On September 6 the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival kicks off, bringing with it a bevy of A-list star power and some of this year's biggest, buzziest movies, not to mention early Oscar contenders. The festival, now in its 37th year, will present 372 films over the span of just 11 days. So which films playing at the world's second most prominent festival (right behind the incomparable Cannes) should movie buffs be paying closest attention to? We've narrowed them down: Argo: Ben Affleck's movie about the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis has taken off first in the Oscar race. The film by Affleck, who is pulling double duty once again as star and director, already earned raves at the Telluride Film Festival, making TIFF audiences even more eager to see what the ensemble drama has in store. (In addition to Affleck, Argo stars Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Kyle Chandler, and Alan Arkin). A good showing at TIFF could give Argo an even bigger boost. Over the past few years, Best Picture winners The Artist, The King's Speech, The Hurt Locker, and Slumdog Millionaire all picked up steam in the Oscar race after a warm reception at TIFF. To The Wonder: Affleck is part of not one, but two of this year's can't miss films at TIFF. The actor stars alongside Rachel McAdams (also pulling a TIFF double-header with Brian De Palma's Passion) and Javier Bardem in the drama about a man who returns to his hometown after his failed marriage to a European woman. But it's not the marquee stars that are drawing attention to the project, but its elusive Oscar nominated director Terrence Malick. His sixth feature comes just one short year after his masterpiece Tree of Life was released, making it the shortest amount of time Malick fans have ever had to wait for one of his films. So you'd better believe this will be one hot ticket at TIFF. The Master: Paul Thomas Anderson, another brilliant filmmaker whose projects are few and far between, but always worth the wait (it's been five long years since the glorious There Will Be Blood) also has a film at this year's TIFF and, boy, does it look like a total knockout. (We've had chills just watching the trailers and clips). PTA's already intriguing The Master which is totally not about Scientology stars Philip Seymour Hoffman (also starring in buzzy TIFF feature A Late Quartet) as a the leader of a religion that is not Scientology. Did we mention it's not about Scientology? No matter, this one is not to be missed. Seven Psychopaths: Martin McDonagh's first full length feature, 2008's bloody good black dramedy In Bruges was not only a critical darling (it earned McDonagh an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Colin Farrell a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical) but quickly earned status as a cult favorite. His follow-up Seven Psychopaths — stars Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Gabouey Sidibe and re-teams him with Farrell — is a dark comedy about a dognapping scheme gone awry in Los Angeles. Hey, at least they're not in f***ing Bruges. Cloud Atlas: One of this year's most anticipated films has fans of David Mitchell's beloved book of the same name waiting with baited breath. How will The Matrix masters The Wachowskis possibly be able to pull off the multi-layered, centuries-spanning tale for the big screen? The ambitious undertaking stars Oscar winners Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, and Hugo Weaving, among others. Eager moviegoers will find out at TIFF if the 164 minute running time (!) can match the intensity of the five minute-long trailer. The Silver Linings Playbook: No matter what there is to make of David O. Russell's off-screen antics, he has undeniably capture the attention and admiration of movie buffs and critics alike with works like Three Kings, The Fighter, and I Heart Huckabees. The Oscar-nominated writer/director's latest, Silver Linings Playbook, stars hot commodities Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as two people grappling with mental health issues. The quirky dramedy could be the indie breakout of the fest. The Iceman: Ariel Vroman's The Iceman — pun completely intended — looks downright chilling. Based on the haunting true story of notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski, the film stars an Oscar-primed Michael Shannon (as Kuklinski), an unrecognizable Chris Evans, and an eclectic supporting cast that includes James Franco, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, and Stephen Dorff. The Iceman cometh to TIFF and festival attendees would be wise to goeth. The Impossible: While The Impossible isn't the only natural disaster film to play at TIFF (Aftershock does as well) nor is it the first to broach trying to capture the horrors of the devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami (a story line Clint Eastwood's Hereafter dealt with the tragedy) but Juan Antonio Bayona's telling of an amazing true life story of a family during the disaster won't be one to miss. Starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, The Impossible will be a certified tearjerker that could very well capture the attention of the Academy as its starts its journey on the festival circuit. The Perks of Being a Wallflower: No, it may not be an Oscar contender like some of the other TIFF features, but like fellow TIFF entry On the Road, Perks is a beloved novel finally being brought to the big screen. With young talent like Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson (in her first post-Harry Potter effort) on board, positive early buzz on Perks could turn the adaptation of Stephen Chbosky's book into a sleeper hit. Plus, with all the heavy fare playing at this year's fest, Perks could be a welcome, and much-needed, break for moviegoers. Much Ado About Nothing: We know, we know, haven't we seen this before? Sure, Shakespeare's classic has gotten the big screen treatment before, but never one that's a modern retelling from none other than Joss Whedon. Whedon, who is already having a banner year with The Avengers, is using some of the best actors from his arsenal of classics (including the likes of Nathan Fillion, Fran Kranz, Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, and Clark Gregg) for the black and white flick. Movie geeks — assemble! Honorable mentions: Be sure to keep an eye out for some of these year's other must-see TIFF films including Cannes' Palme d'Or winner Amour; early Best Actor contenders like John Hawkes in The Sessions and Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt; early Best Actress contenders Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone and Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina; Lee Daniels' foray into noir, The Paperboy (yes, that one with Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron); the Blue Valentine reunion of Ryan Gosling and director Derek Cianfrance in The Place Beyond the Pines; David Ayers' latest cop flick End of Watch starring Jake Gyllenhaal; West of Memphis, the latest documentary on the always compelling West Memphis 3 case; and the film kicking off the fest, the mind-bending Blade Runner homage, Looper starring — who else? — Joseph Gordon-Levitt. [Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]More: Toronto Film Festival 2012: 'On the Road', Michael Jackson Documentary 'Bad 25' Added to Lineup Toronto Film Festival 2012: Films From Affleck, Redford, Malick Among the Lineup 'Cloud Atlas' Collides Past, Present & Future in an Epic Six Minutes — TRAILER
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.