Bill Condon's Toronto opener, The Fifth Estate.
The Toronto International Film Festival is by any measure a massive event. This year's 38th edition boasts 288 features – actually one less than last year – which means it's impossible to see everything. Even if a pass holder were to screen this year's lineup day and night for the entirety of the festival, taking place this year September 5 – 15, that person would only get through half the roster. Even opening night offers over a dozen titles including the official opening film The Fifth Estate by Bill Condon. Put simply, it's a massive.
That is not to say the schedule is packed with filler. A huge swath of the latest films from a cross-section of international filmmakers converge here. This year's festival will host premieres from Ron Howard, Claire Denis, Kelly Rechardt, Jean-Marc Vallée, Paul Haggis, Errol Morris, Jason Reitman, Ralph Fiennes, Xavier Dolan, Ti West, Sean Durkin, Alex Gibney, Brillante Mendoza, Claire Denis, Zhangke Jia, Hayao Miyazaki, James Franco, Alfonson Cuarón, Hong Sang-soo and Kevin Macdonald and that's just a sample. 146 films this year are, in fact, World Premieres.
Toronto is a cornerstone of a quartet of festivals that mark the unofficial start of Awards Season, including Venice (which is currently underway through Saturday), Telluride and the New York Film Festival. TIFF served as a launchpad for recent Oscar Best Picture winners including last year's Argo by Ben Affleck as well as Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and The King's Speech (2010).
Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave.
Last night's opener The Fifth Estate is an eagerly awaited Wikileaks thriller. The film follows the controversial website Wikileak's rise to international notoriety after publishing U.S. State Department correspondence in 2010 and spotlights a deteriorating friendship between founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his close colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl). The premiere received polite reaction though one insider said it was “not like seeing last year's Argo screening,” though one top Oscar prognosticator raved over Cumberbatch and Brühl's performances and called the film “reminiscent of the great political thrillers of the '70s.”
TIFF's lineup will likely yield another batch of heavy-hitters this fall and beyond, a number of which will be having their U.S. premieres beginning later this month at NYFF. Cannes Plame d'Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Color had its screening overlap Official Opener The Fifth Estate last night. The story of a young lesbian couple's passionate relationship appeared to win over audiences here, receiving rapturous applause, while director Abdellatif Kechiche and stars Léa Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos appeared on stage beaming. “It was the most terrific screening, it couldn't have gone better,” an IFC Films exec said at the film's after-party atop a trendy hotel rooftop overlooking the Toronto skyline. “The audience just loved it.”
Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave is already a very hotly anticipated title. The Shame filmmaker's latest is based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man from the north who is kidnapped while in Washington, D.C. and sold into slavery. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as well as Cumberbatch in addition to Michael Fassbender, who starred in Shame which debuted at NYFF.
Roger Michell's Le Week-end.
Also among the titles that will head to NYFF, Europa Europa director Agnieszka Holland's Burning Bush gives a history of Czech capital Prague through history student Jan Palach, who set himself on fire to protest Soviet occupation in 1969. Continuing the Romanian “new wave” with his latest, Corneliu Poromboiu's (12:08 East of Bucharest) When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism takes an unflinching look at a snap love affair between a film director and a young actress. Claire Denis' Bastards is dark, mixing stories of drugs, abuse and revenge with plentiful twists and turns. Roger Michell's Le Week-end turns the rom-com on its head when a couple (Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent) celebrating their 30th anniversary head to Paris where they honeymooned. The city's contradictions are a mirror of their relationship. “It's one of the most enjoyable love stories we've seen all year,” TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey wrote in the festival's catalog. On the documentary front, Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley looks at U.C. Berkeley, a campus that has been at the center of social revolution and flux for decades, examining its students, faculty and its surrounding community.
The first weekend of TIFF is traditionally “top heavy” with debuts of numerous anticipated films cramming people's schedules. Perhaps only slightly bucking that trend is John Wells' August: Osage County, widely tipped as an Awards shoe-in in the lead up to its World Premiere here. The feature stars multiple Oscar-winner Meryl Streep along with fellow Oscar winner Julia Roberts along with Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin and – once again – Benedict Cumberbatch. The film centers on the strong-willed women of the Weston family whose lives have taken separate turns. But a family crisis brings them back to Oklahoma where they drew up and reunite with their dysfunctional mother (Streep).
Jean-Marc Valée's Dallas Buyers Club.
Also tipped as a heavy-hitter this season is Café de Flor director Jean-Marc Valée's Dallas Buyers Club starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto. Photos of McConaughey looking extremely skinny surfaced last year in gossip magazines and websites – and this is the reason. In the film, he plays Texas electrician Ron Woodroof who is diagnosed with HIV in 1986, a time when treatment was nearly non-existent. He searched for alternative treatments and helped establish a way for fellow HIV-positive people to get access to pharmaceuticals still being tested. He forms an unlikely partnership with an HIV-positive drag queen (Jared Leto) and the pair team up to sell treatments to the growing number of AIDS patients.