late Quartet the one directed by Dustin Hoffman, or was that Quartet? No, that’s the Philip Seymour Hoffman one. No, wait, which is which again? This one stars P.S. Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken as, wait for it…..wait for it….lifelong members of a string quartet who see each other through good, bad, and lusty times.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Hands down the best actor under 25 right now is Ezra Miller. Last year he was a devil child in We Need to Talk About Kevin, a stunningly assured performance. I think if Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep were to give birth to an acting hybrid of themselves, it would be him. This fall he is going to appear in this dramedy as a flamboyantly gay high schooler alongside Emma Watson and Logan Lerman, and I’m betting that the contrast in roles will cement his status as the hottest young actor in Hollywood.
TIFF runs September 6-16. Ticket packages are on sale now. Keep it tuned to Xavierpop for the sweet ‘n lowdown on all the films showing this year.