Monday, September 05, 2016

80 Films to Watch Out For at TIFF16: Part 2: M-Z

Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle in Terence Davies' A Quiet Passion
This is a continuation of a previous post (go here), which outlines top picks for this year's Toronto International Film Festival. Alphabetically organized by movie title, this blog picks up the second half of the list. Reminder 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. My blog on the shorts to watch out for at this year's TIFF can be found here.


Maliglutit (Searchers) - WP - P
Zacharias Kunuk
Two films in this year's festival seek to take a classic story told from a white settler point of view and reposition the lens, offering something different. One such film is Nate Parker's The Birth of A Nation, also screening at TIFF. Now Zacharias Kunuk is bringing us a retelling of John Ford's The Searchers. This version, set in Nunavut in 1913 follows a caribou hunter who returns to find that the women in his family have been kidnapped. With the assistance of a family spirit guide, he sets out to find them. There are a number of exciting Indigenous films at TIFF this year. TIFF Page.

Manchester By the Sea 
- CP - SP
Kenneth Lonergan
There is considerable buzz around this new feature from screenwriter-turned-director Lonergan who brought us You Can Count on Me (as director) and wrote the script for Gangs of New York. Starring Kyle Chandler (Carol), Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, this story about a man who must return home after the sudden death of his brother, has already received strong reviews from its other festival screenings. TIFF Page.

Marie Curie - WP - CWC
Marie Noëlle
The unconventional life of the first woman to win a Nobel prize and the only woman to date to win it twice, this biopic of the scientist who changed our understanding of radioactivity is largely about her life after the death of her scientist husband and great love. Staring down nineteenth century Academy chauvinism, doubt and sabotage, she continues the pioneering work she and her husband had begun. TIFF Page.

Mascots - WP - SP
Christopher Guest
What's not to love about a Christopher Guest movie that will bring together some of the best talents in comedy around the unlikely premise of cutthroat politics in the pursuit of outstanding achievement in being a sports mascot? Who will take home the Golden Fluffy is all we are waiting to see. Always fun. TIFF Page.

Maudie - CP - SP
Aisling Walsh
Maud Lewis is a Canadian artist whom Canadians likely know little about, despite that the tiny cottage she shared with her husband in Nova Scotia is actually inside the Nova Scotia art museum, and her work has been celebrated as one of Canada's finest folk artists around the world. Sally Hawkins brings to life the enormous challenges Lewis faced in living with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, which both challenged her and also prompted her into a unique way of expressing her art. One day she is discovered, and the landscape starts to shift. A Canadian/Irish co-production also starring Ethan Hawke.TIFF Page.

Mimosas - NAP - W
Oliver Laxe
Dying with dignity, according to religion and tradition shapes the spiritual path of this Wavelengths feature from Laxe who won the Grand Prize at Cannes’ Semaine de la Critique. A preacher (faith tradition not specified) is summoned to follow a caravan through the Morroccan mountains to bring a dying Sheik to his appropriate final resting place. TIFF Page.

Mostly Sunny - WP - Docs
Dilip Mehta
I had the opportunity to see a rough cut of this film (shot and edited by a former student Decebal Dascau), almost a year ago. Even then it was compelling, but how could it not be? This story of Sunny Leone, the famous Canadian-born adult film star turned reality tv and Bollywood personality, celebrates her capacity for staying both true to herself and in command of her own destiny. I was moved by passages in which she revisits her Sarnia home with her husband, a man who has both understood and served her complex career. I am looking forward to seeing how the film has landed, but I have no doubt that it will offer up an insightful portrait. TIFF page.

One Sings, the Other Doesn’t
Agnès Varda - 1975
I am so so so excited to see actually projected Agnès Varda's great classic from 1975 being screened as part of the TIFF Cinemathèque programme. The story of a friendship among women born out of the feminist movement in France, the film offers parallel views of women taking ownership of their life's choices and living into the consequences. With music! But it is the heartbeat of friendship that is the most compelling part. Not to be missed! TIFF Page.

The Ornithologist - NAP - W
João Pedro Rodrigues
There are so many reasons to be utterly intrigued by Rodrigues' latest, about a Portuguese man whose intense interest in birds and quest to find a rare species brings him into an unknown world, in which he lives into and must fulfill the trials of former saints. Billed as both religious and erotic, it also evokes the work of great religious artists like Fra Angelico while taking unexpected narrative turns. Classic Wavelengths. TIFF Page.

Orpheline (Orphan) - WP - SP
Arnaud des Pallières
Gemma Arterton who was so good in Anne Fontaine's Gemma Bovery, is in two films this year -- see also Their Finest below. Here, she joins Adèle Exarchopoulos and Adèle Haenel in a story told over four different storylines with four different actors to portray the life of the same character. A disjointed but revelatory experience of one woman's life emerges.TIFF Page.

Paris Can Wait - WP - SP
Eleanor Coppola
This story of an American woman who rides to Paris with a Frenchman she doesn't know, reminds me of last year's Un Plus Une from Claude Lelouch (which although flawed, I actually enjoyed), or Ruba Nadda's Cairo Time, in its possibilities for both friendship and romance. There is very little to go on in the way of advance images but I saw a great review of it, and hold hope. With Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin. TIFF Page.

Past Life - WP - CWC
Avi Nesher
It feels like yesterday that I saw Avi Nesher's The Secrets and loved it. He seems to have a special understanding of female relationships. In Past Life, two Israel women discover unknown truths about their father's activities in WWII Poland. So glad to have another film from this director, and programmed by Jane Schoetle who rarely disappoints. TIFF Page.

Paterson - NAP - SP
Jim Jarmusch
Stranger than Paradise. Down by Law. These were Jim Jarmusch films that my friends and I saw in the early 80s when our own film aesthetic was being born. I loved Coffee and Cigarettes too. Paterson promises to be even more poetic and reflective than he can be, a contrast to his other TIFF entry this year, the doc Gimme Danger. A poet drives a bus in a small town in New Jersey, composing from what he sees. This sentence in the programme guide nailed me: "the quiet triumphs and defeats of daily life are observed over one week, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details." TIFF Page.

Pays (Boundaries) - WP - CWC
Chloé Robichaud
I was impressed with Robichaud's Sarah Préfère la Course, so I am keen to see this new and more intense feature which follows the upheaval of an imaginary island country in Canada's Atlantic that becomes a hot focus for its abundant natural resources.TIFF Page.

Personal Shopper - NAP - M
Olivier Assayas
One of my favourite things to do is to just watch a selected excerpt from a film over and over as a stress-releasor, or just to savour it. Assayas movies figure high in this collection and it's usually about his openings: I watch over and over the sun-drenched landscape and exuberance of children that opens L'Heure d'Été and I also love the entire train sequence that opens Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart's juggling of phones and emotions in trying to manage the life of a movie star seemed like perfect preparation for this return joint venture with Assayas in which she plays the personal fashion shopper for a rich woman. Even the dark undertones of Sils Maria were like a foreshadowing of the intense thriller-like atmosphere that is Personal Shopper, about a woman mourning her brother who begins to have occultish experiences around his spirit. It terrified even the hardest of hearted at Cannes and Stewart is meant to be brilliant. TIFF Page.

Planetarium NAP - G
Rebecca Zlotowski
And speaking of the occult, Planetarium sounds like a sort of shadow side to Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight. The story of two sisters played by Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp, who are famous spiritualists who do acts of supernatural astonishment in 1930s Paris, they are hired by a filmmaker to do something entirely new with their gifts. It's hard to get a read on the tone of this one but there is considerable buzz. TIFF Page.

Queen of Katwe - WP - G
Mira Nair
One of the earliest memories I have of a TIFF screening almost thirty years ago, was that of Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay, which remains as vivid to me when I watch it again as it was in that big Uptown Cinema screening. Now Mair has made a film about a Ugandan girl who excels at chess, and how that transforms her world. David Oyelowo, also starring in A United Kingdom (see below), is the man who helps her find her way. Also starring 12 Years a Slave's amazing Lupita Nyong’o. TIFF Page.

A Quiet Passion - NAP - M
Terence Davies
Terence Davies is another filmmaker whom I have followed through the decades from Distant Voices, Still Lives right up to last year's Sunset Song, which I reviewed here. Long long an artist who likes to dwell in the moment with characters, sing with them and listen to the beat of the hearts and the breath of their souls, he is now bringing this sensibility to bear on the very complex world of Emily Dickinson. Cynthia Nixon plays the great poet. TIFF Page.

The Salesman - NAP - SP
Asghar Farhadi
The deeply held emotions and potential violence of domestic relationships is a source of great interest to Farhadi, whose 2011 A Separation won raves for its portrait of a couple trying to divorce in contemporary Iran. One of several movies taking on the performance of a work, as a context for exploring deep internal relationships, in this case the man and woman are performing Miller's great play, while navigating the tension in their own lives.TIFF Page.

Sand Storm - CP - Disc
Elite Zexer
This film first caught my attention in the line-up at Sundance. A combined Israeli and Arab crew worked together on a story of Bedouin woman who must prepare for the wedding of her husband to a second wife. But the focus of the film is really on the relationship between dutiful mother and rebel daughter, who is breaking taboos with her own relationship. Set in Southern Israel. TIFF Page.

The Secret Scripture - WP - G
Jim Sheridan
Of the three Rooney Mara movies at TIFF this year, this one from veteran Irish filmmaker Sheridan seems most likely to impress. Mara and Vanessa Redgrave play younger and older versions of a woman being released from a closing mental health asylum in Ireland, who has been using her bible to to scrap book the story of her own survival through loves won and lost and the many hardships she faced. I would not normally pair up these two actors but they are both nuanced and subtle in their choices so I'm curious to see how this latest from the director of My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father. TIFF Page.

The Stairs - WP - Docs
Hugh Gibson
Director Hugh Gibson wrote a beautiful guest-curated essay for TIFF's periodical The Review, on the journey of making this film, and particularly on the enormous impact on him of the work of the recently deceased Abbas Kiarostami. I was already interested in this documentary about three survivors of the street in Toronto who now work in public health in the places they once frequented, but the essay has made me even more keen to take it in. TIFF Page.

Ta’ang - NAP - W
Wang Bing
Another film which seeks to help us understand the refugee experience, this Wavelengths feature follows families moving from ethnic persecution in Burma (known as Myanmar), in this case to China. A documentary, it is based on Wang Bing's experiences visiting and living in refugee camps in China. TIFF Page.

Their Finest - WP - G
Lone Scherfig w. Bill Nighy
I have not only loved the films of Lone Scherfig since I first saw Italian for Beginners, but I have the lovely memory of having once interviewed her on a patio. There is a deep humanity in her portraits of everyday people situations. And often bittersweet. This film follows a young woman screenwriter (Gemma Arterton) hired in blitz-lit London of WWII to make a film that might encourage people, about individuals who have taken in soldiers after Dunkirk. An impressive UK cast, including Bill Nighy and Richard E. Grant. TIFF Page.

Toni Erdmann - CP - SP
Maren Ade
This is not a high seed for me, but merits attention because of how well it was received at Cannes, and because of director Ade, who has been praised widely. I don't know her work and so I want to check out what is being billed as a "hilarious and mortifying comedy" about an uptight woman and her practical-joke playing father. TIFF Page.

Una - CP - SP
Benedict Andrews
Rooney Mara has three films in TIFF this year and this is the one that I'm least sure of but only because it's a psychological thriller which is not generally my genre (Personal Shopper excepted). Based on the play Blackbird, by David Harrower, a woman confronts a man who long ago assaulted her, by confronting him in his work place. This is definitely a theatre-to-film venture: Harrower did his own adaptation and Andrews is a vet of the Aussie stage. This is his first feature film. TIFF Page.

A United Kingdom - WP - G
Amma Asante, w David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike
Forget Edward VII and Wallis Simpson, this is the really interesting and equally controversial love story of the twentieth century. Khama, king of what will become Botswana, marries a London woman named Ruth Williams who shares his passion for jazz in post-war England. Then they have to take their interracial marriage back to Africa and survive. Khama eventually leads the country to independence, with Williams at his side. It's Rosamund Pike. It's David Oyelowo. It's Amma Assante directing. What more is there to say? TIFF Page.

Unless - WP - SP
Alan Gilsenan
How amazing that someone has been brilliant enough to cast Catherine Keener in a starring role. But not only that, Hanna Schygulla, an actress I fell in love with in the 70s when I first saw her in Ettore Scola's La Nuit de Varennes, is in it too! Big red circles went around this title even before I fully realized the other reasons to be drawn to it, namely that it is based on Carol Shields' last novel, set in Toronto, and is about a girl who one day camps out in front of Honest Ed's with a sign saying "Goodness" but otherwise silent. A Canadian/Irish co-production. TIFF Page.

Voyage of Time - NAP - SP
Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick has been having a very rich and abundant period of creativity since the release of The Tree of Life in 2011 broke a more typical gap between projects of five years. He has made almost as many films since. Each new one seems to be more ambitious than the last if that is even conceivable. Voyage of Time promises no less than a history of the universe and anyone who has been swept up in his cinematic experimental exploration of the cosmos will want to be on the ride. With what's being described as "soulful narration" by Cate Blanchett. This is the long version, the shorter IMAX version narrated by Brad Pitt will arrive in theatres separately. TIFF Page.

The War Show - NAP - Docs
Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon
Another of a very compelling docs feature line-up, this joint witness by two filmmakers of the journey from the Arab Spring to the hell that is contemporary Syria provides both a deeply personal and also universally accessible perspective on lives behind the front lines of war. With footage from Homs, Syria and Lebanon, we travel with them to places of personal history in the midst of overwhelming upheaval. TIFF Page.

We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice - WP - M
Alanis Obomsawin
Indeed we can't. This venerable documentary filmmaker, who has been showing films at TIFF since I can remember, has brought us a testimony of the contemporary treatment of First Nations children on reserves, in comparison to other cities. I am glad to see both this feature and one or two short films (see Road to Webequie in the shorts blog) looking at Indigenous youth from their own cultural perspective. Much needed. TIFF Page.

Window Horses (The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming)
Ann Marie Fleming
Ann-Marie Fleming is one of those careers I have watched bloom through the TIFF uh,.... window. This feature reminds me at a glance of the work of Marjane Satrapi, with its stylized animation and Iranian contexts. A young Canadian woman of mixed Persian and Chinese heritage finds a spiritual home when she goes to participate in a poetry festival in Iran. Voices of Ellen Page, Sandra Oh and Don McKellar. TIFF Page.

The Women’s Balcony
- WP - CWC
Emil Ben Shimon
The women's balcony confronts a problem of leadership when a new rabbi in an Orthodox part of Jerusalem, and a bar mitzvah gone wrong, lead to a revolt among women who find themselves without a place to worship. The tone of the trailer is comedic - with a pointed message. Think Nadine Labaki's 2012 drama Where Do We Go Now -- goes to Israel.TIFF Page.

X 500 - WP - CWC
Juan Andrés Arango
Originally called X Quinientos, this co-production among Canada, Colombia and Mexico, tells three different migrant stories from different parts of the world, all of which begin from the place of a death. It is the possibility of new life, however, that motivates them to pull themselves away from home communities and try a world elsewhere. TIFF Page.

See you at the movies!

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