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TIFF 2016 Preview: The Movies We’re Most Excited to See

Aug 24, 2016
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By Jason Wilson

With the 41st Toronto International Film Festival around the corner, the list of films set to be playing cover so many styles and genres that there truly is something for every taste. TIFF is about variety and access. It is friendly to the public and is far from being an exclusive affair. It is a celebration of film, filmmakers and film lovers. That said, deciding on what movies to target is a tall order with such a massive slate.

I’ll be covering TIFF for Under the Radar this year. The festival runs from September 8 – 18. The following are 10 movies I’m especially interested in seeing with a little rundown on why I’m looking forward to them. After this, I’ll have a second 15 titles I’m also interested in. This is only scratches the surface of the total list. If your most anticipated is missing, feel free to pop on down in the comments section and make a case for it. Depending on the schedule, I likely won’t be able to see all of these movies during the festival. It’s 10 days of running around to various venues and still finding the time to eat, sleep and write. Onto the list!


Directed by Ben Wheatley

Free Fire

Starring Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer

You had me at Ben Wheatley. Polarizing though he may be, after High Rise, I was going to be excited for whatever he had on the way afterwards. That his new film is debuting as the opening night film of TIFF’s Midnight Madness slate is even more tantalizing and we haven’t even considered the story yet. It’s supposedly set around a gun sale gone wrong when a gunfight breaks out and it becomes a survival-action movie. This should be an absolute blast and Midnight Madness is the perfect place for something as bonkers as Free Fire is bound to be. The crowds at Midnight Madness are the best I’ve encountered. It’s raucous and everyone is pumped to be there. If you can make it to TIFF, you have to experience a Madness screening and Free Fire should be that one this year.

Other Midnight Madness entries this year that may draw your interest include Adam Wingard’s take on Blair Witch and the battle of Japanese horror icons in Sadako vs. Kayako. Even if the movie you see isn’t a masterpiece, the experience with this energetic of a crowd makes it all worth it. Whatever your preferred flavor, there is something of the wild and wacky variety populating Midnight Madness.


Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour

The Bad Batch

Starring Jason Momoa, Suki Waterhouse, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Diego Luna

If you can’t stay up late, but still want to see some weird and twisted films, look no further than TIFF’s Vanguard series. This series highlights some of the strangest films the world has to offer – 2015 featured Collective Invention, a Korean film where a man is cursed and turned into a humanoid fish. The Bad Batch, Amirpour’s follow up to the gorgeous and unsettling A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is a post-apocalyptic cannibal love story set in the West Texas wastelands. With Carrey and Reeves in supporting roles, my curiosity is firmly piqued.


Directed by Damien Chazelle

La La Land

Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling

For the most part, I try to avoid watching any trailers prior to attending a festival or seeing movies in theaters. This is unavoidable when going to the cinema with any kind of regularity, but when the first trailer for Chazelle’s follow up to Whiplash, one of my favorite films from 2014, landed I couldn’t help myself. La La Land, a musical love story following an aspiring actress (Stone) and a jazz musician (Gosling), looks like it will be bursting at the seams with saturated color and spectacle. The initial promo material suggests it could be a hybrid between old-school classical musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and the intensity shown in Chazelle’s Whiplash. Even though it is scheduled to open wide in early December, I’d rather not wait the required three months.


Directed by Jeff Nichols


Starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Nick Kroll

Nichols is one of my favorite working directors. I favorably reviewed Midnight Special for Under the Radar earlier in the year. While Midnight Special has possibly dulled in my estimation since, its flaws became more apparent and problematic the more I considered them, I am beyond excited for this film. Nichols is exciting because he alternates between homespun, true-to-life stories (Shotgun Stories and Mud) and high concept genre fiction (Take Shelter). Loving looks like it might be his breakthrough to the mainstream. Following an interracial Virginian couple under great scrutiny in the late 1950s, Loving will have a difficult task of deftly exploring the racism of the past and how it remains relevant today without being heavy handed and didactic. This is not an easy task, but considering Nichols’ track record through four features, I think he can pull it off.


Directed by Jim Jarmusch


Starring Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani

As much a fan of Nichols as I am, I like Jarmusch even more. He imbues reality with a sense of odd surrealism. Even in Only Lovers Left Alive, where the characters are all vampires, it focuses on the everyday mundane lives they live and their relationships instead of being too plot-heavy. Driver plays a bus driver and poet and Paterson is a film about his life and routine and how it eventually gets shaken. It sounds like it will be more along the lines of his quiet, human dramedies like Broken Flowers or Down By Law, and its positive reception at Cannes means I’ll likely love it.


Directed by Park Chan-wook

The Handmaiden

Starring Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo

Do you need anything more than Park Chan-wook’s name to be attached? Even if Stoker was a bit of a letdown narratively, he has such a strong, audacious track record that to expect anything less than a fascinating and disturbing trip is unreasonable. It’s pegged as an erotic period piece about a would-be thief who infiltrates a family as its servant. There are bound to be twists and surprises throughout. That it is a period film that doesn’t initially appear to feature his familiar genre trappings – though I am sure they will surface – it appears that he may be breaking new ground.


Directed by Tom Ford

Nocturnal Animals

Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney

I’m embarrassed to say I have yet to see Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, as it has come very highly recommended to me. Even if I don’t make the time to see it prior to TIFF, Nocturnal Animals will have to be on my docket. It seems like a thematic exploration of how the past lingers as Adams plays a woman who receives excerpts from her husband’s violent first novel. For those who love mysteries and slow burn thrillers, this could satiate that taste quite well. The cast alone is enough reason to be interested.


Directed by Osgood Perkins

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

Starring Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss

Like Nocturnal Animals, a novel encroaching on reality is at the heart of Perkins’ film. The biggest difference, beside its scope, cast and prestige attached, is it looks like it will be scaled back and be a much smaller, more intimate film. A young nurse looking after an aging horror novelist starts to think the new novel being written is mirroring her own future. I expect it will be somewhat abstract in the sense that it won’t necessarily be overly expository and that’s a good thing. This is one of the films I’m most curious about, and it mostly came due to the long, but striking title. Are ghosts involved? Something darker? Not knowing is part of the thrill.


Directed by Pete Travis

City of Tiny Lights

Starring Riz Ahmed, Cush Jumbo, Billie Piper

I’m a sucker for private eye movies. I liked The Nice Guys more than pretty much everyone I know. While City of Tiny Lights doesn’t appear like it will carry the brevity or wit of Shane Black’s film, that doesn’t mean I’m any less intrigued. Like any good private eye movie, it starts with a fairly simple premise – in this case, a missing person. Naturally, things go sideways and the detective gets caught up in something he wasn’t prepared for. Ahmed is the big draw as the private eye after seeing him as the eager sidekick in 2014’s Nightcrawler alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and, more recently, HBO’s outstanding miniseries The Night Of as the major suspect in a homicide investigation. To see how he performs as a gumshoe on the hunt, likely with more bravado than he’s shown, will be interesting.


Directed by Steve James

ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail

There are a few documentaries in TIFF’s 2016 lineup that will draw audiences far and wide like Jim Jarmusch’s Gimme Danger about Iggy and the Stooges or Werner Herzog’s Into the Inferno chronicling the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. But it’s ABACUS that is the most must-see of them all, and it has absolutely everything to do with director Steve James. Even though the Academy Awards has roundly ignored his films (including Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters and Life Itself) he’s widely considered a master of the documentary form. ABACUS is about the one bank that was criminally indicted after the 2008 financial crisis in the United States.

15 More: The Edge of Seventeen (directed by Kelly Fremon Craig), Colossal (directed by Nacho Vigalondo), American Honey (directed by Andrea Arnold), Manchester by the Sea (directed by Kenneth Lonergan), Julieta (directed by Pedro Almodovar), The Limehouse Golem (directed by Juan Carlos Medina), The Age of Shadows (directed by Kim Jee woon), Without Name (directed by Lorcan Finnegan), The Net (directed by Kim Ki-duk), Brimstone (directed by Martin Koolhaven), Certain Women (directed by Kelly Reichardt), Personal Shopper (directed by Olivier Assayas), The Unknown Girl (directed by Pierre & Jean-Luc Dardenne), Graduation (directed by Christian Mungiu), Rage (directed by Sang-il Lee)

Scaling the anticipation back to only 25 films leaves out so many exciting options. Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival was going to be included but the trailer attached to my recent screening of Hell or High Water was somewhat underwhelming. It’s also opening wide in early November, so it lacks the urgency to be seen at the festival with so many other options.

The newest version of The Magnificent Seven is the opening night film and it looks pretty fun, but this is a story that has been told countless times, and told well. It gets the big slot on account of it being a potential crowd pleaser, which would be a step up from last year’s opener, Jean Marc Valle’s disappointing Demolition.

Ticket packages for TIFF are available now, but otherwise you can usually get into most screenings if you don’t mind waiting in rush lines. Often, people who have tickets and can’t attend will walk by the rush line and sell tickets at face value. It’s not a savings, but it is a surefire way to get into the screening you want if it looks like it might be sold out. The only rush line that I was unsuccessful in last year was for The Lobster. Be careful, though, and make sure you get the ticket in hand before you pay for it. I never had any trouble, but you never know. Get to your rush line early to have the best chance at admittance. Another benefit is the general camaraderie present in these rush lines. I went to TIFF first as a fan of movies, and that’s pretty much the norm. You will be among friends even if you haven’t met these people yet. Also, some screenings are at locations a fair distance apart. If you schedule yourself to get out of one movie at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and your next screening is at either Ryerson or Bloor Hot Docs or Winter Garden, you’re going to need between 20-45 minutes to get to the next theater. Study the schedule, study the map if you’re unfamiliar with Toronto, and get to your screenings on time. Enjoy the festival and I hope you follow along with me.


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August 30th 2016

Me vote is for number 9.

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