10 Must-See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

12 Years a Slave1 10 Must See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

There are literally too many potentially great movies playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival for a single person to see them all over the course of the festival’s eleven-day run. The lineup for TIFF 2013 is one of its strongest yet, and for those of us fortunate enough to attend, it all but guarantees a fantastic two weeks of cinema, and for the rest of the movie watching public, it indicates good things for the upcoming fall and winter film seasons.

In some cases, movies being screened at TIFF are set for release just weeks later in September, so the headstart festival audiences will have is not all that noteworthy. Others—such as You’re Next, for instance, which premiered at TIFF two years ago and finally saw a theatrical run this summer—may not be seen for some time.

The festival has a history of offering heightened publicity for awards seasons contenders. Last year it boasted premieres of the likes of Silver Linings Playbook and Argo, which went on to big things. Festival publicists are also quick to point out other success stories like Precious and Slumdog Millionaire.

The truth is, the festival premiere circuit is becoming more arbitrary and crowded. This week we’ve been hearing all about the films showing at Telluride and Venice, which is in turn generating buzz for TIFF, which will likely generate buzz for late fall releases and Oscar consideration. I’m personally far less interested in that than in having the opportunity to get an early viewing of some of the best filmmaking of the year.

So, with that in mind, here are 10 of the most highly anticipated TIFF 2013 movies that you’ll be hearing plenty more about in the coming weeks.

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1) Gravity

Gravity 10 Must See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

Buzziest of all the TIFF 2013 films is the new Alfonso Cuarón space thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Yes, Gravity is a movie that has been on moviegoer radars for weeks, months, even years. The magnificent trailer caught the attention of audiences back in May, but the hype surrounding this movie has been at a steady growth ever since Cuarón started showing amazing footage from it months earlier. He re-teams with the best cinematographer in the business, Emmanuel Lubezki, with whom he worked on the much-heralded Children of Men, and so a powerful visual experience can be all but assured with this one.

I’ve tried to avoid too many of the reviews, but the glimpses I’ve caught seem to reach a consensus around this movie being a game-changer. This, of course, brings us to the difficult terrain of cinematic expectations. With the buzz being as insane as it is for Gravity, the chances that it could live up to expectations becomes a more and more daunting prospect. Then again, the critics who have seen it already seem to think it meets and exceeds their wildest hopes for what it would be. We’ll all have to wait and see, but this is the one I’m most excited about seeing at the festival. The good news is that it’s also scheduled for an October 4th release everywhere, so the post-TIFF wait won’t be very long at all.

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2) Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club 10 Must See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

The pitch: Matthew McConaughey-led AIDS drama. Talk about grabbing an audience’s attention. That’s only the tip of the intrigue iceberg, however; McConaughey plays RonWoodroof, a true-life figure from the 1980s who smuggled alternative medications into Texas after being diagnosed with HIV in hopes of prolonging his own life and the lives of fellow patients.

Co-stars include Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner, but the most exciting aspect of the movie has to be McConaughey and his performance. The physical transformation he has put himself through has been getting the most attention, losing nearly 40 pounds to replicate the emaciated look of his character. This continues the trend of McConaughey’s career transformation, becoming one of the most fascinating and compelling actors around right now, and is indeed perhaps the most high-profile role of his to date, playing the lead in a historical drama. The speculation is that he’ll finally be up for several lead actor awards come winter, a welcome reward for about three years now of outstanding film work.

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3) 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave 10 Must See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

12 Years a Slave might be attracting the most attention from critics aside from Gravity, and it’s not surprising. This is a film that’s been talked about as an Oscar contender since it was first announced. It’s the biggest production yet for acclaimed British director Steve McQueen, and boasts an all-star cast including McQueen’s go-to collaborator Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, and even more that I could mention, but you might as well just check out its IMDb page.

The story itself sounds absolutely fascinating: Solomon Northup, played by Ejiofor, is a free black man in 1841 who is kidnapped in Washington DC and sold into slavery in Louisiana. McQueen showed his directorial skills in Hunger and Shame, two relatively small, intimate and focused features, and this is decidedly his most ambitious film effort to date. All signs point to him being able to pull it off, but we’ll find out when it premieres.

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4) Labor Day

LaborDayJasonReitmanFLphotofull1 10 Must See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

Jason Reitman is TIFF’s favorite—I guess I should say favourite—son. He’s actually the son of famed director Ivan Reitman, but his ties to Toronto are deep and his loyalty to the festival is admirable. This year sees another debut screening of the director’s follow-up to Juno, Up in the Air, and Young Adult, which is said to be a starkly dramatic turn for Reitman, whose films tend to have a strong comedic element despite dealing with sometimes heavy themes.

With festival films, the cast is often one of the biggest reasons for seeking out a particular film, and with Labor Day boasting the likes of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in its two lead roles, it’s sure to be a title that’s high in demand. Add to this the positive buzz about the film coming out of Telluride, with critics hailing it as a mature progression for Reitman, who’s only 35 (!), as well as its scheduled mid-awards season release, and this becomes one of the most must-see films at TIFF 2013.

I’ve always found Reitman’s comedic movies to be trying a little too hard to be serious at times, and his moralizing of his characters irks me slightly, but he’s clearly a filmmaker with an enormous upside and until he does something truly offensive, his work will always be worth going out of your way to see.

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5) Enough Said

Enough Said 10 Must See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

Possibly the last great movie to star James Gandolfini, Enough Said has the potential to be one of the less publicized gems of the festival. If you’ve seen the lovely little 2010 film Please Give, you’re likely aware of the understatedly fantastic talent of director Nicole Holofcener. Her new film looks to be building upon the success of her previous work, collaborating again with Catherine Keener but also putting Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her first major film role in I don’t know how long. The always terrific Toni Collette rounds out the cast.

The story itself sounds a little more interesting than other films of this type: the Louis-Dreyfus character is a masseuse and seems to become besties with one of her clients, Catherine Keener, until she starts unknowingly going out with Keener’s ex-husband, Gandolfini. It sounds dramatic and almost like a strange romantic comedy plot, but knowing Nicole Holofcener’s style, it will mostly be a vehicle for a realistic look at relationships and complicated, multi-dimensional characters in a relatable setting. Let’s hope one of the most high-profile female directors at the festival lives up to the expectations.

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6) Third Person

Third Person1 10 Must See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

Paul Haggis hasn’t been on the cinematic radar for a few years, but he makes his big return at TIFF 2013. The fact that this is his first release since his very public departure from the Church of Scientology may or may not factor in, but either way, it’s nice to see Haggis back in the fold after his less successful but, in my opinion, underrated The Next Three Days. Something about his directing doesn’t satisfy everyone, as evidenced by Crash and In the Valley of Elah, but there are plenty who find at least his writing style exciting and insightful. He’s the writer behind Million Dollar Baby, after all.

The cast of the film is impressive enough to intrigue any skeptics: James Franco and Mila Kunis play the two leads, while Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde and Adrien Brody star in supporting roles. What’s also interesting about the movie is that it was made outside of the Hollywood studios, apparently receiving financing from some kind Belgians, an unusual route for someone of Haggis’ clout and access, but again, possibly a result of his break from what is allegedly the most powerful religious institution in Hollywood. It has yet to secure an American distributor, so its world premiere at TIFF will be supremely important for Haggis if he’s to return to the top of the cinematic hill.

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7) Hateship Loveship

Hateship Loveship 10 Must See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

There’s not a lot of information out on Hateship Loveship, and yet its director and cast make it an intriguing mix with enormous potential, the former being rising star Liza Johnson and the latter consisting of Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, Nick Nolte and Hailee Steinfeld. The last lead role for Wiig, Girl Most Likely, proved significantly disappointing for audiences, but this one seems set to right the ship.

One reason it seems promising is that it’s based on a collection of short stories by renowned Canadian author Alice Munro. Another is that Johnson’s previous work, a small but well received film starring Linda Cardellini entitled Return, indicates some serious talent and potential for big things. This film could make TIFF 2013 her coming out party, and solidify Wiig as a bonafide movie star.

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8) Made in America

Made in America 10 Must See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

Now, this will be one to see. And yet it will be difficult for most people to see, since it’s only screening for one night at TIFF so getting tickets for it will be undoubtedly crazy. Ron Howard has two films showing at the festival, the other being the Chris Hemsworth-starring Rush, which opens a couple of weeks following its opening in Toronto. For me at least, Made in America is the film that garners far greater interest, since it features Ron Howard trying his hand for the first time at documentary, a genre that has been exciting territory for traditional narrative directors like Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese to experiment in.

The doc serves as a showcase of the Made in America Music Festival based in Philadelphia and founded only a year ago by Jay-Z. The second edition of the festival is actually taking place presently, at the time of this writing, and so the documentary is likely to offer an interesting look at the festival one year later. The lineup alone makes this a concert movie worth seeing: Pearl Jam, Rum-DMC, Janelle Monae, Skrillex, and Jay-Z and Beyoncé themselves. Although One Direction: This Is Us set the bar pretty high for concert films this year, Made in America could be the one film to top it.

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9) You Are Here

You Are Here 10 Must See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

Following in the footsteps of his former boss David Chase, who directed his first feature film last year called Not Fade Away, Matthew Weiner is debuting his first feature at TIFF, You Are Here. The similarities between the two end there, and the contrasts in their vastly different movies speak volumes.

You Are Here is being touted as a straight-up comedy, and its cast reinforces this reputation, as the film stars Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson and Amy Poehler. It’s sure to feature some of the trademarks Weiner has come to be known for thanks to his incredible work on Mad Men (complex characters, smart observations on human nature and relationships), and it looks to pair these with some of the sharpest comedic talents working today. It’s entirely possible that this could be the festival’s sleeper hit.

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10) Joe

Joe 10 Must See Movies Playing At TIFF 2013

If you haven’t seen Prince Avalanche yet, you should check it out. David Gordon Green has returned to small, weird indie dramas that are funny, or comedies that are a little serious, or however you want to classify them. I’m starting to think more and more that he is for weird comedy what Nicolas Winding Refn is for weird violence. They both seem to just go for things, whatever pops into their heads, and whatever amuses them or disturbs them or makes them feel something, and that can translate into total misses or it can turn into bizarre yet amazing cinematic experiences.

Joe stars Nicolas Cage and the kid from The Tree of Life and Mud. That’s all I know, and all I care to know, because those elements alone make it one of the festival films I absolutely need to see. Oh, it also looks like Cage has just the fiercest of beards.

There’s no shortage of movies to check out at TIFF 2013, to be sure. The programmers have outdone themselves in offering something for everyone—not just something, but many things, too many things for a single person to take in all on their own. Prioritizing and scheduling the films you want to see if you’re going to such a fan-friendly festival like TIFF is key, and almost an impossible pursuit. But that’s part of the fun. If nothing else, anything in the Midnight Madness field will be worth the price of admission. And beyond that, it’s just a fun time to be in Toronto.

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