As usual, the initial Toronto announcements of the Galas and Special Presentations sections are overwhelming. Films with star-studded line-ups dominate, though there isn’t an Australian movie in sight. Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken isn’t there (apparently it’s being held for the Christmas release) and neither is Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner. There are several Australian actors on show of course, as well as movies that show Oscar potential.
• Naomi Watts will have just been seen in a supporting role in Venice’s opening film, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, before co-starring with Ben Stiller in Noah Baumbach’s Toronto world premiere of While We’re Young, about an uptight documentary filmmaker and his wife.
• Sam Worthington has supporting roles in two films: The Keeping Room, Daniel Barber’s American Civil War drama about three Southern women —two sisters and one African-American slave— who must fight to defend their home and themselves from two rogue soldiers one of whom is clearly our rogue actor. Worthington is with women again (Jennifer Aniston and Anna Kendrick) in another US indie, Cake, about coming to terms with grief.
• Rose Byrne is part of an ensemble cast in This is Where I Leave You. Shawn Levy’s dramatic comedy follows four adult siblings who return home after their father’s death to spend a week with their over-sharing, over-sexed mother (Jane Fonda) and their family. Stars Tina Fey and Jason Bateman.
• Toni Collette is in Hector and the Search for Happiness (Becker; released October), Peter Chelsom’s Germany/Canada co-production about a quirky psychiatrist, Simon Pegg, who has become increasingly tired of his humdrum life and goes on a crazy adventure. Also features the ever-crazy Stellan Skarsgård and Jean Reno.
• September 25:The Equalizer (Roadshow). Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua bring some action to the proceedings together with sometime Sydney-sider, Kiwi actor Marton Csokas as a villainous fixer for the Russian mob.
• October 9: The Judge (Roadshow) with Robert Duvall in the title role as Robert Downey Jr.’s estranged father.
• Oct 23: This is Where I Leave You ((Roadshow; see above)
• Nov 13: The Drop (Fox). Based on a story and script by Denis Lehane, the film follows Tom Hardy’s lonely bartender who under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv (the late James Gandolfini) finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry.
• Jan 29: The Theory of Everything (Universal). Directed by James Marsh and based on the early life of physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his first wife, Jane (Felicity Jones).
From New Zealand
• The Dead Lands (Transmission), Toa Fraser’s New Zealand/United Kingdom world premiere, follows Hongi (James Rolleston from Boy), a Maori chieftain’s teenage son, who must avenge his father's murder in order to bring peace and honour to the souls of his loved ones after his tribe is slaughtered through an act of treachery.
For the first time in a while there are three must-see French films:
• Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s social comedy Samba, which reteams them with The Intouchables’ star Omar Sy. Sy plays Samba, who after migrating to France 10 years ago from Senegal, meets Charlotte Gainsbourg’s senior executive, Alice, as they struggle to escape their dead-end lives. The story about two strangers on a new path to happiness is a bit like The Intouchables. Also stars Tamar Rahim.
• The New Girlfriend. François Ozon adapts Ruth Rendell. When her best friend Lea dies, Claire falls into a deep depression. However, after making a surprising discovery about her late friend's husband, she’s given a new lease on life. Starring Romain Duris and Anaïs Demoustier.
• The Gate, directed by Régis Wargnier (Indochine). Two decades after forging an unlikely alliance in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, a French ethnologist and a former Khmer Rouge official meet again after the latter is arrested for crimes against humanity.
• Germany’s Christian Petzold reteams with Nina Hoss for Phoenix (Madman), where she plays a concentration camp survivor who has been left with a disfigured face and searches for her husband.
• Denmark’s Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen have crafted a startling yet moving drama, A Second Chance, about how easily we lose our grasp on justice when confronted with the unthinkable, and life as we know it hangs by a thread. Starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Ulrich Thomsen, Maria Bonnevie and Nikolaj Lie Kaas.
• Made with US backing, Catalan director Isabel Coixet’s Learning to Drive stars Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson; while French director Jean-Baptiste Leonetti’s The Reach stars Michael Douglas and Jeremy Irvine (The Railway Man).
• Reese Witherspoon stars in two major films: Wild (Fox), by Jean-Marc Vallée, the director of last year’s best TIFF movie, Dallas Buyers Club. After years of reckless behaviour, the destruction of her marriage, and heroin addiction, Cheryl Strayed, with absolutely no experience, sets out to hike more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own. In The Good Lie (Entertainment One), from Canadian director Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar), Witherspoon joins an ensemble of young Sudanese actors—all of whom have direct personal ties to the war in their country—to bring the inspiring and uplifting story of The Lost Boys of the Sudan to the screen.
• Chris Evan’s directing debut Before We Go is indeed in the program.
• The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart makes his directing debut with Rosewater, the true story of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael García Bernal), whose appearance on Stewart’s show in 2009 precipitated his five-month imprisonment by the Iranian government.
• Pawn Sacrifice: Ed Zwick’s biopic focuses on the legendary Cold War-era chess match between Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber).
• Al Pacino stars in two movies, Manglehorn and The Humbling.
• Toronto local Jason Reitman premieres his new movie Men, Women and Children (Paramount), which centres on the sexual frustrations that young teenagers and adults face in today's world. A large ensemble cast including Adam Sandler.
• Dan Gilroy makes his directing debut with Nightcrawler (Madman) where Jake Gyllenhaal gets down and dirty (and apparently loses his honed abs) as he delves the depths of underground crime journalism in Los Angeles.
• A Little Chaos (Transmission), Alan Rickman’s period drama which stars Kate Winslet as a landscape gardener assigned to construct the garden at Versailles.
• The Riot Club by Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education). A privileged young man is inducted into the exclusive, debaucherous company of Oxford’s elite Riot Club, in this scathing dissection of the British class system. Based on the hit play Posh, the film stars Natalie Dormer, Max Irons, Sam Clafin, Jessica Brown Findlay and Douglas Booth.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 4-14. Visit the official website for more information.