If the Sundance Film Festival is the germinating seed of the year in film, a place where indie films make their first stop before slowly finding their way to audiences over the ensuing months, TIFF is its polar opposite. Every year Toronto plays host to a showcase of star-studded studio films are often the rule rather than the exception, and the stage where many of the fall’s films kick off their awards season campaigns in earnest. But it's also a place for true cinephiles — where filmmaking legends continue their legacies and idiosyncratic indies are more hit than miss. The Verge is on the ground in Toronto covering all the films you'll be talking about for the next year.
Jan 9, 2017
After a series of wins and critical accolades on the festival circuit, Moonlight won the Golden Globe for Best Drama. This story was originally published on October 21st, 2016.Read Article >
Going into events like the Toronto International Film Festival, it's easy to predict a few of the hot-ticket hits — the movies that built major buzz at other festivals, or that come with particularly high-powered cast-and-crew lineages. And then there are films like Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, an artfully intense coming-of-age story which started as a promising word-of-mouth highlight and grew into the breakout must-see movie of the festival season, surpassing the demand of much bigger-budgeted, starry premieres. Even after two extra press-and-industry screenings were rushed onto the schedule at TIFF, the regularly scheduled IMAX screening in one of the festival's largest theaters was crammed to capacity as well. That's a big response for a small drama about a black kid coming to terms with his sexuality in abstract, internal ways.
Jan 6, 2017
J.A. Bayona's A Monster Calls premiered last year as part of the Toronto Intentional Film Festival, where it was just one of several movies that threw us into a state of intense emotional distress. Today it opens wide in the United States, and it hasn't gotten any less heart-wrenching since that first screening. This review originally ran on September 9th, 2016.Read Article >
Let’s just get this out of the way: I’m a movie crier. There’s something about walking into a darkened room, watching a story unfold, and going through a cathartic experience with a bunch of strangers that’s always been emotionally liberating for me. Sadly, it’s also something that’s been happening less and less. Modern studio filmmaking is largely designed to elicit two responses: shock and awe, and as mid-budget dramas have dried up, audiences have been left with just a handful of prestige pictures if they’re looking for something different.
Dec 9, 2016
Full disclosure: it is just possible that La La Land is not for you. Damien Chazelle's follow-up to his Oscar-winning breakout film Whiplash got such rapturous responses in its early festival releases that it started to sound like a perfect movie, capable of winning over even the worst curmudgeons. (Further proof: It won over the Washington D.C. and New York Film Critics collectives, which both named it the best film of 2016.) But the early screenings were largely for a select crowd of determined festivalgoers and industry professionals who've chosen careers in making, marketing, or just talking about the movies. In other words, the people who initially saw and loved La La Land, and hailed it as 2016's likely Best Picture frontrunner, are its target audience. It's openly aimed at cinephiles who recognize the overt references to Singin' in the Rain, West Side Story, and The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg. It's meant for viewers who feel a little internal flutter when characters stroll across a studio backlot, surrounded by the accoutrements of moviemaking, then burst into song and dance.Read Article >
Not everyone loves musicals, though, and La La Land won't seduce anyone who thinks The Sound of Music is grotesquely corny, or that Umbrellas of Cherbourg is some dusty old foreign film where nothing much happens. But for people who do love those movies, and the unselfconsciously joyous romantic ideals they represent, La La Land is a glorious feast for the eyes and the soul. Its complete lack of restraint, cynicism, or self-consciousness invites viewers to drop their own reservations and just feel the big, broad emotions as they're played out on-screen, through memorable songs and elaborate fantasy sequences.
Nov 11, 2016
Early on in Denis Villeneuve’s new film Arrival, it becomes pretty clear that for an alien-invasion movie, it’s actually not all that interested in aliens. As 12 mysterious spacecraft land in different locations around Earth, we see college students getting texted with the news, newscasters describing it, and a linguistics expert played by Amy Adams taking it all in — but we don’t see the ships themselves. Humanity’s reaction is what’s important, and it’s only after the film has slowly, methodically established its priorities that the ships — or "shells," as they’re dubbed — are revealed.Read Article >
It sets the tone for what’s to come: a mature, thoughtful piece of science fiction that uses a first-contact premise not just as a setup for a doomsday scenario, but as a platform for an incredibly powerful, nuanced look at love, relationships, and the human condition itself. If big-screen science fiction has been going through a maturation process over the past few years, searching for a truly genre-defining moment, it has finally arrived.
Nov 4, 2016
The most fascinating thing about Loving, Jeff Nichols’ drama about precedent-setting interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving, is the repeated revelation that no one in Virginia would have cared about their relationship if they hadn’t had the temerity to get legally married. In Nichols’ version of the story, Richard (Joel Edgerton, one of the best parts of Nichols’ Midnight Special) and Mildred (Preacher’s Ruth Negga, the best part of Loving) seem completely unaware of the legal issues they face as a white man and a black woman cohabiting in 1958 Virginia. They act like any other doting couple in public, and while their minor public displays of affection occasionally draw the slightest side-eyes from onlookers, no one confronts them until Mildred gets pregnant, they get married in Washington, DC, and Richard starts making plans to move them out of Mildred’s parents’ home and into their own place.Read Article >
Then suddenly there’s a middle-of-the-night raid by stone-faced white lawmen, and both Lovings wind up jailed, then ordered to leave Virginia, or face prison time. From there, Nichols acknowledges the slow-building media storm around them, as their legal case against Virginia gradually creeps up to the Supreme Court. But he keeps the focus small, mostly looking in on their relationship and family ties, and leaving the lawyers and the courts offscreen.
Oct 16, 2016
It feels odd to say this, but the primary problem with Christopher Guest's latest improvised-dialogue mockumentary is that it just isn't mean enough. And the reason that statement feels odd is because Guest's movies have always had a deep-seated affection for their openly ridiculous characters. They've never been about cruelty or contempt. But they aren't above having a laugh at insular communities — community theater in Waiting For Guffman, the competitive dog-show circuit Best In Show, and professional folk musicians in A Mighty Wind — and they find the hilarity in their characters' earnest, obsessive devotion to fringe pursuits.Read Article >
Mascots, a newly released Netflix original movie, initially follows the same pattern by examining the obsessives at a national competition for sports mascots. But after a promising, funny start, Mascots actually starts to take the craft and significance of mascotery fairly seriously. And while it's admirable that Guest is enthusiastically rooting for his characters, there's nothing particularly funny about the approach.
Oct 6, 2016
It’s actually unfortunate that The Birth Of A Nation was received with so much enthusiasm when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2016. Eight months before its intended release date, the hype machine embraced Nate Parker’s biopic as an Oscar front-runner. Its sympathetic take on American slave-revolt leader Nat Turner was touted as the triumphant fix to the Academy Awards’ diversity problem. And the film was hailed as a monumental vindication for Parker, who spent seven years developing and independently funding his directorial debut before selling it to Fox Searchlight for more than $17 million.Read Article >
But all the early buzz backfired when the media re-discovered Parker’s college rape accusation, the harassment suit that followed, and the plaintiff’s eventual suicide. Most of this information about Parker’s past was readily available before he had a Sundance hit, when he was an actor in films like Beyond the Lights and Non-Stop. But until his new narrative was cemented — a Hollywood happy-ending story about a visionary auteur leading the charge against #OscarsSoWhite — the details apparently weren’t relevant to the public. It took a huge success to turn Parker into a villain.
Sep 29, 2016
Andrea Arnold’s new film American Honey is a fascinating, immersive trip across the American heartland with a crew of hard-partying 20-somethings, but it’s also one of those projects where the behind-the-scenes story is as compelling as the one on-screen. Arnold, the British director of Fish Tank and Red Road, prepared for her first American movie with an extensive cross-country road trip. Along the way, she looked for the young people she wanted to cast in her film, finding them at beach parties and hanging out in parking lots. Arnold had read a 2007 New York Times article about mag crews — traveling groups of young people selling magazine subscriptions, often for predatory companies keeping them indentured under brutal conditions. She wanted to make a film about a mag crew, but she wanted the performances to be authentic and natural. So she effectively built her own crew out of young people she found while traveling. Then she loaded them into a van and took them on a 12,000-mile road trip, encouraging them to bond and interact naturally while she shot the film around them.Read Article >
American Honey only features a few professional actors — Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road, Magic Mike) as Krystal, the mercenary head of the mag crew, and Shia LaBeouf as Jake, her top seller and trainer. But the real revelation is first-time actor Sasha Lane as Star, a runaway who falls for Jake the first time she sees him, and joins his crew’s cross-country ramble to get closer to him. I recently talked to Arnold about her casting and shooting methods, and the night she rescued a drunk kid from the police.
Sep 19, 2016
The awards ceremony that wraps up the Toronto International Film Festival can feel like a weird grab-bag event. Toronto doesn't hand out the Best Actor / Actress / Director-type awards that dominate so many film awards ceremonies. Most of its individual awards are narrowly focused on local cinema or other specific areas of interest, set by the corporations or associations that sponsor them. Some of them come from small groups with big acronyms and specific agendas, like the FIPRESCI awards (from the Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique) and the NETPAC prize (Network for the Promotion of Asian Pacific Cinema). But the award that most matters is the People's Choice, widely seen as an early Oscars predictor. This year's award, to no one's surprise, went to the festival's standout people-pleaser: Damien Chazelle's La La Land. This tribute to old-school Hollywood musicals, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, played the festival to stellar critical reviews and a huge emotional reaction at screenings.Read Article >
Even in a crowded field of contenders, the win seemed inevitable. La La Land is the kind of movie cinephiles love to love: it's impeccably made and passionately performed, and it's full of ain't-movies-great references to the romance of cinema and to nostalgia for specific movies and cinematic eras. The Verge crew at Toronto fell for it, too: it made our list of the best films at TIFF. And while it's too early to start making Oscar predictions, a TIFF People's Choice win carries a lot of weight: previous winners include The King's Speech, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, Dallas Buyers Club, and Slumdog Millionaire.
From the moment our boots hit Canadian soil for the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, we were rushing out dispatches, writing reviews, talking to filmmakers, and — most importantly — seeing lots and lots of movies. Some of the TIFF screenings were world premieres, others were making their domestic debuts, and others may already be in your local multiplex (or on Netflix). With this year’s festival now behind us, we take a look at our favorites. These are the films we haven’t been able to stop thinking about — and that you’ll want to see as soon as you possibly can.Read Article >
There’s an argument to be made that films and TV shows based on harrowing, true-life tragedies serve as a form of collective cultural catharsis. They can bring order to chaos, give context to horror, and provide a general framework that allows us to move on. With the rise of modern long-form documentaries, reexamining old tragedies can even be used as a lens to examine larger, deep-seated cultural issues.Read Article >
And then sometimes it’s just all about good old-fashioned rubbernecking.
The strangest thing about talking to writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard is just how nice they both seem. These are the same two guys that dreamed up the animal mask murderers of You’re Next, after all, before they turned Downton Abbey softie Matthew Crawley into a killing machine in The Guest. But as a duo, they’re open and engaging, Barrett cracking up in silent laughter whenever Wingard goes on a passionate tear. They’re here at TIFF to show Blair Witch, their sequel to the 1999 found footage classic about a bunch of filmmakers that disappeared in the forests of Maryland. Made totally under the radar, Blair Witch was such a secretive project that it was actually marketed this year under an entirely different name, until Lionsgate made the big reveal at this year’s Comic-Con.Read Article >
I sat down with Wingard and Barrett here in Toronto to talk about why The Blair Witch Project worked, their rather strong feelings about how 2000’s rush-job sequel Book of Shadows ruined it all, and what was key to bringing the franchise back from the dead.
Early in American Honey, a teenage Texan named Star (Sasha Lane) gapes as a group of young people around her age take over the local superstore, hopping onto the bagging counters and clogging up the aisles as they gyrate to Rihanna's "We Found Love," which has just come on over the speakers. A security guard shows up to manhandle the kids out of the door, but no one seems to mind. It's just another spontaneous, temporary small-town moment of hilarity and celebration before the whole group loads back into a grubby van and heads for the next spot down the road. As they leave, one of the van kids, Jake (Shia LaBeouf), invites Star to come join them in Kansas City. She heads home, packs a bag, dumps the children she's caring for on their unwilling mother, and hits the road. She tells anyone who asks that she has a job, but she doesn't explain herself otherwise. That isn't in her makeup. Star isn't much of a talker, but growing up in extreme poverty, with a meth-addict mother and a sleazy young stepfather who gropes her, she's learned to grab anything interesting that's offered to her, without worrying about the strings attached.Read Article >
Jake's invitation is the first offering she latches onto in the film, but it isn't the last. From the beginning, writer-director Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank) invites audiences to wonder why Star is so rootless, so simultaneously demanding and easygoing, so stubbornly entitled, yet willing to roll with the flow. The bits of her history that emerge explain some of her character, but mostly, the film just watches her navigate enough situations that the logic behind the seeming contradictions gradually becomes clear. Her behavior initially seems erratic, but Star slowly emerges as one of the most startling and fascinating characters to hit movie screens this year. By the end of the movie's 158-minute runtime, she feels like an old friend — the kind that might steal your valuables and disappear in the middle of the night, but at least not unexpectedly.
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One of the great experiences of the Toronto International Film Festival so far was The Red Turtle, billed as the latest from Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli, producers of films like Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, and many other visually gorgeous films about spunky young characters discovering their place in the world. But as the trailer for The Red Turtle shows, the film doesn’t follow Ghibli’s house style at all, and it’s about a man alone on a desert island, rather than the usual kids interacting with a big, chaotic environment. That’s because The Red Turtle is something new for Ghibli: an international co-production directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, and animated in France and Belgium by a series of animation companies. The wordless, immersive film is a unique experience. And so was the Q&A after the TIFF screening where Emily Yoshida and I watched the film. Normally, post-screening Q&As are short, messy affairs where audience members ramble through questions, too many of which start with “This is more of a comment than a question,” or “As a filmmaker myself, I’d like to tell you about my experiences.” And often the filmmakers are just as rambling. Not Michaël Dudok de Wit. There’s so little information online right now about The Red Turtle, and his responses were so cogent, informative, and interesting, that Emily and I decided to transcribe and post de Wit’s responses. The film is already terrific, and the background just makes it better.
Sep 14, 2016Read Article >
At the Q&A following the premiere of Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee, a question came from the front of the audience: now that the film was out, was the director Nanette Burstein concerned for her safety? “We do have security here,” Burstein said, “there were some threats made by his acolytes threatening they were going to come.” It wasn’t clear whether Burstein was joking, and a patter of uneasy laughter rippled across the room. “Fortunately,” she said scanning the theater, “it seems okay.”
Sep 14, 2016
When Netflix announced it would be producing new episodes of the UK show Black Mirror, it was a moment to rejoice. Charlie Brooker’s anthology series had already made a huge impression with its collection of The Outer Limits-style tales focusing on the perils of technology, but across two seasons and a Christmas special there had been just seven episodes. Netflix bought in big, agreeing to produce 12 new episodes of the show, with the first six arriving on the service on October 21st. Two were being shown here as part of TIFF’s television-focused "Primetime" section.Read Article >
"San Junipero" starts in 1987, as an awkward, self-conscious woman named Yorkie (Halt and Catch Fire’s Mackenzie Davis) arrives at the coastal party town of San Junipero. At a local club, she meets Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is everything Yorkie isn’t: self-assured, collected, and sexually confident. The two hit it off, and after spending the night together Yorkie thinks she has the makings of her first real relationship. Kelly disappears, however, so Yorkie goes looking for her in San Junipero… in different decades.
Sep 13, 2016Read Article >
On the surface, there isn't a lot of common ground between J.A. Bayona's 2007 creepy ghost story debut The Orphanage, his tsunami disaster tale The Impossible, and his new film A Monster Calls, a tremendously effective tear-jerker about a young British boy named Conor coping with his mother's illness by sneaking off to confront a roaring, blazing tree-monster that insists on telling him fables. But all three films are about mothers and sons, about loss and grieving and coping, and about the strength of family bonds even in catastrophic situations. When I sat down with J.A. Bayona at the Toronto International Film Festival a day after the world premiere of his film, he teased out something else that all three of his features have in common, which speaks more to Bayona's own mythical storytelling style than anything else.A Monster Calls stars Felicity Jones as Conor's mother; Sigourney Weaver as his brusque, icy grandmother; and Liam Neeson as the voice of the monster. It's based on a children's book by Patrick Ness (author of the stunning Chaos Walking YA series), who also wrote the screenplay. Bayona and I talked about the process of refining that screenplay with Ness, but also about why he built a huge live-action version of his CGI monster, and why he isn't worried about his terrifying creature looking kind of like Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.
Movie trends run in cycles, and perhaps the most fascinating thing about the torrent of found footage movies that have assaulted audiences over the past decade is the one franchise that’s been missing: The Blair Witch Project. Back in 1999, filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez terrified audiences with a film that was purportedly cut together from footage shot by three would-be documentarians that vanished in the Maryland woods. It was raw, scary, and a massive hit that seemed to kick off an unstoppable force — until a rushed-out-the-door sequel killed the franchise dead the very next year.Read Article >
That’s the legacy that writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) are working with in their latest collaboration, Blair Witch. A direct sequel to the first film, it picks up as the younger brother of one of those original missing documentarians becomes convinced his sister may still be alive somewhere in the woods. Obviously, things go very wrong from there, but Blair Witch does one thing undeniably right: reminding the audience why they were freaked out by this franchise in the first place.
Film festivals are often so full of the best, the brightest, and the most prestigious, that it’s sometimes an awful lot of fun look in the other direction — to check out the genre movies, the weird goofs, and the horror flicks. There’s a particularly rich selection of scary movies to choose from this year at Toronto, ranging from surreal indies to the latest from acclaimed international filmmakers. And sequels. Lots and lots of sequels. So on Monday, I dedicated my morning to a very important, sacred event that I fully expect to become a TIFF tradition: the horror movie sequel double feature.Read Article >
Diving into such a daunting task without preparation would have been unwise — I didn’t want to pull anything — so I actually started my scary movie warm-up routine a couple of nights ago when I caught a screening of Osgood Perkins’ second feature I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. It’s an odd and creepy title for an odder and creepier film, in which Lily (Ruth Wilson, The Affair) plays a young nurse who moves into the home of an aging horror author (Paula Prentiss) inspired by novelist Shirley Jackson.
Sep 12, 2016
There's an entire category of films my husband has written off as personal poison. He calls them "bad-choice movies," and he hates the genre so much that he won't go see a film if it even looks like it fits the description. The example that defined his personal hate-genre is Very Bad Things, Peter Berg's 1998 black comedy about a bunch of yahoos who go to Vegas for a bachelor party, accidentally kill a stripper (ha ha on her, I guess?), and try to cover it up, with disastrous results that just keep creating bigger and even more insoluble problems. A bad-choice movie is defined by the horrible corners the characters paint themselves into, and how each successive poor judgment call just leads to a worse set of options. It's about escalation, and the horror that comes from eventually running out of choices.Read Article >
Very Bad Things is a manic, lowbrow comedy, but bad-choice films come from all sectors of cinema. Arthouse dramas like Frozen River and Wendy and Lucy fit the bill, as do thrillers like A Simple Plan, any action movie involving schemers or scammers, and quite a few Coen brothers films. And this year's Toronto International Film Festival seems to be racking them up pretty rapidly. And no wonder: bad choices create drama, and drama creates exciting movies. (With all apologies to my husband, I don't share his particular prejudice against this species of film.) The problem comes when characters' choices are so bad that they're mystifying, when they bounce you out of the film because you're too busy wondering "Why would a human being do that?" to stay engaged with the plot.
Sep 12, 2016
Almost four years since his return from Central America, much remains unknown about John McAfee's time in Belize, and why the cybersecurity expert went into hiding after the still unsolved murder of his neighbor, American expat Gregory Faull.Read Article >
Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Nanette Burstein, the stunning new documentary Gringo: The dangerous life of John McAfee, suggests that the millionaire founder of the McAfee antivirus empire is not only directly responsible for Faull's murder, but also the heinous torture and killing of a Belizian man named Dave Middleton. Gringo also features an interview with McAfee's onetime business partner Allison Adonizio, in which Adonizio suggests McAfee drugged and raped her following a dispute.
Sep 11, 2016
I haven't yet seen Oliver Stone's Snowden at TIFF this year — though you can read Bryan Bishop's rather unfavorable review here. Luckily, I don't really have to, thanks to "The Veil," the new original song written by Peter Gabriel for the film's soundtrack, which by all reports, plays over the end credits. Thanks to BuzzFeed's Alison Willmore for the hot tip:Read Article >
They truly don't make 'em like this anymore, folks. Gabriel deftly describes the actions of Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee turned NSA whistleblower, using a seamless combination of metaphor, simile, and statement of fact. Over a pulsing, prodding beat, Gabriel sings in hushed tones, gently reminding viewers that "information flows." A sampling of some of the lyrical highlights:
Sep 11, 2016
As a filmmaker, Oliver Stone arguably built his career on the idea of questioning the establishment. Whether critiquing the way we looked at the Vietnam War (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July), the Reaganomic excesses of the ‘80s (Wall Street), or even conventional cinematic norms (the jarring, music-video inspired Natural Born Killers), Stone has always tried to push the envelope — and if that resulted in some people thinking he sounded like a crackpot conspiracy theorist (hi, JFK), then so much the better.Read Article >
All of which makes his latest film, a biopic on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, such a disappointment. It’s the story of an idealistic young man who slowly learns that the government is working in increasingly nefarious ways, wrapping his life in a cocoon of conspiracy and paranoia until he’s simply forced to speak out. But where there should be passion, there’s shortcuts; where one expects outrage, there’s clumsy brute-force dramatics.
Sep 11, 2016Read Article >
Amanda Knox found herself in the tabloids yet again this past weekend, when she arrived at the Toronto airport for TIFF, accompanied by her current boyfriend, author Christopher Robinson. Robinson was called out for his Riff Raff-esque appearance: cheetah-print pants, Terry Richardson glasses, and a beard manicured to look like he’d been mauled by a grizzly. But almost a decade after the murder of Knox’s housemate — and Knox’s subsequent arrest and repeated acquittal — the 29-year-old is probably relieved to have the media fixated on what her boyfriend is wearing.
Sep 11, 2016Read Article >
So much of the conversation around the film now seems like preprepared talking points and deflections, endlessly repeated, with minor variations. (Parker is a good man, many people worked on this film besides Parker, we're just honored to be here.) So it was actually a relief to get so directly back to what makes the film relevant, and to find a topic where Parker seemed not just on firm ground, but ready to speak with the force of personal conviction. And it was a relief to see him reflecting larger issues outside of his own current battles. It's unclear whether the Birth of a Nation conversation will ever fully return to being about the film itself, but this at least felt like one helpful step forward.