Natalie Portman as a pop star; Robert Pattinson as a criminal in space; Jon Snow as a TV heartthrob – what do these things have in common? They’re all movies heading to the Toronto International Film Festival!
Now that summer movie season has come to a close (and dang, it was a good one alright!), fall festivals are taking over. Venice is under way, Telluride just wrapped up, and next in line is Toronto, where I’ll submerge myself in buckets of poutine and hours of new movies. This year’s TIFF lineup is one of the most exciting in years; it’s stacked with so many major titles that nearly half of the films on our fall movie preview are premiering at the fest (like First Man, Halloween, and A Star Is Born). I can’t wait to see those, but to shine a light on some other movies that are just as worthy of your attention, I’ve highlighted 10 more. From the new Alfonso Cuarón to a psychedelic dance party, here’s what to keep on your radar out of TIFF.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
We haven’t had a new film from Alfonso Cuarón since he won the Best Director Oscar for 2013’s Gravity. But the Mexican filmmaker’s latest, said to be his most personal film to date, won’t look anything like that 3D space thriller or his more mainstream fare. Without his usual collaborator Emmanuel Lubzeki on hand, Cuarón served as his own cinematographer for the first time on Roma, shooting on 65mm in black-and-white. Based on his boyhood memories and the women he grew up around, the film follows a live-in maid, her coworker, and the wife of an upper-middle class family living in Mexico City in the 1970s. While Netflix is releasing it, the trailer alone suggests this will be is a luminous drama best seen on the big screen. And luckily, it’s getting a theatrical release.
Directed by Brady Corbet
Two years ago Natalie Portman gave one of my favorite performances at TIFF in Jackie, and now she’s back at the fest donning sequins and silvery hair in Vox Lux. The film follows Portman as a woman named Celeste, beginning with a violent tragedy and charting her rise to mega pop stardom over the course of 18 years. In case seeing Portman as a glam pop-rock star isn’t enough to pique your interest, there’s a lot to look forward to with this one. The film comes from Brady Corbet, who’s best known for his acting (2007’s Funny Games, Melancholia), but proved himself an ambitious filmmaker to watch with the startling 2015 period piece The Childhood of a Leader. The Vox Lux soundtrack was co-written by Sia and Scott Walker (Walker’s unnerving Childhood of a Leader score is excellent), and it also stars Jude Law (Closer reunion!), Raffey Cassidy, Nymphomaniac‘s Stacey Martin, and Jennifer Ehle. Consider this one of my most anticipated of the fall.
Directed by Karyn Kusama
New Karyn Kusama? Yes please! The latest from the director of The Invitation and Jennifer’s Body stars Nicole Kidman as a brooding LAPD detective working a new case that sucks her back into memories of a traumatic undercover operation. This crime thriller was penned by The Invitation screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, and if the above photo is any indication, Destroyer will be unlike any role we’ve seen Kidman in before (and surely distinct from her prim religious mother in Boy Erased, also debuting at TIFF). The rest of the cast includes Tatiana Maslany, Sebastian Stan, and Bradley Whitford.
The Death and Life of John F. Donovan
Directed by Xavier Dolan
Even Xavier Dolan’s weakest films are great (looking at you Tom at the Farm), so of course the anticipation for his seventh feature is high. The French Canadian filmmaker of I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats, and Mommy makes his English-language debut with The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. Kit Harington leads a stacked cast of big-named stars including Kathy Bates, Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Thandie Newton, (sadly not Jessica Chastain), Jacob Tremblay, and Ben Schnetzer from Goat. The film hops between past and present, charting letter correspondences between Harington’s TV star and a young fan (Tremblay), and later on the grown up fan (Schnetzer) as he reckons with the death of his idol. With a cast this notable, this will surely get even more audiences hooked on Dolan’s work.
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida is one of the best films of the past several years. Anyone who was swept up by the 2014 Best Foreign Language Oscar winner about a young nun will be excited for what the Polish director has next. Much like Ida, Cold War is also a period piece set in Poland, and shot in lush black and white in a 4:3 aspect ratio by cinematographer Lukasz Zal. An ode to Pawlikowski’s parents, Cold War is a love story between a young singer (Joanna Kulig) and a jazz pianist (Tomasz Kot) amid the backdrop of postwar Eastern Europe. One look at the sumptuous trailer has be convinced this may land on a handful of end-of-year top 10 lists.
Directed by Claire Denis
Claire Denis (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum) has made so many different types of films, but with High Life, the prolific French auteur dives into the sci-fi genre for the first time. That alone makes this a must-see, but I haven’t even gotten to the cast and premise yet. Robert Pattinson leads Denis’ space-set English-language debut, which follows a group of criminals sent to a black hole. Pattinson’s convict is the only one awake on the spaceship with the job of keeping the rest of the crew alive while caring for a baby, who was born on the ship! That’s a wild enough concept for any filmmaker, but sounds like especially intriguing territory for Denis. The real cherry on top? Denis reunites with her Let the Sunshine In star Juliette Binoche in a cast that also includes André Benjamin aka André 3000 (!) and Mia Goth.
Directed by Jonah Hill
From Superbad to The Wolf of Wall Street, Jonah Hill has juggled comedic and dramatic roles, but now he’s stepping behind the camera. He makes his directorial debut with Mid90s, a coming-of-age drama set in 1990s Los Angeles. Sunny Suljic, the adorable kid who left you traumatized in last year’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, plays Stevie, a 13-year-old who spends his afternoons skating with friends, dodging the fist of his older brother (Lucas Hedges), and causing trouble in the all the ways kids do. Hill nabbed Kelly Reichardt’s frequent cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt to shoot his debut, which uses a 4:3 aspect ratio and a grainy look to ramp up the nostalgia factor. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross also composed the score, so there’s plenty to be curious about.
Directed by Gaspar Noé
Gaspar Noé loves to shock. Whether he’s filming graphic sex scenes in 3D (Love), an extended rape scene (Irreversible), or repeatedly showing a brutal car crash (Enter the Void), the Argentine filmmaker does whatever it takes to titillate his audience, often with results that are both repulsive and fascinating. Climax stars Sofia Boutella (The Mummy, Atomic Blonde) and a cast of real-life dancers who realize their Sangria has been spiked with LSD. What follows is a sweaty, sexy, colorful dance party of madness. It’s like Step Up on acid.
Directed by Wanuri Kahui
The latest film from Kenyan director Wanuri Kahui garnered attention before it even made its debut at Cannes earlier this year. This lesbian love story was banned in its home country, where the persecution of LGBTQ folks is still rampant and sexual acts between men are punishable for up to 14 years in prison. When it finally screened, the film was greeted with a standing ovation and glowing reviews. Rafiki, which means “friend” in Swahili, follows two teenage girls (played by newcomers Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva) whose friendship blossoms into romance. In some classic Romeo and Juliet-style drama, the girls are forced to keep their relationship secret from their rival families. A sweet, heartbreaking love story about two queer women of color? Yes please!
Directed by Peter Strickland
If you’ve seen the dazzling, all-female erotic drama The Duke of Burgundy, then you should be dying to see the next film from Peter Strickland. In Fabric is described as follows: A “haunting phantasmagoria” about a cursed dress that corrupts the lives of department store customers. Did Strickland take the title of Phantom Thread literally and make a movie about it? In Fabric stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Gwendoline Christie, Duke of Burgundy‘s Sidse Babett Knudsen, and Fatma Mohamad (the human toilet saleswoman from Burgundy). The festival description likens it to Lost Highway, so genre fans will definitely want to keep an eye out for this one.
Be sure to check back for our reviews and coverage out of TIFF when the festival kicks off Thursday, September 6, and runs until September 16.
Gallery – Great Movies With Zero Oscar Nominations: