TIFF 2014: Your Guide to the Special Presentations
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TIFF 2014: Your Guide to the Special Presentations

A look at the fest's Special Presentations programme, from Kristen Stewart's finest performance to Xavier Dolan's latest hyperactive opus.

Still from The Clouds of Sils Maria.

Typically the bastion for holdovers from the main competition at Cannes and fresher awards hopefuls eager to hit the fall festival, this year’s Special Presentations lineup is no less starrier or pedigreed than usual.

Of the Cannes luminaries making either their Canadian or North American premieres at the festival in the programme, we’re especially high on Olivier Assayas’s The Clouds of Sils Maria. The emotionally rich, intellectually playful film stars Juliette Binoche as Maria, an acclaimed actress and international star (rather like Binoche herself) summoned to accept an honorary award on behalf of the playwright and director who kickstarted her career when she was only eighteen. When the man dies on the verge of the tribute, Maria finds herself cast in a remake of the production that made her, this time starring as the older woman seduced and abandoned by Sigrid, the character she once played, played this time by a wild young celebrity (Chloë Grace Moretz). There are all sorts of ways that premise could go wrong, but aside from an unfortunate tendency to appoint characters to explicate the film’s themes, Assayas stays the course, coaxing excellent performances out of both Binoche and co-star Kristen Stewart, who steals the picture as Maria’s personal assistant, rehearsal partner, and confidante Valentine—another Sigrid in the making.

Still from Whiplash

Still from Whiplash.

Though Clouds’ narrative doppelgänger Maps to the Stars—also about a middle-aged actress angling for a role in a remake of a film that has personal significance, and also featuring both a waif-like assistant and a star from Twilight—will have its debut as a gala, the Special Presentations programme is also long on films about artists. We’re enthusiastic about Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, a hit out of Sundance about a jazz drum prodigy (Miles Teller) whose rise to artistic genius is both aided and compromised by a demonic bully of a teacher (J.K. Simmons). It’s a ridiculous film in some ways, bearing virtually zero resemblance to reality, but Teller and Simmons are terrific, and Chazelle has real chops, turning the bonkers finale into a tense showstopper.

Still from Mr  Turner

Still from Mr. Turner.

On the other end of the spectrum there’s Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, which is as quiet and pensive as Whiplash is loud and feverish. Timothy Spall plays the titular English Romantic painter in a performance that consists mostly of grunts, throat clears, and a delicate array of arched eyebrow gestures. That’s mostly a good thing: Leigh’s is the rare biopic and period piece that seems to be inhabited by flawed, grumbling real people, rather than the articulate, preening sort we usually see in these sorts of movies.

Still from Mommy

Still from Mommy.

Those seeking Canadian content would do well to check out Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, the French-Canadian multi-hyphenate writer, director, and performer’s fifth film in as many years. We’ve never been as high on the young auteur as others have, but Mommy strikes us as an improvement on the over-cranked style that’s defined his films so far—it overindulges in the same aesthetic flourishes, but to greater purpose. It’s certainly a more vital film than fellow Quebecois countryman Denys Arcand’s newest entry, the dreary, thunderingly obvious An Eye for Beauty, which mostly plays out as a treatise on gorgeous young professionals’ appetites for beautiful things.

Still from Imitation Game

Still from The Imitation Game.

Of the titles we haven’t yet seen, we’re eager to get a peek at The Imitation Game, which features Benedict Cumberbatch in the starring role as Cambridge mathematician and pioneering code-breaker Alan Turing, who was imprisoned for his homosexuality and whose historic accomplishments went largely unsung. We’re also particularly stoked for Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden, which promises an account of the French electronic music scene in the 1990s. There’s nary a misstep in Hansen-Løve’s first three films to date, so we’re excited to see the fourth, and not just because it sounds like a Daft Punk origin story.

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