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TIFF Unveils Its First Slate of Films

The festival celebrates 39 years with a mix of star-studded movies and auteur offerings.

TIFF CEO and director Piers Handling and artistic director Cameron Bailey.

Taking the stage of the largest cinema at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this morning, just over a month before showtime, Toronto International Film Festival CEO and director Piers Handling and artistic director Cameron Bailey announced a small selection of titles to be featured at the 39th edition of TIFF. As always, the opening press conference stuck to the Special Presentations and Gala programs, withholding most Canadian titles, and leaving big news for fans of alternative filmmaking in programs like Wavelengths and Midnight Madness still to come.

This year, the festival played it cool for its first event, keeping mum about its opening night gala—either because the details haven’t been finalized or because organizers are saving that announcement for the Canadian content showcase. (We were a bit surprised it wasn’t Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children, given the director’s longstanding relationship with the festival, though it will be featured all the same.) In lieu of that reveal, the festival did announce its official closer: Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos, a period piece starring Kate Winslet as a landscape gardener at Versailles. Though the former Professor Snape was not on hand for the presser, he did pass along some kind words for the good people of Toronto.

There’s rarely anything shocking about the Special Presentations and Gala lineups, and this year’s offerings are par for the course, comprising a good balance of star-studded offerings and tasteful auteur films. Among the titles are several holdovers from Cannes, including David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, Bennett Miller’s thriller Foxcatcher, and Mike Leigh’s J.M.W. Turner biopic Mr. Turner, all three of which won awards at the festival. We suspect Xavier Dolan’s Mommy is waiting in the wings for now.

Looking to the world premieres announced so far, we’re most excited about Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden, a period piece about the French electronic music scene in the ’90s featuring Greta Gerwig. We’re also looking forward to Christian Petzold’s Phoenix, a followup to 2012’s Barbara, starring that film’s steely anchor, Nina Hoss, as a disfigured concentration camp survivor. Those seeking something a bit more celebrity-dense may be drawn more to titles like Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, which features Jake Gyllenhaal as a guy drawn into the world of Los Angeles crime journalism, and Michael R. Roskam’s The Drop, which looked rather dopey, going by the trailer, but claims star turns from Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini.

Big names were prominent in the announcements. Reese Witherspoon featured twice, having worked separately with two feted Montreal filmmakers over the past year: recent Oscar nominee Jean-Marc Vallée in Wild (an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir), and Monsieur Lazhar director Philippe Falardeau in The Good Lie (which stars Witherspoon as the Western liberal saviour of a group of Sudanese refugees in what looks to be a schmaltz-fest of a film). Meanwhile, Adam Driver fans anticipating his turn as a Star Wars villain will be heartened to see him in three separate films at TIFF 2014: Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, Shawn Levy’s This Is Where I Leave You, and, curiously, Italian filmmaker Saverio Costanzo’s Hungry Hearts.

Leading up to the press conference, the big question on people’s minds was whether Bailey’s recent hardball stance against other festivals pilfering TIFF premieres under the guise of holding secret screenings would result in any measurable fallout, such as losing major titles to fall competitors (including the Telluride Film Festival). The answer as of now seems to be, Who knows? The list of titles at this year’s TIFF, if a bit light on fresh blood, was roughly what you’d expect it to be. The only conspicuous absences so far—David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice—were already long shots, having appeared on the New York Film Festival’s slate last week.

At any rate, Bailey and Handling were keen to talk about more positive developments—namely TIFF’s rechristening a section of King Street as “Festival Street” for the duration of the fest, which runs from September 4–14. We’ll know more about what this means—beyond closing the stretch of road to vehicular traffic and introducing a stage and some space for both pop-up performances and pedestrian lounging—as the festival inches closer.

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