Over the long lead-up to Oscar night, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) can make or break a film. A highlight on the city’s cultural calendar, the festival symbolically launches the motion picture industry’s awards season. A film’s reception by audiences and critics here is a measure of its potential success, so the stars come out in full force to promote their works with winning smiles, firm handshakes and candid photos with adoring fans.
Since its inception more than 30 years ago, TIFF has grown from a plucky presentation of already-seen films to become the behemoth of the North American festival circuit, an event where thousands of industry professionals—and exponentially more cinema buffs—gather for premieres of some of the most anticipated films from Hollywood and around the world. It’s arguably second only to the Cannes Film Festival when it comes to high-profile pictures, industry activity and celeb-infused glamour.
All the red-carpet craziness at this year’s festival, from September 6 to 15, is great for a giddy little thrill. But don’t get too distracted: you’re in town to see the films, aren’t you? Here, we outline this year’s don’t-miss movies.
Who’s involved? Academy Award-winning director Gavin Hood (2005’s Tsotsi) presides over an all-star cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep.
What’s it about? This multilayered political thriller follows an American woman (Witherspoon) as she searches for her Egyptian-born husband, who has secretly been arrested on suspicions of terrorism. The unorthodox detention arouses the suspicions of a CIA analyst, portrayed by Gyllenhaal.
Why’s it here? With its prescient subject matter and pedigreed cast, Rendition is one of the festival’s prestige pictures. The film’s gala premiere here could help determine whether it’s bound for awards-season glory.
If you like that, don’t miss… Michael Clayton, a legal drama starring George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton; Shake Hands with the Devil, based on Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire’s experiences during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Who’s involved? The latest cinematic opus from Joel and Ethan Coen stars Josh Brolin, alongside Oscar nominees Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem.
What’s it about? A harrowing—and blood-soaked—tale of pursuit based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men tells the story of a cowboy who discovers $2 million, and the ruthless killer hot on his trail.
Why’s it here? raised by audiences and critics at the Cannes Film Festival, the film (screening here as a TIFF Special Presentation) is said to be a return to form for the Coen Brothers, who rose to prominence with tense genre fare like Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing and Fargo.
If you like that, don’t miss… Canadian cineaste David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, a crime thriller with Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts; Brad Pitt in the meditative western The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford.
Who’s involved? Music-video auteur Anton Corbijn makes his feature-directorial debut and coaxes a star-making performance from relative newcomer Sam Riley.
What’s it about? A biopic about the troubled life of Ian Curtis (Riley), lead singer for the legendary post-punk band Joy Division, who struggled with epilepsy and depression before committing suicide at age 23.
Why’s it here? Another standout at this year’s cinema orgy at Cannes, Control‘s enigmatic subject gives it automatic hipster credibility. As such, it’s playing as part of the Toronto International Film Festival’s cutting-edge Vanguard series.
If you like that, don’t miss… Indie darling Todd Haynes’s buzzed-about Bob Dylan film I’m Not There, in which different actors (from Christian Bale to Cate Blanchett) portray the famed troubadour; Here Is What Is, a documentary about renowned Canadian musician and record producer Daniel Lanois.
Who’s involved? Director Alexander Sokurov, who gained international acclaim in 2002 for Russian Ark, his unedited elegy to St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum.
What’s it about? The values of human kindness and understanding are at the heart of this low-key film, which tells the story of an elderly woman (beloved Russian opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya) who travels to Chechnya to visit her grandson, an army officer whom she hasn’t seen in seven years.
Why’s it here? Alexandra receives its North American premiere as part of the festival’s Masters program—a fitting category for the newest work by one of Russia’s most iconoclastic filmmakers.
If you like that, don’t miss… Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, the latest acclaimed effort by renowned artist and director Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls), based on the true story of a French magazine editor who rediscovers life’s passions after a debilitating stroke.
Who’s involved? Toronto Film Fest favourites Robert Lantos and Jeremy Podeswa respectively produced and directed this version of Anne Michaels’s award-winning book. Stephen Dillane and Rade Sherbedgia are among the film’s stars.
What’s it about? Fugitive Pieces focuses on the life of Jakob Beer (Dillane), a man who must reconcile his experiences as an orphan during World War II with his later life as a poet in Toronto.
Why’s it here? The film’s world premiere kicks off the festival, ensuring maximum exposure for Podeswa, its Toronto-born director. Novelist Michaels is also one of the city’s cultural luminaries.
If you like that, don’t miss… Ellen Burstyn in the Manitoba-filmed adaptation of the venerable Margaret Laurence novel, The Stone Angel; the festival’s closing-night gala, Emotional Arithmetic, which stars Susan Sarandon, Gabriel Byrne and Max von Sydow as reunited Holocaust survivors.
GEORGE A. ROMERO’S DIARY OF THE DEAD
Who’s involved? Horror-movie maverick George A. Romero, a gaggle of young, mostly Canadian actors, and a horde of the undead.
What’s it about? A group of students venture out to a make a horror flick, but wind up filming a terrifying cinéma-vérité as grotesque creatures stage a relentless attack.
Why’s it here? Romero practically invented the zombie thriller genre with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, and Diary offers a new perspective on the events of that classic creeper.
If you like that, don’t miss… Stuck, a movie about a young girl and the man lodged in her car windshield, and Dainipponjin, in which a documentary crew follows a Japanese superhero as he battles monsters and takes the blame for the country’s social woes.
Get Your Tickets!
Available September 5, single tickets are $20.75, and $40 for gala presentations. Here are your three options for securing a seat:
IN PERSON Festival box offices are located at Manulife Centre (55 Bloor St. W., main level), College Park (444 Yonge St.) and Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe St.). Same-day tickets are available at the theatre where the film is being screened.
FROM YOUR HOTEL Call 416-968-FILM or visit www.tiff07.ca, then pick up your tickets at the box office.
STAND IN LINE Take your chance on a sold-out show by waiting in the rush line outside of the theatre. Any remaining empty seats will be sold to those in queue.
TIP! The Toronto International Film Festival’s website, www.tiff07.ca, is your best source for a complete lineup, screening times and details on same-day tickets. It’s updated daily during the festival with information on last-minute seat availability.
Need help deciphering the various programs at TIFF? Get your TIFF 101 lesson at 16 Program Choices.
Which celebs will be walking the red carpet? Check out our Star-Gazing Guide for the scoop.
Get your autograph book and cameras ready. To find the stars, see 10 Places to Spot Celebrities.