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Ten Safe Bets at This Year’s Toronto International Film Fest


If you’re facing down the Toronto International Film Fest’s immense schedule and feeling a strong urge to self-harm, you’re not alone. This year’s lineup is densely packed with enough documentaries, Oscarbait, and intriguing foreign features to drive any movie fan who can make it to TO up the wall. To help whittle it down, I picked ten features that should at least guarantee a baseline level of quality, if not outright excellence.

Rabbit Hole

John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) does an about-face and heads into austere territory for this adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer-winning play, in which Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart – two performers who don’t exactly make a habit of slumming it – star as grieving parents.

Another Year

The notices from Cannes for Mike Leigh’s latest have been stellar, and the veteran writer-director’s last few features have been uniformly outstanding, even if this one appears to err on the grimmer side of things after the markedly sunny detour of 2008’s Happy-Go-Lucky.

Black Swan

Yes, the trailer is thoroughly bonkers, but Aronofsky has yet to make a bad movie – that is, unless you’re among the considerable crowd who were offended by his ambitious third effort The Fountain – and the cast, featuring Natalie Portman, Barbara Hershey, and Vincent Cassel, is stellar.

Blue Valentine

Since its Sundance debut way back in February, Blue Valentine has developed a reputation as the real-world antidote to the fantastically leaning (500) Days of Summer. One for wrist-slitters everywhere, this romantic drama stars Ryan Gosling (who wisely opted out of Peter Jackson’s dire Lovely Bones to star in this film) and the always-great Michelle Williams star as the doomed couple.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog is not in the habit of making boring movies, and if you’re anything like most cineastes, the phrase “3D Herzog documentary about ancient caves” should merit an instant ticket purchase.

Inside Job

Remember No End In Sight, the searing Iraq War doc that rendered Green Zone irrelevant two years in advance? That film’s director, Charles Ferguson, is back with another potentially lid-blowing doc on the ongoing US financial crisis. Its promotional materials promise interviewee friction and shocking revelation. If it’s half as revelatory as No End In Sight was, it’ll be a worthy watch.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden are already responsible for two well-received indie flicks – the very good Half Nelson and the somewhat overrated Sugar – but here they appear to make somewhat of a bid for mainstream acceptance with a dramedy about institutionalization. Zach Galifianakis is on hand in his first “mature” role, and at the very least, the result should be discussion-worthy.

Machete Maidens Unleashed!

Anyone who saw Not Quite Hollywood, a visual exposé on Ozploitation, can attest to Mark Hartley’s ability to put together a supremely entertaining documentary, and MMU seems to follow a similar tack, taking on the genre filmmaking scene in the Philippines in the 1970s.

Meek’s Cutoff

Kelly Reichardt’s last feature, the haunting Wendy and Lucy, advanced a filmmaker who seemed destined to leave a significant mark on the American independent scene. She returns with a relatively ambitious feature that sees her working with a non-shoestring budget for the first time, armed with returning actress Michelle Williams (see also: Blue Valentine) and weirdly ubiquitous character actor Bruce Greenwood.

Norwegian Wood

Vietnam’s Anh Hung Tran’s films have been praised for their luxurious visuals and tactile quality, so it only makes sense that she should be the latest in a relatively short line to take on the prose of Japan’s biggest fictional export, Haruki Murakami, whose work possesses a similarly elusive quality, often toying with magic realism. It doesn’t hurt that the cast features the lovely and talented Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, The Brothers Bloom). Oh, and we get the first new score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood since his stellar work on There Will Be Blood. Sold!

Simon Howell