Female directors and performers rule at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (from Buffalo Spree)

Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone at TIFF.
STONE IMAGE BY ALBERTO E. RODRIGUEZ, COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES; LAWRENCE PHOTO BY GEORGE PIMENTEL.

With this, my TIFF17 feature from the November issue of Buffalo Spree, my festival coverage comes to a close …

While movies screened, celebs walked red carpets, and attendees waited in epic lines at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, another incredible thing was happening. One-third of the films selected for TIFF17 were directed by women, and that is nothing short of remarkable. Consider the recent track record of festivals like Cannes and Venice. Look at Hollywood’s awful track record of funding and producing films by female filmmakers. And look also at the quality of the films by women at TIFF this year.

At the top of the list was Lady Bird, a warm, riotous, relentlessly entertaining coming-of-age drama written and directed by Frances Ha star Greta Gerwig. The story of a whip-smart Sacramento high schooler’s final year before college is simply glorious. Saoirse Ronan gives the best performance of an already impressive young career, and Gerwig nails what might be the finest film of its type since The Graduate. Another female director making a splash at TIFF was Barbara Albert, the Austrian filmmaker behind the exquisite period drama Mademoiselle Paradis. The true story of blind pianist Maria Theresia von Paradis was one of the boldest and strongest selections in TIFF’s Platform program.

Other noteworthy efforts from female directors were Mudbound, Dee Rees’s 1940s-set story of racial tension in the South; the Emma Stone-starring Battle of the Sexes, from Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton; and Novitiate, Meggie Betts’s somber drama about aspiring nuns in the 1960s. And three of cinema’s most exciting actresses—Angelina Jolie, Brie Larson, and Melanie Laurent—brought unique new directorial efforts to TIFF17. (First They Killed My FatherUnicorn Store, and Plonger, respectively.)

Of course, not every effort from a female filmmaker earned raves. The response was very mixed for Lisa Langseth’s Euphoria, a dreary end-of-life drama starring (a very good) Alicia Vikander and Eva Green. Death row love story My Days of Mercy felt rote and unmemorable, but featured winning performances from Ellen Page and Kata Mara. And Mary Shelley, director Haifaa Al Mansour’s follow-up to Wadjda, was mostly a miss. It featured Elle Fanning as the Frankenstein author. Yet, whatever the quality of audience response to the films mentioned here, the diversity of subject matter is admirable.

Astounding performances from women, too, were plentiful at TIFF this year. In addition to the actors already mentioned, there was Frances McDormand as a grieving mother out for justice in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; impressive teenage actress Fantine Harduin in Michael Haneke’s darkly hilarious Happy End; a world-conquering Jessica Chastain in Aaron Sorkin’s slick Molly’s Game; Jennifer Lawrence in Darren Aronofsky’s WTF horror thriller, Mother!; and Sally Hawkins as a woman in love with an amphibious creature in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.

Along with Lady Bird, the greatest film at TIFF17 was The Florida Project, Sean Baker’s exhilarating follow-up to Tangerine. The story of a mother and daughter living at a rundown motel outside of Walt Disney World in Orlando is joyous, sad, and utterly insightful. Young star Brooklynn Prince gives one of the most natural performances I’ve seen from a child, and the great Willem Dafoe has never been better. It’s a rare kind-hearted role for the Last Temptation of Christ actor.

There were nice supporting performances from the likes of Carmen Ejogo (in the offbeat, Denzel Washington-starring legal drama Roman J. Israel, Esq.); Nicole Kidman (the terrifying Killing of a Sacred Deer, from The Lobster’s Yorgos Lanthimos); Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James (in the so-so, Gary Oldman-dominated Winston Churchill drama Darkest Hour); Amira Casar and Esther Garrel (two standouts in the gloriously entertaining, Oscar-caliber drama Call Me By Your Name, starring Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, and Michael Stuhlbarg); and, most notably, Hong Chau, as an activist-turned-house cleaner in the strange Matt Damon sci-fi satire, Downsizing.

It was undeniably a great year for TIFF, one of the best in my eleven years of attendance. There were the usual difficulties, specifically a seeming inability to get people into their seats at the proper time. Crowds were bigger than ever before, so you may want to book a hotel for next year right now. (Check the Tourism Toronto’s website, seetorontonow.com, for helpful tips.) There were high-profile disappointments, like George Clooney’s awful Suburbicon. But any year that includes two films as unique, as memorable, and as soul-enhancing as Lady Bird and The Florida Project must be considered a very good one.

Each screening, whether press and industry or public, included a brief remembrance of TIFF founder Bill Marshall, who passed away in January. I think the man who helped make Toronto a can’t-miss destination on the autumn cinephile calendar would have been thrilled to see the smiles as audiences left Lady Bird. That film, more than any other, was a reminder that female directors and actors are changing cinema. Bravo to the Toronto International Film Festival for recognizing this. Let’s hope for even more at TIFF18.

 

Previews, reviews, rundowns and more: My TIFF17 coverage

The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival feels like it happened three months ago. In actuality, it was just a few weeks ago. My time spent at the festival is tightly-packed, however, and that leads to a massive post-TIFF hangover. Hence, the feeling that it was far longer ago than it actually was.

More TIFF writing from me is coming soon, including a feature in the November issue of Buffalo Spree. But here is the majority of my festival coverage.

 

From Buffalo Spree magazine:

Make 2017 the year you finally hit the Toronto International Film Festival

 

From BuffaloSpree.com:

Ten to remember from TIFF17

7 days until TIFF17: The fest adds Gaga, Dunkirk, and Denzel

TIFF 2017 Update: Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, and Mélanie Laurent lead some under-the-radar selections

Seven weeks to go: The TIFF countdown is on

 

From Forever Young:

Must-See Films of Fall 2017: The Toronto International Film Festival

 

From The Playlist:

Barbara Albert’s ‘Mademoiselle Paradis’ Is A Haunting Period Tale [TIFF Review]

‘Porcupine Lake’: A Worthy, Wise Tale Of Teenage Longing [TIFF Review]

 

From The Film Stage:

TIFF Review: ‘Mary Shelley’ Doesn’t Breath Life into the ‘Frankenstein’ Author’s Story

TIFF Review: ‘Roman J. Israel, Esq.’ Defies Expectations at Every Turn

TIFF Review: ‘Molly’s Game’ is Undeniably Enjoyable and Hugely Forgettable        

TIFF Review: ‘Lady Bird’ is Wise, Funny, Remarkably Assured, and One of the Year’s Great Joys     

TIFF Review: ‘Euphoria’ Provides a Complex Role for Alicia Vikander Amidst Deflating Drama

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.