The Venice and Toronto Film Festivals act as a springboard into the spring movie season and start to reveal the films that might rise to the surface in the coming awards. The winner at TIFF, The Imitation Game (pictured), now looks like a certainly for multiple nominations, and Julianne Moore is an early strong contender for Still Alice, which has been very well received as well.
The Equalizer: Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua gave a masterclass at TIFF about reuniting after Training Day for this ultra-violent remake of the ‘80s TV series that is one for action lovers, most prominently blokes.
The Little Death proves that sex sells and Josh Lawson’s unconventional comedy, voted Number 2 in the 2014 Sydney Film Festival Audience Awards, had buyers rushing to see it in Toronto.
Breakup Buddies: China Lion is getting this out on the same day in many territories to avoid piracy. Worth a look if you’re interested in what being hip and funny means for Chinese audiences these days.
Tusk: Kevin Smith felt bad about showing less of Michael Parks than he intended in Red State so made him the star here. Look out for Johnny Depp—that’s if you can recognise him.
The Judge: Robert Downey Jr. probably won’t get an Oscar nomination for this and Robert Duvall probably should. This was Warner Brothers’ answer to last year’s Prisoners, starring our Hugh, and it’s good to see that the Hollywood studio still makes solid dramas.
This is Where I Leave You: A second WB offering where Jane Fonda (with a perky boob job) steals the show from her onscreen offspring including Jason Bateman (a bit dull), Tina Fey (under-used), Corey Stoll (fraught) and actor-of-the-moment Adam Driver (manic), who all converge on the family home for their dad’s funeral. (Driver, Fonda’s favourite, won for best actor in Venice for Hungry Hearts and, of course, appeared with Mia Wasikowska in Tracks, is on the hit show Girls and has been cast alongside Harrison Ford in Star Wars: Episode VII.)
Whiplash: One of the contenders to win in Toronto and certainly a critics’ favorite. It won the main Grand Jury Sundance prize so that’s probably enough. The film boasts astounding performances from J.K. Simmons as a sadistic music teacher and Miles Teller as his tormented student.
Hector and His Search for Happiness: One of those feelgood British films that Australian audiences love, though a bit saccharine overall. Still, it’s better seeing Pegg funny rather than dull in Kill Me Three Times.
Pride: UK gay and lesbian activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984. Stars Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton make this work on both a dramatic and comedy level.
Two Days, One Night: A stand-out in Cannes Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s film starring Marion Cotillard won the Sydney Film Festival’s best film prize so came to TIFF with high credentials. Read review
My Old Lady: Playwright and sometime screenwriter Israel Horovitz (Sunshine) adapts his own hit play and makes his movie directing debut at 73, which shows it’s never too late. Who wouldn’t take the plunge for Maggie Smith?
The Drop: James Gandolfini’s final film stars Tom Hardy who can do no wrong of late. He plays a Brooklyn bartender around whom a lot of action swirls.
The Good Lie: Quebec director Philippe Falardeau made quite an impression with 2011’s Monsieur Lazhar and follows up here with his true story of Sudanese refugees emigrating to America with the assistance of a brash young woman, Carrie Davis (Reese Witherspoon). Variety said, “Those expecting this to be Reese Witherspoon's The Blind Side may be surprised to find this play-it-safe drama (rightly) focused on its Sudanese refugees.”
Dark Horse: The New Zealand film, a hit back home, stars Cliff Curtis and James Rolleston and proved popular with potential international buyers at TIFF.
Nightcrawler: Jake Gyllenhaal is in fine form here and is highly touted for an Oscar for his performance as a sociopath who enters TV news journalism to get among the violence.
Men, Women & Children: Toronto native Jason Reitman is on firmer ground than with last year’s Labor Day. In the same manner that Reitman examined the effects of frequent flying in Up in the Air, he looks at internet here. Variety: “A carefully diagrammed thesis movie about The Way We Live Now — specifically, how our attachments to the virtual world are destroying our relationships and turning us into a race of fame-obsessed, porn-addicted e-zombies.”
St. Vincent: Who cannot love Bill Murray? Probably Oscar voters, who are going to be more focused on dramatic actors like the two Brits, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne, come awards time. In Toronto, at least, he was the most popular actor by far, with a Bill Murray Day devoted to him. The usually reclusive 63-year-old lapped it up, with dollops of wry humour, of course.
Love and Mercy: The most poignant moment at TIFF was sitting near Brian Wilson and his wife in the audience as the story of how the Beach Boys genius created his music by listening to the voices in his head gripped the crowd.
The Imitation Game: Directed by Norway’s Morten Tyldum (Headhunters), TIFF’s audience poll winner was undoubtedly the hottest film of the festival and starred the second-hottest actor, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Birdman: The Venice opener went down well partly because it had little competition. Michael Keaton makes an auspicious comeback as a theatre director attempting to make a comeback. Read interview with Michael Keaton and Alejandro González Iñárritu
Paper Planes: Sam Worthington had three movies in TIFF and this was the best. He says he does not mind supporting roles and here is the lead, though offers strong support to the boy, the talented Ed Oxenbould. Cake (still not bought for Australia) wasn’t tough enough, probably to please Jennifer Aniston fans; while Worthington’s appearance alongside the gun toting girls (Brit Marling, Muna Otaru, Hailee Steinfeld) in The Keeping Room hardly registered, and the film will struggle to release here at all.
Still Alice: Julianne Moore studied every movement, every gesture then completely immersed herself in her performance as a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s—and made it look easy.
The Theory of Everything: Eddie Redmayne, the best dressed man on the TIFF red carpet—a green double breasted suit with black buttons—received a standing ovation for his portrayal as Stephen Hawking who was diagnosed with terminal motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and has now lived with it for more than 50 years. Read review
Foxcatcher: The most popular film in Cannes features an unrecognisable Steve Carell in the role of his life. Read review
The Last Hammer Blow: Directed Alix Delaporte, the writer of 2010’s Angel & Tony directs Clotilde Hesme and Gregory Gadebois.
Breathe: French actress Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) in her second feature as director delivers what Variety calls “a compelling, superbly acted portrait of an adolescent friendship perched on the brink of obsession.”
Girlhood: Céline Sciamma’s coming-of-age drama was popular in Cannes before being selected for TIFF.
Three Hearts: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni play sisters who fall in love with the same man (Benoît Poelvoorde), unbeknownst to each other. Benoît Jacquot’s convoluted French thriller takes some believing, still it’s fun if you’re prepared to go along for the ride.
A Second Chance: Another hard-to-believe plot about a Danish detective swapping his dead baby for another is made gripping by star Nicolaj Coster-Waldau and Susanne Bier’s direction.
The Connection: Big budget French actioner take on organised crime in Marseilles during the ‘70s long after Friedkin’s The French Connection took place. Stars Jean Dujardin.
Phoenix: Superlative effort from the German filmmaking team of Christian Petzold and Nina Hoss
Labyrinth of Lies: The German drama is based on true events of the investigations that lead to the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials in the 1960s that eventually tackled the murders and sentenced Nazi criminals to prison.
99 Homes: This rapturously received eviction drama starring Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon (wonderful as a dastardly real estate agent) will only contend the awards in 2016 according to Deadline.
A Little Chaos: TIFF’s closing film, directed by Alan Rickman, is a 17th Century costume drama about a pair of landscape gardeners competing to design a fountain at Versailles for Louis XIV. Critics have called it formulaic, though stars Kate Winslet and Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts (also in The Drop) should give it some traction.
The Dead Lands: The Maori-language pre-colonial film is action-packed with Maori martial arts and is highly original. An Australian release is still pending until after it releases across the pond.
The Cobbler: Adam Sandler sure knows how to draw a crowd and that was very much the case at the packed premiere at the usually sparse end of TIFF. He’s trying to be less over-the-top here with director Thomas McCarthy (Win Win, The Visitor, The Station Agent) and it kind of works.
Before We Go: It was a strange decision for Captain America, Chris Evans, to make a film similar to Before Sunrise as his directing debut when Richard Linklater does it so well. He has a beard here as he does in Snowpiercer and in real life.
Black and White has no date but the film starring Kevin Costner was on the top 10 lists of many critics at TIFF. Another actor making a comeback.
The Forger: The ever-engaging John Travolta admits that Pulp Fiction gave him the kind of comeback that now makes him indelible on our consciousness and his name was referenced in another film just as I went to meet him at TIFF. The Forger, where he plays the son of Christopher Plummer and the ex-con father of the terminally ill Tye Sheridan, was far from maudlin and was one of my favourite movies at the festival.
Boychoir: The story is not up to the superb choral music in French Canadian François Girard’s film starring Dustin Hoffman, though it should find an appreciative audience.
Ruth & Alex: The constantly busy Morgan Freeman finds some time for romance with Diane Keaton in this amiable film about a long-time married couple who put their Brooklyn apartment on the market.
Top Five: Kanye West and Jay Z co-produced Chris Rock’s undisputed hit at TIFF that was subject of a bidding war with Paramount Pictures the victor, snapping it up for a cool $12.5 million. Very happy for the boyish 49-year-old who puts an enormous effort into everything he does.