Friday, August 26, 2016

80 Films To Watch Out For at #TIFF16: Part 1: A-L

Sidse Babett Knudsen in Emmanuelle Bercot's 150 Milligrams
Now that the TIFF programming is entirely announced, it's time to clear that space on the dining room table, get the java brewing (or in my case the iced chai), line up the special colour highlighters and fire up the devices through which hundreds of images, and all the words about them, will magically rise at our fingertips -- unless, of course, we are out somewhere chasing Pokémons. All of the #TIFF16 selected films are now online, with the full programme notes. The programme notes are some of the best writing about film you'll find. In the digital age, they don't come online early enough for us to fully assist our planning, but they become wonderful ways to remember and reflect on movies afterward.

This is an annual blog that I do - I've been blogging on TIFF since 2005, and attending since the early 80s. This year, Industry delegates were asked if we might prefer not to get the hard copy of the programme guide -- an idea that sent up a gasp in my household, which otherwise aspires to be ecologically mindful. Though the writings can be found on the TIFF site long after the films have come and gone, it's not always easy to unearth them, and there is nothing like print for a permanent record that we can actually access easily. Luckily, TIFF has a superb archive and extended library resources, so the diligent never have to worry.
Quite possibly this entire paragraph was really just an excuse to showcase my own collection of guides! (Thirty years, minus 2000 and 2006, lost to floodwater damage.) Somewhere in that shelf are the first notices, the first glimpses of films that have since become not just personal favourites, but cultural touchstones. Please, TIFF, never give up the printed programme books!

Over this and the second-alphabetical-half post that will follow soon are some eighty feature films for #TIFF16. (Looking for good short films? The short film blog has already been posted.) In the coming week or two, titles may be added and perhaps some dropped as well. My hope is that this will help guide the old pro and the new addict to what they might find interesting. As always, it is highly subjective - and leans toward the obscure: I tend to exclude (unless they really excite me) films with a guaranteed North American theatrical distribution within minutes of their TIFF premiere. Therefore, The Arrival, American Pastoral and La La Land are for other blogs, though certainly everyone should see all three of these fine films as they are already being touted for awards and are no doubt fantastic. It's an odd reality of blogging that in the past eleven years filmmakers like Denis Villeneuve can move from being new voices, to cutting-edge dramatists, to new master, always reserved a spot here, to Hollywood director considered mainstream enough to be excluded!

When my usual favourite directors and actors did not turn up in the early press releases, I had misgivings about 2016 but now that I have looked at everything there is to look at, I can declare it to be a very very exciting year, more exciting than the last few. So take a deep breath and plunge. The cinematic waters promise to be cool and energizing.

Note: the first letters after a title indicate World Premiere, North American Premiere, International Premiere or Canadian Premiere. The second set of letters are the short forms for the TIFF programme that the movie is slotted into. French and Indigenous language titles are alphabetized in their first language. 


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93 Days - WP - CTC
Steve Gukas
The City-to-City Lagos programme has been one of the few to have a long-lens exposure prior to TIFF programme announcements, mostly from Cameron Bailey, whose traveling and writings about Nollywood have offered an invigorating preparation for these films. I am particularly drawn to this true story about those at the front end of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria in 2014. It's being billed as a 'thriller', which adds an intrigue I might not have anticipated, and stars Danny Glover and Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama, one of this year's 'TIFF Rising Stars'. TIFF Page.


150 Milligrams - WP - SP
Emmanuelle Bercot
Irène Frachon, the French pulmonologist who exposed the fatal link between a series of deaths and the drug 'Mediator' in France, sees her own memoir brought to the screen by Bercot, whose work as both an actor and a director in recent years has brought increasing acclaim. But my own interest is keenly sharpened by the casting of Sidse Babett Knudsen, the Danish star of the Borgen tv series, who has been enjoying an increasingly international film career. Long loved in the UK, two years ago, she was luminous in Peter Strickland's sublime The Duke of Burgundy, but now the French seem to have fallen for her too: earlier this year she won a French César for her role in Christian Vincent's L'Hermine. 150 Milligrams seems made for Knudsen's amazing capacity to hold the emotional tension of a scene without appearing to emote at all. The film also stars Benoît Magimel. One of my most anticipated films. TIFF Page.

American Honey - NAP - SP
Andrea Arnold

Andrea Arnold is among the most compelling women directors to emerge from the UK over the last decade, with near-cult followings for her previous films Red Road and Fish Tank. This story of an adolescent girl fleeing a dysfunctional home to join a traveling sales team in the American Midwest won the Jury prize at Cannes. TIFF page.



After the Storm - NAP - M
Hirokazu Kore-Eda
How can I leave out Kore-eda? Not possible. I loved I Wish and Like Father, Like Son and countless others before them. This film was not received as well at Cannes as in other years but the premise -- a man tries to regain the trust of a family he left while sheltering them in a typhoon -- is a classic kind of Kore-Eda family saga. Kore-eda's focus on the family of late has been razor-sharp and very moving in its straightforward simplicity. The available images reveal his usual stable of wonderful actors like Kirin Kiki, who just seems to be in every Japanese movie these days (no complaints). TIFF Page


Anatomy of Violence - WP - M
Deepa Mehta
A Deepa Mehta film should always be on the must-see list. This one, about a gang rape in India in 2012, follows the lives of the rapists. The script was developed ensemble-style by actors, presumably those who portray them. TIFF Page.


L’Avenir (Things to Come) - CP - SP
Mia Hansen-Løve
This brilliant French auteur has been intriguing me since I first saw Le Père de mes Enfants. Now one of the finest women filmmakers working, this latest story features Isabelle Huppert as a professor betrayed by her husband, who finds philosophical and ideological solace with a young communist student. TIFF Page.

Austerlitz - NAP - W
Sergei Loznitsa
Another of many Wavelengths features that excite me this year, Sergei Loznitsa's non-fiction latest promises a revealing profile of the tourists who visit Nazi concentration camps and, in the words of the programme note, "the relationship (or the clash) between contemporary culture and the sanctity of the site." TIFF Page.


The Bait - WP - M
Buddhadeb Dasgupta
From a filmmaker who never disappoints, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s film seems to describe three very different people from different aspects of Indian culture and society, including a young girl who is a circus performer. The programme note tells us that all three of them are used as 'bait' by the society in which they move. TIFF Page.

Les Beaux Jours d'Aranjuez (The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez) - NAP - M
Wim Wenders
It's Wim Wenders. It's a play by Peter Handke. That's enough right there. Wenders is apparently bringing his gifts with 3D once again to this adaptation, focused on a couple sharing their philosophies of life - only the couple in this version are characters in the protagonist's novel. TIFF Page.

Below Her Mouth - WP - SP
April Mullen
The provocative trailer (okay I looked) for this Canadian feature is certainly focused on the sexuality of an encounter between two women who form an immediate relationship and was apparently shot with an all-female crew. The story might be more Blue is the Warmest Colour than Carol, leaning toward the intensities of passion than the intricacies of relationship, but I'm prepared to be surprised. TIFF Page.


Blue Jay - WP - SP
Alex Lehmann
And speaking of Carol, one of the best discoveries for me from that film was Sarah Paulson, whose performance was so perfectly calibrated to accompany Blanchett and Mara. Here she co-stars with Mark Duplass in what seems to be a small and intimate black and white two-hander about high-school sweethearts reflecting on their lives past and present. This is Lehmann's first film. TIFF Page.


The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography - IP - Docs
Errol Morris
Oscar winner Morris, whose most enduring film continues to be 1988’s The Thin Blue Line, is bringing what seems to be a less sensational film than some of his more recent work, profiling renowned septuagenarian photographer Elsa Dorfman, who has spent a lifetime working in the over-sized Polaroid format. One of many exciting TIFF Docs entries. TIFF page.



Burn Your Maps - WP - SP
Jordan Roberts
This entry has come on and off my list so many times, my keyboard must have déjà vue. This first feature story of an eight year old who believes he is actually a Mongolian goat herder could be either wonderful or awful. But the presence of both Jacob Tremblay (Room) and Vera Farmiga lean the odds in favour. Sort of a spiritual companion film to Lion (see below).TIFF Page.

By the Time It Gets Dark - NAP - W
Anocha Suwichakornpong
Thailand has a lot of content focus in this year's TIFF, including In Exile and Road to Mandalay, both on this list. Suwichakornpong focuses her lens on average lives, as seen through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker. The available images and the TIFF programme notes point to a poetic and "tender" experience. TIFF Page.


Certain Women - CP - M
Kelly Reichardt
One of the two Kristen Stewart films at TIFF, in this one Stewart is one of three women in a small American town, each trying to make life work against the odds. This is Reichardt's second film of the year, after the debut at Sundance of the restored version of River of Grass. Lots of buzz on this one. This is a Masters entry, programmed by Wavelengths' Andréa Picard (which for me means likely stronger than I would even have thought. But Andréa, if you see this, what happened to Ma Loute for TIFF?) TIFF Page.


Le Ciel Attendra (Heaven Will Wait) - NAP - CWC
Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar
Nothing could be more topical or helpful right now than a film which helps us understand how young people become radicalized by religion. I am very curious to see this story of two young women who come to faith and/or its extremes in different ways. TIFF Page.


The Cinema Travellers - NAP - Docs
Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya
Following those who try to bring cinema to remote regions is not a new premise for a feature film, but this documentary focuses on the tradition in rural India as it comes to terms and competes with the digital age. The film was apparently shot over five years and follows three different men whose livelihoods and passions are enlivened by keeping cinema alive. TIFF Page.


Citizen Jane: Battle for the City - WP - Docs
Matt Tyrnauer
Although the extraordinary Miss Jacobs lived most of her life in Toronto, this doc follows the history of her impact on the plans of an excessive New York developer in the 1960s. We are also promised an in-depth look at someone who has radically impacted the public discourse on cities, architecture and urban planning, which have also found voice in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Not to be missed. TIFF Page.

Clair Obscur (Tereddüt) - WP - CWC
Yesim Ustaoglu
Turkish cinema is getting a lot of play in this year's festival, a testament to its contemporary profile in world cinema. Here, writer-director Yesim Ustaoglu follows what we might call a trend of this year's TIFF, the study of individuals living distinct lives in challenging situations. In a year when Turkish politics have been very much on the world stage, this study of Turkish women wrestling with tragedy and unforseen circumstance seems especially timely. TIFF Page.


The Commune - NAP - SP
Thomas Vinterberg
I have loved almost everything Vinterberg has done, including his last film The Hunt, which was largely ignored in North America. I am also excited for a leading performance from soulful, brilliant Trine Dyrholm, one of the best kept secrets of Denmark (to North Americans), despite that she has enjoyed a distinguished, world-class career. The Commune is based on Vinterberg's own childhood experiences growing up in Copenhagen in the 70s. Reviews were very mixed coming out of Berlin, so I am not expecting a great work, but Vinterberg always surprises. TIFF page.


The Dreamed Ones - CP - W
Ruth Beckermann
This is one of those rare times when a trailer just completely swept me in and made this film one of my very top most picks for this year's TIFF. Two Viennese actors are recording the love letters of poets Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan in a studio. As the words become more essential to their experience, they start to take on meaning in their own lives. I seriously cannot wait. TIFF Page.

Ember - IP - CWC
Zeki Demirkubuz
Again, another promising feature from Turkey, this time by veteran director Demirkubuz, which looks with equal compassion on a trio of lovers that forms when a man who has disappeared returns to find his wife involved with someone new. Programmed by Dimitri Epides, whom I have trusted for literally decades with my TIFF choices. No reason not to continue, especially when he tells us that the director "orchestrates his characters' motion within the narrative as meticulously and meaningfully as a painter places figures on a canvas." TIFF Page.

The Exception - WP - SP
David Leveaux
The programme note tells us that this story about the life of the exiled German Kaiser Wilhelm, in the years between the wars, has been a long time pet project of actor Christopher Plummer who plays the Kaiser. This might explain the presence of theatre director David Leveaux taking his first turn as a feature film director. I am looking forward to seeing a star turn from Plummer and also from long-time favourite Janet McTeer as his wife. Lily James, of Downtown and Cinderella fame plays a love interest of sorts. TIFF Page.


La Fille Inconnue (The Unknown Girl) - NAP - M
Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
This film had a troubled launch at Cannes and the rumour is that the famous French fraternal directors went back to the cutting room. Although there is nothing in the programme note to say so, I am assuming it is the revised cut that we will be getting. The story, for me, has always been compelling: a young woman physician does not answer the door when someone calls after hours and the woman is later found dead. Nameless, the doctor goes in search of her identity. With Adèle Haenel. TIFF Page.

Fire At Sea - CP - M
Gianfranco Rosi
Winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin, this film has long been on my wait list for TIFF hopefuls. And hope bore out. Part documentary and part reflective witness, the film follows both the native inhabitants of Lampedusa, an island south of the coast of Sicily, and the migrants and refugees who land on its shores from North Africa. There could not be anything more timely or appropriate and I am keen to see something beyond the newsreel footage, in which someone has carefully considered and observed what goes on. TIFF Page.

Gaza Surf Club - WP - Docs
Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine
There are not many films from or about Palestine this year, which is surprising given the recent surge of them. But this documentary about surfers in Gaza, seeking their own kind of limited freedom, is not anything I would have anticipated, and that's why I want to see it. TIFF Page.


Graduation - CP - M
Cristian Mungiù
I won't easily forget that TIFF screening of Mungiu's breakthrough film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days - I can recall entire sequences very vividly, which is not often true of films I have seen only once. This film won the Best Director prize at Cannes and got widely hailed there for its portrait of a small town doctor whose ethical decision making starts to become compromised in his desperate desire to see his daughter get established in school. TIFF Page.


Hermia & Helena - NAP - W
Matías Piñeiro
Yet another very promising Wavelengths feature offering from the director of Viola which I loved, reconsiders Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and its two female protagonists in the context of a contemporary Argentinian theatre director who accepts a fellowship in New York City to work on a Spanish version of the famous play. Her encounters take her inside its texts in new ways. A high seed for me. TIFF Page.
I, Daniel Blake - NAP - SP
Ken Loach
You can never go wrong with this great British social justice filmmaker who has won two Palme D'Ors in the ten years. Scenes from this story of a senior handyman trying to battle the establishment for his health allowance promise Loach's characteristic simple realism which is nearly always honest and deeply felt. TIFF Page.


In Exile - WP - Docs
Tin Win Naing
During this past year, I have had the amazing experience of participating in a group sponsorship of a family of Burmese (the prefered country name for the place known as Myanmar among its refugees) refugees being resettled from Thailand to Canada. I learned more than I would ever have come to know about the lives of those forced by ethnic and cultural hostilities over the border. Not that life is really better in Thailand for them. I am therefore very interested to see this autobiographic documentary about the Thai exploitation of those who are displaced on plantations. "This beautiful work of deeply compassionate first-person filmmaking is a testament to their struggle for justice." TIFF Page.

Jackie - NAP - P
Pablo Larrain
Chilean auteur Larrain might have seemed an unlikely candidate to direct this biopic of one of America's most famous first ladies, but this is very definitely a breakthrough year for him, as his Neruda (which will be in the second half of the film list) also hits TIFF this year. This film follows Kennedy after the death of JFK and into the staggering world of grief and political turmoil that ensues. Starring Natalie Portman supported by an amazing cast. But it will be interesting to see an outsider's view of American culture. TIFF Page.


J: Beyond Flamenco - WP - M
Carlos Saura
One of the great traditions for me of TIFF over the years has been following the dance-profile films of Saura, who has done more to celebrate Spanish dance on film than anyone. Always a bit experimental, but not without narrative, the filmmaking offers a breathtaking insight into not just the technique of a dance but the culture that surrounds it. Very exciting. TIFF Page.

Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World) - NAP - SP
Xavier Dolan
By now, this film's reception at Cannes is well-known, but that did not stop the jury from awarding it the Grand Prix. Dolan was never one to live into expectation but one thing we can anticipate is something dramatically brave with each new venture. I am very excited to see this tale of a writer who returns home to let his family know that he is dying. TIFF Page.


Lion - G
Garth Davis
Quite a lot has already been written and portrayed by and about Saroo Brierley, the Australian man born in India whose use of Google Earth and Google Maps allowed him to find the birth family that he was accidentally separated from at aged five. So it will be interesting to see how Garth Davis tells the story. Apart from Dev Patel in the leading role, the star wattage seems to be landing on the Australian side of the story, with Nicole Kidman as Brierley’s mother and Rooney Mara as his girlfriend, but that is not surprising perhaps, since it is the search, as much as the arrival, that defines this story. TIFF page.

Loving NAP - G
Jeff Nichols
There was much love at Cannes for Loving, a promising feature from the director of Take Shelter that follows the true-life story of an inter-racial marriage in 1958 which sparked cultural upheaval and which culminated in a Supreme Court turnaround of previous law. Proving once again that love is the greatest agent of change in the world! TIFF Page.

A perfect note on which to stop for now. More coming!