Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2015 Preview!

I always feel like I’m going back to college when TIFF time comes rolling around again. My favorite film festival in the world, this will mark my seventh lucky year covering the festival for JoBlo.com, and as always the lineup has got me giddy with anticipation. In fact, narrowing my must-see list down to twenty was harder-than-usual, and that’s not even counting all the under-the-radar movies that will likely get discovered during the festival run and rocket up to the top of my must-see list. Typically, a bunch of TIFF titles wind up being Oscar front-runners, so the fest just may give us our first-look as this year’s winner of the big-prize. Regardless, you can expect multiple reviews from us every day, in addition to junket interviews (we’re doing a few this year), video reviews for our YouTube channel and more. Also keep your eye on the @joblocom twitter handle for all the latest news from the fest, which kicks off September 10th!

1. The Martian

Based on the popular novel by Andy Weir, THE MARTIAN is movie we here at JoBlo.com have been excited about for a while now. Our own JimmyO visited the set (read part 1 & part 2 of his excellent report) and also got to preview a good chunk of the finished a few weeks ago. Now it’s hitting TIFF, the same place GRAVITY bowed two years ago. With a starry cast (Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor) and none other than Ridley Scott at the helm, the buzz is white-hot and the TIFF bow signals that the studio has a lot of confidence in the film. Could this be the first really good Mars film? Will it succeed where MISSION TO MARS and RED PLANET failed? Stay tuned!

2. Black Mass

Johnny Depp’s long been considered one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, but I’d wager the back-to-back failures of THE LONE RANGER and (especially) MORTDECAI hit him hard. While his dominance at the box office is still reasonably assured with PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES and ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS on the horizon, his cachet as a proper actor is about to be put to the test in a big way with BLACK MASS. Starring as mobster/FBI informant Whitey Bulger, the early trailers suggest that the Scott Cooper (OUT OF THE FURNACE) - directed epic is a throwback to the Johnny Depp of DONNIE BRASCO and BLOW. With Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, Dakota Johnson and more co-starring, BLACK MASS could be one of the big Oscar contenders to emerge from the festival, and the movie to put Depp right back on top of the A-list.

3. Legend

Tom Hardy’s having himself a great year. Coming-off MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, a film that catapulted him to near-action God status (along with co-star Charlize Theron), Tom Hardy’s hitting TIFF with an extremely ambitious crime epic where he plays both of the infamous Kray twins, two mobster brothers that ruled swinging sixties London. Directed by Brian Helgeland, LEGEND is a huge gamble but the early trailers suggest that Hardy gives a brilliant dual-performance, and one that might possibly put him in the Oscar race. To me, it seems like the kind of movie that could put Hardy in the same league as guys like Christian Bale or Matthew McConaughey. If it’s half as good as his last gangster biopic, BRONSON, we’re in for a treat.

4. Sicario

After reading the early reviews from Cannes and seeing the trailer, I’m pretty confident in saying that Denis Villeneuve’s SICARIO is likely going to be one of my favorite movies of the festival. A dark, drug border wars action thriller, Emily Blunt gets to follow-up her ass-kicking part in EDGE OF TOMORROW with another hardcore role, playing an FBI agent who winds up in the middle of a cartel war with two shadowy operatives (Benicio Del Toro & Josh Brolin). Villeneuve’s movies are typically excellent, and the subject matter, paired with this cast makes this a highly attractive package for those of us who like our thrillers harsh, dark and realistic.

5. Green Room

Jeremy Saulner’s BLUE RUIN was a huge sleeper hit at TIFF back in 2013, and GREEN ROOM looks to make lightning strike twice with this already having played to raves at Cannes. Anton Yelchin and Arrested: Development’s Alia Shawkat star as punk rockers who inadvertently wind up playing at a Neo-Nazi bar and find themselves fighting for their lives after making a gruesome discovery. None other than Patrick Stewart plays the head Nazi – that casting alone would make this a must-see. This one could be this year’s IT FOLLOWS (another movie which got crazy Cannes buzz and wound up thrilling TIFF Midnight Madness audiences – where this is booked to play opening night). Stay tuned folks – but I’m extremely optimistic.

6. Spotlight

Michael Keaton is back baby! OK, so maybe SPOTLIGHT is more of an ensemble piece than a full-on Michael Keaton-starrer (that’ll come next year with his McDonald’s biopic THE FOUNDER) but having Keaton play a crusading journalist involved with the real-life Boston Globe exposé that revealed the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child molestation within the priesthood feels pitch-perfect to me. Keaton’s played journalists a few times now (Ron Howard’s THE PAPER and the underrated HBO telefilm LIVE FROM BAGHDAD) and the rest of the cast is pretty sterling, with Live Schreiber, the always-great Mark Ruffalo, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Rachel McAdams – among others – rounding out the cast. It should be excellent, right?

7. Beasts of No Nation

Regardless of its quality, BEASTS OF NO NATION will go down as a historically important film due to the fact that it’s the first Netflix-original movie. While financed independently, the streaming giant stepped-up and acquired the film long before any festival plays, and by delaying the rest of their lineup until this one was ready says something about the way they want to do business. Coming from True Detective Season one director Cary Fukunaga, BEASTS OF NO NATION tells the harrowing story of a child soldier and his complicated relationship with the war lord who enslaves him – which should be a heck of a part for the great Idris Elba. Clearly, Netflix is banking on some Oscar-love for this one, with them putting it out in select theaters simultaneous to the October 16th launch on Netflix. The buzz out of TIFF will likely predict what kind of chance it has with the Academy.

8. High Rise

I consider Ben Wheatley one of the best directors in the business. His movies have never failed to dazzle me; the hilariously twisted DOWN TERRACE, the magnificent KILL LIST (one of the best horror movies of the decade), the quirky but crazy SIGHTSEERS and the bonkers A FIELD IN ENGLAND. HIGH-RISE looks like his first big stab at the mainstream, with it boasting a superb cast, including Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and Elizabeth Moss, and a cool dystopian sci-fi premise, where the rich hide in a sprawling high-rise from the chaos below. Then again, it’s based on a novel by J.G Ballard, and the last movie that came from his work was CRASH and not the cuddly Paul Haggis film either. The real CRASH, directed by David Cronenberg. I’m particularly psyched for this one.

9. Our Brand is Crisis

After a few years spent rediscovering his indie roots with movies like PRINCE AVALANCHE, JOE, and MANGLEHORN, David Gordon Green is making his way back to big-budget Hollywood film-making with OUR BRAND IS CRISIS. A dark satire based on the true story of a gang of media spin doctors who fixed an election in Bolivia; this is Sandra Bullock’s first part since GRAVITY so this will be high on the TIFF buzz-list. It’ll be interesting to see how she tackles such sharp material. Billy Bob Thornton – who seems like ideal casting as a spin doctor – co-stars.

10. Demolition

I was a little surprised when Fox Searchlight announced they were bumping Jean-Marc Vallée’s DEMOLITION to winter 2016, as everyone was sure this would be a 2015 Oscar-contender, with his last two films being DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and WILD. However, with Searchlight allowing it to screen as TIFF’s opening night gala months before it opens, the studio must have a good deal of confidence in it. My hunch – if it goes over well this Jake Gyllenhaal/Naomi Watts melodrama will get a qualifying Oscar-run at the end of the year. That said, we tend to get caught up in Oscar predicting throughout the fest, and if this turns out to merely be a solid melodrama there won’t be a thing wrong with that. But Vallée and Gyllenhaal together? Yeah, it’ll be great.

11. Trumbo

Director Jay Roach has two interesting parallel careers going. On the one hand, there’s the Jay Roach who directs big-budget comedies like AUSTIN POWERS, THE CAMPAIGN, MEET THE PARENTS and DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS. But then, there’s the HBO Jay Roach, who directs cool telefilms like RECOUNT & GAME CHANGE. Now, the two Roach’s seem to be meeting, with TRUMBO being his first big-screen drama since MYSTERY, ALASKA. The great Bryan Cranston takes his stab at the Oscars (moving closer to EGOT territory) as screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who famously refused to name names during the McCarthy-era Hollywood witch-hunts and wound up blacklisted to the point that he wrote several Oscar-winning screenplays using a “front”. With Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper, John Goodman and my beloved Diane Lane co-starring, how can TRUMBO be anything but a winner?

12. Man Down

Shia LaBeouf’s increasingly become a kind of Hollywood punchline following some rather “unique” behavior but if there’s anything Hollywood loves, it’s a comeback. MAN DOWN could be his ticket. A post-apocalyptic actioner, Dito Montiel, who previously directed LaBeouf in A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS, is at the helm and he’s lined up a pretty-impressive cast including Kate Mara and the always amazing Gary Oldman. Jai Courtney co-stars, and if this works if could be a nice rebound for him too following TERMINATOR: GENISYS.

13. The Witch

THE WITCH was a movie I tried like hell to catch at this year’s Sundance. Truth is I was actually at a screening the last day of the festival, but I had been fighting a high fever and that coupled with the high altitude sidelined me to the point that I had to leave ten minutes in. From what I saw, THE WITCH looks absolutely amazing and come hell or high water, I’m going to see this and review it at TIFF. To me it looked like the first real stab at art-house horror in a while, and I can’t wait to finally catch-up with it.

14. The Danish Girl

Once the first picture of Eddie Redmayne dressed as a woman leaked everyone assumed he was all but assured to pull a Tom Hanks and win his second consecutive Oscar for his role here as transgender artist Lili Elbe, who was one of the world’s first recipients of gender-reassignment surgery. With Tom Hooper (THE KING’S SPEECH) directing and EX MACHINA’s Alicia Vikander co-starring, THE DANISH GIRL feels like prime Oscar bait. Hopefully everyone’s sky high expectations will be met. That’s the thing about a film festival like TIFF – you just never know.

15. Equals

It’ll be strange to see a Drake Doremus film outside of Sundance. Why? Because since I started covering the festival circuit for JoBlo.com, Doremus has emerged as an indie darling and his two previous films, LIKE CRAZY and BREATHE IN were two of the hottest, most buzzed-about Sundance titles in their respective years. I’m actually surprised Doremus isn’t holding EQUALS until January considering his success there, but then again maybe the fact that it’s at the mainstream-friendly TIFF rather than the indie-centric Sundance says something. Certainly it seems like a conscious effort to mix things up, with a hip young cast (Nicholas Hoult & Kristen Stewart), a dystopian sci-fi setting and Ridley Scott on-board as producer. If the movie delivers, expect this to be one of the fest’s biggest acquisitions.

16. I Saw the Light

Tom Hiddleston’s apparently incredible in this, a Hank Williams biopic that had Oscar-potential written all over it. This is a huge year for the former Loki, with him also showing up at TIFF with HIGH-RISE and CRIMSON PEAK due in theaters in a few weeks. Based on the buzz and the uncanny resemblance Hiddleston seems to have to Williams in the released production stills, I SAW THE LIGHT may well emerge as one of the year’s breakout movies. The soundtrack of Hank Williams country-hits and fellow Marvel vet Elizabeth Olsen in a supporting role certainly won’t hurt.

17. Freeheld

Last year’s TIFF was one heck of a year for Julianne Moore, with it kicking off the buzz for STILL ALICE which in the end won her a much-deserved best actress Oscar. In FREEHELD,she plays a terminally ill policewoman fighting to get her long-time partner (played by producer-star Ellen Page) death benefits before she passes-away. This one is based on a true story, with Michael Shannon co-starring as her macho cop partner, who wound up being one of her strongest advocates, while Steve Carell plays her attorney.

18. Truth

Following his ALL IS LOST snub, the great Robert Redford is taking another stab at that elusive best actor Oscar with TRUTH, where he plays disgraced 60 Minutes anchor Dan Rather. Telling the story of how Rather’s exposé on George W. Bush’s military service wound up ending his remarkable forty-year career, this should be a very intriguing character study for Redford, who co-stars with none other than Oscar powerhouse Cate Blanchett as his producer. TRUTH also marks the directorial debut of screenwriter James Vanderbilt, who wrote THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 1 & 2, but we won’t hold that against him.

19. Room

There’s no doubt in my mind that Brie Larson is going to win an Oscar someday. It may be sooner, it may be later, but Larson’s got so much talent that it’s only a matter of time. While she was wasted as window dressing in THE GAMBLER, ROOM feels like a suitable follow-up to the amazing SHORT TERM 12. In this ripped-from-the-headlines tale, she stars as a young woman who – after being kidnapped – emerges from five years in captivity with her son. The trailer for this was pretty stunning and I could easily see this one winding-up as one of the festival’s biggest discoveries.

20. Hardcore

Many of you likely contributed to HARDCORE’s successful Kickstarter campaign. The good news for all of you is that HARDCORE, which bills itself as the first first-person action movie in cinema history, must have turned out pretty good as it’s been picked to play TIFF’s Midnight Madness. Starring the great Sharlto Copley, the trailer for this iss pretty bug-nuts insane, and if director Ilya Naishuller is able to keep the momentum going for a ninety-minute feature, we could have ourselves the next breakout action cult hit. Don’t forget – THE RAID premiered at TIFF.
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