With literally hundreds of movies vying for attention, it’s all too easy to throw the program against the wall and curl into a fetal position while sucking your thumb and watching Netflix. However, I can promise you that’s a mistake. There are simply too many friggin’ awesome movies to ignore the festival, so I thought I’d do you all a favor and provide a handy-dandy guide of the top ten geek friendly films to be stick your eyeballs in front of during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Sure, some of these movies may end up being stinkers, but at least they are safer bets than flipping through the program book and choosing up titles at random.
A sci-fi action flick with a twisty-turny time-travel concept. That’s the sort of thing that could either give you a headache or make you giggle in giddy delight. The trailer showcasing Joseph Gordon Levitt’s time-travel assassin and Bruce Willis as his future self (two drastically different actors, but go with it) at least looks set to offer a healthy mix of bang-bang action thrills and think-think sci-fi concepts. That’s a tricky balance to get right, but with writer/director Rian Johnson in charge we should be able to expect success. After all, he was responsible for the high school film noir Brick and if he could make that work with an equal balance of intrigue and dark comedy, we should be able to expect the same here (plus he also works on Breaking Bad, which is easily the greatest show on television in case you aren’t watching it). If you can only make it out to one geek friendly TIFF flick, this is the one. The movie looks entertaining and intelligent, plus you might get to see Bruce Willis smirk in person. What more could you want?
Comic book movies don’t normally make it out to film fests, but thanks to the genre and violence loving Midnight Madness program we are getting one this year. When most people hear the title Judge Dredd they think of that awful, awful Stallone movie rather than the amazing comic books that have been building up a cult audience in the pages of 2000 AD for decades. The Hollywood version was a sanitized take on the hard boiled future world where the cops are judge, jury, and executioner all in one (aka they kill criminals). It’s been a beloved comic in Britain for decaces and this film has been a passion project for novelist/screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later) for years. With a concept ripped straight from The Raid (aka the greatest action flick in decades) this movie promises a non-stop bloodbath with Judge Dredd trapped in a building run by a crimelord and forced to kill his way to the top. If you like your comics in the R-rated Dark Horse variety, this character is for you and this movie could finally be the time that the gruff criminal killer was properly adapted to the big screen.
3)The Lords Of Salem
Rob Zombie has gotten an unfair critical shellacking as a filmmaker (the name does make him an easy whipping boy for horror haters), but time and audiences have been kind to him. House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devil Rejects are arguably the most beloved American horror movies of the 2000s, while his Halloween movies are easily the best of the 70s remakes. So, it’s nice that Zombie is finally getting a little filmmaking respect with his latest movie The Lords Of Salem sliding into a prestigious film fest screening slot. The concept seems right up Zombie’s ally, focusing on a Sheri Moon Zombie as a late night radio host in Salem Massachusetts who unwittingly plays a record awakens some pissed off witches from back in the day to unleash some good old fashioned horror shenanigans. As per usual, Zombie stacks the cast with a collection of horror convention veterans like Ken Foree and Sid Haig to make all the fanboys happy when they aren’t jumping or gagging at the scares. This should be dirty horror bliss, custom made for a midnight screening.
You probably haven’t heard of writer/director Ben Wheatley, but you should know him. He’s quickly becoming one of Britain’s greatest genre directors after cranking out the zero-budget gangster flick Down Terrace and last year’s Midnight Madness hit: the mind-fuck horror/hitman tale Kill List (seriously, you need to find a copy of that right friggin’ now). His latest film Sightseers should be a strange and darkly funny romp for movie junkie sickos out there. It’s about a not-so happy couple who take a road trip to rekindle their romance, but end up bickering incessantly out of their disgust for all the rude and irritating people as they meet along the way. Eventually this irritation turns to violence as they start murdering all the people who inadvertently ruin their quiet getaway. This frumpy romantic killing spree should be a hysterical festival highlight for all the sickos with a twisted sense of humor out there (aka me and hopefully you)
Ok, so this thing could either be an ambitious “what does it all mean” masterpiece or the most miscalculated sci-fi epic since Richard Kelly thought it would be a good idea to follow up the cult success of Donnie Darko with Southland Tales. Adapted from a ludicrously ambitious globe-spanning time-line jumping fantasy/sci-fi novel by David Mitchell, it took three directors to bring thing to the screen. The Wachowski siblings (The Matrix, duh) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) joined forces to film the unfilmable and brought stars like Tom Hanks and Halle Berry along for the ride. The trio of filmmakers sought nothing less than to create a unique philosophical blockbuster that would sell complex ideas to an audience along with popcorn. The Wachowskis did pull off that trick once before with The Matrix, but they also proved what an impossible filmmaking task that could be with the sequels. There’s no way to tell if Cloud Atlas with fly or fail until we see it, but at the very least epics of unencumbered filmmaking ambition on this scale don’t come along everyday, particularly out of Hollywood. If nothing else, It’ll be interesting to see how this thing turned out at the world premiere and worst case scenario, if it’s a stinker this is probably the only chance you’ll get to see the full version before it gets sheered up by a studio desperately hoping to recoup some of their costs.
Neil Jordon was once one of the most interesting filmmakers working in the horror genre after his fairy tale werewolf picture In The Company Of Wolves and Interview With The Vampire. He’s been on hiatus from scaring the crap out of audiences for far too long, but thankfully returns with this new vampire flick. This movie about two girls reeking havoc and sucking blood in a small English seaside town should help return vampires to their terrifying gothic roots following that whole Twilight debacle. There’s certainly romanticism to Jordon’s vampires (you can’t really do those creatures without it), but at least he’s also someone who understands that they are frightening creatures beyond the sexuality and it’s about time that we had a filmmaker try to put some bite back in those creatures of the night.
Martin McDonagh made a pretty spectacular debut a few years back with In Bruges, proving the playwright could translate the hard-edged dialogue and thematic depth of his stage work onto the big screen, along with a little gangster violence to please the genre fans. His follow up feature Seven Psychopaths has been hyped n’ rumored for years and now thanks to TIFF it’s finally here. The plot involves a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) and an unemployed actor (Sam Rockwell) kidnapping a gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) Shih Tzu along with Christopher Walken. That concept alone promises dark comedy gold and with McDonagh in charge you can guarantee we’ll get it. The man is carving out a place for himself in the Coen Brothers’ landscape of cine-literate crime comedies and has the talent to deserve mention along with those much-loved movie-making siblings. McDonagh also has a brother named Jason who proved to be equally talented with The Guard. They’re like the Irish Coens only with sibling rivalry to prevent collaboration. Seven Psychopaths is the movie to watch if you’re suffering from another painful year of Coen movie drought.
If you’re a movie geek you either love or loath Brian De Palma and regardless you’re going to watch his films. The man sadly only managed to get three movies off the ground in the 2000s, so now every time he steps behind the camera is an event. He specializes in twisted thrillers flavored with eroticism and movie references and this latest feature seems right up his perverse ally. Based on a French film, Passion stars Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace as a business woman and her assistant who share everything from ideas to nights between the sheets. However, after McAdams rudely rips off Rapace’s brilliant idea and publicly humiliates her, the stage is set for a dirty tale of revenge. It’s perfect material for a filmmaker who specializes in meticulously crafted suspense set pieces and subtle gallows humor that should please any film geek out there with a sweet tooth of knowing cinematic trash. Well, either that or it will just be straight up trash. You can never tell with De Palma, but no matter what I can at least guarantee that you won’t be bored.
It’s not uncommon to see a movie at TIFF with the name “Cronenberg” in the director’s slot, but this year there’s no “David” in sight. The master of body horror’s son Brandon makes his directorial debut with Antiviral this year and the concept sounds like it’ll make daddy proud. The film takes place in a near future setting where celebrity obsessed culture has advanced to the point that people actually pay to be infected by diseases carried by their favorite celebs. The hero works at one of these clinics and the horror movie shit hits the fan when he accidentally infects himself with a fatal illness from a certain starlet and things get a bit messy. On paper it certainly sounds like the type of though piece horror movie that audiences have been wanting David to return to for years and if he’s not interested in that genre any more at least he’s got a son to pick up the slack.
10) The Master
Finally, this movie doesn’t really fall into the category of genre fair, but it’s something that everyone will be talking about and should probably see. Actually, there is a loose sci-fi connection thanks to the film’s ties to a certain religion created by a science fiction author. Joaquin Phoenix stars as a mentally scared war veteran who finds support in a new religion created by a charismatic author (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who just might be a manipulative charlatan. That’s pretty well all that’s known about The Master at this point, but since it comes from writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood) that’s more than enough. Anderson struggled to finance the film for years since the lovely lads of Scientology rule Hollywood, forcing the filmmaker to find independent financing from a billionaire. This is the movie worth getting excited about at the fest this year, geek-focused or otherwise. It could end up being the film of the year in general. There’s really only one way to find out (and that’s by seeing it, dummy).