Here at Awards Circuit, we’re getting ready to preview some of the upcoming film festivals in 2018. Perhaps most important of them all this year is Toronto International Film Festival which seemingly stole a half dozen or more world premieres from Telluride and New York Film Festival. There are even more great movies playing at the festival beyond the premieres, but with “A Star is Born,” “22 July,” “ROMA,” and others debuting elsewhere, their buzz will already be established. Let’s look at some of the genre films, Oscar contenders, and potential breakthrough hits yet to come from TIFF 2018.
There are some movies that we couldn’t quite make room for, but should be very much on the list of movies to watch out for at TIFF. Here they are:
“Can You Ever Forgive Me” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Dir. Marielle Heller
This could be more of an awards player than some of the films listed below, especially with Melissa McCarthy. There’s an outside chance that Richard E. Grant can also pick up his first career nomination. The film follows the true story of Lee Israel, who became famous for forging letters from literary figures.
“High Life” (No U.S. Distribution)
Dir. Claire Denis
Robert Pattinson stars in a space drama as a father and daughter try to stay alive in deep space. Juliette Binoche and André Benjamin also star.
“The Land of Steady Habits” (Netflix)
Dir. Nicole Holofcener
A potential vehicle for Ben Mendelsohn, the story follows a man who divorces his wife after he retires, only to realize he doesn’t have much to live for. His wife is played by Edie Falco and the film serves as Holofcener’s follow up to “Enough Said” with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini.
TOP 10 ANTICIPATED FILMS AT TIFF
10. “The Predator” (20th Century Fox)
Dir. Shane Black
It’s always a good sign for genre fans when strong filmmakers take the reigns of a beloved franchise. “Predator” is still a landmark action film from the 1980’s, essentially applying the slasher model to a sci-fi action film. With a fun cast, quotable dialogue, and gore gore gore, the film left an imprint on audiences every other film in the franchise has failed to capture. Call me crazy, but returning Shane Black to the franchise (he was an actor on the first one) may be the catalyst for a new run.
It’s opening the Toronto Midnight Madness section, and with high octane action sequences, this could be a huge blockbuster come September. Also of note, the first film got a Visual Effects Oscar nomination. With this one taking the “Aliens” approach, don’t count it out. That category feels like there’s room for a “King Kong” kind of surprise.
9. “Green Book” (Universal Pictures)
Dir. Peter Farrelly
There’s a lot to be intrigued about with “Green Book,” directed by Peter Farrelly and starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortenson. Right there are the three elements that can either sink the film or let it rise. Ali is coming off an Oscar win (“Moonlight“) and remains one of the most talented actors in Hollywood. Mortenson put on weight and brings a heavier accent for the role. The costumes look great, and the production design is very pretty. If the stars align, this could be something solid.
What gives me pause is the way this film feels like Oscar Bait through and through. It’s a story about race in America in the 1950s but told through the viewpoint of a white man. There’s an unexpected friendship at the heart of the film. Someone utters a phrase about courage. It’s a film that would have won Oscars for everyone in the late 1980s or mid-1990s. However, with the Academy changing, it’ll be curious to see how it’s received.
8. “The Outlaw King” (Netflix)
Dir. David Mackenzie
We’ve all seen “Braveheart” and in essence, this is the spiritual sequel. Robert the Bruce emerges from the shadows of William Wallace at the end of “Braveheart” to take up the rallying cry for Scotland. Here, we’re seeing the story from Robert’s eyes, specifically the PTSD-plagued look given to Chris Pine. The visual look of “The Outlaw King” is certainly very different from “Braveheart,” so that’s a step in the right direction.
As a follow-up to “Hell or High Water” for Pine and Mackenzie, this feels like must-watch entertainment. On top of that, it grabbed the opening night of Toronto, which also feels like a coup. However, the last few opening night films at Toronto did not exactly blow the doors off the festival. The last three were “Demolition,” “Magnificent Seven,” and “Borg/McEnroe.” None of them made a dent with Oscar. It’ll be curious to see if “The Outlaw King” is a prestige play or more in line with those films.
7. “Boy Erased” (Focus Features)
Dir. Joel Edgerton
There’s a lot to be excited about with “Boy Erased,” especially for Lucas Hedges. The actor has quickly built a strong reputation for his Oscar-nominated work in “Manchester By the Sea” and supporting roles in “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards” last year. He’s still a young actor, but it feels like he’s taking the Leonardo DiCaprio route, which could yield dividends.
If you’re looking at the story, and roll with the Leo metaphor, this feels like “This Boy’s Life” on its face. Joel Edgerton is a talented director, as seen from his debut “The Gift” from a few years ago. Add in a very talented supporting cast, namely Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, and we may have something here. However, will the picture come together, or steep too deep into melodrama? That remains to be seen, but this film likely has “Lion” as a ceiling and a floor of “This Boy’s Life.”
6. “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy” (No U.S. Distribution)
Dir. Justin Kelly
This one feels like a bit of a wildcard in the season and could quickly become a huge deal. At the same time, it could fizzle out without much noise, especially with its status as the closing night film for TIFF. That said, let’s keep our eye on the prize, which, in this case, looks like crazy performances from Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart.
Each of the actresses has a strong base pushing them to get an Oscar. At the same time, the story of J.T. LeRoy and the woman who played LeRoy is amazing and weird. This should be the perfect kind of film to make general audiences realize how good Stewart has become in the past decade. At the same time, it’s drawing the eyes of cinephiles everywhere. That’s a good combo, and if either can live up to the hype, the two women could easily hear their names on nomination morning.
5. “Her Smell” (No U.S. Distribution)
Dir. Alex Ross Perry
This one is a bit of a sleeper but could spell an exciting performance from Elisabeth Moss. The “Handmaid’s Tale” actress has dabbled in film but has not been in anything nomination-worthy quite yet. However, taking on a weird punk rock movie and bloodying herself up might draw more of a spotlight. Alex Ross Perry has also slowly built up a reputation as a low budget, indie director.
To grab someone like Moss for this role may say a lot about what’s going on here. However, he’s also recruited Dan Stevens, Cara Delevingne, Amber Heard and Eric Stoltz to the film as well. That’s a randomly good cast for an indie film like this. It feels like the breakout hit we all talk about as our indie darlings circa “The Love Witch” or “Lady Macbeth.” However, with Moss’ star burning bright, this one might get a bigger push.
4. “Halloween” (Universal Pictures)
Dir. David Gordon Green
This film is not an Oscar player or awards player in basically any way. However, the buzz surrounding this film has been steadily building for months, and the festival appearance really has me intrigued. This kind of movie does not normally get a festival push. Jaime Lee Curtis is really hyping this thing up, and the trailer sent people into another level of excitement. With Blumhouse behind the film, Jason Blum has found ways to make these flicks spookily relevant and exciting for audiences.
This movie is poised to blow up the box office in mid-October. If it’s decent, it’s going to bring a lot of momentum back to the franchise. Here’s where it could get interesting. First, the direction by David Gordon Green looks sleek and interesting so far. Second, they are hard resetting the franchise back to the original film. Most important, and third, John Carpenter not only approved the script, but he wrote the score. Like John Williams with “The Force Awakens,” Carpenter could theoretically borrow from his own themes and still qualify. This could present a rare opportunity to reward Carpenter. Given his iconoclast status, some in the Academy may be on board to nominate him for returning to one of horror’s greatest franchises.
3. “Beautiful Boy” (Amazon Studios)
Dir. Felix Van Groeningen
A powerhouse emotional punch is waiting to be landed on audiences across Toronto. Realistically, this film should be sitting in the driver’s seat for the TIFF Audience Award. Not only will Steve Carrell be a clear actor to watch for Best Actor, but wunderkind Timothée Chalamet could be setting himself up to run away with Supporting. Even the poster alludes to one of the most tear-inducing films in history with “Terms of Endearment.”
The combination of what could be an emotionally crushing group of performances with some very interesting source material could make this one sing. As the opioid crisis in America continues to claim victims, it’s also extremely relevant. While we’ve seen drug-addicted characters win Oscars before, making this Oscar bait on some level, there’s also a chance it speaks to many in the country on a personal level. Felix Van Groeningen can be an intense filmmaker, so expect sparks to fly.
2. “If Beale Street Could Talk” (Annapurna Pictures)
Dir. Barry Jenkins
The question of which film could take the top spot on this list was ever-changing, and “If Beale Street Could Talk” was certainly a big reason why. Well, really it was Barry Jenkins, who has become one of our spotlight directors since “Moonlight” won Best Picture. There’s little doubt that Jenkins is bringing his all to this film, and the trailer displayed some stunning imagery. The cast is led by KiKi Layne, who looks poised to be the breakout of this film.
At the same time, there are a lot of questions about this one. Adapting James Baldwin is tough. Who knows how this cast is going to play because it’s tough to catch lightning in the bottle twice. Will expectations simply be too high on Jenkins? To outdo a masterpiece like “Moonlight” seems unlikely. Will the visual style and tone be too similar to “Moonlight?” These are tough questions, but all together, make this one of the most anticipated films of the year.
1. “Widows” (20th Century Fox)
Dir. Steve McQueen
A lot has been made about Steve McQueen, director of “12 Years a Slave” and “Hunger” moving into genre territory. That seems to be the tag that many are putting on “Widows” as a negative as if to prove it can’t find its way to the Oscar stage. The problem with that is this is no ordinary genre picture. In fact, it looks like it’s about to sing with amazing performances and a very deep bench. The fact that McQueen’s at the helm makes me think it can transcend genre limitations as something unique.
This cast will live and die by Viola Davis, but no one thinks she’s going to be the weak link. Part of what makes the casting of the “Widows” so exciting is that we don’t know much about them. However, Michelle Rodriguez looks to be in rare form in the trailer, and her intensity matches the tone of the film. Elizabeth Debicki has slowly gained steam as an actress to watch. Perhaps most exciting is Cynthia Erivo, who feels poised as the breakout star. This cast is deeper than most, and if McQueen can pull this off, this looks to be a better version of “The Town.” Considering the film is also stacked below-the-line, don’t be surprised if these trailers are actually bad compared to the final product.