tiff 16 — what to see… (update 4!)

Hey y’all. Once again, I will be combing through TIFF’s massive lineup to try and find some good bets and interesting obscurities. These picks will be updated as new announcements are made. I make this list for myself first, so they are listed in order of my own interest. The only real rule is I avoid obvious Hollywood marketing pushes (as in most Gala selections) and movies with general releases later in the same month. I don’t always find the most obscure stuff but am very open to recommendations.

Update 1: first batch of announcements. Safe picks so far, will add more adventurous stuff.
Update 2: Added Midnight Madness, Vanguard, Docs.
Update 3: Added extra Special Presentations, Masters.
Update 4: Added Discovery. Also, the fine folks at TWG built a Facebook chatbot called TIFFBOT using my picks as a guide to help people find movies!

The Salesman

dir. Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past) | Iran/France | 125m

A sudden eruption of violence creates an atmosphere of simmering tension between a husband and wife, in this work of slow-burning domestic suspense from Academy Award–winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation).

Notes: Have you seen A Separation? It’s only one of — if not, the — best film in the past 10 years. No, but seriously, watch it. Farhadi will forever be my #1 pick. This played at Cannes and he won Best Screenplay, obviously.


Free Fire

dir. Bill Wheatley (A Field in England, High Rise)| UK | 90m

Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, and Cillian Murphy star in the hotly anticipated new film by Ben Wheatley (High-Rise), about a weapons deal gone wrong that escalates into a manic, bullet-riddled stand-off inside an abandoned warehouse.

Notes: World Premiere! Midnight Madness! Another year, another Ben Wheatley film. This time with Martin Scorsese on board as executive producer. I’ve only liked about half of Wheatley’s movies, but I still turn out for them every single year. Even when they don’t totally work his movies have such wild audacity I can only respect everything about the guy. Even though he could be making whatever movie he wants at this point he’s stuck it out in the UK making gritty, ambitious, messy, intelligent genre movies that constantly surprise you. Respect.


Certain Women

dir. Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff) | USA | 107m

Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Night Moves) directs Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone in this tripartite portrait of striving, independent women whose lives intersect in suggestive and powerful ways.

Notes: One of my favourite working directors, Reichardt maintains strong creative visions and makes movies that frequently frustrate her audience. I’ve dubbed her Queen of the Non-Ending due to her apparent glee in cutting out mid-scene to credits. Her strength is in her meditative pace (another audience-aggravator) and character studies. Considering this is a triptych of female character portraits, it’s pretty much quintessential Reichardt.


Voyage of Time

dir. Terrence Malick | USA | 90m | trailer

An exploration into our planetary past and a search for humanity’s place in the future. The universe unfolds before the audience’s eyes, melding innovative effects with awe-inspiring footage in this experience for the senses, mind, and soul. Working with scientific advisors and VFX artists, Terrence Malick shows an array of never-witnessed natural phenomena — macroscopic and microscopic — immersing audiences into a poetic journey full of open questions. Narrated by Cate Blanchett.

Notes: Been playing a lot of No Man’s Sky — is this the movie adaptation? Basically, it seems like a feature length version of that amazing sequence in The Tree of Life, you know, the one with the dinosaurs. Expect more dinos here so if that ain’t your jam then you might want to tune out. Now, the “IMAX version” is coming out in October that is only 40m with Brad Pitt narration — this is the 90m version and doesn’t have a release (yet).


Graduation

dir. Cristian Mungiu | Romania | 128m

Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) won the Best Director prize at Cannes for this terse, percolating drama about a Cluj physician who goes to highly questionable lengths to ensure his daughter’s academic success.

Notes: Sharing the Best Director prize at Cannes, as well as being one of the most engrossing filmmakers working today makes the an automatic must-see. Mungiu’s previous two films were brutal experiences that brought the struggles and traditions of his Romanian homeland to the world’s stage. Expect more of the same ruthlessness here, I suppose.


Manchester by the Sea

dir. Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret)| USA | 136m

Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler star in this emotionally overwhelming and critically acclaimed drama from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me, Margaret), about a reclusive handyman who must face his painful past when he returns to his Massachusetts hometown after the sudden death of his beloved older brother.

Notes: Some of the best, most feverish reviews I’ve ever seen out of Sundance… If you’ve seen Margaret you know Lonergan is the real deal.


The Birth of a Nation

dir. Nate Parker | USA | 120m | Trailer

Writer-director Nate Parker reclaims the title of D.W. Griffith’s KKK-boosting 1916 milestone for this epic chronicle of the life of Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion against white plantation owners in 1831 Virginia.

Notes: What’s more badass than taking the title of one of the most (in)famous classics in film history as an act of protest? The film also wowed Sundance enough to leave with the Best Picture prize.


Nocturnal Animals

dir. Tom Ford (A Single Man) | USA/UK | 120m | Trailer

Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Armie Hammer headline the second feature from director Tom Ford (A Single Man), about 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.

Notes: Been waiting a long time for this. Tom Ford, yes the fashion designer, surprised me with how great his debut feature was. Expect a thoughtful, slow but precise character piece with the crisp, immaculate visuals you’d expect from a fashion guru.


Christine

dir. Antonio Campos | USA | 120m

Antonio Campos (Afterschool, Simon Killer) directs this chilling character study of real-life Florida newscaster Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall), narrating the events before she committed suicide on live television in 1974.

Notes: Will it be better than John Carpenter’s evil-car movie? Probably not, but still, I’m looking forward to this one. An unresolvable tragedy, a story that lacks clarity and closure by its very nature. This is the type of biopic that is fascinating. It played to good reviews at Sundance along with a documentary Kate Plays Christine which doesn’t seem to be at TIFF (oh well)


La La Land

dir. Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)| USA | 126m | Trailer

An ambitious jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) fall in love while pursuing their dreams of stardom, in this dazzlingly stylized homage to the classic Hollywood musical from Whiplash director Damien Chazelle.

Notes: Considering Whiplash was one of the best movies in the past few years this is automatically up top for me. Although I kind of have this natural aversion to old timey nostalgia and this looks pretty slight, although probably enjoyable and well made. Maybe it’ll be a Singin’ In The Rain?


Blind Sun

dir. Joyce A. Nashawati | Greece | 87m | Trailer

During a scorching Greek summer, a stranded foreigner finds himself in a bureaucratic purgatory as he tries to retrieve his residence permit, while the crushing heat threatens to send him over the edge into paranoia and madness.

Notes: One of those obscurities that makes TIFF exciting. A part of the reliable Vanguard programme — the best place to find unusual, sexy films from all over the world — the trailer is what sold me on Blind Sun with an intriguing plot and some fantastic images and tone to go with it. Definitely could be a great film for the festival binge.


Toni Erdmann

dir. Maren Ade | Germany | 162m | Trailer

One of the most talked-about films at this year’s Cannes, the new film from Maren Ade (The Forest for the Trees,Everyone Else) is an alternately hilarious and mortifying comedy about the fraught relationship between a repressed corporate consultant and her incessantly prank-playing dad.

Notes: Official Selection Cannes 2016. Probably the best reviewed film at Cannes. A weird roadtrip comedy with a reportedly “very funny” nude scene — well if you say so, stuffy critics!


Paterson

dir. Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man, Only Lovers Left Alive)| USA | 113m

Paterson is a bus driver and poet from the city of Paterson, New Jersey. Every day follows much the same pattern. After work, he returns home, has dinner with his wife Laura and walks his dog to the bar for just the one beer. Laura urges him to make copies of his lovely observational verse, but he never seems to get around to it. Eventually a small disaster threatens to shatter their idyll.

Notes: Official Selection Cannes 2016. Initially dismissed as a “minor” Jarmusch, quickly considered one of the best of that festival.


The Red Turtle

dir. Michaël Dudok de Wit | France | 80m | trailer

The first international co-production from renowned Japanese animation giant Studio Ghibli enlists the talents of Oscar-winning Dutch animator Michaël Dudok De Wit for a wondrous story about the unlikely friendship between a castaway on a deserted island and an enormous sea turtle.

Notes: A surprising and wonderful oddity. The legend himself, Hayao Miyazaki, saw Dudok de Wit’s short film and insisted he direct this film, offering Studio Ghibli as a co-producer. Since Ghibli is on an unceremonious “hiatus”, this is all we’re likely to see out of the studio for a while. But aside from the Ghibli connection, this looks like a fascinating story and was well received at Cannes.


Arrival

dir. Denis Villeneuve (Enemy, Sicario) | USA | 116m

Visionary Quebecois auteur Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners,Enemy, Sicario) directs Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker in this sci-fi drama about the panic that follows a wave of mysterious spacecraft landings across the globe.

Notes: This is a GALA — which I tend to avoid but this sounds interesting enough. From our nation’s greatest TRAITOR, Denis Villeneuve, who is continuing his Hollywood takeover with seemingly endless films before he’ll eventually get around to Blade Runner 2. Here’s hoping this is more in the vein of Enemy and Sicario and less like Prisoners. (Psst — Prisoners was bad).


The Belko Experiment

dir. Greg McLean | USA | 88m

Office politics turns into a real-life survival of the fittest when a group of co-workers are forced into a sick game of kill or be killed by sinister forces who lock down their building, in this gruesomely funny horror thriller from director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) and writer James Gunn (Slither, Guardians of the Galaxy).

Notes: Midnight Madness! Looks to be a could-be companion film to Cabin in the Woods if that’s your jam. Written by James Gunn?? I’ll take it. With the midnight audience, this should be an amazing time.


Aquarius

dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho | Brazil | 145m

The magnificent Sonia Braga stars in the new film by acclaimed Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho (Neighboring Sounds), about a retired music critic battling a corrupt real-estate firm as she struggles to hold on to her apartment.

Notes: Excellent reviews at Cannes.


Maliglutit (Searchers)

dir. Zacharias Kunuk | Canada | 94m

Inuk filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) returns with this Arctic epic inspired by the classic John Ford western of the same name, about a vengeful husband who sets off in pursuit of the violent men who kidnapped his wife and destroyed his home.

Notes: Not going to lie, could never manage Atanarjuat — but this sounds pretty great.


Dog Eat Dog

dir. Paul Schrader | USA | 93m | midnight madness

Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe star in this blackly comic crime caper from director Paul Schrader (Affliction, The Walker), about a crew of ex-cons hired by a Cleveland mafioso to kidnap the baby of a rival mobster.

Notes: Paul Schrader is an interesting filmmaker because you really can’t tell what you are going to get. He’s always been bold and ruthlessly cynical. But he’s rarely boring. Dog Eat Dog has received some good reviews so far and looks to be a bit of a manic, lewd crime flick featuring two of the wildest character actors out there: Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe. Say no more.


Fire at Sea

dir. Gianfranco Rosi | Italy | 108m | trailer

Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the new documentary from Gianfranco Rosi (El Sicario, Room 164) is a startling, on-the-spot document of the European migrant crisis.

Notes: Detailing the lives of migrants at sea, this could be preachy but instead looks really meditative. Total festival fodder.


Pyromaniac

dir. Erik Skjoldbjærg | Norway | 98m | trailer

Norwegian director Erik Skjoldbjærg (Insomnia) returns with this slow-burning psychological study about a young arsonist terrorizing a rural community.

Notes: A great psychological filmmaker from Norway and a movie about fire. You do the math.


The Girl with All the Gifts

dir. Colm McCarthy | UK | 110m | trailer

A sweet little girl who may hold the key to a cure for the zombie virus that has decimated most of the world’s population escapes from a military compound and sets out to find her place in the world.

Notes: Midnight Madness! Just when you said you were done with zombies movies, another one comes along with another novel twist on the genre. This one is about a girl, and she’s got gifts. Not just a few gifts either, she has literally all of the gifts. Wow! Remind you of a certain number 11 in a certain Stranger Things? Yeah, everyone liked that. So, that + 28 Days Later + Children of Men? I love reductive comparisons! According to a very-literate friend of mine, the source book was “awesome” and that’s pretty much all the confirmation I need.


Mascots

dir. Christopher Guest (Best In Show, A Mighty Wind) | USA |

Mock-doc comedy maestro Christopher Guest (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind) and his beloved stock company — including Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Harry Shearer, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Ed Begley Jr., and Fred Willard — usher us into the high-stakes world of professional sports mascots, who are engaged in a cutthroat competition for the annual “Gold Fluffy Award.”

Notes: Christopher Guest, it’s been a while. His mock-docs are always really clever even if they aren’t always “ha-ha” funny. To be honest, this concept doesn’t exactly get me jazzed but I’m betting its all in the execution. I hope.


Into the Inferno

dir. Werner Herzog| UK/Austria | 104m

The great Werner Herzog teams up with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer for this globe-trotting tour of some of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes.

Notes: Okay, lets be real. Werner has two volcano films in the festival at once. This doc will be better. For a man with such an eye for what lies beneath, he’s become much more successful at finding that through reality rather than a construction of it. Either way, the two will have interesting contrasts.


Salt and Fire

dir. Werner Herzog| France/USA/Germany/Mexico | 93m

Michael Shannon and Gael García Bernal star in this ecological thriller from the great Werner Herzog, about a scientist and a corporate CEO who must overcome their ideological differences in order to avert potential disaster from a volcano on the verge of eruption.

Notes: From the great Werner, although the plot sound pretty contrived. Coming off Queen of the Desert which remains unreleased and considered his worst narrative film… this one is feeling like a gamble.


ELLE / dir. Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall)

Elle

dir. Paul Verhoeven | France/Germany | 130m

The film tells the story of a businesswoman, Michèle (Huppert), who is raped in her home by an unknown assailant and stalks him back. They are both drawn into a curious and thrilling game-a game that may, at any moment, spiral out of control.

Notes: Official Selection Cannes 2016. Positive response. A hot-button, controversy-baiting thriller with purpose (so they say). The concept seems intent on blowing the minds of a thousand hot-take bloggers, Scanners-style. For that, we should all go out and see it.


Personal Shopper

dir. Olivier Assayas | France | 105m | trailer

Kristen Stewart reunites with director Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria) for this artful ghost story about a young woman trying to reconnect with the spirit of her departed brother.

Notes: “Artful ghost story”. That’s a new one. Every year one movie gets boo-ed so enthusiastically at Cannes it becomes a news story where we are all reminded that people boo all the time at Cannes — and still, Assayas shared the Best Director prize for this film at the festival.


Sadako vs. Kayako

dir. Kôji Shiraishi | Japan | 98m

Two iconic J-horror franchises face off in this wild monster mash-up that pits the house-haunting phantoms of Ju-on(The Grudge) against the analogue-to-digital demon ofRingu (The Ring).

Notes: Midnight Madness! So, there is a very real chance that this is a shitty cash-in — scratch that, it IS that, but who said that can’t also be fun? Granted, I am a total sucker for stupid “versus” movies. If this includes more than the 10 minutes of titular heroes fighting that Batman v Superman gave us, along with the perma-buzzed Midnight Madness audience, it’ll be a fucking blast — even if it sucks.


The Handmaiden

dir. Park Chan-wook (Oldboy)| South Korea | 145m | Trailer

A crook-turned-servant falls for the vulnerable heiress she had originally schemed to swindle, in this audacious, visually sumptuous, and highly erotic period piece from acclaimed writer-director Park Chan-wook.

Notes: Returning to South Korea after Stoker, Park looks to be returning to his typically perverse, masochistic thrillers. This played at Cannes and got mixed-to-positive reviews, typical for Park. He continues to live off of the goodwill of Oldboy for me, which is perfectly fine as long as he keeps making films that are weird and perverse.


It’s Only the End of the World

dir. Xavier Dolan (Laurence Anyways, Mommy) | Canada/France | 95m | Trailer

After 12 years of absence, a writer goes back to his hometown, planning on announcing his upcoming death to his family. As resentment soon rewrites the course of the afternoon, fits and feuds unfold, fuelled by loneliness and doubt, while all attempts of empathy are sabotaged by people’s incapacity to listen, and to love.

Notes: On one hand it won second place at Cannes and Dolan said he considered it his best film, but on the other hand it was panned by critics at Cannes as one of the few consensus flops of the festival. Who’s right?


The Ivory Game

dir. Kief Davidson, Richard Ladkani | Austria/USA | 112m

Wildlife activists and investigators put their lives on the line to battle the illegal African ivory trade, in this suspenseful on-the-ground documentary.

Notes: Honestly, documentaries are a tough call at TIFF. There are quite a few I’m curious about but it’s always a challenge figuring out which would be worth the time. There seems to be a tendency to programme a lion’s share of ‘hot button’ issue films that dissipate after a couple years which I dislike about some documentaries. Maybe I’m looking at it all wrong but the thrilling ones feel like the best bets to me — like The Look of Silence. Thrilling shouldn’t be a means to an end, nor should docs be measured by how much risk the filmmakers lives were in, but when you are covering current issues its one thing to interview academics and pull news footage and its another to implant yourself in the situation. Then again, that obtrusiveness in your subject can be damaging to the integrity of the story (see: everything Vice has ever done) so, as usual, I’m split.


I Am Not Madame Bovary

dir. Feng Xiaogang | China | 128m | Trailer

A café proprietor spends a decade petitioning the Chinese legal system after being swindled by her ex-husband, in this caustically comic contemporary fable from superstar director Feng Xiaogang (Aftershock).

Notes: Not sure — but it looks like this film is shown entirely in a circle 1:1 frame. Bizarre! These worn, painting-like images are really sticking to me along with a plot that doesn’t seem to go along with this aesthetic at all. I have no way of knowing what this movie will entail but I can’t stop thinking about the look.


Neruda

dir. Pablo Larraín | Chile | 108m | Trailer

Pablo Larraín (The Club, No, Tony Manero) weaves an engrossing metafictional fable around the 1948 manhunt for celebrated poet and politician Pablo Neruda, who goes underground when Chile outlaws communism and is pursued by an ambitious police inspector (Gael García Bernal) hoping to make a name for himself by capturing the famous fugitive.

Notes: Official Selection Cannes 2016 Director’s Fortnight. Positive reviews call it an “anti-biopic” combining elements of reality and fiction and highlighting the function of writers in tense political times.

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