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Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2014 Preview

09.01.2014by: Chris Bumbray

It’s crazy that another edition of the Toronto International Film Festival is already upon us. The years go by so quickly, and I can’t believe this will be the sixth time that I’ve been lucky enough to cover the festival for JoBlo.com. Last year’s TIFF was one of the best ever, with GRAVITY, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE all being among the year’s selections. This year’s fest isn’t without controversy, as a new rule regarding world premieres means that some of the biggest titles, including the Benedict Cumberbatch Alan Turing biopic THE IMITATION GAME, WILD and FOXCATCHER won’t play until the second week, as the first weekend is now devoted solely to world premieres (of course – you can count on reviews from JoBlo.com for the duration of the fest). It’s also worth noting the Arnold Schwarzenegger-zombie pic, MAGGIE was due to premiere at TIFF, but was pulled at the eleventh hour by its new distributors, Lionsgate.

All in all, the looks to be another jam-packed year, and the following are twenty of the films we at JoBlo.com are most looking forward to seeing. And don’t forget to keep checking JoBlo.com, and Twitter (@joblocom & @cbumbray ) for all the latest from the fest…

20. Good Kill

While watching THE HOST I kept thinking to myself, “what the hell happened to Andrew Niccol?” Sure, a guy’s gotta eat, but THE HOST seemed like a huge comedown for the guy behind GATTACA and LORD OF WAR, two absolutely amazing movies. Thankfully, Niccol’s flirtation with the mainstream (which included the Justin Timberlake actioner IN TIME) seems to be over, with him reteaming with his favorite leading man, Ethan Hawke. GOOD KILL is a psychological drama starring Hawke as a military drone pilot struggling with the fact that he’s fighting a war via remote control and then coming home to his family every night like nothing happened. Sounds pretty heavy, which is just the way I like my TIFF movies.

19. Revenge of the Green Dragons

After years of nominations, Martin Scorsese finally won his Oscar for THE DEPARTED, something which made Asian-movie fans slightly wince as we all knew it was a remake of the Hong Kong INFERNAL AFFAIRS trilogy. Scorsese, always a fair guy, returns the favor by lending his name to REVENGE OF THE GREEN DRAGONS, INFERNAL AFFAIRS director Andrew Lau’s second American film (his first, THE FLOCK, was something of a disaster thanks to post-production problems). Based on a true story, Lau’s film tells the story of the Chinese Mafia in late-eighties, early nineties NYC. This is right up my alley, with Scorsese being my patron saint of cinema, and me loving nothing more than a good crime drama. Apparently Scorsese will be on hand for the TIFF premiere and A24’s already picked it up for fall distribution, so it should be pretty good. As a bonus, Marty’s GOODFELLAS’ star Ray Liotta co-stars.

18. Pawn Sacrifice

A couple of years ago, I caught the documentary BOBBY FISHER AGAINST THE WORLD at Sundance, and I always wondered why no one ever got around to making a biopic about the troubled chess master. Voila – one has finally arrived with Edward Zwick (THE LAST SAMURAI, GLORY) at the helm of PAWN SACRIFICE. None other than Tobey Maguire stars as Fisher, with the film following him as he took on the Russian champ Boris Spassky (played by Liev Schreiber) in a series of chess matches at the height of the cold war. Fisher is certainly no hero (to put it mildly) so it’ll be interesting to see how this comes off.

17. Love & Mercy

As far as I’m concerned, at their height The Beach Boys were musical perfection. But, perfection comes at a high cost, and LOVE & MERCY tells the story of how Brian Wilson essentially lost his mind when working on his follow-up to “Pet Sounds” – “Smile” (which he actually only finished writing a few years ago). Paul Dano plays the young Wilson, and John Cusack plays him during the eighties as he tried to mount a comeback under the (possibly too) watchful eye of Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Wilson’s story is fascinating, and I can’t wait to see how the film has turned out. Hopefully this will be the part Cusack needs to put him back on top.

16. Hector & The Search For Happiness

Many have noted that HECTOR & THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS looks like a UK version of THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, only with Simon Pegg in the lead instead of Ben Stiller. Well, that’s just fine with me! I actually liked MITTY, and I love Pegg so this sounds like a movie that’s right up my alley, with him playing a London psychologist who travels the world in search of meaning. Sounds a bit like THE RAZOR’S EDGE actually. The gorgeous Rosamund Pike – who’s about to explode in David Fincher’s GONE GIRL – plays as his love interest. Lucky dog! This is one of two Simon Pegg vehicles playing TIFF, with the Aussie thriller KILL ME THREE TIMES also appearing in the lineup. You can bet JoBlo.com will be on hand to check that out as well!

15. Rosewater

The early reviews coming out of Venice for Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, ROSEWATER, have been rather cool. All are respectful, saying it’s a well-meaning film, and worth seeing, but have stopped short of calling it truly great. Maybe in the context of TIFF, which is more mainstream than Venice, ROSEWATER will play better. Even if it doesn’t turn Jon Stewart into the next Ben Affleck, it still sounds like a film well-worth checking out, with Gael Garcia Bernal playing an Iranian journalist detained an interrogated for trying to cover the 2009 Iranian presidential election.

14. The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the English code breaker who, in WW2, broke the Nazis enigma code, but then found himself arrested and chemically castrated for his trouble when he was charged with being a homosexual. Morten Tyldum, who directed the great Norwegian sleeper HEADHUNTERS is at the helm of what promises to be a controversial pick in this year’s awards race. With Harvey Weinstein on-board as a producer, you can reasonably expect this to get a lot of traction as we get deeper into the fall season, and how it plays at TIFF will likely be one of the festival’s biggest stories.

13. Manglehorn

Many of us have looked on in horror as Al Pacino, one of the greatest actors in screen history, was reduced to popping up in Adam Sandler movies (JACK & JILL is a crime against cinema) and lame potboilers like STAND UP GUYS. Yet, Pacino isn’t one to rest on his laurels, and TV biopics like PHIL SPECTOR and YOU DON’T KNOW JACK proved Pacino can still be as good as he ever was given the right material. To hear that’s he’s showing up at TIFF with a drama directed by David Gordon Green feels like a dream come true for his fans. Last year, Green delivered one of his best movies ever with JOE, giving Nicolas Cage the best part he had in years. Will he do the same for Pacino? My fingers are crossed, but wouldn’t it be great if this turned out to be a classic Pacino part?

12. Escobar: Paradise Lost

A movie about Pablo Escobar, starring Benicio Del Toro in the title role – why isn’t this higher on my TIFF list? The reason is that despite the movie being renamed ESCOBAR: PARADISE LOST instead of the original PARADISE LOST, this still looks like a fairly light take on the kingpin, with it seeming that more than anything, it’s a teen romance vehicle for HUNGER GAMES star Josh Hutcherson, who has top billing. Sigh – why??? After years spent hoping that they’d finally make a movie out of “Killing Pablo”, we get him as a peripheral character in a teen romance? Hopefully my assumptions about the film are wrong, but if it’s as bad as the premise makes it sound, it might make MEDELLIN by the ENTOURAGE boys look good.

11. Wild

Last year, Quebec director Jean Marc-Vallée came to TIFF with DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, the film that ended up winning Matthew McConaughey an Oscar. Will lightning strike twice? This time, Vallée’s star is Reese Witherspoon, who’s on the comeback trail this year with not one but two films playing TIFF (the other is THE GOOD LIE, also coincidently directed by a Quebecois). WILD casts Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed who, following her mother’s death, took a solo 1,100 mile hike on the Pacific Coast trail. Nick Hornby adapts Stayed’s own memoir. The buzz on this one is white hot.

10. Men, Women & Children

Last year, Jason Reitman’s LABOR DAY wound up being one of the fest’s least talked about high-profile premieres. While I liked it, MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN seems more in his wheelhouse, with the trailer suggesting a dark, AMERICAN BEAUTY-style drama, with an uncharacteristically serious Adam Sandler leading the ensemble cast, which also features Jennifer Garner, and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS breakout Ansel Elgort. To me, Reitman’s filmography has been spot-on, so I figure this has got to at least be good, but maybe even very good, or great.

9. Maps to the Stars

I haven’t been a big fan of David Cronenberg’s last few movies. A DANGEOUS METHOD was dry, and COSMOPOLIS was full-on awful (easily his worst movie) and when I heard he was re-teaming with Robert Pattinson for another movie, I cringed. Luckily, the buzz out of Cannes has been good (if not great) suggesting that whatever the film’s problems, Pattinson nails his part (which is apparently small) in this dark, venomous take on celebrity culture in Hollywood. Apparently Justin Bieber gets a scathing caricature with one of the leads parts being a teen singer named Benjie Weiss, who may or may not be somewhat based on the troubled star. Sounds intriguing.

8. Nightcrawler

NIGHTCRAWLER is one of those movies that seems to have come out of nowhere, but has now emerged a big player in this year’s award race. A lot of that is due to the teaser trailer which shows a wiry, desperate Jake Gyllenhaal as a bottom-dwelling crime scene photographer. Gyllenhaal lost weight for the part and looks positively crazed, suggesting this might be a major change-of-pace for him. Over the last few years, he’s done some great work in movies like PRISONERS and ENEMY, and it would be nice to see him get the respect he’s due as an actor. Clearly this is a must see.

7. The Drop

A couple of years ago, Michael R. Roskam was up for a best foreign film Oscar for his Belgium-set crime drama BULLHEAD. To me, that was one of the year’s very best films and had it not come out against A SEPERATION it probably would have won (although I’d argue it’s the superior film). Nonetheless, it put him on the map in a big way, and THE DROP is his English-language debut. It stars Tom Hardy as a low-level gangster who finds himself entwined with a robbery gone wrong. Especially noteworthy is the fact that THE DROP co-stars James Gandolfini, who finished his part shortly before his tragic death last summer. With Roskam at the helm, and a screenplay by Dennis Lehane, I have no doubts this will be a wonderful last hurrah.

6. Tusk

Wasn’t Kevin Smith retiring? Oh well, love him or hate him, Smith is never anything less than a unique voice, and TUSK continues his entrée into horror, which began with RED STATE. TUSK sounds like more of a horror-comedy hybrid, with Justin Long and Haley Joel Osment playing podcasters, and Michael Parks as a mysterious fellow with a walrus fetish. Speaking as a Montrealer, I must say I’m curious to see Guy LaPointe – the manhunter for Montreal – who the posters say plays himself, but is clearly a certain big-name star who I won’t spoil here. Suffice to say, TUSK should be interesting and I’m rooting for Smith to knock it out of the park.

5. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

If you’re of a certain age, you no doubt grew up watching Cannon movies. Who could forget that classic logo, with the “ba-ba-bum” theme music, which promised you an ass-kicking good time from the likes of Chuck Norris or Charles Bronson. When I was a kid, movies like REVENGE OF THE NINJA and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE were a staple of birthday parties. In its heyday, Cannon was an unstoppable beast, churning out dozens of cheapie-exploitation movies, mingled with a highbrow selection of auteur fare, like RUNAWAY TRAIN, Goddard’ KING LEAR, Cassavettes’ LOVE STREAMS and more. Of course, nothing last forever, but Cannon – never to do anything half-assed – truly had an incredible decline, with movies like SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE going into theaters unfinished and worse. Finally, their wild, uncensored, and unauthorized story is being told by the only logical person to tell it, Mark Hartley, of NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD. This is going to rock “Midnight Madness” and I’ll be right there front row center.

4. Foxcatcher

Bennett Miller’s FOXCATCHER is one of those movies we all know is going to be good. After all, Miller’s last two movies were CAPOTE and MONEYBALL, both truly excellent pieces of work. FOXCATCHER was originally supposed to come out last year, but it got pushed a few months so that last year’s heavy-hitters, like 12 YEARS A SLAVE and GRAVITY, wouldn’t overwhelm it. It looks like this strategy worked, as it played to raves at Cannes, with Steve Carell generating serious Oscar buzz for his straight-laced turn as the real-life John du Pont, whose obsession with building an Olympic-level wrestling team would have murderous consequences. Channing Tatum is getting the best reviews of his career for his co-starring turn as Olympian Mark Schultz, with Mark Ruffalo as his brother, Dave. With Megan Ellison (HER, ZERO DARK THIRTY, AMERICAN HUSTLE) producing, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see this clean-up at the Oscars this year, and I can’t wait to see it.

3. The Judge

THE JUDGE is being tipped as Robert Downey Jr’s big stab at the Oscar. Certainly Downey Jr has paid his dues, and THE JUDGE is a departure with him having focused mainly on playing Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes since his last big prestige project, THE SOLOIST. Here, Downey Jr plays a shark-like defense attorney who reluctantly returns home to defend his retired-judge father, played by Robert Duvall, after he’s accused of murder. David Dobkin (THE WEDDING CRASHERS) directs. Clearly Warner Bros has high hopes for this one, with it getting the coveted opening-film slot (which last year went to the flop THE FIFTH ESTATE, but the year before went to LOOPER).

2. St. Vincent

TIFF loves Bill Murray so much that Friday, September 5th has been officially dubbed “Bill Murray Day” at the fest, with a day of his classics (including STRIPES, GHOSTBUSTERS and GROUNDHOG DAY) being topped-off by the world premiere of his latest, ST.VINCENT. Apparently, the script for ST. VINCENT was considered one of the best spec scripts in town before it went into production, and after The Weinstein Company bumped it from its April release date to the fall, the buzz was that they were planning a major Oscar campaign for Murray.

Whether it’s Oscar-worthy or not, ST. VINCENT looks like the perfect part for Murray, who plays a ne’er-do-well-turned reluctant role model for his neighbor’s son. The neighbor is played by Mellissa McCarthy, wo co-stars alongside Naomi Watts (as a Russian stripper), and Chris Dowd. Sold!

1. The Equalizer

Growing-up, I was a huge fan of THE EQUALIZER. While I was probably a bit young to catch it in its original run, I used to watch the re-runs on A&E every day after school, and I loved the storyline, which has Edward Woodward play a retired spy using his deadly skills to help misfits and the downtrodden fight back against forces that were too big for them to handle. Imagine a nice-guy version of James Bond.

To me, Denzel Washington sounds like an ideal person to pick up where Woodward left-off, with his rebooted McCall a former CIA agent who uses his skills to save a young woman (Chloe Grace Moretz) from the Russian mob that’s enslaved her. The trailer for this is awesome, and the fact that the script ended up on “The Black List” and that action maestro Antoine Fuqua is at the helm makes this even more of a must-see. Oh yes, and it’s Rated-R! Take that EXPENDABLES 3!

TIFF Movies previously reviewed!

While most of the movies hitting TIFF are either world premieres or North American premieres, a select few of the movies programmed also played Sundance this year. If you missed our Sundance coverage , check out our reviews of a few of the Sundance movies also playing this year's TIFF!






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