Ed Symkus: Toronto Film Fest is a feast for film lovers
Just as Memorial Day signals the beginning of the summer movie season, so, too, does the Toronto International Film Festival ring in the start of the autumn onslaught of Oscar contenders.
But a trip to the annual Toronto cinema extravaganza — running this year from Sept. 8-18 — makes for a lot more than just slick, Hollywood fare. The Toronto fest, or TIFF, is a working center for journalists and a sprawling playground for film lovers.
Now in its fourth decade, TIFF presents hundreds of films, ranging from those blockbuster hopefuls to small foreign language gems. There’s a plentiful supply of thought-provoking documentaries, the crazy selections of “Midnight Madness,” and a slew of shorts that are strung together in multi-film programs. There are movies screening from 9 a.m. till about 2 a.m., pretty much every day.
But one of the major draws of TIFF doesn’t have to do with watching movies … it’s about being among the actors and directors and writers who make them. They’re everywhere — sometimes at Q&A sessions after their films are shown at “Gala” presentations, sometimes waiting in line with regular ticket holders to catch a screening, sometimes sitting next to you in a restaurant. For the non-starry eyed, it’s fun to stand in line with other film lovers to discuss what you’ve seen and what you want to see.
Here’s how it works: Book a flight or a train or hop in your car; get a hotel or, if you want to save money, one of the numerous B&Bs all over the city, most of them just a streetcar ride away from the action, most of which happens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Scotiabank Theatre, as well as in some of the city’s huge cinema palaces. For information on tickets and ticket packages call 1-888-599-8433. For tickets and a complete schedule of films, visit www.tiff.net.
I know that I’ll only have time for about 15 films at this year’s TIFF. But here’s my alphabetical wish list of 20 I’d like to be able to catch.
“American Pastoral” — Ewan McGregor stars and makes his directing debut in an adaptation of the Philip Roth novel about people dealing with the tumultuous 1960s. With Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, and David Strathairn.
“Arrival” — Amy Adams plays a linguist trying to decipher alien-speak after spaceships start landing everywhere. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario”). With Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker.
“The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photogragpy” — Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris (“The Fog of War”) chats with his friend, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, photographer who mastered the large-format Polaroid camera for her portraits.
“The Bad Batch” — The press release describes it as a “savage dystopian cannibal fairy tale set in a Texas wasteland.” The cast includes Jason Momoa, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves, and Jim Carrey. I’m in.
“The Belko Experiment” — The employees at a company find out, much too late, that they’re all part of a research trial which will result in each of them either killing a co-worker or being killed by another one. Yikes.
“Colossal” — A New Yorker (Anne Hathaway) who is fired, then dumped by her boyfriend, and might be suffering a nervous breakdown, believes that she’s connected to a giant creature that is destroying Seoul, South Korea.
“Dog Eat Dog” — Three ex-cons (Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Matthew Cook) plan one last “perfect crime.” Things don’t go well. Directed by Paul Schrader (“Light Sleeper,” “Cat People,” “American Gigolo”).
“Gimme Danger” — Jim Jarmusch’s documentary tells the story of the band that emerged in the late-1960s and would become the progenitors of punk: The Stooges.
“The Girl With All the Gifts” — M.R. Carey’s novel about a dystopian future, a young girl, and the scientist and teacher who help her try to save the world, hits the screen. Oh, and there are zombies.
“Goldstone” — An Australian detective is assigned to a missing person report in Goldstone, a little town in the Outback. What starts as a simple little case turns out to be bigger and darker than expected.
“Headshot” — The phenomenal martial artist and actor Iko Uwais (“The Raid,” “The Raid 2”) stars as an amnesiac who knows how to use his fists and feet (shades of the Bourne movies), and goes up against a nasty drug lord.
“I Called Him Morgan” — On Feb. 19, 1972, jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot and killed by his common-law wife Helen while he was playing a gig at the New York club Slug’s Saloon. This documentary tells their story.
“La La Land” — Music permeated writer-director Damien Chazelle’s most recent film, “Whiplash.” Now he’s got a full blown musical with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone playing a struggling jazz pianist and a struggling actress trying to make their way through contemporary Los Angeles.
“LBJ” — Rob Reiner directs Woody Harrelson as Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Vice President who stepped up to the plate when John F. Kennedy was murdered, and went on to lead America through one of its toughest periods. With Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird Johnson.
“The Magnificent Seven” — Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “Olympus Has Fallen”) takes on a remake of the great 1960 John Sturges film. This is reportedly, like its predecessor, a good old-fashioned Western, with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and five other gunslingers going up against the bad guys.
“Manchester by the Sea” — Just as in writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s earlier film “You Can Count on Me,” someone returns home after time away, and complications ensue. This time it’s Casey Affleck, who comes back when his brother dies, to take care of his young nephew.
“Mascots” — Christopher Guest brings in his usual gang of improvisers — Fred Willard, Harry Shearer, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, and Ed Begley Jr. among them — in a comedy about the competition among sports mascots.
“Nocturnal Animals” — The adaptation of the novel “Tony and Susan” tells about a woman who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, who she left long ago. The first part of the film is about her reaction to it. The second part follows the manuscript, itself. With Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michael Shannon.
“Paterson” — Jim Jarmusch’s second TIFF film is a dramatic comedy that takes place in Paterson, New Jersey, and is about a bus driver-poet named Paterson (Adam Driver) who lives a life of routine, and his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) who sees each day as a new adventure.
“The Sixth Beatle” — Ever heard of Sam Leach? Nope, neither have I. But this documentary tells how he shaped the beginnings of something that would change the shape of pop culture. He was the manager of the Beatles before Brian Epstein.
— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.