Eight films we're excited about at TIFF

Toronto has some gems in store

Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress

Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress

"TIFF," for those not overly geeked out, is the Toronto International Film Festival, an annual ten-day mecca of hundreds of foreign, Hollywood and indie movies sure to dominate the coming awards season and beyond. (I still remember that afternoon back in 2008 when, among four films viewed, I saw The Hurt Locker and Slumdog Millionaire, neither of which seemed like a future Best Picture Oscar winner. Huh.)

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival

Naturally, my schedule is aching with choices, although several titles are unmissable. I'll be blogging reactions from the fest daily starting Friday. Here, in no particular order, are the films I simply can't see soon enough:

Damsels in Distress

Once discussed in the same breath as Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino, Whit Stillman hasn't made a feature for thirteen years. When I chatted with him in 2009 on the occasion of a special DVD release of The Last Days of Disco, he sounded frustrated by that turn of fortune—he still has many stories to tell. Like this one, about a bunch of cool girls in college.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Documentarians often have a chance to make a serious impact in their subjects' lives, but even in this vaunted context, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky are special. Their 1996 HBO expos, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, about an Alabama community coming down hard on three likely scapegoats, is a classic. The recent release from jail of the "West Memphis Three" should make this screening cathartic.

A Dangerous Method
When David Cronenberg makes a movie, you go—and I refuse to be soured by early mixed reaction emerging from Venice. Besides his obvious triumphs (Dead Ringers, Videodrome, The Fly), Cronenberg lures me with his rougher experiments (eXistenZ, Crash, Eastern Promises). His new one is about the difficult working relationship between Freud and Jung—so that too.

One of my favorite Toronto experiences came via the 2003 debut of Russia's Andrei Zvyagintsev, a stylish director who basically blew my front doors off with his psychologically acute family drama The Return. I've been following the guy ever since, and he's back with this tale of an unusually resourceful housewife.

Take This Waltz
You have to go back to Charles Laughton and 1955's The Night of the Hunter to find an actor who's made the transition to directing as persuasively as Sarah Polley did with her heartbreaking 2006 debut, Away from Her. Polley's new film, only her second effort coming to Toronto with little early word, stars Seth Rogen and Michelle Williams.

I Wish
I consider the 2008 Japanese grief drama Still Walking just as good as Ozu's immortal Tokyo Story. Its director, Hirokazu Kore-eda, though a veteran of some dozen films and a giant, may only now be hitting his stride. His latest concerns the bullet train and a family split by divorce.

God Bless America
It was hard enough to stand Bobcat Goldthwait as a shouty actor; these days, as a director, he's intentionally taken on the trickiest subjects—bestiality, teen death and plagiarism. So I root for him, even as he continues to antagonize. This new one sounds like a kill-crazy murder spree across a vapid U.S.A in decline.

If you saw 2009's strange, unforgettable Dogtooth—a nightmarish domestic drama with many questions left unanswered—you'll know that its Greek conceiver and director, Yorgos Lanthimos, is a talent worth watching. Can he do it again? Lanthimos returns with this bizarre-sounding tale about a company that provides stand-ins for the recently departed.

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