The 43rd edition of the Toronto International Film Festival doesn’t start until Sept. 6, 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, TIFF selections of interest – and with 255 features to choose from this year, our notepads and iPhones have been experiencing more than a bit of wear and tear. Here, members of our TIFF team each offer their three most anticipated festival films.
Everybody Knows: Can the delicate Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation; The Salesman) transplant his acute social observations to another culture? In Everybody Knows, his second film outside of Iran, the winner of two foreign-language Oscars moves the action to Spain where a woman bringing her kids home for a family wedding meets up with an old flame. The happy reunion turns dark when her teenage daughters disappears, but with Farhadi, expect the mystery to worm its way into the characters’ psyches in unexpected ways. Watching Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem perform in their native tongue should also be a treat.
If Beale Street Could Talk: It was TIFF that helped launched Moonlight toward the Oscars in 2016 and this year director Barry Jenkins returns with what promises to be another equally powerful adaptation from African-American literature. Turning his attention from Miami in the 1980s to Harlem in the 1970s, he takes on the James Baldwin novel, If Beale Street Could Talk. It’s something of a tragic romance: The teenage Tish (Kiki Layne) is pregnant by her fiancé Fonny (the Canadian actor Stephan James), but he is heading to jail for a crime he didn’t commit.
Maya: The French director Mia Hansen-Love (Father of My Children; Things to Come) is emerging as a major talent; Maya, her latest film, offers the tantalizing prospect of seeing her apply her light touch with both character and place in a very different setting. Maya follows a French war correspondent (Roman Kolinka) trying to restore himself after the trauma of being held hostage in Syria. Travelling to his childhood home in India, he begins a relationship with a younger woman (Aarshi Banerjee in the title role).
Read more: The Globe’s guide to TIFF 2018 movies
American Dharma: Like a great number of North Americans, I have a beef with Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s one-time strategy mastermind and the United States' default deplorable-whisperer. But my quarrel with the Breitbart chief also extends to the soft-glove treatment he’s received from the U.S. media since he exited the White House, with all too many outlets eager to treat his insights as gospel, all but ignoring the fact that he helped lower the Western political landscape to its current toxic level. I’m eager, then, to see how master documentarian Errol Morris treats Bannon in this new film. Will Morris let Bannon hang himself with his own words, or will he face a grand interrogation? Either way, expect Morris to reveal a Steve Bannon that the rest of the world has yet to fully see.
Ben Is Back, Boy Erased and Mid90s: Listing three films in one choice is a cheat, for sure. But hear me out: Every fall film season produces a breakout star, and unless things go horribly wrong, the fall of 2018 will belong to Lucas Hedges. At only 21, the Oscar-nominated actor (for 2016′s Manchester By the Sea) is headlining three of the year’s most anticipated dramas: Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, about the terrors of “gay-conversion therapy”; Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid90s; and Ben Is Back, a fractured-family drama in which Hedges goes toe-to-toe with Julia Roberts, while being directed by his own father, Peter Hedges. That last instance might carry obvious undertones of nepotism, but anyone who’s seen Hedges in Manchester By the Sea (or Lady Bird, or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) knows he needs no assistance landing plum roles.
High Life: After escaping the Twilight franchise, Robert Pattinson (like his co-star Kristen Stewart) has revealed excellent taste in collaborators. Last year, Pattinson teamed up with Josh and Benny Safdie (Good Time) and James Gray (The Lost City of Z) to make two of 2017′s best films. This fall, though, marks the actor’s most intriguing pair-up, as Pattinson joins forces with French auteur Claire Denis (Trouble Every Day, Beau Travail) for High Life. The, ahem, high-concept film, Denis’s first English-language production, follows a group of criminals who volunteer to travel to a black hole in the hopes of earning their freedom. Matters, one can only hope, will not go as planned, with advance word on the film hinting at a provocative sexual turn. We’re a long way from Edward Cullen, thank god.
The Fall of the American Empire: Denys Arcand last came to TIFF in 2014 with An Eye For Beauty, a clunky bilingual romance that didn’t even end up with a theatrical release in English Canada. By all accounts, this new drama – a morality tale about a courier driver who stumbles upon a bank robbery in progress and picks up a couple of bags of money left behind – is one of his best. Already released in Quebec in late June, its appearance at TIFF illustrates the silliness of the festival’s sharp-elbowed stand over securing world premieres: Who really cares if a film has already been seen elsewhere, as long as it’s good?
Shoplifters: Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda is a frequent presence at TIFF, but this is the first time he comes trailing a Palme d’Or win, albeit with a film that few critics at Cannes figured had been in the running. Attuned to the nuances of family dynamics, as demonstrated in Our Little Sister, Like Father Like Son and Still Walking, among others, Koreeda gives us a bittersweet tale of a family of shoplifters who adopt – kidnap? shoplift? – a street urchin.
Widows: Director Steve McQueen – whose three features (the Bobby Sands story, Hunger; the sex-addiction drama, Shame; and 12 Years a Slave) are odes to obsession and tenacity – teams up with Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn for his first female-centred film, a heist drama with a fierce cast (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Daniel Kaluuya, Colin Farrell) about four women who resolve to carry on the criminal life that killed their husbands. Adapted from a decades-old novel by Lynda La Plante (Prime Suspect), which was already made into a very different British miniseries. Set it off.
If Beale Street Could Talk: For his follow-up to Moonlight, the director Barry Jenkins adapts James Baldwin’s affecting Harlem-set 1974 novel of the same name. All eyes will be on Kiki Layne, the newcomer who stars in a love story about a falsely accused fiancé, played by Canadian Stephan James (Race). Composing the film’s score is Nicholas Britell, a devotee of Quincy Jones.
The Old Man & the Gun: This true-story dramedy from David Lowery has a 1980s analogue look to it and a cast to match. Robert Redford, possibly in his final role, stars as Forrest Tucker, a prison-escaping, money-heisting charmer. Sissy Spacek and Danny Glover are on board. I’m hoping Redford does the little swipe of the nose thing with his index finger (à la The Sting) for old-time’s sake.
Quincy: Jack Klugman stars as an irascible medical examiner constantly at odds with his superiors… hold on, we’re now being told Quincy is actually a Netflix documentary on the effervescent music icon Quincy Jones. Given the musician’s rollicking recent interview with Vulture, my eyebrows are already half-raised in anticipation of a film co-directed by actress-daughter Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks.
The 43rd edition of TIFF runs Sept. 6 through 16.