September is here. Summer is over. All those dreams you had about how to wisely spend those precious warm months? They’re dead. But there’s good news for all those willing to accept the death of the season. First of all Halloween is coming (obviously). Second of all, movies are about to get good again. Yep, you’ve suffered through the August drought of decent movies after blockbuster season. Maybe you even went to see The Meg (if so, my condolences). But that’s all over now. Prestige movie season is about to begin. That special time of year when everyone likes to pretend that they don’t like watching superheroes or stuff blowing up, they only appreciate the art of cinema!
And if that special, precious, and pretentious block of the cinematic calendar has arrived, that means that TIFF is here as well! That’s right, The Toronto International Film Festival. For locals, it means crowded streets, hazy celebrity sightings, and lanyards as far as the eye can see! It also means that a few hundred movies are about to descend into the city for gushy premieres and over-caffeinated debates amongst nerds and shut-ins. The TIFF program list can be intimidating to scroll through and study for many. So as always, your politely tolerated CGM movie nerd is here to make the task a little easier.
That’s right, trusty n’ crusty ol’ Phil Brown is out of retirement and telling you what you should do and think again. Ain’t that grand? In accordance with annual tradition here are a list of the Top Ten Genre Movies that you should seek out this TIFF. Also in accordance with tradition I’m including a couple squeaker barely-genre movies that I’m excited about and can all but guarantee some of these picks are mistakes given that I haven’t actually seen the movies yet (hence the almost apologetic list of honourable mentions included at the bottom of the list to cover my bottom). But enough of this overlong intro, let’s get into the list!
Alrighty, to start things off here’s a movie that doesn’t technically qualify as “genre” (even though “coming-of-age” is a well established genre). So why include it? Well, because Roma is the latest film from genius director Alfonso Cuaron who previously gave you Children Of Men, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, and Gravity. So, he’s got some genre movie bonafides as a master of film form and at this point in his career, every release qualifies as event for movie nerds. Roma is Cuaron’s first film set in Mexico since his beloved Y Tu Mama Tambien and little is know about it other than the fact that it’s about a family in Mexico during a political revolution. So why should you be excited? Well because Cuaron shot the film in 70mm black and white and employed some sort of experimental editing technique that took a year to accomplish. It’s going to be a beauty of a film to behold on the big screen and since Netflix is distributing it, TIFF might be your only chance to see this cinematic stunner as the director intended. You’ll want to do that.
9) The Standoff At Sparrow Creek
And now from a master director to a newcomer. The Standoff At Sparrow Creek is a Midnight Madness entry that seems worthy of attention purely based on the concept. First time feature writer/director Henry Dunham delivers a tale about a local gun militia who discover that one of their members was responsible for a recent mass shooting and decide to take matters into their own hands. Whew! Now there’s politically charged narrative filled with potential for genre movie madness within it’s thematic exploration. The Standoff At Sparrow Creek has the potential to genuinely surprise audiences and introduce a new filmmaking voice to the pack. Can’t miss that.
8) The Sisters Brothers
The Western is supposedly a dead genre, yet every year there seems to be an exciting new entry. Weird how that works, huh? This year’s “The West Ain’t Dead Yet” gere entry is The Sisters Brothers, adapted from an award-winning novel about two brothers (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly) hired to kill a prospector (Riz Ahmed) by a crime boss (Rutger Hauer). The cast is incredible, the story is already loved, and this marks the North American directorial debut by the filmmaker behind the justifiably lauded French crime classic A Prophet. This is as close to a sure thing as fall film festivals get, so hopefully it won’t disappoint!
7) Shadow (Zhang Yimou)
Looking for some high-flying kung fu fantasy with art film aesthetics informing the violence? Then good news! Director Zhang Yimou (Hero, The House Of Flying Daggers) is back and just so happens to specialize in such things. The art house favourite filmmaker leapt into action fantasy after the success Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and in the eyes of many, easily surpassed all entries in the genre that came before. He’s been away from the genre for far too long and this latest entry promises to be a particular beauty given that the director decided to stage this epic entirely in shades of black and grey (despite shooting in color). It’s sure to be a feast for the eyeballs and soul, backed up by high-flying action to ensure attention never wavers. Fans of this genre should already be lining up for tickets if they haven’t already.
For those who pay attention to such things, it’s been clear over a decade now that the South Korean film industry is arguably the finest genre movie factory in the world. Specifically, the country specializes in twisty-turny and decidedly nasty thrillers that leave viewers shaking in their seats. Burning got a big ol stack attention at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for the film’s many unsettling mysteries and secrets. Combining class commentary with creepy disappearances and unanswerable questions, Burning is sure to tickle the minds (and baser organs) of any viewer brave enough to give it a whirl. Perhaps you’ll be one of them? (Note: there’s no way for me to find out if you will, so I’ll just assume you took my suggestion. Thanks so much by the way!).
5) In Fabric
It’s about time the world was given a film about a haunted dress in a demonic department store! Under normal circumstances, that concept would sound hokey and insane. It still does. However, that reaction is tempered by the fact that the film comes from the beautifully bizarre imagination of British filmmaker Peter Strickland. The man behind Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke Of Burgundy is no stranger to taking a concept ripe for silly exploitation and transforming it into surreal art. This is the first time that Strickland has crafted a straight horror movie and given his penchant for almost David Lynchian nightmare imagery and cinematic subversion, he should be more than up to the task. This should be a special headtrip treat for those brave enough to wade the waters of Midnight Madness and we can’t wait to experience it.
Speaking of surreal European madman directors, let’s talk Gaspar Noe. The man behind such arty and confrontational assaults on the senses as Irreversible and Enter The Void has a way of messing with viewers eyeholes and brainholes like few others. The trashy technician has flirted with horror in the past, but never dipped fully into the genre until now. The film is about a dance troupe who celebrate winning a competition with a drug-fuelled party in the woods and may or may not open a door to hell as part of their hallucinogenic celebrations. Yep, safe to say this movie is going to be absolutely insane. Buckle up.
3) The Predator
That’s right. The latest entry in the Predator franchise is playing at a prestigious film festival. That’s just bannanas. However, the fact that the film comes from the beloved master of snarky action Shane Black makes this a bit more exciting than your average alien hunter romp. Sure, you could just skip the festival premiere to see it in theaters like everyone else…but when else are you going to get the chance to watch The Predator at midnight with an audience full of cheering genre movie nuts and a possible appearance of the Predator on stage for a Q&A? That’s not going to happen again. Plan accordingly.
Everything I said about The Predator also applies to Halloween. It’s downright bizarre that this film is making a TIFF debut and that’s also what makes it so exciting. Plus, where else are you ever going to see Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Myers, Danny McBride, and possibly John Carpenter together on the same stage? Just getting to hear the first original score by the god of spooky synths weeks before anyone else justifies the ticket price. This should be a wild ride and a unique “one night only, nope not even a press screening” TIFF experience. God-willing I’ll get in. If not? The tears might never stop flowing from my stupid face.
1) First Man
Finally we come to a movie that manages to walk the line between big ol’ blockbuster and riveting human drama. The true story of the first men to ever make it up to the moon and the ridiculously dangerous things they did to get there. It should be a riveting an inspiring tale, shot in IMAX for maximum impact by La La Land wiz-kid Damien Chazelle with Ryan Gosling lending his pouty face for added gravitas. This is all but guaranteed to be The Right StuffPart 2 and if you know what that’s such an exciting prospect, you’ll understand why TIFF is screening this movie on almost every damn day of the festival and why you won’t want to miss it.
Honourable Mentions: Assassination Nation, Hidden Men, High Life, Freaks, Killing, The Man Who Feels No Pain, Nekrotronic, The Old Man And The Gun, The Wind, Widows