September has finally rolled around on the calendar and that means two things. First off, Summer is over. Good luck with that pain. More importantly, it means that the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is upon us. The festival that kicks off pretentious and cloying awards season is here, offering viewers a peek at the finest art films and movie-star weepies set to clog up screens over the next few months, begging for awards. Thankfully for lovers of good trash and genre movie theatrics (like the fine folks here at CGM) that’s not all that TIFF offers. The prestigious festival also serves up dirty delights in the Midnight Madness program and scattered throughout the rest of the line up (aka the good stuff).
As your trusty neighbourhood film critic here at CG Magazine, I take it upon myself every year to help our readers find the good stuff. So, in accordance with that tradition, I’ve gone ahead and picked out the top ten genre movies for you. There won’t be any pretentious pondering or subtle stabs at inner growth on this list. This is all about the hard stuff. Movies that will mess with your head, make your heart beat hard, leave scarring images in your mind, and of course, blow stuff up real good. That’s what movies are for, right? Well, that’s how we like to look at it anyway.
Suburbicon stars Matt Damon as a loving 50’s family man in this movie directed by George Clooney. Confused as to why this is included on our list? Well, that’s because it’s about Damon accidentally going on a killing spree to protect his suburban ideals in a vicious dark comedy written by the Coen Brothers. Get it now? Good. This should be good sick, slick, and smart fun.
Japanese horror movies tend to reach for more outlandish images and ideas than the rest of the world. This one is about a gang of art students being attacked by bloodsucking modeling clay. It’s directed by long time surrealistic make up artist Soichi Umezawa and certainly sounds like something that needs to be seen to be believed. So…you know, do that. Just maybe not on a full stomach. That’d probably be a mistake.
A few years ago novelist S. Craig Zahler made a move into directing with the Kurt Russell cannibal western Bone Tomahawk. A delicate mishmash of genres that simmered in intensity before exploding with shock, the flick established Zahler as a genre force to be reckoned with and now he’s back with Brawl in Cell Block 99. On the surface, it appears to be a prison movie starring Vince Vaughn in embittered badass mode. Of course that’s only the setup. If Bone Tomahawk proved nothing else, it’s that Zahler likes a misdirect and Brawl in Cell Block 99 promises to transform into a nightmare that no one will expect. I’m sure we’ll all know why this movie made it into Midnight Madness soon enough. For now, we just have to wait for all the unsettling surprises.
Ok, so technically this is a biopic and doesn’t fall into any of the sensationalistic genres that we love so dearly, but stick with me. It’s a biopic about Greg Sestro, the talent-starved LA actor who befriended a mysterious oddball named Tommy Wisseau and together they made The Room. If you haven’t seen what is arguably the worst movie ever made (that’s also accidentally one of the funniest), you’re missing out. If you have, you’ll know that a movie about that disastrous production is guaranteed to be a fascinatingly funny endeavour. Oh, and by the way, James Franco not only stars as Wisseau but also directed the movie and cast his brother Dave Franco as Greg Sestro, with every other role assigned to some sort of cult comedy personality. In other words, this’ll be a wild one. It’s a movie that you won’t want to miss, especially at a midnight screening attended by both Franco and the real Tommy Wisseau. Yep, that’s actually happening.
Years ago the great John Woo was a staple of TIFF, long before he got to Hollywood and turned Tom Cruise and Nic Cage into flying action stars. This was back when he directed some of the finest action films ever produced in Hong Kong like The Killer, Hard Boiled, and Bullet In The Head—before that industry died and his bullet ballet skills lost their home. At long last Woo is back where he belongs, directing stylized shoot outs where stunt people leap over tables clutching a gun in each hand. He made Manhunt in Japan (remaking a popular thriller from the 70s), but even the brief trailer sure looks like a vintage John Woo Hong Kong joint. For anyone who enjoys beautifully choreographed and completely insane action scenes, this is not to be missed. With a little luck, the old John Woo might be back for good. If not, at least the master got this throwback.
In his previous art house hits like The Lobster and Dogtooth, writer/director Yorgo Lanthimos has proven himself to be a reliable source of some of the most unsettling ideas and the bleakest humour on the planet. Now he’s finally made something that can be described as a horror film. A deeply bizarre vision of a family man (Colin Farrell) forced to make an impossible and violent decision about those closest to him thank to the meddling of a bizarre teenager (Barry Keoghan). Revealing more would be unfair, if only because there aren’t easy explanations for anything that happens here. But make no mistake; The Killing of a Sacred Deer is one of the most disturbing visions that will flash across screens this year. That’s a fact.
Guillermo Del Toro made a new fairy tale horror movie. This time it’s a romance between a troubled young woman and a sea creature that stuffy scientists just don’t understand. In other words, it’s going to freak you out, tickle your eyes with surrealistic beauty, and probably make you cry—everything that movies are made for. God bless that man. Every Guillermo Del Toro movie is a gift and an event, especially when he gets personal with his monster fables.
Nicolas Cage might not be a guarantee for cinematic quality, but when paired with some sort of insane concept and/or filmmaker it suggests something excitingly loony might be on the way. Mom and Dad definitely fits that bill. The movie is about a world where for 24 hours all parents are struck with an inexplicable hysteria that causes them to violently assault their own children. Cage plays the titular Dad in an excuse to indulge in excessive Cage-ness. Directing duties fell on Brian Taylor, who previously helped helm the lunatic slapstick action in the Crank series. In other words, this thing is going to be unrelentingly insane in all the best ways. Buckle up.
Here’s a weird one: a science fiction comedy by writer/director Alexander Payne, who previously specialized in grounded human comedies like Election and Sideways. The concept is brilliant though; it’s about a world so overpopulated and polluted that it’s decided the poor will be shrunk down to consume less space and resources—a nice idea with horribly inhumane implications. The cast is filled with talented and famous faces and the brilliant Payne was given production resources that previously seemed impossible for him. The fact that Payne has been so poignantly truthful and bitingly satirical in the past suggests that he could say a lot with a little in this concept. I’ve got a feeling it’ll be one of the finest films of the year, not just the festival.
The last time director Darren Requiem for a Dream Aronofsky showed up at TIFF with a drama that bled into the horror genre he delivered Black Swan, a daring bit of madness impossible to shake. Now he’s done it again, assembling an all-star cast including the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer in a twisted mystery about unwanted houseguests and madness. Little else is known about what’s in store beyond what’s shown in the surrealistic trailers. Yet if Aronofsky proved nothing else with Black Swan, it’s that the guy has a knack for reviving the dream logic and nightmare imagery of old Italian horror movies in a more contemporary setting. This looks like more of the same, yet completely different. In other words, you should be equally excited and nervous. Trouble is coming.
Honourable mention: Thriller 3D. That’s right, the iconic music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller has been remastered in 3D and will be screened theatrically. We truly live in a magical time, don’t we?