By Pete Hammond
The Toronto Film Festival gets things rolling tomorrow with the announcement of movies for its 2017 fest, and we are hearing that films with such stars as Jake Gyllenhaal, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Kate Winslet, Idris Elba, Andrew Garfield, Frances McDormand, Margot Robbie, Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart, Woody Harrelson, Nicole Kidman, Liam Neeson and many more are likely to be included.
Even as so-called “Oscar bait” movies such as Dunkirk or Detroit are flooding the multiplexes earlier than usual this year with big summer breaks, the real awards game begins in earnest with the fall’s big three film festivals, gearing up for the official start of the six-month awards season at the end of August. Let the guessing begin.
With films known to be going to Venice like announced opening-nighter Downsizing from director Alexander Payne and Fox Searchlight’s Steve Carell-Emma Stone tennis flick Battle Of The Sexes a certainty for debuting at Telluride, we can launch the speculation game for Toronto. The fest announces its first wave of world premieres, galas and special presentations on Tuesday morning, becoming the first of the important fall fest trifecta of Venice/Telluride/Toronto to release an official lineup even though it goes last, not opening until September 7. The Venice Film Festival will launch August 30 with the aforementioned Downsizing, while Telluride follows September 1 and runs through Labor Day, where we are likely to see the North American premiere of the Payne film. Venice announces its full lineup on Thursday in Italy, but Telluride waits until the charter plane takes off for the Rockies on August 31 to unveil its titles, keeping them close to the vest until the last minute.
The New York and London film festivals already jumped the gun, with NYFF selecting Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying, a sort-of follow-up to 1973’s The Last Detail from Amazon, as its world-premiere opener September 28, and London launching the “European” premiere of Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe (Bleecker Street, October 13) starring Andrew Garfield as polio-stricken Robin Cavendish on October 4. That means Breathe, which co-stars Claire Foy, is definitely going to show up first at Telluride or Toronto, or maybe both.
It will be relatively easy to figure out what may be hitting Telluride or Venice just by combing through TIFF’s announcement tomorrow. TIFF labels its films as either world premieres, North American premieres or Canadian premieres — the last one being a real tipoff as to what might be playing in Colorado or Venice first. We’ll analyze that tomorrow along with the TIFF selections, but certain titles already seem assured to land in Venice such as George Clooney’s Suburbicon, Stephen Frears’ Victoria And Abdul, and a couple of other titles from Fox Searchlight (which is going to be very busy season): Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape Of Water and Martin McDonagh’s offbeat Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, which stars Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. A24 could also be busy there with Andrew Haigh’s racehorse drama Lean On Pete already the source of speculation, and from what I heard a couple of months ago, the Kirsten Dunst-starring drama Woodshock, but we’ll find out soon enough.
Telluride is known to have courted a number of films (toppers Tom Luddy and Julie Huntsinger have traveled from Berlin to Cannes to studio screening rooms in the hunt), and you can place a pretty good bet that — in addition to Telluride fan Payne’s Downsizing and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ Battle Of The Sexes — there will be the usual eclectic mix. Titles I’m hearing about include Sebastian Lelio’s transgender drama A Fantastic Woman; Loving Vincent, the hand-drawn animated film inspired by the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh; and a few Cannes premieres like Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck (already announced as the centerpiece for NYFF).
But back to Tuesday’s TIFF press conference, where we might hear many of these movies mentioned as well, or maybe later in the summer (TIFF spreads out its full lineup over a few press conferences). The festival already has stated its intention to trim its offerings by 20% this year, after it became just too bloated with nearly 300 films competing for attention in recent years. Organizers also are sticking to using the first half of their festival for world or North American premieres in order to counter the increasing competition from Telluride.
You still can count on hearing a number of potential awards prospects when its lineup comes into focus at 10 AM ET: I am betting that the Weinstein Company’s The Current War from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon will be among them, even though it doesn’t open until December. It stars Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch as electricity wonders Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. Harvey Weinstein is very high on this one’s awards prospects, as he told me during the cocktail reception for his annual amFAR Cinema Against AIDS event in Cannes in May. “You people need me to be in the race,” he jokingly said, referring to awards pundits. “You should pay me just to keep coming up with these movies.” Whether TWC will take it first to Telluride, a la what it did with eventual Best Picture winner The King’s Speech in 2010, will be answered shortly. TWC also could unspool Untouchable, its English-language remake of The Intouchables starring Cranston, Hart and Nicole Kidman.
Also tipped for TIFF, we are hearing, might be 20th Century Fox’s The Mountain Between Us (October 6), starring Kate Winslet and Idris Elba as a pair of plane-crash survivors. Fox is high enough on this one to be inviting press to see footage and chat with director Hany Abu-Assad later this week on the lot. Also possible for TIFF is Stronger, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, which opens on the TIFF-friendly date of September 22 from Lionsgate (with Roadside), which also has November 17 release. Wonder starring Julia Roberts is in the fest mix as well, though it perhaps is a shakier prospect for the fall trifecta. Margot Robbie is expected to turn up at TIFF in the much-anticipated Craig Gillespie-directed I, Tonya, in which she plays scandal-plagued Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding.
We also hear the suddenly very prolific Terrence Malick’s World War II story Radegund is a possibility, as well as Anthony Mandler’s teen-centered juvenile-delinquent drama Monster, Joseph Kahn’s Bodied and the aforementioned Venice possibility The Shape Of Water. In fact, several titles from Cannes, Venice and Telluride inevitably will land at TIFF as they always do, including a slew of foreign-language pics. You also definitely can expect to see Luca Guadagnino’s acclaimed Sundance hit Call Me By Your Name in Canada (not Telluride), even though the Sony Pictures Classics film doesn’t open until late-November. SPC often uses TIFF to show off a number of titles and throws a lavish dinner there every year (as it also does in Telluride), so expect to see other SPC titles such as Cannes prize winner Loveless; Michael Haneke’s Happy Ending; A Fantastic Woman; Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House, with Liam Neeson; and perhaps Paolo Virzi’s Ella And John (aka The Leisure Seeker) starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, though Virzi’s Italian homeland might claim that one first.
Other possibilities include Paramount’s Annihilation from Ex-Machina’s Alex Garland, which seems to be a 2018 release at this point (but we hear the new Par management might be thinking of moving it to this year’s awards season; the film was highlighted at the studio’s CinemaCon presentation); American Sniper writer Jason Hall’s directorial debut Thank You For Your Service with Miles Teller; Greta Gerwig’s directing debut Lady Bird; Aaron Sorkin’s directorial launch Molly’s Game, starring Jessica Chastain, which I hear is sensational. STX releases in November. Also there is Canada’s own wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s The Death And Life Of John F. Donovan, with a starry cast, and Scott Cooper’s Hostiles.
There is also Doug Liman’s American Made, which opens September 29 from Universal, but star Tom Cruise’s availability could keep it off the fest circuit, even as I hear it is the best thing he’s done in years acting-wise. Sony Pictures has been known to use Toronto as a launch pad for commercial fare such as last year’s opening-night attraction The Magnificent Seven. Could SPC’s just-retitled firefighting drama Only The Brave (October 20), the true-life story of the heroic Granite Mountain Hotshots, fill that bill? Will Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! starring Jennifer Lawrence turn up somewhere before opening September 15 from Paramount? Probably not due to that timing for the film, which originally was set for October. But I won’t bet against John Curran’s sure-to-be-controversial Chappaquiddick starring Jason Clarke as Sen. Ted Kennedy and Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne. That appears to be the kind of subject matter and conversation-starter festivals love.
Cannes entries like Yorgas Lanthimos’ The Killing Of A Sacred Deer or Netflix’s terrific The Meyerowitz Stories, written and directed by Noah Baumbach with award-worthy work from Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller, might make the trek to Canada. So too could another Stiller comedy, Brad’s Status from director Mike White, even though Amazon, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, and Annapurna have set this one for release September 15, before the festival is officially over.
Time will tell (like tomorrow) on many of these titles, but you can bet that at least a few will have their names called, along with lots more not among those speculated in this piece.