Tag Archives: TIFF18

From Buffalo Spree: How TIFF embraced change and ruled the 2018 festival scene

THE PREDATOR star Olivia Munn

My last TIFF piece each year is a round-up for the November Buffalo Spree. And so here we are, with my 2018 analysis.

It’s not easy being last one standing in the battle for fall film festival supremacy. The players are the Venice Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival. Venice has a time advantage, coming first on the calendar. A few days later is the start of Telluride, and the fest has a laid-back vibe that separates it from the others. Lastly comes TIFF, the festival with size, scope, and worldwide media appeal that Telluride and Venice just cannot compete with.

Sometimes, Venice has come out on top. In recent years, Telluride is often the victor. But in 2018, TIFF did not just dominate—it destroyed. “Festival Street” on King, in front of home base the TIFF Bell Lightbox, was a hive of excitement. And, with a shocking number of world premieres, a marked focus on female filmmakers and gender equality issues, and an air of chin-held-high confidence, TIFF ruled. Here’s why.

More women, more diversity, onscreen and off

In a rather shameful display of ignorance, just one of the twenty-one entries in August’s Venice Film Festival was directed by a woman. The numbers improved at Telluride. But it was TIFF that went next-level, with more than thirty-five percent of the 200-plus films directed by women. Some of these played Telluride, Sundance, and other festivals, but others—from the likes of Clare Denis (High Life), Amma Asante (Where Hands Touch), Nicole Holofcener (The Land of Steady Habits), and Mia Hansen-Løve (Maya)—were world premieres.

In addition, the festival held a well-attended “Share Her Journey” rally on September 8 with a focus on making real change in the industry. The impact should not be understated, on both audiences and filmmakers. At the premiere of her film Tell it to the Bees, director Annabel Jankel spoke of being inspired by the event’s speakers. Plus, TIFF made a concerted effort to increase diversity among accredited film critics and media.

These are small steps, but they led to a more diverse experience for paying attendees and those who cover the festival.

Hello, Netflix

The film festival world has not quite figured out what to do with Netflix. There is the Cannes approach, in which Netflix is the enemy. And then there is the approach of Telluride, Venice, and TIFF: bring ’em on. The opening night selection of TIFF18 was David Mackenzie’s historic epic Outlaw King, starring Chris Pine. That in itself is newsworthy—a film that will only be available to Netflix subscribers (in November) was the opening night pick at the world’s largest film festival.

Joining Outlaw King from the Netflix stable were biggies like Alfonso Cuarón’s hugely acclaimed Roma and much-buzzed thriller Hold the Dark. All three were hits with festival audiences.

Major world premieres, and lots of them

A number of TIFF’s most high-profile pics premiered in Venice, including Roma, Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, and the brilliantly entertaining A Star Is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. However, there was no shortage of major world premieres in Toronto. The list included Michael Moore’s Trump-focused Fahrenheit 11/9; Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave follow-up, Widows, a tremendous heist film with real resonance; and Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight follow-up, the exquisite and powerful James Baldwin adaptation If Beale Street Could Talk. And then there was the hotly anticipated Halloween, an affectionate sequel to John Carpenter’s horror classic. With just two screenings, it was the hottest ticket in town. The lucky folks who managed to snag one (including yours truly) got to see star Jamie Lee Curtis in person, and the celebratory atmosphere added greatly to the viewing experience.

The combined weight of these films was so mighty, in fact, that there was little upset over the biggies that skipped TIFF, among them horror remake Suspiria and Emma Stone-starrer The Favourite.

Starpower + lots of screenings = mega-buzz

TIFF can never be accused of not adding plenty of screenings for its most eagerly-awaited, star-heavy entries. Consider that First Man, for example, had more than ten (!) screenings, including both public and press, scheduled between September 9 and 16. Yes, Canada loves native son Ryan Gosling. Beautiful Boy, featuring festival favorite Timothée Chalamet, had five screenings. And there were several opportunities to see A Star Is Born. That was wise, since no film dominated conversation like that Gaga-gantuan smash.

Prices are up but the process is better

There has been grumbling in recent years about the rising cost of ticket prices at the festival, and they are indeed high—as much as $82 for some. And there was talk of the Ticketmaster-run festival ticketing site crashing repeatedly before proceedings kicked off on September 6. Maybe so, but the process of actually attending screenings has never seemed smoother. Many of the venues now have assigned seating, and surprisingly, that made seating quicker and easier. Plus, the oft-criticized Roy Thomson Hall unveiled a larger screen and improved sound.

What’s next?

In many ways, 2018 felt like a year of beginnings for TIFF. That’s a good thing. Longtime director and CEO Piers Handling will be missed, but he leaves the festival in the very capable hands of TIFF veteran Cameron Bailey and new hire Joana Vicente. There is no doubt they’ll continue to find ways to innovate, while—hopefully—not losing the elements that make the fest unique.

For eleven days, the festival hub on King Street felt like the cinematic capital of the world. With more than three million attendees and a seismic impact on pop culture, TIFF is stronger than ever before. See you next year.

TIFF 18: Reviews and rankings

The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival seems like it was two months ago … but in reality, it just ended on Sept. 16. There is more#TIFF18 coverage to come from yours truly, including a feature in the November issue of Buffalo Spree magazine, but here’s a quick round-up of my festival coverage. (And enjoy the photo of Jamie Lee Curtis I took at the HALLOWEEN premiere.)

A review of Barry Jenkins’s exquisite James Baldwin adaptation, I BEALE STREET COULD TALK, forThe Film Stagehttps://thefilmstage.com/reviews/tiff-review-if-beale-street-could-talk-is-an-exquisite-painful-and-timeless-love-story/

A review of Steve McQueen’s entertaining and powerful heist film, WIDOWS, for The Film Stage:https://thefilmstage.com/reviews/tiff-review-widows-is-a-timely-tremendously-entertaining-heist-drama/

A review of DESTROYER, a dark police drama starring Nicole Kidman, for The Film Stage:https://thefilmstage.com/reviews/tiff-review-destroyer-is-a-ambitiously-pitch-black-showcase-for-nicole-kidman/

A review of JEREMIAH TERMINATOR LEROY, a fun take on the JT LeRoy literary scandal starring Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern, for The Film Stage:https://thefilmstage.com/reviews/tiff-review-jeremiah-terminator-leroy-features-a-charismatic-kristen-stewart-tricking-the-literary-world/

A review of the well-acted but disappointing love story TELL IT TO THE BEES, starring Anna Paquin, for The Playlisthttps://theplaylist.net/tell-it-bees-review-20180909/

A review of FREAKS, a pleasantly surprising sci-fi flick starring Emile Hirsch and Bruce Dern, for The Playlisthttps://theplaylist.net/freaks-emile-hirsch-tiff-review-20180908/

And lastly, I ranked the 20 TIFF18 entries I saw before and during the festival for http://www.buffalospree.com/Blogs/Talk-about-Arts/Annual-2018/Beale-Street-A-Star-is-Born-Widows-and-more/


Final thoughts as TIFF18 approaches (for BuffaloSpree.com)

Natalie Portman in Vox Lux; courtesy of TIFF

When I wrote this final Toronto International Film Festival preview post for BuffaloSpree.com, TIFF18 was eight days away. Now … it’s tomorrow! Watch for my coverage on BuffaloSpree.com, in the November issue of Buffalo Spree magazine, for websites The Film Stage and The Playlist, on Twitter, and right here.

The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival is now just over a week away. Starting on Sept. 6 and running through Sept. 16, TIFF18 will feature a staggering 343 films (255 features and eighty-eight shorts) and draw audiences, actors, filmmakers, industry folks and press from around the globe.

In recent weeks, I’ve contemplated what might make the lineup, looked at some standouts from the first batch of announcements, and made a few under-the-radar picks. Now, the schedule is completely set. Here are some final thoughts.

Any standouts just added to the lineup?

There is one recently-added biggie, and that’s Vox Lux, starring Natalie Portman. The trailer for Brady Corbet’s Venice and TIFF entry centered around a music superstar dropped this week and looked positively stunning.

What will be this year’s hottest ticket?

Buzz can shift as the festival progresses, but there are two obvious hotties here. First is David Gordon Green’s much-anticipated remake of Halloween, with a returning Jamie Lee Curtis. The film will screen just twice during TIFF, at 11:30 p.m. and midnight in two separate venues on September 8. That … does not happen very often. (I’m not even attempting to get a ticket.)

And the other unique screening is Damien Chazelle’s First Man on September 8. While the Neil Armstrong biopic starring Ryan Gosling screens throughout the festival, the  venue for its TIFF debut is notable: the Ontario Place Cinesphere. The IMAX theater reopened with much fanfare in 2017; last year, TIFF presented Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk at the venue.

Any noteworthy festival events that don’t involve film screenings?

Part of what makes TIFF so memorable is everything else happening in around the festival. At the top of the list in 2018 is the Share Her Journey Rally, scheduled for 10 a.m. on September 8. It will feature a strong lineup of speakers and guests.

Which music drama will draw the most praise?

That’s a good question. Will it be Lady Gaga’s A Star is Born or Natalie Portman’s aforementioned Vox Lux, or two smaller-scale selections, Elle Fanning’s Teen Spirit or Elisabeth Moss’s Her Smell? We’ll find out.

What will be this year’s Lady Bird?

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird was the unquestioned delight of TIFF17 — sweet, funny, and built around a stupendous lead performance from Saoirse Ronan. Perhaps this year’s Lady Bird will be American Dharma, Errol Morris’s documentary portrait of Steve Bannon. KIDDING!

In actuality, at first glance there does not seem to be a Lady Bird on this year’s list — in other words, a warm-hearted comedy-drama from a female filmmaker. There are many eagerly awaited entries from woman directors (such as Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer and Amma Asante’s Where Hands Touch), but it’s a dark bunch. While it lacks the star power of Lady Bird, one female-fronted entry to watch for is Mia Hansen-Løve’s Maya. The director of past festival favorites Eden and Things to Come this time tackles the tale of a French war correspondent’ss return home following captivity in Syria.

For folks planning to attend, what are three must-sees that might fall through the cracks?

There are so , so many films at TIFF that choosing what to see is extremely difficult. And it’s also tricky when so many high-profile, star-driven films are in the lineup. One film to consider is Mélanie Laurent’s Galveston, the story of a hitman on the lam with a young prostitute. Ben Foster and Elle Fanning star in the latest from Laurent, the Inglourious Basterds star who directed 2014’s great Breathe. Galveston is based on a novel by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto.

Next on the must list is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, the winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes. This was the most high profile honor yet for director of the masterful Like Father, Like Son and After the Storm. Shoplifters tells the story of a ramshackle family that relies on shoplifting to survive. It’s set for U.S. release in November.

Lastly is Museo, starring Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También, No). Alonso Ruizpalacios follows up his acclaimed 2014 debut, Güeros, with the tale of two men on a quest to steal artifacts from Mexico’s National Anthropology Museum. Inspired by a true story, Museo looks to be one the TIFF18’s most entertaining films.

Why no Suspiria or The Favourite?!

Friends, I can’t answer that one, nor can I say why Mary, Queen of Scots is missing from the TIFF, Venice and Telluride lineups. So let’s just be happy with what is on tap for TIFF. After all, there are 343 reasons to be excited.


10 under-the-radar TIFF18 entries (for BuffaloSpree.com)

Julianne Moore in GLORIA BELL

Check out my latest TIFF18 entry for BuffaloSpree.com.

The lineup for the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, running from September 6 to 16, is nearly complete. That means the full schedule will be announced in a matter of days (August 21), the opening night selection is official (David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King, starring Chris Pine), and the Twitter buzz is deafening.

There are some clear biggies — I covered many of these a few weeks ago — and a few frown-inducing omissions. (Where are you, SuspiriaThe Favourite, and Mary, Queen of Scots?) But there is so much to be excited about in the #TIFF18 roster. Here are ten under-the-radar films to consider seeing at TIFF18, or to make note of for future viewing.

In Fabric: Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy was one of the strangest, most mesmerizing films at the 2014 festival. His latest feature, a horror-drama making its world premiere at TIFF18, “follows the surge of misfortunes afflicting customers who come into contact with a bewitched dress at an eerie department store.” Yes, I’m in.

Gloria Bell: English-language remakes of acclaimed foreign films are hit or miss. Here’s hoping that A Fantastic Woman director Sebastián Lelio’s remake of his 2013 international hit, Gloria, falls in the hit column. Oscar winner Julianne Moore plays a middle-aged divorcee looking for love.

Hold the Dark: If you’ve seen Blue Ruin or Green Room, you know Jeremy Saulnier is adept at creating intense viewing experiences. His latest, a thriller about a missing child in Alaska, stars Alexander Skarsgård, Riley Keough, and Jeffrey Wright.

Mid90s: Jonah Hill, director? Indeed. For his directorial debut, the Superbad and Moneyball star tells the story of teenager and his skateboarder friends. The cast includes Manchester by the Sea and Lady Bird standout Lucas Hedges.

Teen Spirit: Actor Max Minghella (The Social Network, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale) follows in the footsteps of his late-father as he moves behind the camera for a TIFF world premiere. Elle Fanning plays a teenager dreaming of pop stardom.

The Image Book: Jean-Luc Godard is back, with a film TIFF describes as a “provocative collage film essay.” The New Wave icon’s last two features, 2010’s Film Socialisme and 2014’s Goodbye to Language, were astonishingly ambitious — and, of course, very difficult.

Ray & Liz: Critics at the Locarno Film Festival raved about thus U.K. entry from photographer Richard Billingham. This autobiographical feature is noteworthy for being shot on 16mm.

Destroyer: Can film starring Nicole Kidman really count as “under-the-radar”? In the case of Destroyer, perhaps it can. Little is known about this Platform program selection from Karyn Kusama (director of the slow-burn horror film The Invitation). Kidman plays an LAPD detective taking on a new case.

Her Smell: Certainly the, um, most memorably-titled entry in this year’s festival, Alex Ross Perry’s drama about a self-destructive musician stars Mad Men and Handmaid’s Tale star Elisabeth Moss. It’s making its world premiere in Toronto as part of the Platform program.

Sunset: Director László Nemes follows up the Oscar-winning Son of Saul — a standout from TIFF15 — with the story of a woman’s quest to discover her past.

TIFF18’s first batch (from BuffaloSpree.com)

Beautiful Boy; courtesy of TIFF

We are now less than one month away from the start of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. My coverage began with a pre-opening announcements post at BuffaloSpree.com, and here is a follow-up. More to come!

In about six weeks, film fans, movie stars, filmmakers, industry types, and critics (like myself) will head to Canada for the Toronto International Film Festival. The hype for this, the forty-third festival, began on Tuesday as TIFF (September 6 to 16) announced its first forty-seven films.

Here are some initial thoughts on this first round of galas and special presentations.

Check out those world premieres: Part of what makes fall film festival announcements so fun is deciphering what entries will play elsewhere. A Canadian premiere, for example, means a stop in Telluride before Toronto. (Examples: Damien Chazelle’s First Man, Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.) That’s par for the course, as is a premiere in Venice. But TIFF18 has some very strong world premieres: Steve McQueen’s Widows, Timothée Chalamet-starrer Beautiful Boy, and Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk, to name a few.

Missing in action: It was a surprise to see two Venice biggies, Suspiria and The Favourite, not on the list. Both could still be added later, of course. (Suspiria would be a killer Midnight Madness selection.) Also missing is Mary Queen of Scots, with Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, which seems tailor-made for Toronto; Ronan and Robbie were standouts last year with Lady Bird and I, Tonya.

Returning heavyweights: Some TIFF favorites from past years are back – the aforementioned McQueen, Jenkins, and Cuarón, and also Olivier Assayas (Non-Fiction), Mia Hansen-Løve (Maya), Jacques Audiard (The Sisters Brothers), Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters), and Asghar Farhadi (Everybody Knows).

High-profile women behind the camera: Thirteen of the announced films are directed by women. At the top of the list has to be High Life, the highly anticipated new film from Claire Denis. Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche star in the Beau Travail director’s sci-fi drama.

My predictions were … pretty good, actually: The piece I wrote on Monday for BuffaloSpree.com mentioned ten possible selections. Of those ten, eight were part of Tuesday’s announcements. Unfortunately, the two that were not listed are major-leaguers: The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots.

There is, of course, lots more to come. The next few weeks will see the announcement of the Canadian lineup (fingers crossed for Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F. Donovan), the Masters program, Midnight Madness, Platform, and more. After all,  in 2017 the festival included more than 250 features.

TIFF18 is looking fantastic, but let’s hope for some comedy in the next announcements, as this is a rather somber bunch …