Let’s get started with the most obvious news out of this morning’s Toronto International Film Festival press conference that was almost slipped by the media this morning without trying to draw too much attention to it. The festival does not have an opening night film locked in place yet. This morning’s presser – held to celebrate the first batch of Gala and Special Presentation titles announced for the festival’s 39th year, kicking off September 4th and running to September 14th – usually marks the announcement of a big eye catching gala that should get things off with a bang. This year festival CEO and Director Piers Handling and Artistic Director Cameron Bailey took to the stage to announce 13 high profile galas and 46 special presentations (with a total of 37 films between the two categories getting world premieres at the fest) without making a big deal that the festival’s opening night spot was still up for grabs.
Bailey stated when asked post announcement why the opening film wasn’t made public following the titles already put forward that the programming team didn’t want to conform to an “imaginary deadline.” Immediately it was questioned while the pair were taking questions that the move was somehow tied to a recent move by the festival that mandates films that play during the first four days of the festival be world premieres (most specifically to avoid the notoriously secretive Telluride festival in the US from stealing away films that gain premiere status at TIFF). Bailey denied this was the case, but there was a definite sense in the room that some weren’t convinced.
Personally, I’m intrigued by the idea of holding back on this year’s opening night film because all signs point to something great. It hints at a potentially outside the box idea for a TIFF ’14 kickoff, and at a film that might not be on too many radars. It could also hint at a major film that people might not necessarily be thinking about too heavily just yet because it might not be completed just yet. Bailey and Handling have said that they’re still watching and inviting films to this year’s soiree, but strictly speaking from an editorial standpoint it seems like they have at least some idea what they want to open the festival but they want to make sure whatever they choose is a completed project. It’s hardly a cause for concern.
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In decidedly less controversial news (unless you absolutely feel the need to drive down King Street during rush hour, and honestly, why would you ever do that to yourself?), Bailey announced that the main festival strip in front of the Lightbox from University to Peter will be closed for the first four days of the festival to serve as a presentation area and general hang out spot. In addition to being pedestrian friendly, the space will include special performances and presentations. Specific details are still being locked in place, but expect proper announcements over the next several weeks.
That’s not to say that today’s press conference didn’t include the announcement of some major projects on the cinematic side.
The festival’s closing gala was announced today, and it’s actor Alan Rickman’s first directorial effort since 1997’s The Winter Guest. A Little Chaos (from first time screenwriter Alison Deegan) casts Kate Winslet as a landscaper who gets the high profile and probably unenviable task of constructing the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. Rickman stars alongside Winslet as King Louis XIV and also features supporting players Stanley Tucci, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Phyllida Law.
“It’s a great privilege for A Little Chaos to have its world premiere in Toronto,” Rickman said via a prepared statement. “It is also a very personal pleasure. I have filmed in the city, visited often, and some of my closest friends live there. It will be like coming home.”
The galas announced include a nice blend of populist fare that appeals to the festival’s mandate this year to remind the public at large that the festival belongs to them more than anyone else and buzzworthy fare that will make waves around Oscar season.
World premiere galas include Montreal native Shawn Levy’s dysfunctional family comedy This is Where I Leave You (click on select films for available trailers), adapted by writer Jonathan Tropper from his own novel and starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, and Rose Byrne in the tale of estranged siblings trying to deal with the death of their father and each other. Other world premiere galas include Denzel Washington reteaming with Training Day director Antoine Fuqua for the big screen adaptation of 80s TV action series The Equalizer. Kevin Costner reteams with The Upside of Anger filmmaker Mike Binder for the racially charged drama Black and White. Robert Downey Jr. stars in the heavily buzzed about legal and family drama The Judge, co-starring Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, and Billy Bob Thornton. Director Ed Zwick (Glory, The Last Samurai) casts Tobey Maguire as controversial chess champion Bobby Fischer in the lead up to his legendary match against Rusian Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in Pawn Sacrifice. French auteur Francois Ozon returns to the festival once again with The New Girlfriend. An Education and One Day director Lone Scherfig brings the class tinged university set drama The Riot Club. The Intouchables filmmakers Olivier Nakache and Eric Tolenado reteam with leading man Omar Sy for Samba, the story of a Senegalese immigrant stuck in dead end jobs striking up a friendship with a burnt out executive, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The Gala program also includes the international premiere of Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee’s Reese Witherspoon starring Wild, and the Canadian premieres of David Cronenberg’s satirical Maps to the Stars, Bennett Miller’s psychological drama Foxcatcher, and the Bong Joon-ho co-scripted Haemoo.
Notable world premieres announced today in the equally stacked Special Presentations program include actor Chris Evans’ directorial debut Before We Go, the animated omnibus adaptation/celebration of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden, crime thriller The Drop (featuring Tom Hardy and the last performance from James Gandolfini), Canadian director Philippe Falardeau’s inspirational American debut The Good Lie (also featuring Reese Witherspoon and from producers Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and the team that brought audiences The Blind Side), Hal Hartley’s conclusion to the Grim family trilogy, Ned Rifle, Jason Reitman’s teenage drama Men, Women, and Children (with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner), Liv Ullman’s Miss Julie (with Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell), Oren Moverman’s ensemble homeless shelter drama Time Out of Mind, writer Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut Nightcrawler (with Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, and Bill Paxton), Susan Bier’s Danish thriller A Second Chance (with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), German director Christian Petzold reteaming with his Barbara star Nina Hoss for Phoenix, James Marsh’s Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy (with Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, and John Cusack), comedian Chris Rock’s return to directing and the big screen with Top Five, and Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young (with Ben Stiller, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Naomi Watts, and Charles Grodin).
Films in the Special Presentations program making North American, International, or Canadian Premieres include Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner (with Timothy Spall), Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, Peter Chelsom’s globetrotting comedy Hector and the Search for Happiness (with Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike), Gattaca director Andrew Niccol reteaming with actor Ethan Hawke for Good Kill, Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home, Al Pacino teaming with David Gordon Green for Manglehorn and Barry Levinson for The Humbling, Abel Ferrara’s sure to be controversial biopic Pasolini (with Willem Dafoe), Sundance award winner Whiplash (with J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller), and Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, Rosewater.
There’s plenty more where that came from and plenty more to come, especially following the equally big Canadian press conference that will be held on August 6th. Individual tickets go on sale on August 31st, but if you’ve seen enough to know you might be better off getting a ticket package, those can be purchased up until August 20th. You can keep up to date with all the latest festival announcements by staying tuned to TIFF’s website, and remember to return here for all the latest festival news when our coverage kicks off on Tuesday, September 2nd.