July 26, 2011

THE BIJOU @ TIFF: First Titles Announced

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>SHOWBUZZDAILY will be at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, and today TIFF announced the first group of movies being screened (there are plenty more to come over the next few weeks).  Here’s the full list, and some titles worthy of initial enthusiasm:

ALBERT NOBBS:  Oscar Bait Alert, with Glenn Close as a woman in 19th century Ireland who lives as a man in order to work as a butler; director Rodrigo Garcia is notable for his work with ensemble casts (Mother and Child, Nine Lives), and in addition to Close, this one includes Mia Wasikoska, Brendan Gleeson and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.
BUTTER:  Festivals often have affection for Offbeat Indie Comedy, and Jim Field Smith’s movie qualifies:  it’s about the world of championship butter carving, and features Jennifer Garner, Olivia Wilde and Hugh Jackman.
A DANGEROUS METHOD:  David Cronenberg is one of Canada’s most prized directors, and his latest is about the relationship between Freud, Jung and a beautiful, troubled woman.  It stars Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbinder and Keira Knightley.  In other words, Oscar Bait.
THE IDES OF MARCH:  More Oscar Bait, from director George Clooney.  This political thriller is based on the crackling play Farragut North, and apart from Clooney himself, it stars Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  (Also the Opening Night film at the Venice Film Festival.)
THE LADY:  In recent years, Luc Besson has been most notable as head of a movie factory that churns out successful international action movies like Taken and The Transporter.  He makes a return to serious directing with this true-life story of Burma’s democracy movement, with Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis.
MONEYBALL:  Major Oscar Bait, based on Michael Lewis’s bestselling book about the world of sabermetrics and how it changed baseball forever.  Bennett Miller (Capote) directs a script by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, and a cast that includes Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
PEACE, LOVE AND MISUNDERSTANDING:  Anyone who’s seen Elizabeth Olsen’s spectacular performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene (see below) will want to know if she’s a one-time phenom or the real thing, and here’s our first chance:  a family comedy that also features the not-chopped-liver pair of Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener, directed by Bruce Beresford.
TAKE THIS WALTZ:  Actress Sarah Polley made a superb directing debut with Away From Her a couple of years ago, and she returns with a romance that stars the enticing group of Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman.
W.E.:  It’s hard to believe that the words Madonna and Oscar Bait can belong in the same sentence, but the buzz on this drama that crosses the story of Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson with a modern-day New Yorker (Abbie Cornish) is that the Material Girl is a genuine filmmaker.
50/50:  A young man’s cancer may seem like iffy material for a comedy, but the word is that Jonathan Levine’s movie, written by Will Reiser and based on his own true story, pulls it off.  Jonathan Gordon-Levitt plays Reiser’s surrogate, with Seth Rogen as his best friend (he really is Reiser’s pal and helped produced the movie) and Anna Kendrick.
360:  Fernando Meirelles, director of City of God and The Constant Gardener, turns his gaze to a La Ronde-like series of interlocking stories, with an ensemble that includes Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz.
THE ARTIST:  Michael Hazanavicius’s silent comedy was one of the hottest titles out of Cannes, and has already been bought by The Weinstein Company.  The cast includes Malcolm McDowell, John Goodman, Salma Hayek, and–fittingly–Geraldine Chaplin.
ANONYMOUS:  From the director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow… an epic about who actually wrote the plays credited to William Shakespeare.  OK then.  Rhys Ifans, David Thewlis and Vanessa Redgrave are among those involved with the intrigue, and there are neither spaceships nor tidal waves anywhere to be seen.
CORIOLANUS:  And thinking of Shakespeare (or whoever), Ralph Fiennes directed and stars in this film of the classic, with Brian Cox, Gerard Butler and Jessica Chastain.
DARK HORSE:  Todd Solondz’s films aren’t often “fun,” and he’s had a hard time matching the quality of Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, but his films are always worth arguing about.  Justin Bartha and Selma Blair star in a romance that probably ends badly.
THE DEEP BLUE SEA  Back in Oscar Bait territory, with Rachel Weisz in the lead of this new version of Terrence Rattigan’s play about a woman in 1950s Britain who walks out on her husband.
THE DESCENDANTS:  Alexander Payne’s follow-up to Sideways is by definition Oscar Bait.  This comedy-drama features the busy George Clooney as a man whohas to deal with his daughters, family property issues, and the discovery that his comatose wife had been cheating on him.  It’s set in Hawaii, so at least he has that.
DRIVE:  Nicolas Winding Refn won the Best Director prize at Cannes for this neo-noir action movie that stars Ryan Gosling as the movie stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway man, Carey Mulligan as the woman in his life, and Albert Brooks as the bad guy.
THE EYE OF THE STORM:  It’s been quite a while since Fred Shepisi (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, Roxanne) had a film worth seeing, and hopefully this Australian family drama, based on a novel by Nobel Prize-winner Patrick White, will mark a strong return.
FRIENDS WITH KIDS:  Jennifer Westfeldt’s comedy with a self-explanatory title stars Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and–wait for it–Megan Fox.  
HABEMUS POPAM:  Nanni Moretti’s Cannes comedy starts from the unconventional premise of a Pope who suffers panic attacks, with Michel Piccoli as the Pontiff.
HICK:  Derick Martini’s Lymelife had a promising debut at Sundance but never found an audience; his follow-up has an estimable cast that includes Blake Lively, Chloe Moretz, Alec Baldwin and Eddie Redmayne.
JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME:  Mark and Jay Duplass are among the founders of the “mumblecore” school of super-low-budget filmmaking; and they follow Cyrus with another tiptoe toward the mainstream, a comedy that stars Jason Segel and Ed Helms.
KILLER JOE:  William Friedkin’s thriller is based on a play by Tracy Letts, author of the Tony/Pulitzer winner August:  Osage County–and also Friedkin’s own Bug.  Matthew McConaughey plays a cop who’s also a hitman.
LIKE CRAZY:  One of the best pictures I saw at Sundance this year, Drake Doremus’s sensationally wise and well-acted romance has no interest in satisfying rom-com expectations.  Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin are the lovers, and Jennifer Lawrence has a small but lovely role.
MACHINE GUN PREACHER:  The title is actually accurate:  Gerard Butler plays a gangster who changes his life to save children at risk.  Directed by Marc Forster, whose checkered career includes Monsters Ball and the last James Bond movie.  If the film is any good, this could be Butler’s Oscar Bait role.
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE:  Elizabeth Olsen’s breakout movie at Sundance is a troubling, sometimes terrifying story directed by Sean Durkin about life in a cult and what comes afterward.  (The title refers to the various identities Olsen’s character takes on during the story.)  The cast also includes Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, and the very scary John Hawkes.  Oscar Bait Alert:  distributor Fox Searchlight will be angling for Olsen to get Jennifer Lawrence’s indie actress slot this year.
MELANCHOLIA:  Before Lars Von Trier starting shooting his mouth off about Hitler at Cannes, he did have a movie to present, and even after the fireworks he set off, Kirsten Dunst won the award for Best Actress.  The movie itself is about a wedding and the end of the world, not necessarily in that order.
THE ORANGES:  While her Gossip Girl co-star Blake Lively gets high-visibility roles in movies like The Town,  Green Lantern and the next Oliver Stone film, Leighton Meester has been paying her dues in things like The Roommate and Monte Carlo, usually providing the brightest spot in the film.  She’s going the indie route in this one, as an inappropriate love interest to Hugh Laurie.
PEARL JAM TWENTY:  A rock music documentary directed by Cameron Crowe; is there any more to say?  (Rumor has it that Martin Scorsese’s 3 1/2-hour documentary about George Harrison will also play at TIFF, but that’s not yet confirmed; Opening Night, though, will be Davis Guggenheim’s U2 film From the Sky Down.)
RAMPART:  From Owen Moverman, director of the affecting The Messenger, comes a cop drama with a notably strong cast:  Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster, who clearly liked working with Moverman, are back, and they’re joined by Sigourney Weaver, Anne Heche, Brie Larson, Cynthia Nixon, Ice Cube and Robin Wright.
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN:  Lasse Hallstrom’s comedy has hands-down the worst title and premise of the group:  Ewan McGregor plays a fish expert who, yes, is challenged to successfully introduce British salmon to the waters of the Middle East.  But Hallstrom has a strong track record for mainstream-yet-offbeat, and McGregor and Emily Blunt make a promising pair.
SHAME: Not many besides critics saw Steve McQueen (no relation)’s brilliant Hunger.  He’s reunited with Michael Fassbinder, who scorched the screen in that film, as a man who can’t manage his sex life and moves in with his sister (Carey Mulligan).
THE SKIN I LIVE IN:  Pedro Almodovar’s latest, a thriller with Antonio Banderas.
TAKE SHELTER:  An interesting movie from Sundance about a man (Michael Shannon) whose apocalyptic visions may be madness or prophecy.  Most notable for the performances of Shannon and Jessica Chastain as his wife.
TEN YEAR:  Jamie Linden’s directing debut, after writing Hollywood movies like Dear John and We Are Marshall; it’s one of those 10-years-after-high-school movies, but the ensemble cast includes Channing Tatun, Anthony Mackie, Kate Mara, Justin Long, Rosario Dawson and Chris Pratt.
TRISHNA:  Has any Michael Winterbottom movie not played at a film festival?  The director, most recently, of The Trip, this time has an adaptation of Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Ubervilles” (Winterbottom’s previous films include the period-set Jude based on Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure”), but set in contemporary India and starring Frieda Pinto.
TWIXT:  Francis Ford Coppola.  In 3D.  With Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern and Elle Fanning, narrated by Tom Waits.  I’m so there.
TYRANNOSAUR:  Paddy Considine’s blackened romance is sometimes difficult to watch–at Sundance some of the audience was audibly shocked at how dark it became–and yet Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman give two of the best performances you’ll ever see on a screen.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN:  Lynne Ramsay’s film about the parents of a child who committed a Columbine-like massacre was one of the most divisive films at Cannes, but no one argued about Tilda Swinton’s performance in the lead.
WOMAN IN THE FIFTH:  Pawel Pawlikowski directed two excellent indies in recent years, My Summer of Love and Last Resort, and this drama involves a “passionate and intense relationship” between Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas, and “inexplicable events.”  Fair enough.
All this, believe it or not, just scratches the surface of what TIFF will be showing.  We’ll be back as further categories and titles are announced.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."