2014 TIFF Preview

The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival is fast approach, and as I usually do, I’ve combed through every lineup and pulled out the 50 most exciting films for my 2014 TIFF preview. I won’t be attending the fest, but I’ll be waiting with bated breath for news about the quality of these and other great films. Will the 2015 Best Picture emerge from the TIFF 2014 lineup? Possibly. Will the films showing here shape cinephiles’ discussion of the medium over the next nine months or so? Most definitely.

This 2014 TIFF preview will be broken into five parts, but each of the 50 films will be previewed on this page, so check back over the next week for updates to my 2014 TIFF preview.


50.) Big Game
Program: Midnight Madness
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Jalmari Helander
Written by: Jalmari Helander
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson, Mehmet Kurtulus, Victor Garber, Ted Levine, Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent

Synopsis: Trapped in the wilderness after Air Force One is forced down by a terrorist attacked, the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson) must rely on the survival skills of a 13-year-old woodsman, in this thriller co-starring Ray Stevenson, Jim Broadbent and Felicity Huffman.

Why it’s noteworthy: I kick off this 50-film list with a movie that’s probably not going to be any good at all. Still, Big Game sounds crazy fun, and it’s presence in the Midnight Madness program hints at something wilder than even I’m imagining.


49.) Wild
Program: Gala Presentations
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by: Nick Hornby
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffmann, Kevin Rankin

Synopsis: A self-destructive woman (Reese Witherspoon) attempts to leave behind her years of drug abuse and reckless sex with a solo, 1,000-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, in this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir from director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club).

Why it’s noteworthy: A film with major aspirations, I’d probably be more excited if I wasn’t so cool on Dallas Buyers Club. Still, this is a Witherspoon passion project (she’s also a producer on the film), so here’s hoping she kills it.


48.) Good Kill
Program: Special Presentation
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Written by: Andrew Niccol
Starring: January Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Ethan Hawke

Synopsis: A troubled Air Force officer (Ethan Hawke) charged with directing drone strikes enters a moral minefield as the rationale for targeting purported terrorists becomes ever more murky, in this bold, challenging and timely drama from writer-director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War).

Why it’s noteworthy: With Andrew Niccol, one can only hope he’s channeling Gattaca and not In Time or something. He’s the definition of hit and miss, but when he hits, he hits, and that makes him someone always worth watching.


47.) National Gallery
Program: TIFF Docs
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Frederick Wiseman

Synopsis: Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman (La Danse, Crazy Horse, At Berkeley) takes us inside the inner workings of London’s National Gallery.

Why it’s noteworthy: With Wiseman, you know what you’re getting: a thoughtful, mostly compelling, but crazy long documentary about how an important institution works and the challenges it faces. This one is on the shorter side of recent Wiseman films, coming in just shy of three hours.


46.) Trick or Treaty?
Program: Masters
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Alanis Obomsawin
Written by: Alanis Obomsawin

Synopsis: Legendary Canadian documentarian Alanis Obomsawin digs into the tangled history of Treaty 9 — the infamous 1905 agreement wherein First Nations communities relinquished sovereignty over their traditional territories — to reveal the deceptions and distortions which the document has been subjected to by successive governments seeking to deprive Canada’s First Peoples of their lands.

Why it’s noteworthy: I’m totally unfamiliar with Alanis Obomsawin’s work, but I am familiar enough with Treaty 9, and I’m curious to see it delved into cinematically.


45.) Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Johnnie To
Written by: Ka Fai Wai, Ryker Chan, Xi Yu
Starring: Louis Koo, Miriam Yeung, Yuanyuan Gao, Vic Chou

Synopsis: Hong Kong action auteur Johnnie To indulges his silly side with this hilariously inventive sequel to his hit romantic comedy, about two former lovers who find themselves irresistibly drawn back together — despite the fact that each of them is engaged to someone else.

Why it’s noteworthy: Director Johnnie To was a major discovery of mine last year with the release of Drug War, and while I’d probably be more excited for another cops-and-criminals thriller, his quieter comedies and dramas are often quite good, too.


44.) The Gate
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Régis Wargnier
Written by: Régis Wargnier, Antoine Audouard
Starring: Raphaël Personnaz, Olivier Gourmet, Kompheak Phoeung

Synopsis: Two decades after forging an unlikely alliance in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, a French ethnologist and a former Khmer Rouge official meet again after the latter is arrested for crimes against humanity, in this searing drama from top French director Régis Wargnier (Indochine, East/West).

Why it’s noteworthy: Wargnier is another director I’m totally unfamiliar with, but the premise of his latest is intriguing enough that I’ll be keeping an eye on how it’s reviewed.


43.) The Equalizer
Program: Gala Presentations
Distributor: Sony Pictures

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Richard Wenk
Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo

Synopsis: An ex-CIA agent (Denzel Washington) uses his lethal skills to protect an imperilled young woman (Chloë Grace Moretz) from the Russian mob, in this hard-edged big-screen adaptation of the cult ’80s TV show from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day).

Why it’s noteworthy: Like Andrew Niccol, director Antoine Fuqua’s filmography is wildly inconsistent. For every Training Day, there’s a King Arthur. I’ve got nothing to say, good or bad, about the television show upon which this film is based, but the trailer looks good enough for me to hope Fuqua and Washington are on their respective games this time.


42.) Natural Resistance
Program: TIFF Docs
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Jonathan Nossiter
Written by: Jonathan Nossiter
Starring: Paula Prandini, Alberto Sordi, Giovanna Tiezzi, Stefano Borsa, Valeria Bochi, Gian Luca Farinelli, Anna Pantaleoni, Bobby Vernon, Mario Soldati, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Charlie Chaplin, Stefano Belloti, Elena Pantaleoni, Corrado Dottori

Synopsis: Jonathan Nossiter follows up his hit 2004 documentary Mondovino with this profile of four radical vineyard propietors in Italy, who are striving to produce all-natural wines in the face of market and governmental pressure.

Why it’s noteworthy: I’m a sucker for a good wine documentary (see also: Red Obssession).


41.) The Humbling
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Barry Levinson
Written by: Buck Henry, Michal Zebede
Starring: Al Pacino, Dianne Wiest, Greta Gerwig, Charles Grodin, Kyra Sedgwick

Synopsis: An aged and addled actor (Al Pacino) has his world turned upside down after he embarks upon an affair with a much younger woman (Greta Gerwig), in this acidulous adaptation of the Philip Roth novel from director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Bugsy, Wag the Dog).

Why it’s noteworthy: Barry Levinson has a mostly forgettable filmography from where I sit, but the cast here is outstanding. Al Pacino finally seems interested in actually acting again (more on that much later in the countdown). Dianne Wiest is always a welcome on-screen presence. And Greta Gerwig can do no wrong.


40.) Red Army
Program: TIFF Docs
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Directed by: Gabe Polsky
Written by: Gabe Polsky
Starring: Slava Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak, Scotty Bowman, Vladimir Pozner

Synopsis: A smash hit at this year’s Cannes, director Gabe Polsky’s exhilarating documentary chronicles the rise and fall of Soviet hockey in the 1980s.

Why it’s noteworthy: The Miracle on Ice is flipped on its head in this very well-received Cannes doc. With Sony Pictures Classics behind it, it could be headed toward a 2015 Best Documentary Oscar nomination.


39.) The Theory of Everything
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: Focus Features

Directed by: James Marsh
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis

Synopsis: While students at Cambridge, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne, Les Misérables) and Jane (Felicity Jones, The Invisible Woman) fall deeply in love. His earth-shattering diagnosis leads him to embark on his ambitious study of the nature of time with Jane fighting tirelessly by his side, in this moving adaptation of Jane Hawking’s memoir from Academy Award-winning director James Marsh (Man on Wire).

Why it’s noteworthy: I’m not super bullish on this film’s Oscar chances, but Eddie Redmayne seems like a genuine Best Actor contender. And James Marsh is always worth watching. Man on Wire and Project Nim are exceptional, and last year’s Shadow Dancer is super underrated.


38.) A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Program: Masters
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Roy Andersson
Written by: Roy Andersson

Synopsis: Swedish master Roy Andersson (Songs from the Second Floor) returns with this absurdist, surrealistic and shocking pitch-black comedy, which moves freely from nightmare to fantasy to hilariously deadpan humour as it muses on man’s perpetual inhumanity to man.

Why it’s noteworthy: It’s noteworthy because it’s Roy Andersson. This is just his third film since 2000; he also took a Malick-esque 20-year break prior to that year’s Songs from the Second Floor. Pigeon will almost certainly be bizarre, but it’ll also be unlike any other film at the festival.


37.) I Am Here
Program: TIFF Docs
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Lixin Fan
Written by: Lixin Fan

Synopsis: Lixin Fan, director of the award-winning Last Train Home, takes a very different look at contemporary China with this documentary that follows the eager young hopefuls who audition for the country’s most famous televised singing competition.

Why it’s noteworthy: Fan’s Last Train Home is one of the last decade’s most acclaimed documentaries. He’s staying in his home country for his follow-up film, but it’s a wildly different take on contemporary China, and I’m really excited and curious to see if a film like this will carry the same power as Train.


36.) National Diploma
Program: TIFF Docs
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Dieudo Hamadi
Written by: Dieudo Hamadi

Synopsis: Director Dieudo Hamadi follows a group of teenagers in his hometown of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose struggles to pass the state exam that is the key to their future are further complicated by their country’s endemic culture of corruption.

Why it’s noteworthy: Hamadi has been making docs and shorts about his home nation, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for a few years now, but National Diploma‘s slot at TIFF is unquestionably the most exposure a film of his has ever seen. It sounds really compelling to me, but it has to be REALLY good to secure international distribution.


35.) This Is My Land
Program: TIFF Docs
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Tamara Erde
Written by: Tamara Erde

Synopsis: Israeli-born director Tamara Erde visits six independently-run Israeli and Palestinian schools to investigate how history is taught in this contested region.

Why it’s noteworthy: Another documentary, this one tackles an issue at the heart of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict—opposing national histories.


34.) This Is Where I Leave You
Program: Gala Presentations
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by: Shawn Levy
Written by: Jonathan Tropper
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn

Synopsis: An all-star cast — including Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant, Adam Driver and many more — headlines this adaptation of the novel by Jonathan Tropper, about a death in the family that brings together an expansive, far-flung clan for a weekend of mourning, bonding and healing.

Why it’s noteworthy: I should probably know better. Levy’s filmography isn’t one that inspires much confidence. But still, that cast!


33.) The Look of Silence
Program: TIFF Docs
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer

Synopsis: Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to his extraordinary documentary The Act of Killing follows a family who, after viewing the previous film, discovered and confronted the former right-wing militiamen who murdered their son during Indonesia’s anti-communist purges of the mid-1960s.

Why it’s noteworthy: The Look of Silence would likely top (or at least place highly) among a lot of other critics’ lists of anticipated TIFF films. I wasn’t very high on The Act of Killing, however. But Oppenheimer’s skill and audacity are undeniable, so let’s see how he differentiates himself here.


32.) Wild Tales
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Directed by: Damian Szifron
Written by: Damian Szifron
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Oscar Martinez, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Erica Rivas, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Dario Grandinetti

Synopsis: More than living up to its title, director Damián Szifron’s compendium of outrageous, hilarious and truly bizarre anecdotes offers a subversive, blackly comic portrait of contemporary Argentina.

Why it’s noteworthy: One of Cannes 2014’s under-the-radar titles, Wild Tales was well-received, but went home sans-awards. Sony Pictures Classics swooped in, surprising me, and will release it with a Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination on its mind. The film itself sounds fun. We’ll see how it’s received north of the border.


31.) Miss Julie
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Liv Ullmann
Written by: Liv Ullmann
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton

Synopsis: Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton star in this stunning adaptation of the classic August Strindberg play directed by legendary actress and filmmaker Liv Ullmann.

Why it’s noteworthy: Acting legend Liv Ullmann directs acting legend in training Jessica Chastain. I don’t care what the film is about, I just want to go to there.


30.) The New Girlfriend
Program: Gala Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: François Ozon
Written by: François Ozon
Starring: Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier, Raphaël Personnaz

Synopsis: A young woman (rising French star Anaïs Demoustier) makes a surprising disovery about the husband (Romain Duris) of her late best friend, in acclaimed director François Ozon’s witty and moving follow-up to last year’s Festival hit Young & Beautiful.

Why it’s noteworthy: Ozon can be hit-and-miss, but he’s two hits in a row after In the House (a home run) and Young & Beautiful (a solid double).


29.) The Wanted 18
Program: TIFF Docs
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Amer Shomali, Paul Cowan
Written by: Paul Cowan
Starring: Alison Darcy, Heidi Foss, Holly Uloth O’Brien, Rosann Nerenberg

Synopsis: Through stop-motion animation, drawings and interviews, directors Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan recreate an astonishing true story from the First Palestinian Intifada: the Israeli army’s pursuit of eighteen cows, whose independent milk production on a Palestinian collective farm was declared “a threat to the national security of the state of Israel.”

Why it’s noteworthy: Another Israel-Palestine documentary. This one will stand out from the crowd because of its technique.


28.) The Drop
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by: Michaël R. Roskam
Written by: Dennis Lehane
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz

Synopsis: A Brooklyn bartender finds himself caught between the cops and a crew of Chechen mobsters, in this gritty crime drama starring Tom Hardy, Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone), Noomi Rapace and the late, great James Gandolfini.

Why it’s noteworthy: A lot of reasons. First, it’s Roskam’s first film since the Oscar-nominated Bullhead. Dennis Lehane wrote the screenplay. Tom Hardy is one of his generation’s great actors. And the film features James Gandolfini’s final performance.


27.) Far From Men
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: David Oelhoffen
Written by: David Oelhoffen
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Reda Kateb

Synopsis: In this gritty tale of survival adapted from a short story by Albert Camus, a reclusive teacher (Viggo Mortensen) helps a villager accused of murder (Reda Kateb, Un prophète) escape into the mountains during the Algerian War.

Why it’s noteworthy: I can’t say I know much about David Oelhoffen as a filmmaker, but I know a fair amount about Viggo Mortensen as an actor, and this role sounds great for him.


26.) Bird People
Program: Contemporary World Cinema
Distributor: IFC Films

Directed by: Pascale Ferran
Written by: Pascale Ferran, Guillaume Bréaud
Starring: Josh Charles, Anaïs Demoustier

Synopsis: Director Pascale Ferran’s (Lady Chatterley) whimsical fable about the magically crossing paths of a disgruntled American businessman and a daydreaming French hotel maid was a smash hit at this year’s Cannes.

Why it’s noteworthy: Played Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year and was called one of the weirdest, wildest films at the festival. It opens shortly after it plays at TIFF.


25.) Merchants of Doubt
Program: TIFF Docs
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Directed by: Robert Kenner
Written by: Robert Kenner, Kim Roberts
Starring: Naomi Oreskes, Bob Inglis, James Hansen, Stan Glantz, Marc Morano, Patricia Callahan, Sam Roe, Jamy Ian Swiss, John Passacantando

Synopsis: Documentarian Robert Kenner (Food, Inc.) investigates the shadowy world of professional skeptics, whose services are bought and paid for by corporations, think tanks and other special interests to cast doubt and delay public and governmental action on climate change.

Why it’s noteworthy: Robert Kenner’s first film since Food, Inc. is another corporate expose. It worked outstandingly the first time around.


24.) Pawn Sacrifice
Program: Gala Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Edward Zwick
Written by: Steven Knight
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Peter Sarsgaard, Liev Schreiber, Michael Stuhlbarg

Synopsis: American chess phenomenon Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) squares off against his Russian rival Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in the 1972 “Match of the Century” in Reykjavik, in this gripping docudrama from director Edward Zwick (Glory) and screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises).

Why it’s noteworthy: Edward Zwick has some good titles to his name (Glory, Defiance), but he hasn’t quite reigned in his sometimes single-minded impulses to turn out one truly great film. Working with screenwriter Steven Knight, who does have some great films to his name, this one could absolutely turn into an Oscar candidate.


23.) Clouds of Sils Maria
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: IFC Films

Directed by: Olivier Assayas
Written by: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger

Synopsis: A veteran stage star (Juliette Binoche) turns to her assistant (Kristen Stewart) for solace as she jousts with an arrogant younger actress (Chloë Grace Moretz), in the brilliant new film from French auteur Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours, Something in the Air).

Why it’s noteworthy: While it wasn’t the best received film at Cannes this spring, Clouds of Sils Maria, and more specifically its performances, still had many admirers.


22.) Whiplash
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Max Kasch, Damon Gupton

Synopsis: An ambitious young drummer (Miles Teller) at a prestigious music academy clashes with a hard-driving instructor (J.K. Simmons) in this sizzling drama that is already one of the year’s most talked-about films.

Why it’s noteworthy: The toast of Sundance this year, Whiplash will almost certainly earn J.K. Simmons an Oscar nomination, and maybe a win. Miles Teller, meanwhile, remains poised to become one of the biggest and most charismatic actors of his generation.


21.) Nightcrawler
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: Open Road Films

Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Written by: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Synopsis: A drifter and petty thief (Jake Gyllenhaal) joins the nocturnal legions of scuzzy freelance photographers who scour the city for gruesome crime-scene footage, in this gripping portrait of the dark side of L.A. from veteran screenwriter and first-time director Dan Gilroy.

Why it’s noteworthy: I’m not sure where people are coming at thinking this film could be an awards magnet this year, but I do think it will be a lot—A LOT—of dark, messy fun.


20.) The Price We Pay
Program: TIFF Docs
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Harold Crooks
Written by: Harold Crooks, Brigitte Alepin

Synopsis: Director Harold Crooks (Surviving Progress) once again blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance with this incendiary documentary about the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, which has seen multinationals depriving governments of trillions of dollars in tax revenues by harbouring profits in offshore havens.

Why it’s noteworthy: If The Price We Pay secures distribution this year, it could definitely be in the hunt for a 2015 Best Documentary Oscar nomination. Surviving Progress is quite good. The Price We Pay sounds like it might be more present and affecting.


19.) Mommy
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Written by: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement, Antoine Olivier Pilon

Synopsis: The hotly anticipated new film from Québécois wunderkind Xavier Dolan shared the Special Jury Prize at Cannes.

Why it’s noteworthy: Dolan is a polarizing filmmaker, but no one had anything bad to say about Mommy at Cannes this year.


18.) The Imitation Game
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Written by: Graham Moore
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Mark Strong

Synopsis: Benedict Cumberbatch stars as brilliant Cambridge mathematician, cryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, who spearheaded the Enigma code-breaking operation during World War II and was later persecuted by the British government for his homosexuality.

Why it’s noteworthy: The Oscar buzz is strong with this one. I’d be skeptical if it wasn’t for the presence of director Morten Tyldum, whose 2011 thriller Headhunters was anything but baity and predictable.


17.) Force Majeure
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Directed by: Ruben Östlund
Written by: Ruben Östlund
Starring: Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius

Synopsis: An impulsive decision in a moment of crisis drives a wedge between a husband and wife, in this gripping moral drama from provocative director Ruben Östlund (Play) that became a word-of-mouth sensation at this year’s Cannes.

Why it’s noteworthy: Another Cannes film, though this one played in Un Certain Regard. Still, it was a major source of chatter at that festival, and could be one here, too. Comes out in November, so those of us admiring TIFF from afar don’t have to wait too long.


16.) The Cobbler
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Thomas McCarthy
Written by: Thomas McCarthy, Paul Sado
Starring: Adam Sandler, Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith, Ellen Barkin, Melonie Diaz, Dan Stevens, Fritz Weaver, Yul Vazquez, Steve Buscemi, Dustin Hoffman

Synopsis: A lonely NYC shoe repairman (Adam Sandler) discovers a magical heirloom that allows him to “walk in another man’s shoes,” in this charming fantasy co-starring Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi and Ellen Barkin.

Why it’s noteworthy: The premise is a little too whimsical for my taste, but with Thomas McCarthy writing and directing, my expectation is that he’ll cut through all that and give us something poignant and true.


15.) Iraqi Odyssey
Program: TIFF Docs
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Samir
Written by: Samir

Synopsis: Tracing the emigrations of his family over more than half a century, this riveting 3D documentary epic from acclaimed expatriate Iraqi filmmaker Samir pays moving homage to the frustrated democratic dreams of a people successively plagued by the horrors of dictatorship, war, and foreign occupation.

Why it’s noteworthy: I don’t know anything about Samir’s films, but this one sounds spectacular. It’s my most-anticipated documentary of the festival.


14.) Rosewater
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: Open Road Films

Directed by: Jon Stewart
Written by: Jon Stewart
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Haluk Bilginer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Golshifteh Farahani

Synopsis: The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut with the true story of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael García Bernal), whose appearance on Stewart’s show in 2009 precipitated his five-month imprisonment by the Iranian government.

Why it’s noteworthy: This story was close enough to Stewart’s heart that he was willing to take months off from The Daily Show to film it. He’s going out on a limb here—stepping out in a totally new direction—but I think it’ll pay off.


13.) Leviathan
Program: Masters
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Directed by: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Written by: Andrey Zvyagintsev, Oleg Negin
Starring: Alexey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovitchenkov, Roman Madyanov, Anna Ukolova, Alexey Rozin, Sergey Pokhadaev

Synopsis: Lauded Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev (The Return) won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes for this painterly, primordial tale about a proud patriarch fighting to protect his family home from a corrupt local official.

Why it’s noteworthy: I was a little surprised when Leviathan walked away from Cannes with just a Best Screenplay prize. Critics loved this film as much, if not more, than the Palme-d’Or-winning Winter Sleep. My excitement, though, has nothing to do with awards won or a lack thereof. I love Zvyagintsev—even if I can’t pronounce his name.


12.) Phoenix
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Christian Petzold
Written by: Christian Petzold
Starring: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld

Synopsis: A concentration-camp survivor (Nina Hoss) searches ravaged postwar Berlin for the husband who might have betrayed her to the Nazis, in this gripping drama from leading German filmmaker Christian Petzold (Jerichow, Barbara).

Why it’s noteworthy: There are already a few reviews out there praising Petzold’s latest. That’s no surprise. Barbara is tremendous.


11.) Maps to the Stars
Program: Gala Presentations
Distributor: Entertainment One Films USA

Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: Bruce Wagner
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson

Synopsis: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson star in this acidulous vision of Tinseltown from Canadian master David Cronenberg.

Why it’s noteworthy: Simple: it’s Cronenberg. I’m not the guy’s biggest fan—especially of his last two films, Cosmopolis and A Dangerous Method—but I’ll always anticipate a new film of his.


10.) Pasolini
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: Maurizio Braucci, Abel Ferrara, Nicola Tranquillino
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Ninetto Davoli, Riccardo Scarmacio, Valerio Mastandrea, Adriana Asti, Maria de Medeiros

Synopsis: Willem Dafoe uncannily embodies the legendary Italian filmmaker, poet and novelist Pier Paolo Pasolini in this biopic from controversial director Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, Go Go Tales).

Why it’s noteworthy: Ferrara doesn’t make safe movies. Even though Pasolini is a biopic, expect the unexpected.


9.) While We’re Young
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin

Synopsis: Noah Baumbach’s exploration of aging, ambition and success stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as a middle-aged couple whose career and marriage are overturned when a disarming young couple enters their lives. Also starring Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver, Charles Grodin, Maria Dizzia and Adam Horovitz.

Why it’s noteworthy: Frances Ha, Baumbach’s most recent film, was my third-favorite film of 2013. Here’s hoping he can keep it up.

8.) Men, Women & Children
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ansel Elgort, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Elena Kampouris, Dean Norris, Adam Sandler

Synopsis: Featuring a sterling ensemble cast — including Emma Thompson, Judy Greer, Adam Sandler, and Rosemarie DeWitt — the new film from Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Labor Day) offers a poignant look at the many ways that the internet has changed the relationships between teenagers and their parents.

Why it’s noteworthy: Most agreed Reitman made his first ever misfire with last year’s Labor Day (I never saw it). But the cast of his latest is extremely promising, as is its trailer.

7.) 99 Homes
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
Written by: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi, Bahareh Azimi
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern

Synopsis: Desperate to save his family home, an unemployed construction worker (Andrew Garfield) joins an unscrupulous realtor (Michael Shannon) in the dirty business of foreclosing on the disenfranchised, in this enthralling and timely drama from acclaimed director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop).

Why it’s noteworthy: Much like Reitman, Ramin Bahrani is coming off his first career misfire in At Any Price. Much like Reitman, he’s capable of great things. His profile is lower, but working with Garfield, Shannon, and Dern could, and hopefully will, change that.


6.) Timbuktu
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Directed by: Abderrahmane Sissako
Written by: Abderrahmane Sissako, Kessen Tall
Starring: Ibrahim Ahmed aka Pino, Toulou Kiki, Abel Jafri

Synopsis: Following the recent jihadist takeover of northern Mali, a proud cattle herder comes into fateful conflict with the fundamentalist rulers of the provincial capital, in this luminous, lyrical and poetic drama from the great African filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako.

Why it’s noteworthy: Sissako’s Bamako is a personal favorite African film of mine. If you haven’t seen it yet, you might not get why I’m so excited about Timbuktu. Watch it (on Netflix Instant), and you’ll understand.


5.) Two Days, One Night
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: IFC Films

Directed by: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Written by: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry

Synopsis: A working-class mother (Marion Cotillard) fights to hold onto her job, in the new film from master filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

Why it’s noteworthy: With The Immigrant earlier this year, Marion Cotillard re-established that she’s an acting force to be reckoned with. Two Days, One Night, by all accounts out of Cannes, is a continuation of this. Considering she’s working with the Dardenne brothers, that should come as no surprise.


4.) Time Out of Mind
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: Oren Moverman
Written by: Oren Moverman
Starring: Richard Gere, Ben Vereen, Jena Malone, Kyra Sedgwick, Jeremy Strong, Michael Kenneth Williams, Yul Vazquez, Coleman Domingo, Geraldine Hughes, Steve Buscemi

Synopsis: A New York man forced into a homeless shelter (Richard Gere) tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Jena Malone), in this emotional drama from director Oren Moverman (The Messenger).

Why it’s noteworthy: This one’s all about the director. Oren Moverman has made two films so far, and they’re both impossibly powerful.


3.) Mr. Turner
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Directed by: Mike Leigh
Written by: Mike Leigh
Starring: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Joshua McGuire, Ruth Sheen, David Horovitch, Karl Johnson

Synopsis: Timothy Spall won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his magnificent performance as J.M.W. Turner, in Mike Leigh’s gorgeously rendered biopic of the famed British landscape painter.

Why it’s noteworthy: Mike Leigh can do no wrong.


2.) Manglehorn
Program: Special Presentations
Distributor: N/A

Directed by: David Gordon Green
Written by: Paul Logan
Starring: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, Chris Messina

Synopsis: Left heartbroken by the woman he loved and lost forty years ago, an eccentric small-town locksmith (Al Pacino) tries to start his life over again with the help of a new friend (Holly Hunter), in the new film from David Gordon Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls).

Why it’s noteworthy: It’s amazing to observe David Gordon Green’s career. From the American indie filmmaking throne to the very worst studio comedies, he’s swung back toward his roots over past year or so with titles like Prince Avalanche and Joe. Manglehorn promises to be similar, if not in the superficial details than hopefully in tone, scope, and impact.


1.) Foxcatcher
Program: Gala Presentations
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Directed by: Bennett Miller
Written by: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, Dave “Doc” Bennett

Synopsis: Two brothers, both former Olympic wrestling champions (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) become involved in a fateful and fatal friendship with a neurotic millionaire (Steve Carell), in this true-life drama from director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) that is already one of the year’s most buzzed-about films.

Why it’s noteworthy: It was one of my most-anticipated films last year, and remains one of my most-anticipated this year. Its buzzy Cannes debut didn’t help my almost overwhelming excitement, nor does the fact that Moneyball is a freaking perfect movie.

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3 Responses to 2014 TIFF Preview

  1. Pingback: Two Days, One Night with Marion Cotillard | Fosters4Cents

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