Toronto Fest to Open With Jake Gyllenhaal’s ‘Demolition'; ‘Danish Girl …

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Martian’ to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

TORONTO — Quebec director’s Jean-Marc Vallee’s collaboration with Jake Gyllenhaal, an outer space thriller starring Matt Damon and a gangster film topped by Johnny Depp are among the films heading to the Toronto International Film Festival this September. Damon stars in Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” about an astronaut stranded on the red planet while Depp helms Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass,” about mobster Whitey Bulger.

After weeks of intense blogosphere speculation about the fall festival season and palate-whetting gala announcements from the New York Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival kicked things into high gear this morning when it announced more than 40 titles that will comprise the festival’s Gala and Special Presentations categories come September. Directed by Quebec’s Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts, “Demolition” is among 49 films revealed Tuesday that will show at the Sept. 10-20 festival.

Other movies on the lineup with a local connection include “Spotlight,” the film about the Globe Spotlight Team’s investigation of the Catholic Church; “Black Mass,” which stars Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger; “Freeheld,” which was produced by Cynthia Wade of Western Massachusetts; Jay Roach’s “Trumbo,” which features Bryan Cranston and Newton’s Louis C.K.; and Jean-Marc Vallée’s drama “Demolition,” which features Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, and Kingston’s Chris Cooper. “Spotlight” and “Black Mass” will have their world premieres at the Venice Film Festival earlier that month. In addition to “Remember,” other Canadian titles include Deepa Mehta’s “Beeba Boys,” Paul Gross’s war saga “Hyena Road” and Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room,” — a Canada/Ireland co-production based on Emma Donoghue’s bestselling 2010 novel of the same name. It’s a typically starry list, full of A-list names in front of and behind the camera, some very obvious Oscar bait, and a few Toronto stalwarts to satisfy the requisite quota of local Canadian talent, including Atom Egoyan, who makes a bid for a comeback (after the career-pummeling one-two of “Devil’s Knot” and “The Captive”) with “Remember,” starring Christopher Plummer as a Holocaust survivor trying to track down the former Nazi guard responsible for murdering his family.

Other premieres in the biopic heavy schedule include “The Program,” Stephen Frears’ film on Lance Armstrong starring Ben Foster as the disgraced athlete; Jay Roach’s “Trumbo,” with Bryan Cranston as the blacklisted screenwriter; and Peter Sollett’s fact-based, marriage rights drama “Freeheld,” with last year’s best actress winner Julianne Moore and Ellen Page. “Demolition,” from “Dallas Buyers Club” director Jean-Marc Vallée, is not set for release until April and will not be among award contenders later this year. Other Canadian-directed efforts include two drug-war films: Quebec-born Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicaro,” starring Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin, is set on the Mexico-U.S. border; and “Beeba Boys,” directed by Toronto-based Deepa Mehta, which looks at an Indo-Canadian gang in Vancouver. Other titles headed to Toronto include Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario,” Charlie Kaufman’s crowdfunded, stop-motion animated “Anomalisa,” Michael Moore’s “Where To Invade Next” and Cary Fukunaga’s Netflix initiative, “Beasts of No Nation.”

The NYFF also has Robert Zemeckis’s 3D drama The Walk and Don Cheadle’s directorial debut, Miles Ahead, on its slate – both considered awards season heavy-hitters. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore (“Roger and Me,” “Fahrenheit 9/11”) returns to the festival this year with “Where to Invade Next,” while U.K director Stephen Frears (“The Queen,” “Philomena”) takes on the story of cyclist Lance Armstrong in “The Program,” which stars Ben Foster and Dustin Hoffman. In a Periscope video, seen above, Moore said he was trying to keep mum on the details of the movie. “It’s a film of epic nature,” he said, however. Using similar logic, we can divine that director Tom Hooper’s hotly anticipated “The Danish Girl,” starring Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe — one of the earliest known recipients of male-to-female gender reassignment surgery — is headed for a spot on the Lido.

And before Toronto even kicks off, the Venice and Telluride film festivals will take place, debuting films we’re sure to hear more about in the coming months. TIFF organizers also announced a special screening of Alfred Hitchcock‘s “Vertigo” that will be accompanied by a live orchestral performance of the film’s lush, Bernard Hermann-composed score.

We can also safely assume that a quartet of new films listed as “Canadian premieres” will screen first in some combination of Venice and super-secretive Telluride. Although Toronto’s schedule announcement is just the first of many, its early slate still presents a nice primer for the films which will excite audiences and critics over the months to come. They include co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s stop-motion animated feature “Anomalisa” (described, in typically Kaufman-esque fashion, as a film about “a man crippled by the mundanity of his life”); Cary Fukunaga’s child-soldier drama “Beasts of No Nation”; “Frank” director Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” (adapted from Emma Donoghue’s acclaimed 2011 novel); and Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” which features Michael Keaton’s first post-“Birdman” screen appearance as Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson, who headed the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the 2003 Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. So far Venice has revealed its opening night film, the Jake Gyllenhaal-led survival drama Everest, and an out-of-competition screening for Scott Cooper’s Johnny Depp vehicle Black Mass, while Telluride won’t announce its lineup until shortly before the annual event launches on 4 September. Last year at this time, there was a lot of hubbub in the press about the battle lines being drawn between Toronto and its rival fall festivals — especially Telluride — over who would get to show which movies first.

However, a close look at the initial Tiff slate offers a clear indication of where many of this year’s potential Oscar players are choosing to premiere – and it’s not Toronto. In 2008, “Slumdog Millionaire,” about an Indian boy’s rise from poverty to game-show riches, won the People’s Choice Award in Toronto before collecting eight Academy Awards including Best Picture. This year, those tensions have eased, with Toronto relaxing its penalties on films that do choose to premiere at the small-but-mighty Labor Day weekend soiree in the mountains of Colorado.

Tom Hooper struck it huge by debuting The King’s Speech in Toronto in 2010, going on to win the best director and picture Oscars months after taking home the festival’s audience award. That’s all for the best, since, at the end of the day, most of these movies need all the help they can get to attract attention amidst the billion-dollar big-studio franchise pictures. As for The Danish Girl, his timely period drama about the first known trans person, Focus Features – the company distributing the film – has by all accounts made the surprising decision to debut the film in Venice (it’s listed as making a North American premiere in Toronto). Indeed, for all the ink that’s been spilled about 2015’s record-breaking box office figures — with “Star Wars: Episode VII” still to come — it’s been anything but a banner year in the indie sector, with buzzy festival titles like “Love & Mercy,” “Dope” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” all performing well below expectations.

JUSTIN CHANG: I’m glad Toronto decided not to hold a grudge against Telluride this year, not least because all this tussling over titles and bragging rights ultimately amounts to the sort of passive-aggressive pissing contest that winds up distracting from the films themselves. Boyle, after all, is no stranger to Telluride, which is not only where “127 Hours” premiered in 2010, but also where “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) began its celebrated trek to Oscar glory. The director is known for premiering his work at either Venice (The Queen, Philomena, Dirty Pretty Things) or Telluride (Tamara Drewe), so his film’s inclusion comes as a small surprise. With its exclusive-yet-inclusive atmosphere, its rarefied feel and its unbeatably gorgeous scenery, Telluride is a festival that commands an unusually high degree of filmmaker loyalty. (Those who go usually wind up going back.) But Toronto has its favorites, too, as I’m reminded by the world-premiere announcement of Terence Davies’ “Sunset Song” — which is, by my count, the great British auteur’s sixth feature to play Toronto (after “Distant Voices, Still Lives,” “The Long Day Closes,” “The House of Mirth,” “Of Time and the City” and “The Deep Blue Sea”).

And then, of course, there are some filmmakers who move around a bit, like the very busy Jean-Marc Vallee, whose “Dallas Buyers Club” made a terrific splash in Toronto two years ago, and who last year took “Wild” to both Telluride and Toronto. This year, he’s headed straight to Toronto again with his Jake Gyllenhaal starrer, “Demolition,” which will have its world premiere on the festival’s opening night. Don’t get too excited about the absence of pictures such as Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea or David Gordon Green’s Our Brand is Crisis. I know it’s where you’ll be paying most of your attention, Scott, in your new capacity as an acquisitions and development with the feature films division of Amazon Studios — and needless to say, we will all be anticipating your first slate of pickups with bated breath.

The drama, about a recent widowed man struggling to cope with his wife’s death, was seemingly primed for a 2015 awards run, before distributor Fox Searchlight recently announced an April 2016 release. Given that it’s now debuting at Toronto, more than seven months before its slated theatrical rollout, an Oscar campaign seems unlikely – unless it plays like gangbusters in Toronto and is given an awards-qualifying release into select cinemas, months before opening. But it’s among those couple of hundred other movies in the Toronto lineup that critics and buyers alike hope to find that unheralded diamond in the rough by a promising new director who might go on to become the next Egoyan or Abrahamson or Fukunaga.

Amazon and Netflix are two of the companies heretofore associated with small-screen entertainment who are making a high-profile bid to enter the movie business. Netflix paid a whopping $12 million for Fukunaga’s film earlier this year, and Fukunaga himself is one of a new breed of directors who seem equally at ease working in feature films and long-form television (like “True Detective”). This year, Toronto itself will acknowledge that ever-winnowing line between those two mediums with a new programming section called Primetime, devoted to episodic series from across the globe. Finally, writer/director Rebecca Miller’s first film since 2009’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Maggie’s Plan, wasn’t expected to make it on to this autumn’s circuit because it finished principal photography just a few months ago. It’s a smart move, given that today’s audiences scarcely seem to care what format something was originally conceived for as long as it’s an example of good storytelling.

Still, there will always be directors whose work demands to be seen on the largest possible screens, and one of them is Ridley Scott, a classical master of the medium who is still, at age 77, making big-canvas entertainments at an astonishingly prolific rate. Scott had only just started shooting “The Martian” on locations in Hungary and Morocco, when I interviewed him in London last November (for a Variety cover story about his quite beautiful and underrated “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” a movie I know you, Justin, also admire greatly), and now 10 months later it’s ready to go, with a terrific teaser trailer that burned up the internet when it debuted earlier this summer. It’s a welcome reminder that Toronto is a place of not just discovery but also rediscovery, and that of all the things one can say or appreciate about a movie, “which festival had it first” is surely the least significant.

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