The organizers of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival have released the full list of films they're planning to screen during the Sept. 5 - 15 fete. It's a decidedly more down to earth list of titles than appeared at Cannes in May but may boast even more Oscar contenders: films like August: Osage County, The Fifth Estate, Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and one very special new film from Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises. Here are five takeaways we had from this year's TIFF lineup, and below that, you'll find a list of select titles from the lineup for which we're especially excited.
1. Character is King — Deeply felt character studies dominate the lineup this year rather than movies driven more by visual flash. Some are more or less traditional biopics like Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom, Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave. Ron Howard's Rush emphasizes the clash of personalities between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) as much as it does the races. And Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, perhaps the biggest visual spectacle on the TIFF lineup, is notable for being a portrait of a female astronaut (Bullock) and her struggle to survive after an accident while also dealing with her lingering emotional distress following the death of her daughter. Toronto this year is truly an actor's market. Even more so because...
2. A Bunch of Actors Are Trying Their Hand at Directing — Jason Bateman is making his feature-film directing debut with the spelling bee revenge comedy Bad Words, while James Franco is following up his (pretty much unwatched) Hart Crane and Sal Mineo biopics with his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Child of God. And of course Joseph Gordon-Levitt will unspool his directorial debut, Don Jon, which is also the first time we've seen him with a gelled-up pompadour.
3. Cory Monteith Is Well Represented – The late Glee star has not one but two films at TIFF, Gia Milani's All the Wrong Reasons and Josh C. Waller's McCanick, both of which will make their world premiere at the fest.
4. This is the Place for Smaller, More Personal Films — While Cannes can still celebrate movies that might not otherwise find an audience (like Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme d'Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Color, also at TIFF), Toronto goes all-in for small films. Just this past May Cannes got showy movies from big, flashy directors like Roman Polanski, the Coen Brothers, Baz Luhrmann, Nicolas Winding Refn, Stephen Soderbergh, and Takashi Miike. But this year Toronto will draw Steve McQueen, Kelly Reichardt, Stephen Frears, Jason Reitman, and Alex Gibney, often the makers of quieter, more introspective films — films that may not even have found a distributor yet. That's ultimately why...
5. Toronto Is More Important Than Cannes — Actor and Lars von Trier repertory member Jean-Marc Barr once told me, "Cannes is now like the G8 summit." It's pretty corporate and not as essential these days for films really looking for a distributor. Looked at another way, Palme d'Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Color still doesn't have a North American distributor. However, Toronto is the perfect laboratory for testing out films with a North American audience — if Franco's Child of God doesn't get a distributor after TIFF, it might not get one at all. You can also see Toronto as the first stop on the Oscar circuit. If there's a groundswell of support for Sandra Bullock for Best Actress consideration for Gravity, it'll be because buzz was first generated among potential Oscar voters at Toronto, not Cannes.
Here are some of the most notable films appearing TIFF 2013. What are you looking forward to?
The Fifth Estate Bill Condon, USA (World Premiere) OPENING NIGHT
Life of Crime Daniel Schecter, USA (World Premiere) CLOSING NIGHT
August: Osage County John Wells, USA (World Premiere)
Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom Peter Chadwick (World Premiere)
Rush Ron Howard, United Kingdom/Germany (International Premiere)
All the Wrong Reasons Gia Milani, Canada (World Premiere)
The Armstrong Lie Alex Gibney, USA (North American Premiere)
Bad Words Jason Bateman, USA (World Premiere)
Blue Is The Warmest Color Abdellatif Kechiche, France (North American Premiere)
Child of God James Franco, USA (North American Premiere)
Dallas Buyers Club Jean-Marc Vallée, USA (World Premiere)
Don Jon Joseph Gordon-Levitt, USA (Canadian Premiere)
Gravity Alfonso Cuarón, USA/United Kingdom (North American Premiere)
Labor Day Jason Reitman, USA (World Premiere)
McCanick Josh C. Waller, USA (World Premiere)
Night Moves Kelly Reichardt, USA (North American Premiere)
Only Lovers Left Alive Jim Jarmusch, USA (North American Premiere)
Philomena Stephen Frears, United Kingdom (North American Premiere)
12 Years a Slave Steve McQueen, USA (World Premiere)
The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu) Hayao Miyazaki, Japan (North American Premiere)
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
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This week marks the release of Hugo, a quasi-kids movie that, surprisingly, Martin Scorsese directed (in 3D!). Almost as oddly, last week’s big release, the teen-angst adaptation The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, was helmed by the very “adult” Bill Condon. They’re the latest examples of filmmakers surprising audiences by taking jobs that we’d never expect them to based on careers and expectations they’ve built. Here are some others.
Kenneth Branagh, Thor
Branagh was probably just about the last person we would’ve ever expected to direct summer 2011’s Blockbuster Tour kickoff, but he turned in maybe the best – even if not the most lucrative – film of the season in Thor. The closest Branagh had ever come to a Thor-size affair was Frankenstein in 1995, and that wasn’t even on the same planet as the Marvel adaptation in terms of budget and expectations. Aside from his much more prolific acting resume, Branagh had made a career, directorially, out of Shakespeare adaptations. Perhaps he found the Bard in Thor, which was undoubtedly better because of his involvement.
Francis Ford Coppola, Jack
Apocalypse Now. The Godfather. The Conversation. Jack?? The obscenely, almost incomprehensibly awful PG-13 dramedy is probably the most out-of-character entry on any director’s resume, ever, and it signaled where Coppola was in his career: the trough. The Robin Williams-starrer had themes that Coppola had previously mined into gold, but it’s almost as if the worst director in Hollywood helmed Jack and put Coppola’s name on it.
Alfonso Cuaron, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
It’s no wonder that the great Cuaron is behind the darkest entry in the Harry Potter franchise, but it is a wonder that he took/landed the job in the first place – and it’s the ultimate testament to his ability and range as a filmmaker. Up to that point, Cuaron was a relatively little-known – certainly unknown to the Potter target audience – aside from his stylized update of Dickens’ Great Expectations and his art-house hit (to put it oxymoronically) Y Tu Mama Tambien, a controversial film because of its explicit sexual content. So … yeah, bold pick by Potter producers! And right after Azkaban, Cuaron returned to his routine activities with the dystopian masterpiece Children of Men.
Spike Lee, Inside Man
A perusal of Lee’s vast filmography quickly reveals the clear-cut anomaly: Inside Man. Almost all of his other films center around race or feature the theme prominently. Only Summer of Sam and to a lesser degree 25th Hour do not subscribe to Lee’s trademark focal point, but neither comes close to Inside Man in terms of being a full-on genre film, in this case a hardboiled, somewhat by-the-numbers (in the best way possible) whodunit. It also turned to be one of Lee’s best films, proving that he has a lot more to offer behind the camera than might’ve been previously thought.
David O. Russell, The Fighter
Once upon a time, David O. Russell seemed destined to become a beloved indie auteur a la Paul Thomas Anderson, thanks to his early, offbeat work, especially Flirting with Disaster and Three Kings. Then came the debacle on the set of I Heart Huckabees, and then … banishment – be it self-imposed or not – from Hollywood. When he finally returned after six years, clearly something had changed, probably for the better, because as solid as the movie was, it was a very linear, straightforward, almost conventional production (with no reports of on-set turmoil!) that seemed more Ron Howard than David O. Russell.
Steven Soderbergh, Ocean’s Franchise
Soderbergh had dabbled in mainstream fare before 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven – and it’s been probably more so since then that he has tackled more exploratory, out-there projects – but the fact that he will be forever associated with the biggest A-lister cash-grab maybe ever is the ultimate irony for someone who is otherwise very indie-inclined, if not altogether impossible to pin down. At least Soderbergh seemed like he was trying with Ocean’s Eleven, though; Twelve and Thirteen must’ve been vacations too extravagant to pass up.
Robert Rodriguez, Spy Kids Franchise
The fact that Rodriguez, purveyor of cartoonish violence (Sin City, Planet Terror, et al.) and R-rated revenge (Desperado, et al.), directed anything with the word Kids in its title is shocking; the fact that he made a fairly lucrative franchise out of it? Shocking, and kinda impressive. It’d be like his buddy Quentin Tarantino directing the next Pixar movie. Actually, that’d be pretty awesome.
Sam Raimi, Spider-Man Franchise
Raimi turned out to be a very wise choice indeed for the Spidey franchise (at least for two out of the three films), but it initially seemed a bit of an odd fit. Before landing in the driver’s seat of one of the biggest properties in Hollywood, Raimi wasn’t exactly an A-list director; rather, he had more or a cult following, thanks primarily to his beloved Evil Dead movies, and in the years leading up to Spider-Man – post-Evil Dead trilogy – his output (i.e., The Quick and the Dead, For Love of the Game and The Gift) and its quality was more all-over-the-map than ever.