Ian Floodgate: With festival season starting last month, the run-up to awards season has begun. The Toronto International Film Festival usually gives us a good indication of what films are likely to be highly regarded. The first film I would like to talk about screened at TIFF last year and is finally being released this month, and that’s Una (dir. Benedict Andrews). The story is of a woman who confronts an older man, her former neighbor, to find out why he abandoned her after they had a sexual relationship when she was thirteen. The premise of the film is disturbing but what really intrigues me the most about this film is that it has the potential for the actors (Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn) to produce some superb performances that could put them in contention for some awards.
Kevin Jones: It is certainly time for Mendelsohn to start getting major mainstream recognition. He has been one of the best actors in many independent films over the past decade or so, yet seems to have eluded receiving much praise from award shows such as the Oscars. Seeing him in any film is always intriguing, but what really seems interesting is how the director, Benedict Andrews, is coming to direct a film after years of work in theater and opera. Should be interesting to see how he transitions.
One film that I am anticipating also just played in Toronto last month, but premiered back in May at Cannes. Yorgos Lanthimos‘s The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a psychological thriller about a sinister relationship between a surgeon and a boy although it appears to be a film that is more in line with the horror genre. Given how horrifying his non-horror work can become, this seems like a recipe for great success. In addition to re-teaming him with Colin Farrell from The Lobster, it also gives him a chance to direct Nicole Kidman, which is a very intriguing possibility.
Ian: I agree with you. There is something very haunting but mesmerizing about Yorgos Lanthimos’s films. I felt this particularly with The Lobster. Though the premise sounds like a fairytale, there were aspects to it that I found totally relevant to the world we live in. The Killing of a Sacred Deer does indeed look more intense than Lanthimos’s previous work. One thing I do like in his work is how a lot of things are subtly done so his films become very intriguing. This is the case particularly with the acting performances. It is great he has re-teamed with Colin Farrell and some of his recent work and career choices have been impressive as well have Nicole Kidman’s. It seems like a collaboration worth watching.
Another film that premiered at Cannes this year and also screened at TIFF recently is The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker). The film is about a young girl and her friends’ adventures whilst living at a community of extended-stay motels in Kissimmee, Florida near Disney World.
The decision director/writer Sean Baker took with his last feature (Tangerine) was very interesting. It is commendable when a filmmaker pushes the boundaries. Baker has admitted to having done some “guerrilla filming” with the use of an iPhone once more, though the majority of this project was shot on film which I like to see.
Kevin: Great point about the intensity of Lanthimos’ work. Personally, I find Kidman to be an excellent casting choice for one of his films. She is an often very emotionally cold actress (such as in Eyes Wide Shut or Birth), but is equally adept at blending that coldness with a sort of reserved intensity. It will be interesting to see how Lanthimos capitalizes on that ability.
With regard to The Florida Project, it certainly seems to be one of the most anticipated releases of the year for many fans of independent cinema, especially after Baker’s acclaim for Tangerine. What is perhaps most interesting to me about this film is Willem Dafoe. Not only is he the biggest star that Baker has worked with yet, but he is very much playing against type. Renowned his turns as villains in blockbusters and independent films alike, it will be very interesting to see him play this magnanimous father figure.
One film that is impossible to overlook in this discussion is Ruben Östlund‘s The Square. Already having won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and recently chosen as Sweden’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, The Square appears to be one of the most acclaimed foreign films of the year. Set at an art museum in Stockholm Palace, The Square shows the insanity and chaos at one particular installation. A satire, the film has been seen as a critique of the contemporary art world. With Force Majeure back in 2014, Östlund burst onto the scene and rightly so. Given Östlund’s smart critique of masculinity and gender roles in that film, it will be interesting to see what stance and arguments he makes in The Square in regards to the art world. Though, stylistically, this film sounds far different than Force Majeure. With a loose narrative and an often daring ambition, The Square and its satirical edge sounds far less grounded than Force Majeure.
Ian: I’m always interested to see how Palme d’Or winners fair at the box office. You say about it being the Swedish Foreign Language submission for the Academy Awards but I understand English and Danish are also spoken in the film, so it has a broad appeal.
I always enjoy Dominic West‘s work, especially in television. The Wire is arguably one of the best TV series of all time and both The Hour and The Affair are highly regarded. Elisabeth Moss seems to be carving out a similar CV having just won an Emmy for her performance in The Handmaid’s Tale and receiving praise for Top of the Lake as well. Hopefully, these performers will bring added pulling power for the film.
Lastly, I’d like to talk about Wonderstruck (dir. Todd Haynes). It is said to be love letter to silent cinema and tells the story of two youngsters in different time periods that appear to have a connection.
I really admire Todd Haynes’s work because of how he represents the periods they are set in. Both the Mildred Pierce miniseries and Carol had a charm and warmth about them that really impressed me. I feel this was further enhanced by them both being shot with 16mm film. Wonderstruck, which I know was shot in 35mm, still looks mesmerizing and the fact it is a homage to the silent era really entices me as well.
Kevin: In addition to West and Moss, I am very interested to see Claes Bang in The Square. It appears as though this is his first film that will be viewed internationally and, given that he is given lead billing on the film, it will be interesting to see how he is able to carry the film.
You are absolutely right about Haynes. With Carol, the visuals of that film perfectly captured both the time period and the emotion of the film. I have mentioned it to others before, but to me, Carol feels like the cinematic equivalent of curling up next to a warm fire on a cold winter night. There is just something so indescribably comfortable about that film and, really, Haynes’ work in general as Far from Heaven had much of the same appeal. With Wonderstruck, I cannot help but think of the work of Guillermo del Toro with films such as Pan’s Labyrinth. Similar to that film, Wonderstruck appears to be a very grown-up yet wonder-filled look at children. Perhaps not quite a fairy tale, but certainly possessing the same imagination and emotion.