The road to TIFF17: Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, and Mélanie Laurent lead some under-the-radar selections

Unicorn Store, starring and directed by Brie Larson, makes its world premiere at TIFF17.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TIFF

As the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival draws closer, it’s time to look at some less high-profile selections. I took a closer look at ten of these for BuffaloSpree.com.

Three weeks from now, the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival will be in full swing. If you love cinema, that’s thrilling news. TIFF, of course, is a giant, a festival that (along with festivals in Venice and Telluride) helps set the direction for the rest of the cinematic year thanks to biggies like Suburbicon and Molly’s Game. However, part of the fun is discovering small-scale gems. Here are ten under-the-radar films to consider seeing at TIFF17, or to make note of for future viewing.

 

Unicorn Store: The ascent of the utterly delightful Brie Larson has been a joy to behold. Key to her rise was the reception that greeted Room at the 2015 festival, and months later she was Larson was clutching an Oscar. Now, the star of The Glass Castle and Kong: Skull Island makes her directorial debut. Larson plays a young artist in this whimsical film co-starring Samuel L. Jackson.

On Chesil Beach: A highlight of the 2015 festival was the performance of Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn. The actress returns in this adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 60s-set novella that costars young actor Billy Howle.

Plonger: French actress Mélanie Laurent has given wondrous performances for years now, in films like Inglourious Basterds and Beginners. But her work behind the camera has been even more impressive. She follows up 2014’s Breathe with this drama about a photographer who takes up deep-sea diving.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood: One of the spiciest Hollywood tell-alls in recent memory was Scotty Bowers’s memoir of his years as a pimp (and sometimes more) to the stars. Director Matt Tyrnauer’s long-awaited documentary adaptation should be fascinating.

Cocaine Prison: Another noteworthy TIFF documentary, Cocaine Prison is a sure-to-be involving look at the international drug trade focusing on a drug mule, his sister, and a cocaine worker.

My Days of Mercy: Can a TIFF Gala Presentation qualify as “under the radar”? Perhaps, when the film in question is a death row drama. Ellen Page and Kate Mara star in the latest from Israeli director Tali Shalom-Ezer.

Kodachrome: Jason Sudeikis and Ed Harris play father and son in a road movie that also stars Elizabeth Olsen. Little is known about this one, but the IMDB description intrigues: “Set during the final days of the admired photo development system known as Kodachrome, a father and son hit the road in order to reach the Kansas photo lab before it closes its doors for good.”

Porcupine Lake: This intimate coming-of-age drama is a quieter cousin of TIFF15 standout Sleeping Giant. Both are Canadian dramas about aimless summers that forever change the lives of the teens involved. Ingrid Veninger directs.

The Crescent: TIFF’s Midnight Madness program can always be counted on for some off-kilter treats. Hopefully, this horror film set at a remote coastal estate will be another killer Madness entry.

Miami: The Finnish estranged sister drama Miami may turn out to be one of the festival’s word of mouth hits, and stars Krista and Sonja Kuittinen could be two of TIFF17’s breakouts.

The TIFF17 countdown is on (for BuffaloSpree.com)

Yes, TIFF17 is fast approaching … I pondered the first batch of announcements for BuffaloSpree.com.

A tell-tale sign that summer is preparing for closure is the first batch of Toronto International Film Festival (running from September 7 to 17) announcements. Those came on July 25, as head honchos Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey ran through a group of TIFF17 gala and special presentation selections. It was a strong group, to be sure, and featured many titles announced days later for the Venice Film Festival.

But questions still remain. Such as…

What’s going to be the opening night film? This was indeed a surprise, as the opening night selection is always newsworthy. Some have been good (Dead Ringers, The Sweet Hereafter), some have been meh (Demolition, The Judge), some have been bad (The Fifth Estate), and some have been crimes against humanity (Score! The Hockey Musical). The assembled press at the July 25 press conference certainly seemed surprised. [UPDATE: It’s tennis drama Borg/McEnroe.]

Does this mean the opening night film will be Canadian? Most likely. Bailey said the announcement would come in mid-August, and the Canadian press conference is set for August 9. That could mean Montreal native Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. Its starry cast — Jessica Chastain, Kit Harrington, Natalie Portman — seems perfect for an opener.

Is there ANY chance Blade Runner 2049 still makes the lineup? Probably not. For weeks, there had been (possibly unfounded) Twitter buzz that the long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner could be the festival opener. After all, director Denis Villeneuve is Canadian and a TIFF veteran. (Last year he came with the well-received Arrival.) Star Ryan Gosling is Canadian and a TIFF veteran. (Last year he came with the super-duper-well-received La La Land.) Plus, the timing seemed to make sense; the film opens on October 4. But it wasn’t announced for TIFF or Venice. The New York Film Festival is possible, but perhaps Warner Bros. decided to keep this one secret until right before its release date.

Is there a La La Land or Moonlight in the mix? Really, that question is asking if there is a soon-to-be cross-cultural smash, a critical success that also enchants audiences worldwide. There’s no way of knowing, of course. But a few titles that could fit the bill are Battle of the Sexes, about the legendary tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King; Andy Serkis’s Breathe, about a couple facing a devastating disease; and Stronger, in which Jake Gyllenhaal plays Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman.

Is it worth seeing Darren Aronofsky’s mother! when the film is set to open just days later? Maybe! Aronofsky’s annoyingly titled Jennifer Lawrence-starrer is one of the most mysterious majors debuting at the fall festivals. But it opens on September 15 … before the end of TIFF. Personally, I’m not sure I can pass up the chance to see mother! a few days early … even if it’s a waste of TIFF time.

Will there be a dry eye in the Lightbox at the end of Tragically Hip documentary Long Time Running? That’s unlikely. The gala debut of the film chronicling the Hip’s farewell 2016 tour will be one the festival’s hottest tickets.

Answers to these questions will arrive very soon. Watch buffalospree.com for more updates, and follow me on Twitter at @FilmSwoon.com.

 

Still from Long Time Running courtesy of TIFF.