The 39th Toronto International Film Festival kicks off next Thursday, bringing to Toronto some of this year’s most anticipated films (including early award-season contenders).
Story by Sheetal Maya Nanda
With 393 films from 79 countries screening in 11 days, it’s never easy to choose which films to watch. I like to think of the TIFF experience much like embarking on a modern day quest: you need a game plan and lots of patience. You will get sidetracked, distracted or lost unless you remind yourself why you started in the first place – for your love of film of course! At the end of the day, you must make intelligent guesses in the hopes that you stumble upon that festival darling that steals everyone’s hearts.
While I haven’t found a scientific formula for picking films at TIFF, I have scrutinized the film lineup and narrowed it down to ten films (in no particular order) worth checking out. It wasn’t an easy endeavor, but hey, life’s all about making tough choices.
This film is the non-negotiable on my list. Directed by Damien Chazelle, Whiplash took home both the U.S. Grand Jury and Audience Dramatic prizes at Sundance this year. It’s a drama about an ambitious young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) who arrives at an elite music academy with the drive to become one of the greats. A talented, yet terrifying instructor at the academy (J.K. Simmons) discovers the aspiring drummer and transfers him into his band, forever changing the young man’s life.
A favourite amongst film critics at Cannes this year, Bird People will receive its North American premiere at TIFF. With her first feature film since 2007’s Lady Chatterley, French director Pascale Ferran takes her audience to a Hyatt hotel near the Paris airport. It is here that two strangers attempt to make sense out of their lives: an American engineer (Josh Charles) who decides to radically change the course of his existence, and a young hotel chambermaid (Anais Demoustier) who goes through a life-altering supernatural experience. If you are a fan of The Good Wife and still mourning Josh Charles’ departure from the show, put this film on your festival list.
Margarita, with A Straw
While many Indian cinema fans are eager to see Bollywood blockbuster Mary Kom, I’m more curious about the world premiere of Sonali Bose’s Margarita, with a Straw. This inspirational story about self-discovery features Kalki Koechlin (Dev D, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani) as Laila, a Delhi university student with romantic notions and a rebellious attitude. Undeterred by her cerebral palsy, she embarks on an exhilarating adventure to New York University where she falls for a fiery young activist.
Already slated as an award-season frontrunner, Foxcatcher tells the dark and fascinating true story of schizophrenic millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) who backed the U.S. Olympic wrestling team and whose unlikely friendship with gold-medal-winning brothers Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) ended in tragedy. Foxcatcher is the third feature film from director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball). The fact that Sony Pictures plans to release the film on November 14, just in time for this year’s Oscar rush, makes this one worth queuing the rush line for.
The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch (12 Years A Slave, The Fifth Estate) will grace Toronto with his presence again after having three films premiere last year. He stars in this movie based on the real life story of Alan Turing, the genius British mathematician, cryptologist and computer scientist who led the charge to crack the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win World War II. Turing went on to assist with the development of computers at the University of Manchester after the war, but was prosecuted by the UK government in 1952 for homosexual acts which the country deemed illegal. The movie also stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode.
Twenty-five year old Canadian director Xavier Dolan depicts a fictional Canada, where a new law allows distressed parents to abandon their troubled children to the hospital system. In the movie, Die Despres, a feisty widowed single mom tries to cope with her explosive 15-year-old ADHD son, Steve. While they both struggle to live under the same roof, Kyla, their mysterious neighbour, offers her assistance. Dolan tied for the Jury Prize at Cannes this year for Mommy.
Brace yourselves Jon Stewart fans: The Daily Show host’s directorial debut is the furthest thing from a comedy. The film depicts the true story of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael Garcia Bernal), whose appearance on Stewart’s show in 2009 triggered his five-month imprisonment by the Iranian government.
This sports documentary by American filmmaker Gabe Polsky received rave reviews at Cannes. Red Army follows the most successful dynasty in sports history: the Soviet Union’s Red Army hockey team of the 1980s. Told from the perspective of captain Slava Fetisov, the film portrays his transformation from national hero to political enemy. You won’t want to miss this film, which examines the parallels between the Soviets’ approach to hockey and their socialist philosophy.
Winter Sleep, by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, took home this year’s Palm d’Or at Cannes. The movie is about a self-absorbed former actor turned hotelier and the stormy relationships he has with his young wife and his recently divorced sister. As the snow begins to fall, the hotel in Central Anatolia turns into a shelter but also an inescapable place that fuels their animosities.
Learning to Drive
Patricia Clarkson plays a Manhattan writer coping with the dissolution of her marriage. She’s taking driving lessons from a Sikh instructor (played by Ben Kingsley) who’s also dealing with marriage troubles. In each other’s company, they find the courage to get back on the road and the strength to take the wheel. The film will have its world premiere in Toronto.
The 39th Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 4 to 14, 2014. Single tickets are available to the general public for all screenings beginning August 31, 2014. For more information visit tiff.net/festival.
Photographs Courtesy of TIFF