Monday, September 01, 2014

#TIFF14: The 10 Films I Will See at This Year's Toronto International Film Festival

I'm “tiffing” again this year!

In just four short days, the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) will take over my hometown. This year, TIFF showcases 300 films from 60 countries over 10 very long days.

Once again, I've committed to ten films.

For the record, I don't have frou frou tastes in film. I don't go to movies to learn something (that's what books are for). Nor do I go for “great performances.” I go to movies to be entertained. I consider myself a purist in that sense. And this is what makes the Toronto International Film Festival so great, you’re watching great movies with other movie lovers.

Sadly, choosing ten films out of a possible 300 is not an easy task. Nor is it particularly fun to be honest. Every year I try to come up with a new way of selecting my films, and every year I finish the task feeling like I’ve failed. I did not review all 300 films. I wish I could tell you what drew me to the movies I selected. But I can't. Which is why my 2014 Toronto International Film Festival choices are all over the place.

To see my 2014 TIFF choices, click "READ MORE" below.

Here is what I am seeing at this year’s festival:

Country: USA
TIFF Programme: Special Presentations
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver, and Danny Glover

In Beyond the Lights, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (the star of last year's Festival hit Belle) plays Noni, a young woman on the verge of superstardom. Shaped from childhood by her steely manager mother (Minnie Driver), she's checked all the right boxes so far. Catchy, ultra-produced tunes. Fetching British accent. A hookup with a sketchy rapper that becomes the talk of social media. But all this is threatened when Noni meets handsome, confident police officer Kaz (Nate Parker). As far as Kaz's father (Danny Glover) is concerned, his law-and-order work is only the first step towards a future career in politics. Kaz knows what it's like to be groomed for greatness, and he has a way of looking right through Noni's camera-ready facade that throws her off her game

Country: Finland/Germany/United Kingdom
Language: English/Finnish
TIFF Programme: Midnight Madness
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Director: Jalmari Helander
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Felicity Huffman, and Jim Broadbent

In the rugged Finnish countryside, timid thirteen-year-old Oskari (Onni Tommila) embarks on a traditional quest to prove himself by spending twenty-four hours alone in the wild, armed with only a bow and arrow. As Oskari wanders the vast forest, the night is ripped apart by a deafening crash. Following a trail of broken trees and burning debris, Oskari discovers the escape pod from Air Force One, containing the battered and bruised President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson).

With a team of terrorists hot on the president's trail, the life of the most powerful man in the world lies in the hands of a teenage woodsman — and this unlikely duo is soon plunged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, with the clock ticking down towards disaster

Country: USA
Language: English
TIFF Programme: Gala Presentations
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, Bill Pullman, and Melissa Leo 

Robert McCall is deadly, but doesn't look it. As played by Denzel Washington, he is quiet, reserved, and methodical. He sits at the same table in the same diner for his meals each day. He lines up his cutlery just so. He tries not to talk to strangers. But there's something about Elina (Chloë Grace Moretz, also appearing at the Festival in Clouds of Sils Maria and Laggies) that breaks through Bob's barriers. She crashes into his diner in a clearly desperate state. She works as an escort, in thrall to a Russian crime gang not known for their gentle ways. As Bob's protective impulse begins to extend to the ragged, volatile Elina, it's only a matter of time before he puts his lethal skills to use. Because Bob is The Equalizer.

Country: France
Language: French
TIFF Programme: Contemporary World Cinema
Premiere Status: North American Premiere
Director: Céline Sciamma
Cast: Karidja Touré, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, and Mariétou Touré

Bande de filles is a raucous, raw, and tender look at a group of black high-school students living in the tough suburban banlieues of Paris.

Grounded by an incendiary performance from Karidja Touré, Sciamma's film locates a kinetic, irresistible energy amid the nondescript housing projects, shopping centres, and outdoor plazas in which, for these strutting young characters, attitude prevails. Touré plays Marieme, a shy sixteen-year-old who falls in with a small crew of friends after low grades prevent her from continuing her studies. This foursome soon forms a tight unit bent on pushing the limits. In the face of peer pressure and the need to be cool, Marieme finds herself navigating dangerous waters. But it isn't long before she finds a way to assert her own voice and a new-found sense of power.

Country: India
Language: Hindi/English
TIFF Programme: Contemporary World Cinema
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Director: Shonali Bose
Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, William Moseley, and Hussain Dalal

Laila (Kalki Koechlin) is a student and aspiring writer, crafting lyrics and electronic sounds for an indie band at her Delhi university. Her cerebral palsy doesn't much get in the way of her life, although it sometimes does for others. When Laila's band wins a local contest, the condescending host says to her, "It must have been so hard for you. Can you share something with us?" Laila shares her middle finger.

Always seeking more freedom and new experience, Laila wins a place at New York University and leaves India with her mother (Revathy) for Manhattan. There she meets a fiery activist, Khanum (Sayani Gupta), who challenges her beliefs, sparks her creativity, and, eventually, takes her to bed. For these two women, it's the beginning of a remarkable love story.

Country: USA
Language: English
TIFF Programme: Special Presentations
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Director: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, and Bill Paxton

In this gripping portrait of LA's dark side from first-time director Dan Gilroy, local TV feeds on local crisis. Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a loner and petty thief adrift in the LA night when he happens upon the nightcrawlers in action. He gets himself a cheap video camera and a police radio scanner and begins the chase. Fresh car accidents, robbery victims, home invasions — everything is fair game. But the competition is stiff: Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) is already a seasoned professional with police contacts and a reliable buyer in TV producer Nina (Rene Russo).

But Lou has a nose for blood. Seemingly immune to the moral dilemmas of his new job, he doggedly pursues the most shocking scenes he can find. It turns out he also has the eye of an artist: if the scene doesn't quite tell the story Nina needs — urban crime threatening innocent suburbanites — he is more than willing to enhance the picture. Like the protagonists of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom or Krzysztof Kieslowski's Camera Buff, he is a chilling metaphor for filmmakers.

Gyllenhaal reveals this compromised character from behind eyes that can go suddenly, frighteningly blank, in behaviour that feels both surprising and true. Screenwriter turned director Gilroy (Freejack, The Bourne Legacy) crafts a tense atmosphere in this contemporary film noir, and gives Gyllenhaal the opportunity to deliver what may be his most forceful, compelling performance yet.

Country: USA
Language: English
TIFF Programme: Special Presentations
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Directors: Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo
Cast: Ray Liotta, Justin Chon, Kevin Wu, Harry Shum Jr, Shuya Chang, and Geoff Pierson

In 2007, Martin Scorsese's The Departed won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It was an adaptation of Andrew Lau's Infernal Affairs. Now, Scorsese returns the favour, acting as executive producer for Lau's latest project. Co-directed by Lau and Andrew Loo, and inspired by the true-crime tale of the titular gang that terrorized New York City's Chinese communities throughout the 1980s, Revenge of the Green Dragons represents the spectacular collision of Eastern and Western gangster film traditions.

In 1983, best friends and schoolmates Sonny (Justin Chon) and Steven (Kevin Wu) are targeted for recruitment by the Green Dragons, one of several criminal syndicates operating within Queens' growing enclave of recent Chinese immigrants. They're taught how to kill and who not to kill (fellow Chinese are expendable; whites are off limits), and are soon dispatched to eliminate the leaders of a rival gang. What follows is a dizzying, decade-spanning saga of brutal reprisals and shocking betrayals — all, incredibly, based in fact.

As dramatized by co-directors Lau and Loo, Revenge of the Green Dragons exhibits the operatic flair of Hong Kong action cinema at its best. But in its eighties New York setting and gritty tone (as well as the casting of Goodfellas alumnus Ray Liotta as a dogged FBI agent), Scorsese's touch is also apparent. This fusion of Chinese and American genre influences is thrilling to see, but also entirely apt. Revenge of the Green Dragons is an inherently Chinese-American story premised, like so many classic crime dramas, on a violent misapprehension of the American dream.

Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
TIFF Programme: City To City
Director: Yim Pil-sung
Cast: Jung Woo-sung, and Lee Som

Hak-kyu (Jung) is a university professor who's gradually losing his eyesight. In a vulnerable state, he begins to fall for an irresistible, insistent young woman (Lee). It turns into a torrid affair, and Hak-kyu throws all caution aside, but when he commits an act that she takes as the worst form of betrayal, her feelings turn.

Scarlet Innocence is a contemporary retelling of a classic Korean tale, The Story of Simcheong, which was elevated to timeless art when adapted to the Korean musical storytelling form pansori. But Yim takes radical liberties with the story, changing what was always a father-daughter dynamic into an account of two strangers who first become lovers, then adversaries.

Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
TIFF Programme: Midnight Madness
Premiere Status: International Premiere
Director: Sion Sono
Cast: Ryohei Suzuki, and Young Dais

In a futuristic, alternate-world Tokyo, the city is made up of ghetto slums and nightclub playgrounds where gangs of wayward youth rule the streets. The city is carved up into 'hoods, and the crossing of territorial lines quickly leads to riots and rumbles. On the turf ruled by the savage yakuza Big Buppa (Riki Takeuchi, from Takashi Miike's Fudoh: The New Generation and Dead or Alive series), the simmering tension is about to boil over into all-out war.

With Tokyo Tribe, Sono has crafted a cinematic melting pot of madness referencing everything from Walter Hill's The Warriors and Streets of Fire to Shûji Terayama's legendary experimental film Emperor Tomato Ketchup, John Carpenter's Escape from New York, Julien Temple's Sex Pistols documentaries, the final showdown from Scarface and, of course, West Side Story.

Avoiding the usual fresh young faces of Japanese films, Sono chose to cast real rappers, tattoo artists and stunt performers in many of the main acting roles, a rebellious move that brings vibrancy and freshness to his outlandish street-fighting epic. Set to a score of bangin' beats and bizarre rap lyrics, Tokyo Tribe will leave you beat-boxing for more.

Film: TUSK
Country: USA
Language: English
TIFF Programme: Midnight Madness
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, and Michael Parks

Wallace (Justin Long) co-hosts a popular podcast with his pal Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), focusing on cruel, mocking cringe humour as part of their mission to keep it "real and raunchy." After his trip to Winnipeg to interview the "Kill Bill Kid" — a teen whose unfortunate samurai-sword video has gone viral — comes up empty, Wallace decides to make the trip worth his while and find a good story north of the forty-ninth parallel. A handwritten flyer he finds in a bar bathroom leads him to a grizzled old swab (Michael Parks) full of tall tales to share from his life of adventure at sea — and this is where Wallace's voyage to the Great White North descends into straight-up madness.

Smith has always been an expert at easy banter and snappy jokes, but with Tusk he brings his distinctive sensibility to a whole new dimension of terror and the bizarre.

Be warned: even as it deftly delivers on its outlandish and outrageous concept, the film is also aboot how Americans view Canada — so check your patriotic fervour at the door and prepare for a barrage of Canuck jokes and a steaming-hot double-double of strange.

All photos and film synopses loved from

1 comment:

  1. they look good.. i really want to start doing more film festivals


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