Monday, 3 September 2012

PREVIEW: Toronto Film Festival 2012

37th Toronto International Film Festival 2012: Sept 6 - 16 

OK I've had enough: I'm going to damn well look at the Toronto Film Festival this year, as every single time I miss it, and I don't know why, because apart from the magic that is Sundance, and the enigma that is Telluride (currently happening right this moment), TIFF is probably my favourite of the big festivals. This year alone there are more than 30 films I want to bring to your attention, and that's without repeating what's been at Sundance, Cannes and Venice previously. The line up for TIFF this year is nothing short of extraordinary, and I need to cut this waffle short now just so I can get on with it. I'd have a cup of tea and a Curly Wurly at the ready if I were you.

What a year for Joseph Gordon Levitt! After The Dark Knight Rises and this month's Premium Rush he teams up with his Brick writer and director Rian Johnson again for this year's coolest sci-fi action flick, Looper. Tasked with killing future colleagues sent back by his mafia agency from 2077, he faces the ultimate challenge when his next hunt turns out to be the older version of himself (Bruce Willis). The film also stars Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano. Really looking forward to this, particularly with the raft of good reviews that have been coming in lately. As good as Brick was, the noirish language made it very difficult at times to engage with, but no doubting Johnson is one of the most exciting young talents in Hollywood at the moment, and he has the ability to turn a high concept such as this into one of the year's best.


This was on my Top Films for 2012 list at the start of the year, and I'm still mega excited about the new film from one of my favourite directors - yes, it's Ben Affleck. With probably the least enticing premise of his films so far on paper - a CIA agent (Affleck) plans to break out six Americans who are taking shelter against the backdrop of the Iranian revolution by staging a fake movie production - I'm already sold on the strength of Gone Baby Gone and The Town. This boasts such an excellent cast as well, from Bryan Cranston to Alan Arkin, to John Goodman, it's clearly a must-see. Could this be a film that finally gets Mr Affleck some Oscar attention?

Hyde Park on Hudson
This is Bill Murray's first leading role in a film since Broken Flowers in 2005, and his turn here as Franklyn D. Roosevelt could see him and the film in serious contention this awards season. The biopic - in the style of The King's Speech - centres on Roosevelt's extramarital relationship with his distant cousin Margaret (Laura Linney) and takes place over one weekend, when the British King (Samuel West) and Queen (Olivia Colman) pay a royal visit. The film is directed by Roger Michell (who did last year's underrated Morning Glory) and is written by Richard Nelson, his first feature film.

Midnight's Children
I know many who have tried to read this huge tome of Salman Rushdie's and failed - it was also thought to be completely unfilmable, but Canadian-Indian director Deepa Mehta has given it a go, with Rushdie himself providing the screenplay. Mehta is best known for her Elements trilogy, and here takes on the story of children who are born at midnight, on India's independence from Britain, and are imbued with magical abilities. This will be highly anticipated by many who have read the Booker Prize winning novel, and is in itself a highly ambitious work which could fall either way.


Me and You
This is very exciting - Italian director Bernado Bertolucci's first film in nine years since The Dreamers (which I adored), his new one Me and You premieres at Toronto. Based on the novel by Niccolo Ammaniti (who also lends a hand with the screenplay) two siblings, played by newcomers Tea Falco and Jacopo Olmo Antinori, find themselves hiding together in the family basement from their own individual problems. I've read reviews of the book and without wanting to spoilerise this too much, this is perfect Bertolucci material and I can't wait to see the results.

This premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes earlier this year, but hasn't caught my eye until now - perhaps it's because I'm still fairly fresh off a viewing of Afterschool and I'm wanting more dark school dramas! This one comes courtesy of Kazakhstani director Darezhan Omirbayev, and is about a young University student (Nurlan Baitasov) who after hearing a lecture on social Darwinism decides to make his own mark on the world, but takes his actions to extreme lengths. Inspired by Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment this film won't provide any easy answers.


Arthur Newman
I cannot think of a more adorable coupling for a film than Colin Firth and Emily Blunt - just look how cute they are at the side there! Sadly, 'cute' is probably not the correct adjective for Dante Ariola's new (and debut) film about a man (Firth) who is so abject with his life he decides to fake his own death and take on a new identity - Arthur Newman - and in doing so attracts the attention of pill-popping and generally troubled Mike (hmm, unisex name now it seems) played by Blunt and the two of them set off on a misadventure of breaking into empty houses, and resuming the roles of the residents living there... to its ultimate end. Sounds fab to me.

Caught In The Web
Acclaimed Chinese director Kaige Chen (Together With You, The Promise) brings his new film about cyber bullying to Toronto. A term we'd originate with teenagers, Chen's film instead focuses on a young woman (Yuanyuan Gao) who by terrible misfortune ends up the hate victim of an Internet viral campaign. Chen explores the power of having a voice on the Internet, and how one moment of distraction can lead to a life of torment. Looks good - I'm a sucker for these types of films.

Cloud Atlas
This also made my Top Films for 2012 list - and how do you go about describing this one? Surely one of the most ambitious films ever made, not only juggling heavy themes such as life, death, resurrection, karma but several story lines transversing past, present and future and a cast size so big it would take a full day to do a press conference with them all. And to direct this best selling novel of David Mitchell's we have not one but three directors - the Wachowskis (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). Early opinion from test screenings has been divisive - the Toronto premiere is where it's going to get it's first real judgement from the fans and critics. Hugely expectant for this one.

The Deep
Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband) brings to the screen a true life tale of tremendous will power and steadfast human spirit. In 1984, a fishing boat listed off the coast of Iceland in dangerous waters and freezing conditions - remarkably one of the crew was able to survive, and is rescued making him a national hero. The Deep tells the truth behind his story, which has now become modern legend in Iceland. The hero protagonist is played by Olafur Darri Olafsson, who was brilliant in White Night Wedding as the rowdy best man.

Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang
As if I wasn't attracted by the title already - I love girl gangs! - this new docu-drama is the new film from Oscar winning French director Laurent Cantet, who made The Class back in 2008 which was bloody brilliant, and should be watched by all immediately. Foxfire takes place in the 1950s, and is based on the novel about a small town girl gang by Joyce Carol Oates. This is actually a reboot of the 1996 film which starred Angelina Jolie, but flopped - here's hoping the 2012 version can do better.

Frances Ha
Now I'm more informed about this than most, as it's just premiered in Telluride after sneaking up on the film world and declaring its existence. This is the new film from (now real life couple) director Noah Baumbach and co-writer and star Greta Gerwig. It don't take too much culturemouse maths to do Noah Baumbach + Greta Gerwig = HEAVEN! But everything about Frances Ha is like a temperature gauge slowly rising to awesomeness: it's set in New York, it's filmed in black and white, it's about a struggling dancer who failing to get any work and never having any money begins to fall slowly behind her social circle, and her situation becomes more and more desperate and tragic. The reviews have been glowing (and comparing it to Girls, not least for the presence of Adam Driver) and I don't think I've been as hand flappy about a film in a long time. I LOVE Baumbach (The Squid and The Whale, Greenberg). I LOVE Greta Gerwig (Damsels in Distress). London Film Festival puh-leeeeeeease.

Ginger and Rosa
Set in 1960s London at a time of sexual, political and social revolution, the close relationship between best friends Ginger (Elle Fanning, Somewhere) and Rosa (Alice Englert, the upcoming Beautiful Creatures and daughter of director Jane Campion) is pushed to breaking point. Directed by Brit Sally Potter (Orlando) and with a supporting cast which includes Christina Hendricks, Annette Bening and Alessandro Nivola this looks as engaging and promising as An Education ever was.

The Impossible
This film makes my list for three reasons. 1) it's the first feature film to be based upon the horrific events of Boxing Day 2004 and the huge earthquake and devastating tsunami in the Pacific. 2) It's - rather oddly - the new film from Spanish director and Del Toro protégé Juan Antonio Bayona who made the hauntingly good The Orphanage. 3) the overly saccharine trailer (below) totally had me in tears. So even though the cast includes Ewan McGregor who I can't stand, I'd be willing to watch this when it's released at Christmas (now The Great Gatsby as the big holiday film has been pushed back) to fill my humbug soul with hope and spirit. Naomi Watts also stars as McGregor's wife in this tale of a holidaying family who get caught up in the terrible events. The oldest son, played by 16 year old Brit Tom Holland, is already getting some Oscar whispers.

In The House
Yet another French film with Kristin Scott Thomas in! This is based on the play by Juan Mayorga called 'The Boy in the Last Row' and has been adapted for the screen by French auteur Francois Ozon (Potiche). This is a dark tale, of a student (Ernst Umhauer) who begins writing essays about his friend's family, attracting the interest of his impressed literature teacher, but the boy's intentions may not be so pure... Love a good French thriller so this is on the list!

This film caught my eye as it's a 'perilous journey' film, a niche genre I do enjoy! And this one has a unique take on a period of history: the film follows a young German girl (called Lore) who is left alone at the end of World War II, after her Nazi supporting parents have been captured by Allied forces. She, with her younger siblings in tow, must make the trek across war ravaged countryside to her grandmother's house in hope of shelter. The lead Saskia Rosendahl is supposed to be brilliant, and Lore is also notable for the fact it's written and directed by Cate Shortland - her first film since 2004's arresting Somersault. Welcome back Cate!

Much Ado About Nothing
I'm not a Shakespeare fan in the slightest, and the only reason I've included this in my picks is because it's a new take on the classic comedic play by Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly, The Cabin in the Woods, etc). Bringing back staple cast members he knows and loves such as Nathan Fillion and Amy Acker, this updated version is stylishly shot in black and white, but it will be the dialogue and humour as ever which will be the real winner. Whedon and Shakespeare... it's a bonkers combo enough to be genius.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Also on my Top Films for 2012 list - just missing out of the Top 20 - is the teen coming of age film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, and based on his best selling novel of the same name. Since putting it on my eagerly anticipated list in January I have since read the book and enjoyed it very much. The only weak link for me - apart from the excellent Ezra Miller - is the weak casting. And could Chbosky be too precious with his work? The trailer didn't inspire (see below), but still: fingers crossed as the book is excellent and well worth a read.

Stories We Tell
A late entry on this list, the main reason this documentary by Sarah Polley (Take This Waltz) is on here is because apart from The Master it's the only other film which has been getting consistent 5 star reviews from critics in Venice which is saying something. It's a very personal film, with Polley speaking to members of her family about not just their lives but her own - an exposing a very private secret in the process. Not entirely my cup of tea, but Stories We Tell is supposed to strike an emotional chord with all who watch it.

The Suicide Shop
Sometimes, the title of a film alone can have me interested without having to know any of the context. This darkly animated French film from Patrice Leconte and based on the novel by Jean Teule tells the story of an extraordinary shop which provides melancholic souls with all they need to end their lives. There's just one problem: the heir to the shop's ownership is a happy excitable young boy who loves nothing more than to live and enjoy life! The drawn animation looks exquisite, and expect lots of dry and blackly comic French humour in this one which showed at Cannes.

From one eye-catching title to a truly horrible one, Writers (bleurgh) does hold a far more intriguing premise, and first time director Josh Boone has managed to snag a really good cast, with Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins, Jennifer Connelly, and Stephen King - appearing as himself! Kinnear plays a famous writer, who is not only jealous that his young daughter (Collins) is about to get her first novel published - without needing any of his help - but he is fixated on his ex-wife (Connelly) and what she is up to now. Yeah, I'm game if it's about writers and writing - as long as it's not too naval gazing.


A French film which has echoes of recent hits Sleeping Beauty and A Dangerous Method (hopefully more in common with the former, though this is also based on a true story), the titular character is a young girl in Belle Epoque France, who is taken into an institution thought to be suffering from 'hysteria' and is taken under the wing of Professor Charcot, where the line between patient and lover begins to blur as he treats her 'disease'. This is the debut film from young Parisian filmmaker Alice Winocour.

Always good to see a new British director getting a star turn at an international film festival! That Brit is Jason Buxton, who's first film Blackbird is about teenage loneliness and angst (my favourite), but with a dark edge - even better! - as isolated teen Sean takes to the Internet to spout what he's feeling, and ends up sending his small community into a terrified tailspin.

The Brass Teapot
Next something very inventive and quirky, and starring one of my favourite actresses at the moment, Juno Temple. A struggling couple (Temple and Michael Angarano, The Art of Getting By) pick up a brass teapot, which they discover dishes out dosh whenever one of them feels pain. Touched by greed, the two go to extreme lengths to keep up with their new affluent lifestyle. Wonderfully enticing, this new film comes from American Ramaa Mosley.

Serbian filmmaker Maja Milos' debut follows a group of out of control teenagers living in a suburb of Belgrade, who seem more obsessed with capturing their hedonistic, sexual antics on their smart phones than actually living in the moment. Eastern European films never hold back, and I don't expect this one too either - but will it have anything to say?

Les Nuits Avec Theodore
I'm all about the French films in this strand. Director Sebastian Betbeder has made a couple of other features before this one, but is hoping this will be his breakout. Secret trysts between Theodore and Anna in Paris' enchanting Parc des Buttes come under threat from unwanted intruders in this spirited tale which has drawn comparisons to Bresson and Debussy.

Picture Day
We'll have one for the home side as it's only fair. Toronto born Kate Melville's debut film is about a rebellious teen, caught between a boy at her school and a man closer to her real age. It stars Tatiana Maslany, who appeared in the Sundance hit from a few years ago Grown Up Movie Star. It's one to watch out for if the smartly written clip below is anything to go by.

Honourable Mention: Absolutely not my kind of thing at all, but I have to give a shout out to Wasteland by British director Rowan Athale which is also showing in this section of the festival - because it was filmed in and around Leeds! Always good to have my city on the big screen, even if this is a bit of bleakly gritty Brit fare for me.


All That Matters is Past
I love Norwegian cinema, and that's one of the prime reasons this film has been included here. But I don't think I've ever seen a serious drama come out of there... promising director Sara Johnsen (Upperdog) brings a film to the festival about two childhood sweethearts who come together years later to confront their dark pasts and an over possessive rival (DON'T LOOK THIS UP ON IMDB AS I HAVE JUST MASSIVELY SPOILED MYSELF - GRRRR!). Stars David Dencik (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Kristoffer Joner (Babycall).

Fin (The End)
Spanish television director Jorge Terragrossa makes the move to film with this apocalyptic drama set in the Pyrenees and the fight for survival for a group of friends who are at the mercy of a sudden blackout. Small screen idea done well, or made for TV fanfare? Sounds a bit like JJ Abrams Revolution, doesn't it? With Maribel Verdu (Pans Labyrinth).

Two isolated and tormented souls are reluctantly drawn together at a watchtower in the barren wilderness of Turkey. Pelin Esmer's new film which she both directs and writes looks haunting and bleak, a film that will linger long in the mind and will seek a mutual redemption for the two characters. Well, I thought I'd thrown a heavy, reflective one in there to consider...


90 Minutes
I'm including this Norwegian film even though it looks as depressing as hell. Three story lines give us the last 90 minutes of someone's life, set around the theme of domestic abuse. Yeah, told you it wasn't too cheery! Eva Sorhaug (Cold Lunch) directs, with a strong cast of Aksel Hennie (Headhunters), Pia Tjelta (Fallen Angels) and Mads Ousdal (Jackpot).

From Norway to Sweden. Toronto Festival favourite Jesper Ganslandt is back with Blondie - a film about three very different sisters who return home for their mother's 70th birthday, and of course, fireworks spark and fly. Currently screening in Venice, this emotionally strong drama stars hot blondes Helena af Sandeberg, Alexandra Dahlstrom and Carolina Gynning.

Here Comes The Devil
This devilish (...) new film from Spanish-Argentinian director Adrian Garcia Bogliano is one of the most exciting of the whole festival. Part horror, part thriller it sees a married couple faced with an inescapable terror when their two young children disappear into some mysterious caves - and then re-emerge changed. Bogliano's new film will also open the 20th Raindance Festival in London later this month.

I Declare War
My last pick comes from Canada, and a film about play fighting between neighbourhood kids which escalates into something much more real and violent. Jason Lapeyre also puts a lot of comedy into his new film too, delivering a strange mix TIFF are calling "a cross between Roald Dahl and Lord of the Flies" - intriguing indeed!


Closing the festival is a proper crowd pleaser in the vein of The King's Speech (which also premiered here a few years ago). Song For Marion is somewhat of a surprise turn for British director Paul Andrew Williams, who has been used to serving up urban British horrors such as The Cottage and Cherry Tree Lane. His new film has Terence Stamp as a retired man forced to take his ill wife (Vanessa Redgrave)'s place in her local seniors choir. This heart warming celebration of family also stars Gemma Arterton and Christopher Eccleston.

There are over 100 film screenings at Toronto over the next couple of weeks and you can browse the full selection here, including their Midnight Madness strand which features the new film from In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths. And don't forget many of these films fresh from their Toronto stint end up at the London Film Festival in October - and the full programme for that is announced TODAY!

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