In the best of times, film festivals are thoroughly overwhelming and exhausting, a blast of movies, famous people, studio parties, lines, and trying to hustle interviews with PR folks, all against the backdrop of screening after screening, an inexhaustible cauldron of cinema from which you can indulge over and over again like an all-you-can eat buffet in a darkened room.
For me, four months into my recovery from heart surgery, this is one festival whose siren song I have to be especially leery of, doctor's orders and all that. Somewhat sad to confess, but back in the early spring, facing the possibility of a transplant taking me out of action for months, I was deeply concerned that I would miss [the Toronto International Film Festival]. In the worst-case scenario, I wouldn't get the call until after TIFF, and then get it so late in the year that I would miss Sundance as well, the prospect of which was truly, um, disheartening.
Trouble is, in order to handle a festival, with all its competing interests and mad scheduling, you really have to go all-in (as in, "Yes, I can sit and watch 14 hours of movies today, and what's more, I'm dying to do it!"), so it remains to be seen how I can balance the insanity of the festival experience, and the accompanying Fear of Missing Out, with my promise to my doctors that I will take it easy on this occasion. In any event, there are certainly worse problems to have. Here are 10 films I will make a point to watch at (nearly) any cost.
Beautiful Boy: Coming out of the gate with a brilliant performance in Call Me By Your Name, we have all been curious as to what young Timothee Chalamet might do for an immediate encore. This film, from Fexlix van Groeningin, based on a pair of powerful memoirs by father/son duo David and Nic Sheff about the pain and misery of addiction from two different angles, promises to provide Chalamet with plenty of opportunity to further display his skills. Steve Carell, an underrated dramatic actor in his own right, plays his father, so you imagine much will rely upon their chemistry together.
Everybody Knows: It might not have earned universal raves at Cannes, but anytime a new film from Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi is in the offering, you can count me all the way in. Starring Javier Bordem and Penelope Cruz, a pair of Spaniards whom directors delight in matching up together, the film concerns a wedding interrupted, a vanished daughter, and, in true Farhadi fashion, family mysteries slowly being revealed.
First Man: Hype has followed closely behind, let us say, trumped-up controversy with Damien Chazelle's new film documenting the space race to the moon, which stars Ryan Gosling as the immortal Neil Armstrong. Alt-right jingoism aside, the film marks the second pairing of Chazelle and Gosling, the first being a little something called La La Land. Both men appear capable of stretching their talents across different realms, so it will be fascinating to see if they can pull this off. Early returns from Venice suggest Chazelle keeps his impressive win streak alive.
Halloween: Don't tell my doctors, but this is the one midnight screening I'm attending this year. Sure, it has been sequelized into near oblivion, and remade before, but I'm betting heavily on director David Gordon Green understanding the vibe of the John Carpenter original and giving us something substantial to add to the canon. Set four decades after the original (which was actually released in 1978), the film brings back Jamie Lee Curtis, one of the few survivors of Michael Myers' original killing spree, her character still haunted by the events of that night he first arrived, some 40 years before.
Her Smell: I know from the title it sounds like something a seventh-grader would have conjured up (trust me on this), but instead Alex Ross Perry's new film sounds anything but infantile: Elisabeth Moss plays Becky Something, the frontwoman for a '90s-era indie band. As the film begins, the band is at the top of its game, and Becky is enjoying every bit of the ardor of her fans, but can't keep her own life from spiraling wildly out of control. Early buzz is that Moss is a revelation, which, based on her previous work, shouldn't surprise anyone.
Hold the Dark: After just three features -- Murder Party, Blue Ruin and Green Room -- Jeremy Saulnier has earned "must see" status among many in the cinematic cognoscenti. His dark, violent narratives are enriched by his attention to detail and his surprisingly light touch. His new film, based on the novel by William Giraldi, concerns a writer (Jeffrey Wright) hired by a distraught family to track down their missing child in the high Alaskan wilderness in the midst of an encroachment of wolves. Sounds vintage Saulnier, if one can use the term for so young a director.
If Beale Street Could Talk: Featuring the return of another celebrated director coming off a much lauded drama, this film, from Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), reunites the filmmaker with the festival that helped launch his career. This New York drama -- despite its title, the film is set in Harlem -- follows a young woman (KiKi Layne), desperate to exonerate her fiance (Stephon James), who has been convicted of a crime she knows he did not commit. Jenkins certainly must have felt the pressure in following up his best picture winner, but, as such, he could do a lot worse than mine the material of the brilliant James Baldwin.
The Wind: The other film of terror on this list, Emma Tammi's film crosses genre lines between horror and Western and comes up with a narrative about a young wife (Caitlin Gerard), who accompanies her husband to the frontier in order to create a new life for themselves, only to fall prey to paranoia and fear about a demonic presence she feels in the area they've staked out. If this sounds at all reminiscent of The Witch to you, then you understand my breathless anticipation.
Roma: One of the films I'm most excited about this year, coming from the magnificent Alfonso Cuaron, whom we haven't heard from since the awe-inspiring spectacle of Gravity, back in 2013 (my second year at the festival). This film, by contrast, eschews high-tech pyrotechnics and green-screen spectacle for something much closer to autobiography: It follows a year in the life of a well-to-do family in Mexico City, and their maid, whose life becomes intertwined with their own. Any Cuaron film is an event, but this sounds deeply personal in a way that is captivating.
Widows: Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) returns to TIFF with a thriller about four crime-family-connected women -- including Viola Davis and Michelle Rodriguez -- who must fend for themselves when their partners all get whacked. The only thing that gives me pause here is the screenplay was written by the generally overwrought Gillian Flynn, but it's based on a BBC TV show of some renown, which gives me hope that it will tamp down some of her more fancifully dark tendencies.
MovieStyle on 09/07/2018
Print Headline: Ten must-see movies from Toronto festival