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'Arrival,' 'La La Land,' 'Moonlight' and more: How the Toronto Film Festival movies will play with Oscar voters

See which of your favorite stars stopped by our photo studio

Actor Mark Wahlberg, from the film "Deepwater Horizon." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Actor Mark Wahlberg, from the film "Deepwater Horizon." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Actor Bryan Cranston, from the film "Wakefield." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Actor Bryan Cranston, from the film "Wakefield." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Is a repressive 19th century drama from a newbie director the most radical movie of the season?

Florence Pugh in Toronto International Film Festival sensation "Lady Macbeth." (Toronto International Film Festival)
Florence Pugh in Toronto International Film Festival sensation "Lady Macbeth." (Toronto International Film Festival)

Ever since his "Lady Macbeth" — a 19th century re-imagining of a Russian novella about an arranged marriage — became one of ‎the conversation pieces at the Toronto International Film Festival, director William Oldroyd has found himself having an unusual conversation.

Filmgoers who've seen his movie and expected (or apparently don't know much about) William Shakespeare have been wondering what happened to Duncan, Banquo and the rest of the gang.

"I know it sounds funny, but I've had people come up and say to me, 'This isn't anything like the play,' " Oldroyd recalled in an interview. "And I have to pause and think about what to say. I mean, it's not an adaptation of the [Shostakovich] opera either. It's not really anything traditional."

The director isn't kidding.

This is already shaping up as a film year of a particular trend: complex female characters reacting provocatively to sexual repression and assault. Movies such as "Elle," with Isabelle Huppert,  and "Una," with Rooney Mara, both confound simple victim narratives in ways that are honest or dangerous, depending on your point of view.

Kelly Fremon Craig and James L. Brooks peer over 'The Edge of Seventeen'

Producer James L. Brooks and writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, from the film "The Edge of Seventeen." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Producer James L. Brooks and writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, from the film "The Edge of Seventeen." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

James L. Brooks apparently has an eye for debut talent. He has previously produced the first features for Cameron Crowe (1989’s “Say Anything”) and Wes Anderson (1996’s “Bottle Rocket”). Which makes it feel particularly meaningful that Brooks has now produced “The Edge of Seventeen,” the feature debut of writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig.

In the dramatically tinged coming-of-age comedy, high school junior Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a social misfit who is constantly combative with her single mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). When her best and only friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) begins dating Darian, Nadine goes into a tailspin. As she becomes more erratic and restless, she increasingly turns to a teacher (Woody Harrelson) for advice and leans more on a friendly boy, Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who could become something more.

Brooks, 76, has one of the most storied careers in modern Hollywood. After a successful career as a writer and producer in television (he created both “Mary Tyler Moore” and “Taxi,” among others), he turned to writing and directing movies, including such films as “Terms of Endearment” and “Broadcast News.” He is a three-time Oscar winner and remains an executive producer on “The Simpsons,” which sprung from “The Tracey Ullman Show” (which he also co-created).

Bryan Cranston brings his model look and art-directing skills to our photo studio

'Moonlight' director Barry Jenkins' connection to a 'weird' Asian horror film

Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight," which played both the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, is impressing audiences and critics alike. The Times' Justin Chang says, "In Jenkins’ hands, the cold, mechanical apparatus of the camera becomes nothing less than a conduit for human empathy."

The director mentions that foreign films were influencial to him on his path to becoming a filmmaker, and singles out a specific film called "301, 302."

Exclusive: For director Denis Villeneuve, the sci-fi 'Arrival' brings a new genre to smash

Amy Adams stars as a linguist trying to communicate with beings from outer space in "Arrival." (Paramount Pictures)
Amy Adams stars as a linguist trying to communicate with beings from outer space in "Arrival." (Paramount Pictures)

After an early-career spate of dramas in his native language, the French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has spent the past few years subverting seemingly every film genre he can get his hands on.

There was his spin on the child-abduction thriller ("Prisoners"); the new take on the Jekyll-and-Hyde trope ("Enemy"); a fresh look at the drug-cartel action flick (last year's "Sicario").

Villeneuve most recently has been seeking out a new world. Or, more accurately, a new universe.

The director's "Arrival," out from Paramount in November after its Toronto International Film Festival premiere Monday, finds him tackling the global alien-invasion thriller, but in the cerebral and intimate way fans have come to expect from what might be called Villeneuvalia.

"It's not about choosing a specific genre; that's not how I go about deciding what movies to make," the director said, with a kind of verbal shrug when asked why he was ripping through established categories like a 2019-era Spinner.

Then, as if reconsidering the role that factor might play, he added, "But nothing is more fun than breaking the rules."

Here's how the Toronto Film Festival movies will play with Oscar voters

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in "La La Land." (Dale Robinette / Lionsgate)
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in "La La Land." (Dale Robinette / Lionsgate)

“Oh, Lord, we’re going to be crying,” Octavia Spencer said, putting an arm around Taraji P. Henson as the two started talking about their upcoming historical drama “Hidden Figures” at the Toronto International Film Festival.

They weren’t the only ones tearing up in Toronto. You could have filled Lake Ontario with the amount of waterworks coming from the filmmakers, actors and audience members at this year’s festival. And for good reason. The movies playing at Toronto this year featured storytelling that was empathetic, generous and tender.

And if that sounds a bit gooey, consider the words of “Loving” star Joel Edgerton, who, talking about his civil rights drama, told me: “I’m amazed when people talk about how quiet and silent this movie is. I think this movie is as loud as …,” and he went on, using a colorful euphemism for volume. “It’s an accumulative kind of shout that will stick to you.”

Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Garner and Mark Wahlberg stop by The Times' photo studio

Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner, promoting their film "Wakefield," and Mark Wahlberg, in support of his film "Deepwater Horizon," were among the latest stars to visit the studio.

Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner (Jay L. Clendinin / Los Angeles Times)
Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner (Jay L. Clendinin / Los Angeles Times)
Jennifer Garner. (Jay L. Clendinin / Los Angeles Times)
Jennifer Garner. (Jay L. Clendinin / Los Angeles Times)
Mark Wahlberg. (Jay L. Clendinin / Los Angeles Times)
Mark Wahlberg. (Jay L. Clendinin / Los Angeles Times)

Isabelle Huppert has never been nominated for an Oscar — that may change this season

Isabelle Huppert in "Elle," one of three movies she has at the Toronto Film Festival. (Sony Pictures Classics)
Isabelle Huppert in "Elle," one of three movies she has at the Toronto Film Festival. (Sony Pictures Classics)

Isabelle Huppert has been nominated 15 times for the Césars, France’s national film award. No other actress has been recognized more.

And yet, she has never been nominated for an Oscar.

“It has crossed my mind,” Huppert said over tea at the Toronto International Film Festival, where she, prolific as ever, has three movies playing. “It’s a prestigious recognition. I think at some point it crosses everyone’s minds. But it has never happened.”

However, there has already been early talk in Toronto among voters in film critics circles about rewarding Huppert’s superb year.

‘Barry,’ 'Neruda' and ‘A Quiet Passion’ put a fresh spin on biopic formula

Devon Terrell plays a young Barack Obama in the movie "Barry." (TIFF)
Devon Terrell plays a young Barack Obama in the movie "Barry." (TIFF)

A rare technical glitch briefly halted a Toronto press screening of Vikram Gandhi’s “Barry” on Sunday morning, muffling the film’s sound quality and rendering the dialogue mostly inaudible. Order and volume were happily restored in due course, though not until after the audience spent several minutes waiting in the dark — by which point a few viewers, either concerned about making their next screenings or taking advantage of a guilt-free bathroom break, made their way to the exits.

‘Barry’ is the rare biographical drama that, rather than giving us a bland recitation of accomplishments, takes the formation of identity as its very subject.

Justin Chang

“Let me know if he gets the girl,” one viewer joked to her screening companion as she departed. For of course, the outcome of the love story in “Barry” is no more in doubt than its title character’s ultimate destiny. Barry, played without a hint of affectation by the Australian actor Devon Terrell, is in fact a young, college-age version of Barack Obama, and “the girl” is Charlotte (Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Witch”), a fictionalized composite of three girlfriends that Obama had at Columbia, according to a post-screening Q&A.

In other words, “Barry,” which made its world premiere in the festival’s Special Presentations section, is the other Obama movie making its way into the spotlight mere months before the real Obama ends his presidency.

Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and more 'La La Land' stars stop by The Times photo studio

Ryan Gosling (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Ryan Gosling (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Emma Stone (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Emma Stone (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
J.K. Simmons (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
J.K. Simmons (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
John Legend (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
John Legend (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Rosemarie DeWitt (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Rosemarie DeWitt (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Don't compare Dev Patel's 'Lion' to 'Slumdog Millionaire'

Dev Patel walks the carpet for his new movie "Lion" at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Geoff Robins / AFP/Getty Images)
Dev Patel walks the carpet for his new movie "Lion" at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Geoff Robins / AFP/Getty Images)

Dev Patel's new movie “Lion” caused a theater packed with jaded industry types to break into full-blown sobs. The film is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, who got lost on the crowded streets of Kolkata when he was 5 years old. He ended up in an orphanage, where he was adopted by a well-off couple in Australia and eventually attended college in Melbourne.

It was there that he began to share his story with some classmates, one of whom suggested he try searching for his long-lost home on a then-primitive Google Earth. 

“Lion” is already drawing comparisons to “Slumdog Millionaire” -- largely because the film features a young Indian boy fighting his way out of poverty. It’s a correlation that bothers Patel.

Everyone will pigeonhole you into, ‘Oh, he’s playing an Indian guy. The movie is kind of set of India and there’s poverty, so it’s like ‘Slumdog,’ It’s such a shame.

Dev Patel

Ryan Gosling on the Los Angeles of 'La La Land': 'There are still places in L.A. that are part of the golden years'

Ryan Gosling used to live in downtown Los Angeles, so he understands the city and the places that are depicted in the movie that he and Emma Stone star in -- "La La Land."

Some of those are in danger of being closed down or shut down, so it's nice that we have them all in one film.

Ryan Gosling

The new 'Blair Witch' sequel pairs well with the Midnight Madness audience of Toronto

The "Blair Witch" team, from left: writer Simon Barrett, actors James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, director Adam Wingard, actors Wes Robinson, Corbin Reid and Valorie Curry -- at Sunday's premiere in Toronto. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)
The "Blair Witch" team, from left: writer Simon Barrett, actors James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, director Adam Wingard, actors Wes Robinson, Corbin Reid and Valorie Curry -- at Sunday's premiere in Toronto. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

If a pairing between movie and audience could be engineered in a lab, Sunday night’s Midnight Madness screening of “Blair Witch” might be the result

Before the screening, the festival’s Midnight Madness programmer, Colin Geddes, ran down the festival’s history with director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. Their first collaboration, “A Horrible Way to Die,” played a different section of the festival in 2010. While at the festival, they were so into the midnight crowds that they made “You’re Next” with that audience in mind. Their next film, “The Guest,” played the festival’s midnight section as well.

Wingard and Barrett came out to briefly introduce the film.

“I’m really excited to watch this movie with you guys,” Wingard said, “because when you make a horror movie, you make it to watch it with an audience.” 

'Moonlight' director Barry Jenkins recalls the industry insiders who believed in him

Barry Jenkins' new film "Moonlight" is one of the most acclaimed titles at TIFF, but he hasn't forgotten those who supported him when he was just starting out in the business, as he reveals in this exclusive interview that puts him on the other side of the camera.

Taraji P. Henson brings tears to TIFF

Taraji P. Henson (Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)
Taraji P. Henson (Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

If I knew about these women [growing up], maybe I would have aspired to be a rocket scientist. Sorry I'm so emotional. My makeup is running. I should have done an Alicia Keys and taken it off.

Taraji P. Henson, who plays Katherine Johnson in "Hidden Figures"

See which actors, actresses and filmmakers visited the L.A. Times photo studio

Celebrities and filmmakers visit Jay L. Clendenin in the Los Angeles Times photo studio at the 41st Toronto International Film Festival. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Celebrities and filmmakers visit Jay L. Clendenin in the Los Angeles Times photo studio at the 41st Toronto International Film Festival. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

At TIFF, Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley talk bringing real-life stories to the big screen

Joseph Gordon-Levitt None
Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The 2016 edition of the Toronto Film Festival is in full swing, and among the competing movies building awards season buzz are two star-powered nonfiction pictures, “Jackie” and “Snowden.” The films’ stars sat down with The Times to discuss their roles inspired by headlines and recent history.

“Snowden” star Joseph Gordon-Levitt admits that while working with director Oliver Stone was a big draw, he didn’t really know that much about the film’s infamous subject. 

Shailene Woodley, Gordon-Levitt’s costar in “Snowden,” remembers how jokes about early smartphones being used as tools for espionage turned all too real several years later.

Miles Teller, Rebecca Hall and other stars visit The L.A. Times photo studio

Miles Teller of "Bleed for This." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Miles Teller of "Bleed for This." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
"Christine" star Rebecca Hall. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
"Christine" star Rebecca Hall. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Sigourney Weaver of "A Monster Calls." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Sigourney Weaver of "A Monster Calls." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Nick Cannon of "King of the Dancehall." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Nick Cannon of "King of the Dancehall." (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

With their original musical 'La La Land,' Emma Stone and director Damien Chazelle dance into Toronto

Actress Emma Stone and director Damien Chazelle on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival last month. “La La Land” will premiere Monday for a wider audience at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Ettore Ferrari / Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata)
Actress Emma Stone and director Damien Chazelle on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival last month. “La La Land” will premiere Monday for a wider audience at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Ettore Ferrari / Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata)

In their new musical “La La Land,” Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling perform a six-minute, single-take, tap-dance number while their characters search for a parked Toyota Prius atop a hill in Griffith Park, the sun setting behind them, the Prius key fob occasionally beeping in time with the music.

It’s a moment infused with nostalgia for classic musicals like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” but informed by the youthful spirit of its stars and 31-year-old writer-director, Damien Chazelle.

“They figured something out in the older musicals in terms of how to shoot dance and we’ve unlearned it,” Chazelle said in an interview with Stone as “La La Land” screened for enthusiastic Telluride Film Festival audiences over Labor Day weekend after receiving an equally warm reception in Venice. “People talk about shorter attention spans these days and maybe that’s why dance isn’t filmed the same way. I find it a lot more involving when I can see something that’s real and not tinkered with… That is how the sky looks. That is Ryan and Emma dancing. Those are their voices, their feet.”

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