The 42nd edition of the Toronto International Film Festival doesn't start until Sept. 7, but The Globe and Mail's Arts team isn't taking it easy. For the past few weeks, we've been writing down, then scratching off, various films of interest – and with 256 features to choose from, our notepads have been experiencing more than a bit of wear and tear. Here, members of our TIFF team each offer their top three most anticipated festival films.
After setting the Internet on fire this past Sunday with his music video for Taylor Swift's Look What You Made Me Do, director Joseph Kahn makes a long-awaited return to feature filmmaking with this hip-hop satire. Whatever you think of Swift, Kahn's golden-plated gonzo aesthetic makes him the most fascinating artist around. It will be hard to top the outrageousness of his 2011 cult hit Detention, but Bodied – based on a script from Toronto rapper Alex Larsen – might just accomplish the impossible.
Has there ever been a more apt title to play TIFF? Just as the festival itself contracts, programming-wise, director Alexander Payne shows up with this comedy about shrinking everything down to size. The word on the comedy out of the Venice Film Festival is remarkably strong, so all eyes will be on Payne's tiny version of Matt Damon to help narrow down the Oscar field this year.
Before John Woo slid into self-imitation with Mission: Impossible II, he was making the most exciting and brazenly ridiculous action movies ever concocted. Having reinvented his career with Chinese historical epics (Red Cliff, The Crossing), Woo is now returning to the genre that made him a giant with Manhunt. And truthfully, anything would be better than Paycheck.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
Watergate's Rashomon moment: Fans of All the President's Men, the riveting procedural about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Watergate investigation, may have wondered why the anonymous source then known as Deep Throat didn't simply reveal everything he knew. In telling the story from the perspective of Deep Throat (unmasked in 2005 as Mark Felt, who had been the FBI's second-in-command), writer-director Peter Landesman helps us understand the G-man's justified paranoia. The film is a thriller, but the current occupant of the White House may find it to be a horror film, especially when Felt (Liam Neeson) barks out across the decades: "No one can stop the driving force of an FBI investigation. Not even the FBI."
Can we admit to a touch of trepidation here? On the one hand, just about everything Greta Gerwig writes is splendid: Her title roles in (the co-written) Frances Ha and Mistress America, especially, shimmered with fiercely comic vulnerability. But she's staying behind the camera to make her solo directorial debut on this one, handing the lead to Saoirse Ronan (riveting in Hanna and Brooklyn) as a rebellious teen navigating the thorny path to adulthood. The distributor A24 is positioning this one for an Oscar run; our fingers are crossed that their hopes are justified.
Hochelaga, Terre des Âmes
Sure, it's been almost two decades since the writer-director François Girard – best known for 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould – made a film that excited us. (His last feature was 2014's treacly Boychoir.) But The Red Violin (1998) demonstrated his ability to hopscotch across eras. So we're intrigued by this centuries-spanning epic about a sinkhole that opens in Montreal's Molson Stadium during a McGill Redmen football game, promising clues to the fate of the Iroquois village of Hochelaga, which disappeared some time after Jacques Cartier visited in 1535. Here's hoping a story about an excavation will find Girard digging into his own past and pulling out a winner.
The Death of Stalin
Who's not in the mood for a good belly laugh at the expense of a bunch of self-serving, talentless schmucks grappling for power in a flailing dictatorship? Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin is a political satire ostensibly about the Soviet leader's underlings jockeying for position after he succumbs to a stroke. It features a richly talented (and English-speaking) comic cast including Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Michael Palin as Vyacheslav Molotov and Andrea Riseborough as the first daughter herself, Svetlana.
You can hardly say you are looking forward to an unrelenting drama about a child tragically betrayed by his own warring parents but this Russian feature, which won director Andrey Zvyagintsev the Jury Prize at Cannes, arrives in Toronto with reviews describing its implacable tension and interviews revealing that its producer thought it politically impossible to accept Russian government funding for the project. The story is a procedural about the disappearance of a 12-year-old boy whose parents are in the midst of a bitter divorce, but clearly all society is implicated in his fate.
Of the festival's many debuts, that of director Sonja Maria Kroner looks particularly noteworthy as German cinema continues its examination of the postwar years. Set entirely in a family's summer-cottage compound in the 1970s, her domestic drama details the shifting relationships among three generations after the death of a matriarch. The film garnered Kroner the best-director prize and strong reviews at the Munich Film Festival this summer and is now making its international premiere.
The Battle of Sexes
Bobby Riggs described it as the male chauvinist pig vs. the hair-legged feminist: A prime-time stunt battle in 1973 between Riggs and Billie Jean King that was, in the end, a pretty lame tennis match. The movie, however, stars Steve Carell, Emma Stone and Elton John soundtrack situations. Bring it on.
Two tennis movies in one festival? You cannot be serious! Shia LaBeouf plays John McEnroe and I'm curious to see if the young man can play a poorly tempered bad boy with authenticity.
The Current War
Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse never played tennis against each other. But I'd pay good money to watch Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon go at it on the grass courts and I'd pay better money to see them play off as each other as cutthroat voltage harnessers in this 19th-century drama. Their chemistry promises to be electric.