The Toronto Film Festival, which starts Thursday, is always excellent one-stop shopping for many of the major films hoping to crash the Oscar and best-of-the-year conversations. Beyond the world premieres, it also features the best of what played at Cannes, as well as plenty of films that already screened at the other fall festivals, Venice and Telluride. (Although, notably, the acclaimed Birdman won't be playing Toronto.) There are simply too many movies to see, but here are 10 entries that seem especially intriguing.
French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve has made two very good, very intimate movies, Father of My Children and Goodbye First Love, but her latest, set in Paris's early-'90s dance-music scene, may bring her more attention simply because it features an indie star. That would be Greta Gerwig, who plays a love interest of the main character (Félix de Givry), a musician who forms a band. (No, not Daft Punk.) Hansen-Løve's sensitive, precise characters combined with French dance music: Has she just made her Last Days of Disco?
There is much that's enticing and also concerning here. You've got a great cast led by Robert Downey Jr., who's in a drama for the first time in a while after years of playing Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes. But this trailer makes me incredibly nervous, as it leans heavily on the story's sweeping, feel-good elements. (God help me, they actually do the "character holding his arms out triumphantly while riding a bike" bit.) But what's probably most interesting about The Judge is who directed it: David Dobkin, the guy responsible for Wedding Crashers and The Change-Up. Talk about a change-up.
The Look of Silence
The Act of Killing was one of last year's most upsetting documentaries: Director Joshua Oppenheimer hunkered down with former members of Indonesia's death squad, easily coaxing them into recreating their atrocities for the camera. The Look of Silence continues the story by focusing on those who lost loved ones at the hands of the death squads, and their attempts to confront the killers. I had some mild reservations about The Act of Killing—though it was horrifying and gripping, it risked repetitiveness—but I'm curious to watch Oppenheimer attack this topic from another angle.
Love & Mercy
It's been a good year for unconventional music biopics, between Get on Up and the forthcoming Jimi: All Is by My Side. So, fingers crossed for Love & Mercy, which tells the story of Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson in two parts: during the making of Pet Sounds (played by Paul Dano) and in the midst of his '80s comeback (played by John Cusack). The cast includes Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks, but what makes me additionally hopeful is that the script was co-written by Oren Moverman, who also co-wrote the experimental Bob Dylan film I'm Not There. (Moverman, by the way, also has his own film in Toronto, Time Out of Mind, which stars Richard Gere as a homeless man. Very curious about that one, too.)
Men, Women & Children
I should know better. Just because Adam Sandler is doing one of his occasional change-of-pace serious roles, and even though this is a genre I love when done well—the suburban drama (see Little Children and The Ice Storm)—I shouldn't get my expectations too high for Men, Women & Children. For one thing, the trailer makes it look like a pretty run-of-the-mill American Beauty clone. For another, it's directed by Jason Reitman, who's hit-or-miss with me. Still, I'm going to be optimistic. Feel free to mock me if this movie turns out to be terrible.
Accomplished American independent filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop, Man Push Cart) looked to be ready to take the next step commercially when he cast Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, and Heather Graham for 2012's At Any Price, a father-son drama set against the world of modern farming. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a misfire that didn't impress critics or audiences. So it's encouraging to read all the great reviews that Bahrani's follow-up, 99 Homes, has received, particularly for Michael Shannon's performance as a sleazy realtor preying on helpless homeowners. Costarring Andrew Garfield and boosted by a ripped-from-the-headlines story about the U.S. housing bubble, this could provide the young filmmaker with the calling card he's been looking for.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
If the title makes you fear that this film is an insufferable self-parody of pretentious arthouse cinema, its super-quirky teaser trailer probably won't win you over. Nevertheless, Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson (You, the Living) makes terrific, deadpan dark comedies about the general misery and tedium of existence. Ignore the trailer's arch-twee tone: What Andersson does really well is transform normal life into a freaky, hilarious, quietly frightening nightmare. This doesn't sound like it has much more of a plot than Andersson's previous work, but story matters a lot less than mood in his nervy films.
Bill Murray has been so busy doing non-film Bill Murray things lately that it's almost shocking that he has a movie coming out. St. Vincent stars him as a Vietnam vet who's described as "cantankerous" in the festival booklet because, honestly, that's how every irascible older character behaves in movies. The plot is a potential groaner: Crazy coot teaches young kid (Jaeden Lieberher) crazy life lessons. Still, Murray hasn't had a great vehicle in a while—his FDR movie wasn't so hot—and Melissa McCarthy costars here, which means this may be the only time Rex Reed likes something she's in.
Because she's consistently terrific, Julianne Moore always risks being taken for granted. But especially of late she's been on a roll, moving from Game Change to What Maisie Knew to Don Jon. (She's also supposedly gonzo-amazing in the forthcoming David Cronenberg film Maps to the Stars, also screening in Toronto.) Still Alice would seem to be another good platform for her talents, as Moore plays a brilliant professor whose life is sent into a spiral after she's diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer's. The film co-stars another actress on something of a hot streak: Kristen Stewart, who has said goodbye to Twilight and subsequently received great reviews at Cannes for Clouds of Sils Marie, yet another movie screening here.
While We're Young
Ben Stiller's best performance in years came in Greenberg, and he's reunited with filmmaker Noah Baumbach for this comedy about a struggling documentarian who starts to wonder if he and his wife (Naomi Watts) aren't getting enough out of life. The answer comes, maybe, in the form of a younger couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who ingratiate themselves into his world. At his best (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, Frances Ha), Baumbach nails the insecurities of hipsters, pseudo-intellectuals, and failed artists: He's the Woody Allen you don't have to apologize for liking. This looks to be another helping of skewered white privilege.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.