On Wednesday, yours truly will be flying to Canada to cover the 40th annual Toronto International Film Festival. It’s hard to explain, but the first day of TIFF (which starts Thursday morning) always feels like the first day of school. There’s a crispness to the September Canadian air that makes it finally feel like Fall; everyone is running around looking confused; and, most importantly, there are always great movies to be seen. (Okay, that last part isn’t really like school, but, whatever.) In other words: It is GREAT.
I’m not a big fan of putting together these “movies we want to see” lists, because there are so many great movies and there’s no way to include them all. Also, I’m usually kind of bad at them. I think last year, one of my top “movies to see” was The Cobbler because, in theory, Adam Sandler was making his indie comeback. I could not have been more wrong. Anyway, let’s try this again: Here are the seven movies I’m looking most forward to at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.
A big reason Truth is included on this list is the fact that very few people seem to be talking about it, which is curious. (I have heard through the grapevine that Truth might surprise some people.) In what is James Vanderbilt’s directorial debut (his diverse list of writing credits include Zodiac and The Amazing Spider-Man), Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett star as Dan Rather and Mary Mapes, respectively, as they investigate President George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard during Vietnam – a story that could have cost the president his office, but instead cost Rather and Mapes their jobs. Again, this is a movie about a big story, with Redford returning to a role in which he’s a journalist working on a story that could have brought down a presidency… why this is flying under so many people’s radars is a mystery!
Adapted from Andy Weir’s novel of the same name, Ridley Scott’s The Martian isn’t flying under any radars. Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, a scientist stranded on Mars after the rest of his crew leaves the planet. Watney must use what few resources he has to try and survive long enough to be rescued – which, at the earliest, will probably be years later. TIFF is a tough festival because, for every little movie that sounds interesting and might be worth a chance, there’s also the hyped BIG, CAN’T MISS IT movie that drives headlines. And this year, those movies are The Martian and Black Mass. Speaking of…
The reviews out of this past weekend’s Telluride Film Festival were overwhelmingly positive for Johnny Depp as Irish mob boss Whitey Bulger in Black Mass. Directed by Scott Cooper (who directed Jeff Bridges to an Oscar win in 2009’s Crazy Heart), Black Mass follows the life of Bulger, a crime lord who keeps the authorities at bay by also acting as an informant. It’s been a few years since Johnny Depp has had a truly great performance (his “comeback” narrative is already in the works; remember, Mortdecai came out earlier this year), and when Depp is truly interested in a role, he’s still one of the best.
(Update: In the short time between writing and publishing this piece, Amazing Grace has now officially been pulled from the festival. I’m leaving it here because I would still love to see it, even though that looks less and less likely. The curse of my “movies we want to see” lists continues on.)
Sydney Pollack, who died in 2008, has a “new” film at TIFF — for this alone, there was an already strong amount of interest in his documentary on Aretha Franklin. Now with Franklin’s legal protest over the footage being shown, this has amped the hype considerably. Filmed way back in 1972, Franklin gave two days of performances at a church in Watts, California. Pollack had problems syncing the footage with the sound and eventually gave up. Franklin still thinks there are major problems with the sound/footage issue and doesn’t want this seen. Of course, this now makes sure a movie that was once a curiosity is now an absolute must-see.
Charlie Kaufman is one of the greatest minds in cinema and, until now, he’s only been a part of two movies in the last 11 years – writing 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and writing and directing 2008’s Synecdoche, New York. With Anomalisa, Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson present a movie made with stop-motion animation… you know, isn’t just “Charlie Kaufman” and “stop-motion animation” enough?
With 2013’s Prisoners and Enemy (both played at TIFF that year), Denis Villeneuve jumped near the top of my favorite filmmakers working today. I’m cheating a little with Sicario because I’ve already seen Sicario — but (A) it would be on this list anyway and, (B) knowing what I know now, it for sure belongs on this list. (A more detailed write-up will come later.) Emily Blunt plays an FBI agent who is recruited by a cocky government agent (Josh Brolin) working for a vague-sounding department (which always means CIA) who initiates missions into Mexico in an effort to “disrupt” the drug trade – basically, if enough disruptions happen, cartel leaders start coming out of hiding. Benicio del Toro plays another mysterious operative who starts to make Blunt’s character wonder what she’s gotten herself into. This is a tense movie! (I added the exclamation point to really drive home the fact that this is a tense movie. I hope it worked.)
Isn’t it great having Michael Keaton back in our lives as a prominent movie star? (Even though it still appears he kind of hates everything about being a movie star?) Thomas McCarthy’s directing career is pretty interesting, in that the same person who gave us The Visitor and the delightful Win Win could land such a thud with last year’s TIFF disaster, The Cobbler. I find myself rooting for McCarthy because I really have enjoyed his movies in the past (except The Cobbler, it is truly dreadful), and it would be great to see him excel with a story as important as the Boston Globe’s work in uncovering the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal. (And as an unabashed fan of The Paper, it will be great to watch Keaton playing a newspaper editor again.)
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.