12 September, 2011
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) enters its middle stretch this week, offering attending buyers, critics and film lovers a dizzying feast of film treats. Planning what to see is a definite must, since even at 5 films per day (my personal max), there are many that are missed. While here, one must adapt a strategy and raison d’etre……do you attend the highly buzzed titles in the largest cinemas (the ones by name directors with oodles of movie stars) or mine the more exploratory sections of the Festival in search of a perfect gem. Personally, I prefer doing a little bit of both and the rewards can be great. Seeing a fantastic new film by an acknowledged master is a definite thrill, as is discovering a fresh voice in a debut film from a country that can most generously be described as obscure. That sense of discovery can pay off big time, in terms of box office, film awards and audience recognition. In the past few years, Toronto has served as the initial launching pad for such contemporary classics as AMERICAN BEAUTY, TSOTSI, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, PRECIOUS and THE KING’S SPEECH. Which films will now enter the winners circle from this year’s batch? I cannot be certain but here are 10 films are generating the most buzz at this year’s Festival.
#1 THE IDES OF MARCH (USA) – George Clooney, who already has an Oscar for his acting work in the film SYRIANA, may bring home a twin award as Best Director for this highly charged political thriller. The film, which also stars Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Philip Seymour Hoffman and a sensational supporting cast, brings audiences into the behind-the-scenes drama as the staff of an idealistic Presidential contender must spin rumors of corruption and sexual impropriety. With the upcoming election cycle now part of the 24 hour news feed, this film is amazingly topical and will be the subject of much debate in months to come.
#2 A DANGEROUS METHOD (Canada) – Marking the first time that a David Cronenberg has been seen at the Festival (which seems remarkable in itself), the veteran director moves from his horror roots to tell a more muted tale in beautiful historical detail. The film, with a script by Christopher Hampton adapted from his stage play, chronicles the real-life rivalry between the autocratic Viennese psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (played with uncanny charm and bluster by Viggo Mortensen) and the ambitious Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (played by rising star Michael Fassbender) and the role that a mentally unstable Russian woman (played by Keira Knightley) plays in their initial collaboration and eventual dissolution. While some have complained that the film has a chilly atmosphere, it is without a doubt one of the most literate dramas to come out this year and should figure strongly in awards season.
#3 360 (UK/Austria/Brazil/France) – Fernando Meirelles, the Brazilian director behind such intriguing recent films as CITY OF GOD, THE CONSTANT GARDNER and BLINDNESS, offers a jigsaw puzzle of a movie which spans the world as it examines sexual relations between people of different social classes. The fact that the attractive cast includes such names as Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Foster and Jamel Debouzze, with the language switching effortlessly from English to French to German to Portugese to Slovakian makes this a truly international film about the universal hunger for intimacy.
#4 THE DEEP BLUE SEA (UK) --- Veteran UK director Terence Davies, whose previous films have mined the past for its hidden secrets, adapts a famous play by 1950s British playwright Terrence Rattigan and offers actors Rachel Weisz, Simon Russell Beale and Tom Hiddleston exceptionally meaty roles that explore the dimensions of human despair and capacity for resurrection. Weisz plays an abandoned woman who attempts suicide to win back her lover and send a message to her former husband. The film brings a classic English acting touch to a highly emotional and erotic story of abandonment and isolation.
#5 FRIENDS WITH KIDS (USA) --- A very mainstream film that comes into the Festival without a US distribution deal is a rare bird indeed. This follow up to her successful 2004 comedy KISSING JESSICA STEIN has writer//director and actress Jennifer Westfeldt taking on the lead role of a woman who decides to have a child with her male friend who is not husband material (played by a winning Adam Scott). In this pet project, the writer/director and her producing partner (and life partner) Jon Hamm have assembled a terrific cast to play their married and harried friends, including such favorites as Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Edward Burns, Megan Fox, Chris O’Dowd (and Hamm himself). The audience laughed throughout and the script has some sharp insights into the psyches of successful 30-something New Yorkers who want their cake and eat it too. This one will off the shelf soon enough……..
#6 ALPS (Greece) – After creating a sensation last year with his debut film DOGTOOTH (and being nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar), Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is back on the Festival circuit with his sophomore effort, another bizarre tale populated by mysterious people. In this film, a group of people, led by a nurse, form a sort of therapy group for people in grief that impersonate the deceased as a way of helping them with their grieving process. The film is decidedly offbeat but also tremendously insightful and beautiful to watch. It literally gets into your head and leaves you altered…..and isn’t that what the best cinema can do for us?
#7 CAFÉ DE FLORE (Canada/France) ---- Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallee first made significant waves in 2005 with his rock-infused coming-of-age film C.R.A.Z.Y., which won major prizes on the international film festival circuit. In the years since, the director made his English language debut with THE YOUNG VICTORIA, a period costumer about England’s Queen Victoria that starred Emily Blunt. Now Vallee has returned to his Franco roots with CAFÉ DE FLORE. The film is set in 1969 Paris and also in contemporary Montreal. It stars French pop star and actress Vanessa Paradis (aka Mrs. Johnny Depp) as the mother of a child with down syndrome. The film also features an evocative score that brings depth and illumination to its dual story structure.
#8 POULET AUX PRUNES (France) --- After the worldwide success of the animated parable PERSEPOLIS, directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud return with another film set in Iran, this time of the 1950s. Different from the previous film, this one is a live action film, but one that depends on classic expressionistic cinema language to tell its tale of a talented musician whose instrument is broken and loses meaning in life. While the soul searching is in a deep humanist vein, the film is not bereft of humor and a kind of surrealist charm.
#9 ALBERT NOBBS (Ireland) --- Latin American director Rodrigo Garcia, who had a major indie arthouse hit in the US with the multi-character drama MOTHER AND CHILD, tries his hand at a historical story in this unusual and provocative film set in 19th century Ireland. Veteran actress Glenn Close is generating Oscar buzz playing the lead role, a woman who disguises herself as a man and works as a butler for twenty years. The film offers a compelling meditation on the role of gender and sexuality in allowing people to live to their full potentials. The excellent supporting cast is made up of hot young actress Mia Wasikowska, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Aaron Johnson. The film is a strong favorite to win the Audience Award here in Toronto.
#10 THE LADY (France/United Kingdom) --- French director Luc Besson focuses his expansive yet intimate lens on a true heroine of our time. This biopic tells the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, an Oxford-educated woman from Burma who returns to her native country in the 1980s as a voice of dissent to one of the most repressive military dictatorships in the world. Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh is receiving tremendous praise for her powerful and charismatic work as the social activist whose Nobel Peace Prize win did not prevent the military junta from keeping her under house arrest for over a decade. At once epic and intimate, the film celebrates the struggle of an individual who represents the struggles of her people, and celebrated the difference that a single strong-willed individual can make in the world.