With the summer blockbuster season coming to a close this past Labor Day weekend—the last two films, Shark Night 3D and Apollo 18, limp into theaters last Friday—Hollywood and independent distributors now will start working on showcasing their potential Oscar films over the next four months.
What helps a potential Oscar contender? A prestigious fall film festival usually does the trick. It has worked the past few years with Best Picture winners The King’s Speech (2010) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008), with both films debuting at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado over the Labor Day weekend and The Hurt Locker debuting at the Venice Film Festival in 2008 and then winning the Best Picture Oscar in 2009. What do all three of these films have in common? They all screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and eventually went on to win multiple Academy Awards.
Starting this Thursday, September 8, and running through Sunday, September 18, TIFF begins its 36th annual festival featuring a total of 336 programs (268 Features and 68 shorts); of those 336 programs, 90% of them will be given their world, international, or North American premiere, representing 65 countries and a grand total of 28,526 minutes worth of film being screened at 26 different venues across Toronto over the course of the festival’s ten days.
I’ll be attending my first TIFF and reporting on all the film screenings, deals breaking, and celebrity sightings—and, hopefully, getting into a few parties. My goal is to see about 30 films in close to nine days. This will be a difficult challenge, and I look forward to facing an expected 300,000 patrons to get into some of the highest-profile films being released in 2011.
At other film festivals, I’ve had the opportunity to see many of the films at press/industry (or P&I) screenings, which are separate from public screenings and require a photo ID and lanyards that are worn practically day and night and only taken off to get into the shower. I’ll be separating my time between P&I and public screenings more than usual for my first TIFF experience.
Having secured tickets to a few films already, I still have a lot of work to do if I want to catch some of the bigger premiere screenings. A few highlights could be:
• A new documentary from American director and Academy Award winner Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvient Truth, Waiting for “Superman”): From the Sky Down, about rock group U2, will not only have the honor of opening the festival, it will be the first documentary to open TIFF in its 36 years.
• Another big story going into the festival is how many Oscar nominations can George Clooney receive: the actor has two films playing at the festival. The first is The Ides of March (opening October 7 in the Twin Cities), which Clooney stars in, wrote, produced, and directed. It’s a movie about a young staffer (Ryan Gosling) who gets a crash course on the campaign trail with the governor of Ohio (Clooney), who is running for president. Clooney will also appear in the new film by director Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election). The Descendants (tentatively opening around Thanksgiving in the Twin Cities) has Clooney trying to reconnect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident.
• I’m also a sucker for documentaries about film history, film profiles, and filmmaking, and I would love to catch U.K. director Mark Cousins’s The Story of Film: An Odyssey, based on his beloved book; the best part is that it will be screening for free. The catch is that the film will be shown in five parts and is 15 hours long!
Here are a few more of the films I’m looking forward to seeing, listed alphabetically. I hope to catch all or most of these, along with another 25 documentaries, narratives, and short films. All synopses are provided by TIFF.
ALPS, the new film by Greek provocateur Yorgos Lanthimos (director of last year’s Best Foreign Language nominee, Dogtooth), about a mysterious underground outfit, going by the name of ALPS, that offers bereaved individuals a very unusual service: they stand in for their dearly departed.
The Artist. French director Michel Hazanavicius (OSS 117: Nest of Spies, OSS 117: Lost in Rio) presents a black and white silent film that follows a silent film star who is struggling to make it into the talkies. Word is lead actor Jean Dujardin could be a leading Best Actor nominee after winning Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival last May.
A Dangerous Method. The new film from David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises, A History of Violence) again stars Viggo Mortenson, who plays Sigmund Freud; Michael Fassbender plays Carl Jung as they both struggle to treat a troubled patient, played by Keira Knightley.
Kill List, the second feature for promising U.K. director Ben Wheatley (his previous film, Down Terrace, was a surprise hit with audiences and critics), screens as part of the “Midnight Madness” program, as a professional killer becomes a pawn in a supernatural mystery when he accepts an assignment from some shadowy clients.
We Need to Talk About Kevin, the new film by Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Movern Callar) is based on Lionel Shriver’s bestselling novel. Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly play a couple who must accept that their son was always different, angry, and perhaps evil. Jonny Greenwood, guitarist for Radiohead, provides the musical score.
Image: The Artist, courtesy Weinstein Company