Keith Simanton's "Toronto Films I'm Most Excited to See"

by keithsim | last updated - 06 Sep 2016

First off there are several terrific films at Toronto that I've already seen. I recommend them highly but they won't be on this list. They include: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, THE HANDMAIDEN, PATTERSON (my favorite film from director Jim Jarmusch) and LOVING. PS: Full disclosure, I do work for Amazon and most of the preceding film were all from Amazon Studios (LOVING is not). -- by Keith Simanton

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1. La La Land (I) (2016)

PG-13 | 128 min | Comedy, Drama, Music

8.1
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
93 Metascore

While navigating their careers in Los Angeles, a pianist and an actress fall in love while attempting to reconcile their aspirations for the future.

Director: Damien Chazelle | Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons

Votes: 323,348 | Gross: $151.10M

I had this as my No. 1 film for TIFF before the rapturous reviews started coming in from the Venice Film Festival, where it opened the fest. The initial, dream-state trailer made Damien Chazelle's follow-up to WHIPLASH look like a true gamble with shades of ONE FROM THE HEART, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and Paul Mazursky's TEMPEST. None of those shades boded well for the final film as those were all through-and-through misses with achingly beautiful moments. Here's hoping the center holds here, as many intimate that it does.

2. Arrival (II) (2016)

PG-13 | 116 min | Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi

8.0
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  
81 Metascore

When twelve mysterious spacecrafts appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.

Director: Denis Villeneuve | Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

Votes: 408,010 | Gross: $100.55M

Villeneuve has shown an adept hand at tackling varied genres, from the action-intrigue of SICARIO, to the SILENCE OF THE LAMBS drama-thriller PRISONERS to the international mystery of INCENDIES. But it's his work on ENEMY, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal's main character as he searches for his double, that intrigues me. The film continually interspersed the action with nightmarish visions of monstrous spiders, on the ceiling and ultimately towering over a city, that proved the director's ability to manifest a grand visionary landscape of fear.

3. Forushande (2016)

PG-13 | 124 min | Drama, Thriller

7.9
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
85 Metascore

While both participating in a production of "Death of a Salesman," a teacher's wife is assaulted in her new home, which leaves him determined to find the perpetrator over his wife's traumatized objections.

Director: Asghar Farhadi | Stars: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi, Mina Sadati

Votes: 29,898 | Gross: $3.40M

Advance word on this Amazon Studios pickup is that it is a riveting work. Director Farhadi's past films, the brilliant, Oscar-nominated A SEPARATION and the knowing THE PAST, have shown he can take the most mundane of circumstances and prove that they're really Gordian knots tied around nooses on his characters' necks and involve us in their untangling them.

4. A Monster Calls (2016)

PG-13 | 108 min | Drama, Fantasy

7.5
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
76 Metascore

A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mother's terminal illness.

Director: J.A. Bayona | Stars: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell

Votes: 53,294 | Gross: $3.73M

J.A. Bayona made THE IMPOSSIBLE, the woefully under-seen film about a family trying to survive the tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004, giving Spider-Man Tom Holland his first feature film role. Bayona also made the truly creepy, also woefully under-seen film THE ORPHANAGE, about a woman who returns to her childhood home, a haunted orphanage. It was a film that was haunting in an entirely different sense than a horror film attempts to convey. What wonders will he produce with a film that evokes Spielberg? Particularly since it seems, with the BFG as proof, that Spielberg can't do Spielberg anymore? The film has moved to an awards-friendly slot in December meaning Focus Features thinks it has a chance there.

5. Colossal (2016)

R | 109 min | Action, Comedy, Drama

6.2
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
70 Metascore

Gloria is an out-of-work party girl forced to leave her life in New York City and move back home. When reports surface that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, she gradually comes to the realization that she is somehow connected to this phenomenon.

Director: Nacho Vigalondo | Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson

Votes: 33,206 | Gross: $3.02M

Every time I've met Anne Hathaway she has been genuine and engaging. What I'm excited about here, however, is the return of writer/director Nacho Vigalondo. He directed the mind-messing TIMECRIMES (which was great) and EXTRATERRESTRIAL (which was pretty damn good). His mix of characters with the super-natural is always welcome. Plus it's got Dan Stevens and that guy is my next "boy, he's gonna break out here soon" pick.

6. The Birth of a Nation (2016)

R | 120 min | Biography, Drama, History

6.3
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
69 Metascore

Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher in the antebellum South, orchestrates an uprising.

Director: Nate Parker | Stars: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley

Votes: 15,438 | Gross: $15.86M

I heard a lot of "Wow, brutal but memorable" comments from the folks who saw this at Sundance. What was lacking was a measure of appreciation for the experience. Regardless of the controversy swirling around writer/director Nate Parker the film, based upon historical events, looks to be another welcome chapter in the messy investigation of the history of the United States.

7. Bleed for This (2016)

R | 117 min | Biography, Drama, Sport

6.8
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
62 Metascore

The inspirational story of World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza who, after a near fatal car crash which left him not knowing if he'd ever walk again, made one of sport's most incredible comebacks.

Director: Ben Younger | Stars: Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds

Votes: 16,333 | Gross: $4.85M

A raft of reasons to be interested here. Ben Younger directed BOILER ROOM, a cut-rate but extremely clean WALL STREET and one of the few films to leverage the brilliance of Giovanni Ribisi. Also gives Miles Teller to step outside of ensembles like WAR DOGS and FANTASTIC FOUR and stand on his own in the ring. I'm there.

8. Planetarium (2016)

105 min | Drama, Fantasy, Mystery

4.7
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.7/10 X  
44 Metascore

Follows the journey of sisters who are believed to possess the supernatural ability to connect with ghosts. They cross paths with a visionary French producer while performing in Paris.

Director: Rebecca Zlotowski | Stars: Natalie Portman, Lily-Rose Depp, Emmanuel Salinger, Amira Casar

Votes: 1,427

Sure, sure, Natalie Portman, Lily-Rose Depp, and all that. The reason to see this film is that it's the follow-up film for director Rebecca Zlotowski. Her film before this was the superb GRAND CENTRAL, with Lea Seydoux and Tahar Rahim. GRAND was in Un Certain Regard in 2013 in Cannes (and should have won) and it also took the François Chalais Award. Her films are worth seeking out.

9. Snowden (2016)

R | 134 min | Biography, Drama, Thriller

7.3
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
58 Metascore

The NSA's illegal surveillance techniques are leaked to the public by one of the agency's employees, Edward Snowden, in the form of thousands of classified documents distributed to the press.

Director: Oliver Stone | Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto

Votes: 95,557 | Gross: $21.59M

If you've seen Laura Poitras's CITIZEN FOUR then you have to be hoping beyond hope that Stone can tone down the rhetoric and just play this one out straight. It won't need his military complex/Bilderberg theories. This chilling, true, wake-up call is more than potent enough and this American hero deserves his ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. I have a fear, however, that Donald Sutherland's Mr. X, from stone's JFK, is going to make an appearance to prove how all the pieces fit together in a giant conspiracy to elect Donald Trump and restart the Vietnam War. Boy I hope that doesn't happen.

10. Their Finest (2016)

R | 117 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

6.8
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
76 Metascore

A former secretary, newly appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films, joins the cast and crew of a major production while the Blitz rages around them.

Director: Lone Scherfig | Stars: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston

Votes: 9,590 | Gross: $3.60M

Director Lone Scherfig directed AN EDUCATION. She also directed ONE DAY but, as is human nature, time heals wounds and I've forgotten ONE DAY, by and large. And I'm very fond of AN EDUCATION. I also love nearly everyone in her THEIR FINEST cast, particularly Arterton, whom I want to see waltzing around during awards season. Maybe not for this film and maybe not this year but soon. Scherfig too.

11. Queen of Katwe (2016)

PG | 124 min | Biography, Drama, Sport

7.4
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
73 Metascore

A Ugandan girl sees her world rapidly change after being introduced to the game of chess.

Director: Mira Nair | Stars: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o, Martin Kabanza

Votes: 9,566 | Gross: $8.81M

Mira Nair has long proven herself adept at films with social messages and with crowd-pleasing spectacle. The Disney marketing machine is behind this one in a big way, which they only do when something is worth watching. Will also be interesting to watch Nyong'o in her first substantial role since 12 YEARS A SLAVE.

12. Kollektivet (2016)

Not Rated | 111 min | Drama

6.4
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
60 Metascore

A story about the clash between personal desires, solidarity and tolerance in a Danish commune in the 1970s.

Director: Thomas Vinterberg | Stars: Fares Fares, Ulrich Thomsen, Trine Dyrholm, Julie Agnete Vang

Votes: 4,254 | Gross: $0.04M

Vinterberg's Oscar-nominated 2012 film, THE HUNT, was a tough film to watch but few have his feel for the claustrophobic sense of a society in lock-step. This feels like his ICE STORM.

13. A United Kingdom (2016)

PG-13 | 111 min | Biography, Drama, Romance

6.8
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
65 Metascore

The story of King Seretse Khama of Botswana and how his loving but controversial marriage to a British white woman, Ruth Williams, put his kingdom into political and diplomatic turmoil.

Director: Amma Asante | Stars: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Tom Felton, Jack Davenport

Votes: 8,072 | Gross: $3.90M

BELLE was an elegant, stylish film and director Amma Asante brought Gugu Mbatha-Raw to our attention. She returns here with what sounds like a conventional tale of unconventional (for its time) love. LOVING is so sedated (though Ruth Negga is wonderful) I wonder if Asante's film will end up the better regarded.

14. LBJ (2016)

R | 98 min | Biography, Drama

6.0
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6/10 X  
54 Metascore

The story of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson from his young days in West Texas to the White House.

Director: Rob Reiner | Stars: Jennifer Jason Leigh, C. Thomas Howell, Bill Pullman, Woody Harrelson

Votes: 639 | Gross: $2.39M

Reiner, the director of such beloved films such as THE PRINCESS BRIDE, THE SURE THING, THIS IS SPINAL TAP, MISERY, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY and more slaps prosthetics onto one of the few guys who can act through a pound of pancake batter, Woody Harrelson. How will they play him? Villain? Buffoon? Visionary? All of the above?

15. American Pastoral (2016)

R | 108 min | Crime, Drama

6.1
Rate this
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  
43 Metascore

An All-American college star and his beauty queen wife watch their seemingly perfect life fall apart as their daughter joins the turmoil of '60s America.

Director: Ewan McGregor | Stars: Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Peter Riegert

Votes: 9,576 | Gross: $0.54M

When an actor sits in the director's chair it can often spell trouble. Ryan Gosling had fits putting out LOST RIVER, for example. But McGregor is such an old soul, and he also done every kind of film, that you have to believe that that wealth of knowledge and experience could come to bear on this production, even if the plot sounds like a complete bummer.

16. All I See Is You (2016)

R | 109 min | Drama, Mystery

5.3
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.3/10 X  
43 Metascore

A blind woman's relationship with her husband changes when she regains her sight and discovers disturbing details about themselves.

Director: Marc Forster | Stars: Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Ahna O'Reilly, Miquel Fernández

Votes: 397 | Gross: $0.22M

I really hate that title but I have a lot of respect for director Marc Forster (STRANGER THAN FICTION, FINDING NEVERLAND, QUANTUM OF SOLACE) so I'll overlook the title.

17. American Honey (2016)

R | 163 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance

7.0
Rate this
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  
79 Metascore

A teenage girl with nothing to lose joins a traveling magazine sales crew, and gets caught up in a whirlwind of hard partying, law bending and young love as she criss-crosses the Midwest with a band of misfits.

Director: Andrea Arnold | Stars: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, McCaul Lombardi

Votes: 24,195 | Gross: $0.66M

Cannes had a number of films that split the critics. This was one of them alongside THE NEON DEMON and PERSONAL SHOPPER but HONEY rides in on a wave of good vibes versus critical acclaim as the other two films did.

18. Le secret de la chambre noire (2016)

131 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

5.9
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  

When an assistant to a daguerreotypy photographer falls in love with the latter's daughter the relationship mirrors the art form as love and pain combine.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa | Stars: Tahar Rahim, Constance Rousseau, Olivier Gourmet, Mathieu Amalric

Votes: 391

A film from the director of THE CURE, starring Tahar Rahim, the star of A PROPHET, GRAND CENTRAL and THE PAST? This is one of those rare occasions for discovery at a film festival that can't be overlooked.

19. Frantz (2016)

PG-13 | 113 min | Drama, History, Romance

7.5
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
73 Metascore

In the aftermath of WWI, a young German who grieves the death of her fiancé in France meets a mysterious Frenchman who visits the fiancé's grave to lay flowers.

Director: François Ozon | Stars: Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber

Votes: 7,257 | Gross: $0.88M

Like Michael Winterbottom I will watch anything that Francois Ozon directs. Yes, he often breaks my heart but just as often he produces something fresh and unexpected (SWIMMING POOL). So I'm stuck and I'll be seeing FRANTZ, if I can.

20. Trespass Against Us (I) (2016)

R | 99 min | Action, Crime, Drama

5.9
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  
50 Metascore

A man looks to find a way to escape the criminal ways of his outlaw family.

Director: Adam Smith | Stars: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Lyndsey Marshal, Georgie Smith

Votes: 4,753

This film enters TIFF with little fanfare given its extraordinary cast. The gangster family sub-genre has had its ups and downs with two Tom Hardy films, LEGEND and LAWLESS, under-whelming while ANIMAL KINGDOM (my gosh, was that really 2010?) earned Oscar noms and boosted careers.