Critic's Notebook: Toronto, Telluride and Venice Film Fests Promise Riches After Cruel Summer

From left: 'Moonlight,' 'Snowden,' 'La La Land'

After a dismal summer movie season, the big fall festivals feature a slate of intriguing offerings, from the much buzzed-about gay drama 'Moonlight' to new works by Oliver Stone and Clint Eastwood and an original musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

Possibly this year more than ever due to the execrable summer movie season we've just endured, film hounds, prognosticators, date-nighters, industry insiders and just plain fans are looking ahead to the fall for signs of creative life on the big screen. The first evidence of such will be sought at the big film festivals that will unspool over the next couple of months, beginning within the week at Venice and Telluride and continuing in Toronto and New York.

At the very least, we can expect a bit of a break from the seemingly endless march of “re” films — retreads, redos, remakes, reimaginings and reboots (all words now officially banned by Hollywood executives in the spirit of industry correctness). Except not quite: A new version of The Magnificent Seven will serve as the opening-night attraction at the Toronto Film Festival, as well as closing night in Venice.

Which are the most anticipated movies? Certainly the recently revitalized Venice is offering the world premieres of several of them, beginning with its opener, Damien Chazelle's original, highly stylized modern musical La La Land, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It's surmised that this one will turn up almost simultaneously at Telluride, as will, it is thought, Denis Villeneuve's much-anticipated first venture into sci-fi (prior to his now-shooting Blade Runner sequel), Arrival, which features Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker.

For those of us who consider Tom Ford's A Single Man one of the most exceptional directorial debuts in recent times, seven years has been too long to wait for the designer's follow-up, but it is finally upon us: Nocturnal Animals, which also stars Adams, along with Jake Gyllenhaal, will surface first in Venice, then turn up in Toronto.

On the far opposite end of the experience spectrum, two of Hollywood's veteran greats, Clint Eastwood and Warren Beatty, will debut new films this season. The difference, of course, lies in their rate of productivity: Eastwood, whose Sully, starring Tom Hanks as a pilot who saved his passengers by landing his jet in the Hudson River, generally makes one film per year, while Beatty's Howard Hughes-centered Rules Don't Apply marks his first film as an actor in 15 years and first behind the camera in 18 years. Eastwood has appeared selectively at top festivals such as Cannes and New York over the years, and Sully is heavily rumored to be headed for a Telluride bow prior to its Sept. 7 commercial release. By contrast, Beatty remains wary of festivals, a policy he seems to be holding to in the run-up to the commercial bow of Rules on Nov. 23 (unless he decides on a last-minute premiere at the AFI Festival, where The Big Short greatly benefited from its unveiling there last year).

Venice will boast the world premieres of films as diverse as Terrence Malick's long-gestating natural world documentary Voyage of Time: Life's Journey (which at 90 minutes is longer than the 45-minute Imax cut, which will debut in theaters Oct. 7); Pablo Larrain's Jackie, with Natalie Portman as the president's widow in the immediate aftermath of JFK's assassination; and Mel Gibson's long-awaited return to directing with the World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge.

Tuning in the radar used by festival selectors and distributors, one picks up elevated levels of excitement about Francois Ozon's black-and-white Frantz, which looks set at all the festivals; Barry Jenkins' look at three stages in the life of an isolated black and gay youngster, Moonlight; Benedict Andrews' Una with Rooney Mara; Errol Morris' and Werner Herzog's latest documentaries, The B-Side and Into the Inferno, respectively; Kasper Collin's jazz documentary I Call Him Morgan; and the first U.S.-shot dramatic feature by Israeli-American director Joseph Cedar, Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, which stars Richard Gere (Cedar's last film was the riveting Footnote).

One distinctive curiosity that looks to pop up at one or more of the fall festivals is the debut of the oldest first-time feature director in the history of the cinema, Paris Can Wait. Behind the camera is Eleanor Coppola, who turned 80 in May and has made what is called a semi-autobiographical road movie about the wife (Diane Lane) of a difficult film director who drives from Cannes to Paris with an associate of her husband (Alec Baldwin).

One recurring problem with the Toronto Film Festival is that its catalogue write-ups are always such raves as to suggest that the fest is presenting 280 masterpieces. Be that as it may, more than normal curiosity surrounds such entries as Oliver Stone's Snowden; Lone Scherfig's World War II female-centric drama Their Finest; J. A Bayona's A Monster Calls, featuring Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver; Jim Sheridan's The Secret Scripture starring Rooney Mara; Ewan McGregor's directorial debut with his adaptation of Philip Roth's American Pastoral, in which the director stars with Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning; and, lo and behold, a new film by veteran Walter Hill, (Re)Assignment, with Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez in what's called a “sex-change action thriller.”

The two best titles for any films at Toronto belong to two Vanguard entries, Osgood Perkins' I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and the animated feature My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea.

And for the archival/restoration-minded, Toronto is presenting a hitherto little-known entity, the first feature (71 minutes) directed by Sidney J. Furie, A Cool Sound From Hell. Made in 1959 and set in Toronto's beatnik scene, such as it was, the film is said to have been just the second feature ever shot in the city, although it was never shown at all in North America. In the U.K., however, it was released on double-bills with Karel Reisz's landmark Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Long thought lost, the film was found at the British Film Institute three years ago and will now receive its North American premiere.

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