I’m currently perusing the list of 17 Gala presentations that will premiere next month at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival happening September 6-16. I love the game of it, trying to figure out which ones will break out here in Toronto the way Black Swan, The King’s Speech, Volver, Precious, Michael Clayton, and No Country For Old Men did in recent years when they launched as Galas.
Politics, culture clashes, family, and tradition are the dominant themes running through the list this year. From the outset, it looks to be a stronger family of films than 2011, a year in which turkeys such as Trespass, Madonna‘s W.E., and Peace, Love & Misunderstanding contaminated the list of entries that also included Moneyball, A Dangerous Method, and the unfairly neglected We Need to Talk About Kevin.
TIFF broke with tradition last year by showing the new U2 doc From The Sky Down instead of a usual Canadian suspect on opening night, and they do so again this year with the futuristic thriller Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. The year is 2072, time-travel exists but is illegal, and Gordon-Levitt probably has a lot of fun playing a young Willis in this movie. Looper, set for a September 28 release, represents writer-director Rian Johnson‘s second TIFF entry after The Brothers Bloom. His best film to date, however, remains the dark high school thriller Brick, also starring Gordon-Levitt.
Junkies for politics and current events have a lot to be excited about this year. There’s Argo from Gone Baby Gone and The Town director Ben Affleck, with its story of 6 Americans who find shelter at the Canadian Ambassador’s home in Iran during the revolution of ’79 and the crack “exfiltration” team set up by Affleck’s CIA man who poses as a Canadian film crew in order to try to rescue them. Affleck is on the A-list of directors now and it looks like Argo promises to be another smart Friday night flick for grown-ups. The supporting cast of Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Chris Messina, Alan Arkin and Philip Baker Hall lends gravitas to the proceedings.
Sticking with the retro theme is returning TIFF vet and Sundance Kid Robert Redford with his spring 2013 release The Company You Keep. Susan Sarandon plays a former member of the radical Weather Underground group, on the lam through the 80′s from a botched bank robbery from the 70′s that left a police officer and a security guard dead. Redford is a small town lawyer and single parent, and Shia LaBoeuf is the journalist who’s piecing the story together, one that appears to implicate Redford. The star power here is attractive, but even more so is the potential given this story by screenwriter Lem Dobbs, who penned Dark City and The Limey.
Then we rewind to 1939 where Bill Murray plays four-term president Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson, from Notting Hill and Venus director Roger Michell. Preferring to go the route of The Queen and My Week With Marilyn, Hyde Park is a “micro” story that follows the events during the week when the Roosevelt’s hosted the King and Queen of England in their upstate New York getaway. Often times the best way to distill iconic figures is to show a slice of their lives instead of constraining them in usual biopic fashion with a birth to death rehash. The buzz is that Murray should find himself with another well-deserved Oscar nomination.
Mira Nair (The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding) returns with the political thriller The Reluctant Fundamentalist, based on the international best-selling novel of the same title, starring Riz Ahmed (Trishna) as a Pakistani emigre to the west, chasing down the American dream. With a script from William Wheeler (The Hoax) and co-starring Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland and Om Puri, this is looking like another topical filmfest treat.
Shola Lynch makes her TIFF debut with her second doc feature, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, about 60′s radical Angela Davis. It tells the story of the young African American woman–a well-educated professor’s assistant– implicated in the kidnapping of a judge. Lynch’s first flick was the overlooked gem Chisholm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed (2004) about the feisty, determined presidential nomination bid by a first-time African American female, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.
International flavoring colors these next 5 titles, which tackle culture, religion, and tradition, from Ancient Rome to India to Sarajevo. There’s Midnight’s Children, the new Deepa Mehta pic, which has got to be one of the most highly-anticipated movies premiering at TIFF this year with its screenplay by Salman Rushdie, based off of his Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name set on the eve of India’s independence from British rule.
Then there is another Canadian effort with Ruba Nadda‘s (Cairo Time) thriller Inescapable, starring Alexander Siddig (Syriana) as a Syrian emigre to Canada who returns to Damascus in a desperate attempt to find his missing daughter. The man must confront the turmoil he left behind 30 years prior in a country as unsettled as its ever been. Also starring Marisa Tomei and Joshua Jackson, this movie could not come at a more pivotal time in Syria’s modern history.
Italian actor turned director Sergio Castellitto makes his first Gala appearance with his Twice Born, starring Penelope Cruz and Emile Hirsch in a story about a mother and her teenage son who return to Sarajevo, where their father was killed in the conflict with Bosnia in the 90′s.
Lightening up the proceedings are Thermae Romae from Japan, the time-travelling sci-fi comedy about an architect who’s story moves between Japan and Ancient Rome, directed by Hideki Takeuchi, as well as English Vingslish, from first-time feature helmer Gauri Shinde, which marks the comeback of Bollywood superstar Sridevi as a woman made to feel inferior by the fact that she doesn’t speak English.
Sexual and class politics dominate the selection of juicy costume dramas on the list, and this year we are treated to two new editions of the literary classics Great Expectations and Dangerous Liaisons. Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco, Four Weddings and a Funeral) takes on the Dickens classic this time, and Jeremy Levine (War Horse) stars as the orphan Pip, Ralph Fiennes is Magwitch, and Helena Bonham Carter is Miss Havisham. It’s a more traditional telling than the Ethan Hawke/Gwyneth Paltrow edition–which I highly recommend.
Meanwhile, Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) stars in Dangerous Liaisons, updated to Shanghai on the eve of the Japanese invasion. I loved the John Malkovich andGlenn Close version from Stephen Frears in 1988, as well as the overlooked gem Valmont the following year from Milos Forman (Amadeus) starring a younger Colin Firth, and I even found that the story worked in contempo America as Cruel Intentions. Can’t wait to see how it is spun this time in 1930′s Shanghai.
And then there is A Royal Affair, which recounts the reign of King Christian VII of Denmark, circa mid-18th century. This one looks promising, having won the Best Actor Prize in Berlin for Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, as well as Best Screenplay to Nikolaj Arcel, who scripted the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Families are the centerpieces of two big American titles in the Gala programme, with Billy Bob Thornton getting behind the camera again with Jayne Mansfield’s Car, the multi-generational 60′s southern drama starring Robert Duvall, John Hurt and Kevin Bacon and co-scripted by Tom Epperson (One False Move, A Family Thing).
And David O. Russell‘s (Three Kings, The Fighter) Silver Linings Playbook, with Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, and Jennifer Lawrence.
And finally, I’m highly intrigued by the ambitious new doc Love, Marilyn from Liz Garbus–the overlooked, first-rate director of Bobby Fischer Against the World and The Farm: Angola, USA. The doc stars the likes of Elizabeth Banks, Lindsey Lohan, Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood, all posing as Marilyn Monroe at different times throughout her life in a narrative that comes straight out of the personal writings from Monroe that were unearthed just a couple years ago. Looks terrific.
Stay tuned for Xavierpop’s ongoing coverage. The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6-16, 2012.