What to See

Toronto International Film Festival Preview: ‘The Fifth Estate,’ More

This year’s TIFF, which kicks off today, is the biggest in the world, with 288 films, many of which will go on to awards glory. So what to see? From Jason Reitman’s new Labor Day to Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, Marlow Stern’s preview.

Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival

Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival

In its 38th edition, the Toronto International Film Festival is the biggest film festival in the world. This year, TIFF, as it’s known, boasts 288 films, many of which will go on to awards glory in the fall and winter. From Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant sci-fi film Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, to The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, here are the most anticipated films at TIFF 2013. —by Marlow Stern

Jaap Buitendijk

‘12 Years a Slave’

Based on the biography of Solomon Northup, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, 12 Years a Slave traces Northup’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) harrowing journey from Saratoga, New York, to a New Orleans plantation. Directed by Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), the film also stars Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, and fantastic newcomer Lupita Nyong’o.

Patrick Redmond

‘All Is by My Side’

Written and directed by John Ridley, who developed the story for Three Kings and wrote the recent Red Tails, this biopic follows the formative years of Jimi Hendrix, before he became a global icon. André Benjamin of Outkast fame stars as the legendary singer-guitarist in his first leading role. But, as with the John Lennon flick Nowhere Boy, you won’t be hearing any Hendrix classics in the film, since the estate didn’t grant the filmmakers the right to use his music. The film also stars Hayley Atwell (Captain America) and Imogen Poots (Fright Night).

Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival

‘August: Osage County’

The last time Harvey Weinstein and Meryl Streep teamed up, the latter won the Best Actress Oscar for The Iron Lady. They’ve reteamed for August: Osage County. Directed by John Wells and based on the Tracy Letts play of the same name, the film follows the women of the dysfunctional Weston family, who are all forced to reunite at their Oklahoma home in the wake of a family crisis. The film stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, and Julianne Nicholson as the Weston women, and also features Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, and Sam Shepard.

Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival

‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’

Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour French drama is one of the most honest depictions of first love ever put on screen. The film centers on Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), a 15-year-old girl whose initial sexual forays leave much to be desired—until she crosses paths with Emma (Lea Seydoux), a blue-haired art student in college. The two begin a torrid love affair, and the film traces their relationship over several years. In a Cannes first, Kechiche, Exarchopoulos, and Seydoux were all awarded the Palme d’Or, and the mesmerizing film has also garnered a bit of controversy for its incredibly graphic lesbian sex scenes.

Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival

‘Burt’s Buzz’

Documentary filmmaker Jody Shapiro (How to Start Your Own Country) ventured into the backwoods of Maine to profile Burt Shavitz, the founder of Burt’s Bees, a billion-dollar business of personal care items. Burt, who still lives in a renovated turkey coop with no running water, sold his shares decades ago, so he’s made virtually no money from the company, but he’s still contractually obligated to promote the brand of all-natural products.

Andrew Schwartz

‘Can a Song Save Your Life?’

Directed by John Carney, who helmed the touching 2006 movie-musical Once, this musical/romantic drama centers on Gretta (Keira Knightley), a singer whose celebrity boyfriend (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, making his film debut) dumps her. She soon connects with Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a famous record producer, and a hip-hop star named Trouble Gum (CeeLo Green), to fulfill her musical ambitions. Carney’s Once won the Oscar for Best Original Song, so expect plenty of catchy ballads here.

Anne Marie Fox

‘Dallas Buyers Club’

Matthew McConaughey, who has been experiencing a major resurgence of late with standout turns in Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Mud, and a slew of other indie features, dropped 38 pounds to portray real-life AIDS crusader Ron Woodroof, a man diagnosed with HIV who began smuggling alternative non-FDA-approved AIDS medicines with the help of Rayon (Jared Leto), an HIV-positive transgender woman. The awards bait film, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y.), also stars Jennifer Garner, Dallas Roberts, and Steve Zahn.

Sarah Shatz

‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her’

Directed by Ned Benson, this sprawling drama is two films in one, each told from the perspective of one half of a couple. Following a terrible tragedy, the marriage of successful restaurant owner Conor (James McAvoy) and adult college student Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) starts to crumble. Then, one day, Eleanor mysteriously disappears. With shades of Gone Girl, the film—which clocks in at 190 minutes—is equal parts mystery and gut-wrenching drama.

Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival

‘The Double’

Directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Richard Ayoade (Submarine), this romantic comedy is based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella of the same name and stars Oscar-nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) as Simon, a man who is slowly driven insane by the sight of his doppelgänger (also Eisenberg). The film also features the talented Mia Wasikowska as Simon’s love interest and, to add a bit of intrigue, the two are reportedly dating in real life after meeting on the film.

Lacey Terrell

‘Enough Said’

This comedy, written and directed by indie filmmaker Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money), is one of the last films to feature the great James Gandolfini. Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced mother who pays the bills working as a masseuse. She meets Albert (Gandolfini), a kind man with a similar life situation, and the two fall for one another—that is, until Eva befriends Marianne (Catherine Keener), one of her new massage clients.

Frank Connor

‘The Fifth Estate’

Directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), this topical thriller is based on Inside WikiLeaks, a book by Julian Assange’s former righthand man, Daniel Domscheit-Berg. The film features Benedict Cumberbatch as WikiLeaks founder Assange and Daniel Brühl as Domscheit-Berg, and traces the birth of WikiLeaks as well as the duo’s battle over the leak of the biggest trove of highly classified intelligence documents in U.S. history. The film also stars Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Mackie, and Carice van Houten.

Warner Bros.

‘Gravity’

It's been seven years since we’ve been blessed with a film by the immensely talented Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón—he of Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men fame. Medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is accompanied by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) on her first space-shuttle mission, but during a routine spacewalk, debris from a satellite crashes into their vessel, leaving them stranded in space and in a desperate fight for survival. Cuarón is said to have used cutting-edge technology for the 3-D film, which has received rave reviews out of the Venice and Telluride film festivals.

Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival

‘Joe’

After a few Hollywood misfires (see: Your Highness), filmmaker David Gordon Green, the man who brought us George Washington and All the Real Girls, has returned to his indie roots with the drama Joe, based on a novel by Larry Brown. Joe (Nicolas Cage) is a reformed ex-con who runs a lumber company. When Gary (Tye Sheridan, of Mud fame) begs him for work, Joe reluctantly acqiesces, and soon the two form a unique father-son relationship. Soon Gary runs away from home and turns to Joe for help. But has Joe completely relinquished his dark past?

Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival

‘Labor Day’

The latest film from two-time Oscar-nominated director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) is adapted from a novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard. It centers on Adele (Kate Winslet), a severely depressed mother whose husband (Clark Gregg) left her for his secretary. She’s stuck raising Henry (Gattlin Griffith), a precocious 13-year-old. One day, the two come across a bloodied man who orders them to take him to their home. The man is Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict. But soon Adele starts to develop feelings for the gentle and fatherly con. Both Winslet and Brolin are superb as lost souls who find in each other a new reason to live.

Keith Bernstein

‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’

Yet another Oscar bait film from the Harvey Weinstein awards factory, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is directed by Justin Chadwick and adapted from the biography of the same name by anti-apartheid revolutionary and former South African president Nelson Mandela. The film traces Mandela’s (Idris Elba) life from his early childhood all the way through to his becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa. The film also stars Naomie Harris as Mandela’s wife, Winnie.

Gordon A. Timpen

‘Only Lovers Left Alive’

They had us at Tilda Swinton as a vampire, but this romantic drama is also directed by acclaimed filmmaker Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers) and features rising star Tom Hiddleston (of Avengers fame) as her centuries-old lover. The stellar ensemble cast also includes Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, and John Hurt. Jarmusch has described the film as a “crypto-vampire love story.”

Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival

‘The Past’

Directed by acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, whose 2011 drama A Separation won the Best Foreign Film Oscar—and was one of the best films that year—this French-language drama centers on Marie (Berenice Bejo of The Artist), a woman who starts a new family with a younger man (Tahar Rahim) when her Iranian husband (Ali Mostafa) and father of her two children deserts her to return to his homeland. When she requests a divorce, her ex returns, and the former couple are forced to confront issues from their past. Bejo, who received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for The Artist, took home Best Actress at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for her turn.

Courtesy Toronto International Film Festival

‘Prisoners’

Denis Villeneuve, whose 2010 film, Incendies, was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, directs this crime thriller, and its screenplay, written by Aaron Guzikowski, made the Black List of best unproduced screenplays. The film centers on Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a small-town carpenter whose 6-year-old daughter and her best friend are kidnapped. He clashes with a hotshot detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) assigned to the case before taking the law into his own hands and abducting a man (Paul Dano) he believes to be the culprit. Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, and Melissa Leo round out the superb cast in a film that’s already garnering comparisons to Se7en and Zodiac.

Maria Marin

‘Third Person’

The latest film by Oscar-nominated director Paul Haggis (Crash) weaves three interconnected love stories set in Paris, New York, and Rome. The Paris portion follows Michael (Liam Neeson), a man who recently left his wife, Theresa (Maria Bello), and is paid a visit from his former love (Olivia Wilde). New York centers on Julia (Mila Kunis), a woman accused of attempting to kill her young son, who is then placed in the custody of his father (James Franco). And Rome tells the tale of Sean (Adrien Brody), a man who falls in love with an Italian woman (Moran Atias), who then drags him into a complicated kidnapping plot.

James Bridges

‘You Are Here’

The feature directorial debut of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, this lighthearted comedy centers on two childhood friends (Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson) who head back to their hometown after one of them learns he’s inherited a large sum of money. The film also stars Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation) and Jenna Fischer (The Office), and features Peter Bogdanovich as a local judge.