By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist September 2, 2014 at 2:03PM
The Telluride International Film Festival is done for another year (read all our coverage here), and though the Venice Film Festival has some big movies still yet to unspool, it too is starting to wind down (catch up with our ongoing coverage here). Which can only mean one thing: it's time to head north for the Toronto International Film Festival.
Cannes, Berlin and Venice might have the cinephile prestige, but TIFF is rapidly making an argument for being the biggest film festival in the world, with huge movies being unveiled and more to watch than you could ever hope to see. As we're sure you're aware by now, it's also become an increasingly crucial Oscar launching pad: every Best Picture winner since "No Country For Old Men" has been featured at the festival.
We're just 24 hours away from the festival kicking off, and the Playlist team are heading to Toronto as we speak. So to get you ready, we've picked out fifteen gems from the line-up (all world premieres, so the below excludes some of the films that already bowed at Cannes, Venice or Telluride) that we're particularly excited about. Take a look below, let us know what you're excited about, and bookmark this link here for all our coverage over the next couple of weeks.
Synopsis: A solitary shoe repairman on the Lower East Side discovers a magic pair of footwear that lets him step into the lives of his customers.
What You Need To Know: Frustratingly, every time it feels like Adam Sandler is off to do something interesting, like "Punch Drunk Love" or "Funny People," he soon scurries back to the studio comedies that made his name. But with diminishing returns finally kicking in on the latter ("Jack & Jill," "That's My Boy" and "Blended" have all disappointed recently), it seems like the actor might be making a more concerted effort to make quality fare, with not one but two projects premiering at TIFF. One is Jason Reitman's "Men Women & Children" (see below), but the first is "The Cobbler," an odd-sounding fable from writer/director Thomas McCarthy. Sandler heads up a diverse and impressive cast that also includes Dustin Hoffman, Ellen Barkin, Dan Stevens, Melonie Diaz, Steve Buscemi and Method Man, and though the premise sounds like it could overdose on whimsy, McCarthy's previous form with "The Station Agent," "The Visitor" and "Win Win" suggests that he's one of the few who could make a film like this work.
When? Premiering on the second Thursday of the festival and one of the last big films to land, this doesn't yet have U.S. distribution, but will likely cause a bidding war if it's even halfway good.
Synopsis: In Paris in the early 1990s, two friends form a DJ duo among the emerging electronic dance music scene that spawned the likes of Daft Punk and Justice.
What You Need To Know: Thanks to "The Father Of My Children" and "Goodbye First Love," Mia Hansen-Love has established herself as one of the most exciting talents in film right now, and there's every chance that "Eden" could introduce her to her widest audience yet. Co-written with her brother Sven, who was himself a successful DJ, the film looks to be a sort of "Almost Famous" for the EDM age, following a fictional DJ act formed alongside Daft Punk. For the first time, Hansen-Love is working partly in English, with American indie stars Greta Gerwig and Brady Corbet turning up for NYC-set scenes, but it's relative newcomer Felix De Givry who takes the lead for a film that seems to be the director's biggest in scope and scale yet. Don't expect bombast, though: festival programmers describe it as a "low-key epic," which hopefully means that the filmaker's impeccably nuanced feel for relationship drama and beautifully sketched sense of character is still intact. Dance music has rarely if ever been successfully portrayed onscreen, but if anyone can make the definitive DJ movie, it should be Hansen-Love, and there's little at the festival we're looking forward to as much as this film.
When? Screens at TIFF on Friday, then will head to NYFF next month, ahead of a French release in November. No U.S. distributor yet, but this should be a hot property, given the US stars and commercial ties to EDM.
"The Keeping Room"
Synopsis: In the dying days of the Civil War, three South Carolina women are besieged in their family farm by a pair of Yankee scouts.
What You Need To Know: The home invasion movie is a popular genre, but "The Keeping Room" promises to flip that category on its head on a number of levels. For one, it centers on a trio of women (Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and relative newcomer Muna Otaru). For another, it's set during the Civil War, and for another still, it features Confederate heroines and Yankee villains (played by Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller). And Julia Hart's script, which made the Black List a few years back, promises to not just be a genre film, but thematically rich one. It marks the sophomore feature from British director Daniel Barber, who was Oscar nominated for the short "The Tonto Woman" before breaking through with Michael Caine vigilante picture "Harry Brown," and he certainly has the chops to make something truly memorable here. There's not much else like this at the festival, and we're genuinely excited to find out whether or not it works out.
When? Screens Monday at TIFF, no release date in the U.S. yet.
"Love & Mercy"
Synopsis: The story of Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson, and his struggle with addiction and mental illness, told across two time periods.
What You Need To Know: Generally speaking, the idea of another potentially bland music biopic is one that makes our heart sink, and yet "Love & Mercy" is one of our most anticipated films of the festival. In part, it's because of the subject matter: Brian Wilson has always been one of pop's most fascinating figures, and rather than attempting to span an entire life, the approach here seems to be focused on his sessions with a controversial therapist. In part, it's because of an excellent cast assembled: Paul Dano plays the young Wilson, and John Cusack the older, with Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks among the supporting players. And furthermore, there's a lot of strong behind-the-scenes talent involved: Oren Moverman co-wrote the script, Wes Anderson DoP Robert Yeoman shot the film, "The Social Network" co-Oscar winner Atticus Ross is scoring, and though director Bill Pohlad —making his sophomore feature— is known more as a producer, he's got great taste, having been partly behind films like "Brokeback Mountain," "The Tree Of Life" and "12 Years A Slave." Our hopes are high that this is much more than just cursory look at one of rock 'n roll's most complex figures.
When? No distribution yet, but this could be a hot buy if it looks like it has awards potential.
"Men Women & Children"
Synopsis: A group of parents and children grapple with love, lust, intimacy and self-esteem in the internet age.
What You Need To Know: The Reitman family have a long association with TIFF (they are big contributors to many initiatives of the fest), and as such, all of Jason Reitman's features bar "Young Adult" have screened there. Last year's "Labor Day" was deemed to be Reitman's first major misfire by pretty much everyone, but the four films that preceded it showed such an assured ability to mix comedy and drama that we'll always be paying attention to what he's got coming, and "Men Women & Children" is no different. The director's first true ensemble piece, it's an adaptation of a novel by Chad Kultgen, and appears to be closer to Todd Solondz than, say, Billy Wilder, focusing on sexuality in the internet era, and with a clever "Sherlock"-esque visual twist. Unlikely TIFF double-biller Adam Sandler leads the cast, and Reitman's usual canny sense of casting looks to be in full force, with a mix of fast-rising newcomers (Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever), big stars (Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Emma Thomson,), and undersung character actors (Judy Greer, Rosemarie DeWitt, Dean Norris). There's a risk with subject matter like this that it comes off as a bit pat and obvious (if the theme is "technology brings us together, but it also, like, keeps us further apart," we might tear the seats up), but we trust this content Reitman's hands, and hope it resonants more than the recent "Disconnect."
When? Premieres at TIFF on Saturday, then Paramount will open it on October 3rd.