The Batch is Back!! (and 369 other reasons to hit this year’s TIFF)

It’s amazing to think how it’s grown. The first Toronto International Film Festival, or, as it was known back then in 1976, The Festival of Festivals, played to 35,000 people, showing 127 films. A pretty respectable inaugural run. Last year, TIFF showed 372 films from 72 different countries, playing to over 400,000 people. Somewhere along the way, Toronto’s quirky gathering for aficionados morphed into one of the 400-pound gorillas on the international festival circuit. Yesterday, TIFF unveiled an exciting chunk of their line-up for their 38th outing, and an abiding love for a certain well-known Sherlock/Trek personality. So if you’re eager to start planning your sleep-starved September, you can get a taste after the jump!

TIFF has had great success being all things to all cinephiles, bringing in A-list Hollywood talent, cutting edge international auteurs, detailed and insightful documentaries, world cinema from visionaries flung far and near, and horror most gruesome and gleeful. How fitting that the TIFF powers-that-be have picked “What’s Your Festival Personality?” as the tag-line for this year’s campaign. With so much to choose from, you can really build a unique festival experience, one that suits you exactly. You can champion new filmmakers, focus on the facts with docs, swoon with the celebs at the red carpet galas, you get the idea. Or you can pig out at the buffet like I’ve done so many times, stuffing anything and everything into your eyeballs like a voracious Tasmanian cine-devil.

So what’s coming, you ask?

The Fifth Estate will be the big opener, kicking things off on September 5th. Directed by Bill Condon, this one’s gonna be big and juicy, digging into everyone’s darling departed whistleblower site, WikiLeaks. Benedict Cumberbatch continues his campaign to be the most omnipresent man ever, playing the ghostly WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Together with co-founder Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl), Assange launched a remarkable series of exposés, culminating in one of the biggest intelligence leaks in U.S. history (hello Edward Snowden, hello topicality!). The film also stars David Thewlis, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie and Dan Stevens. It’s bound to be Oscar fodder for Messr. Cumberbatch, who will undoubtedly be present at the gala debut. And two others. Yes, he’s in three films at this year’s festival.

We also saw a preview for Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, directed by Justin Chadwick. Idris Elba mounts a challenge to Benny in the omnipresence sweepstakes, doing his usual superb work, this time disappearing into the skin of living legend Nelson Mandela, the great South African leader and freedom fighter. Naomie Harris plays Winnie Mandela.

Cold Eyes looks to be a fascinating Korean thriller rife with high tech surveillance. The usual elements are in place: a veteran leader and a rookie female detective keep close watch over a vicious criminal organization. They almost crack the gang, but commit a fatal mistake. Starring Seol Kyung-gu, jung Woo-sung, Han Hyo-joo, Lee Jun-ho and Jin Gyeong. The trailer with English subtitles hasn’t been released yet, but you can see it at the 11-minute mark of the full TIFF press conference below. Or, if your Korean is good, here’s the non-titles version:

The very actorly August: Osage County comes from director John Wells, who did The Company Men in 2010. Starring (deep breath) Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan MacGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, and, of course, Benedict Cumberbatch, the film finds Tracy Letts adapting her Tony-award winning stage-play. It’s one of those big, messy, family tragicomedies that’s sure to touch a nerve.

Hitting a very different family nerve is Prisoners from director Denis Villeneuve, starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard and Paul Dano. Jackman plays Keller Dover, a man unhinged by the disappearance of his six-year-old daughter and her friend. Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal, and easy people, it’s not that Loki) makes an arrest, but lacks the evidence for a charge to stick, and the suspect goes free. In a desperate attempt to take control and save his daughter’s life, Dover takes matters into his own very angry hands.

We saw the trailer for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Again. And you need to see it, again.

Space looks like a terribly lonely place. Especially if you’re, you know, drifting into chill eternity. Gravity will be getting its North American premiere at TIFF. I can’t wait to see this flick, so I can live one of my deep-seated highly improbable fears, and thank my distant stars I never had anywhere near the commitment and drive to become an astronaut.

Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave looks to be a star-making turn for Chiwetel Ejiofor (SerenityChildren of Men2012). Based on a horrendous true story, Ejiofor plays Solomon Northrup, a free black man from New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery, before finally being freed a dozen years later. The film also stars Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt and yes, you guessed it, Benedict Cumberbatch!

And of course they announced much much more. The closing gala will be Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime, based on The Switch by H-Wood’s all-time fave author Elmore Leonard. John Hawkes and Mos Def are two common criminals in 1970s Detroit who take it into their heads to kidnap the housewife (Jennifer Aniston) of a corrupt real estate developer (Tim Robbins) and hold her for ransom. Which doubtless works out well for all concerned. Cameron Bailey notes that “these are the same hoods that Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro played in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, which was an adaptation of Leonard’s novel Rum Punch.” So this is them in younger days, and it’s bound to be a fun ride.

TIFF’s Midnight Madness program is celebrating a milestone anniversary, marking its twentieth year with a free screening of Jonathan Levine’s All the Boys Love Mandy Lane on July 29th at 11:59pm. The next day, the entire Midnight Madness program for the festival will be announced.

There’s a pile more coming. If you want to watch the opening press conference in its entirety, TIFF has posted it (easter egg trailer for MARY Queen of Scots from Thomas Imbach that I couldn’t find elsewhere):

And if you’re after TIFF tickets, you can dive in here. Just remember, especially you first-timers, start slow. Maybe twenty, twenty-five movies. And don’t OD on the BC, if you know what I mean. Oh who am I kidding? You want all the Batch, all the time. Enjoy.

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