Can TIFF ride to box-office rescue?

With 2015 shaping up to be one of the worst box-office years on record, film industry types are desperately hoping this year’s Toronto International Film Festival manifests a movie messiah. The Ex-Press takes a look at the top contenders.


By Katherine Monk

September 10, 2015  TORONTO — The truth fades quickly in the pop and hiss of paparazzi flashes, but it sits here nonetheless, a little lump lying under the red carpet: 2015 could turn out to be the worst year at the box-office in adjusted dollar-history.


Sure, J.J. Abrams will awaken the force, James Bond will rise with Spectre and the ever-hungry Katniss Everdeen will no doubt slaughter as the calendar year draws to a close, but as the Toronto International Film Festival kicks off today with the gala world premiere of Jean-Marc Vallée’s eerily titled Demolition, the big question is: Can TIFF ride to the rescue and resuscitate the public’s interest in “cinema” — movies that don’t have superheroes or supermodels, but actually contain whole sentences and speak to the human condition?


It’s more than a cocktail talker. The numbers are nasty. Box-office receipts to date total $7,736.1 million US, which doesn’t sound too bad when you consider there were fewer releases overall, and some of the biggest money-makers are released in the last quarter.


If 2015 doesn’t want to come out a loser, it’s going to have to pull in over two billion by December, and that’s a lot of tickets to sell to an audience that seems to be losing interest in the big screen experience.


But last year, the receipts totalled $10,360.8 million by year end, which means if 2015 doesn’t want to come out a loser, it’s going to have to pull in over two billion by December, and that’s a lot of tickets to sell to an audience that seems to be losing interest in the big screen experience.


Canadian exhibitor Cineplex offered half-price tickets to screenings in the last days of summer to entice visitors back to the popcorn palace, but outside of Disney’s Inside Out, which appealed to all slices of the demographic pie and became as much a movie for adults as kids, 2015 hasn’t  coughed up a single frontrunner for Oscar season.


The biggest moneymakers so far are Jurassic World at $647,516,055, Avengers: Age of Ultron at $458,325,298, Furious 7 with $351,032,910 and Inside Out at $349,712,242.


Inside Out is pretty much guaranteed an Oscar nomination, but you have to look far down the top 100 earner list to find anything that stands a real chance come awards season: Woman in Gold, the Helen Mirren-Ryan Reynolds movie about the legal battle to reclaim a Gustav Klimpt masterpiece stands at 46 on the list with a total over $33 million and Far from the Madding Crowd, the arthouse period piece starring Carey Mulligan, is ranked at 79 with receipts totalling $12.2 million.


Given the grim picture, industry types are looking for a bright light from the projection booth at this year’s TIFF, and despite an early “ho-hum” buzz in the press corps, there are a few potential dark horses that could ride to the rescue and salvage Tinseltown’s historically dreary fiscal year.


SICARIO: Everyone is already calling Denis Villeneuve’s latest one of the most violent movies of the year — which is hard to do these days — but it makes sense: Sicario is a fictional take on Mexican drug cartels that stars Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Written by the scribe behind Sons of Anarchy, you know the Quebec director will have the right blueprint to turn into a dramatic masterpiece.
BLACK MASS: This is Johnny Depp’s make-or-break title and so far, the word-of-mouth indicates he’s gonna be just fine as he blows the lid off the Whitey Bulger story. Based on the book by Dick Lehr, this biopic from Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) also stars Kevin Bacon and Peter Sarsgaard, which means anyone who came of age in the ‘80s and ‘90s will feel right at home when the lights go down.
DHEEPAN: Winner of this year’s Palme D’Or, Deephan is probably the most timely release at the festival given it’s about refugees, in this case, the story of a Tamil soldier trying to start a new life in France. Directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone), there’s little risk of any saccharine in this sobering slice-of-life story.
TRUMBO: Bryan Cranston leaves his Breaking Bad alter ego far behind to don the tortoise shell glasses of Dalton Trumbo, the Oscar-winning screenwriter who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era for not naming names. Trumbo won his Oscar for Johnny Got His Gun, a film he wrote and directed under an alias to protect his family and film industry friends. If you’ve ever seen the documentary or read his letters contained in Additional Dialogue (sadly out of print), then you’ll be in line when this one lands at a theatre near you.
DEMOLITION: The opening night film always gets a big lift at the box-office and Demolition won’t be any different as it features Jake Gyllenhaal (who turned the rather limp Southpaw into a box-office champ with over $50 million in receipts to date) as a New York investment banker who flies off the rails when his wife is killed in a car accident. Directed by C.R.A.Z.Y director Jean-Marc Vallée, Demolition bears marks of being this year’s Birdman.
THE MARTIAN: With Ridley Scott directing Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain and Kristen Wiig, The Martian is already one of the biggest buzz titles of the season, and it opens on the heels of the festival’s close, which leverages all the publicity at the right time. For fans of Scott’s Alien odyssey, this already feels like a second coming of Ellen Ripley.
LEGEND: Tom Hardy is everyone’s favourite these days, and in Legend, Brian Helgeland’s take on Britain’s storied mid-century gangsters, Hardy plays identical twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray. It’s two Hardys for the price of one, and that should be enough to pull anyone with a half Hardy fascination through the turnstile to feast on this parade of production design, fight scenes and feisty romance.

THE DRESSMAKER: She’s one of the biggest movie stars in the galaxy with an undeniable handle on drama, but in this outing, Kate Winslet gets to show off her comic chops as an Aussie seamstress causing fashion scandals in the mid-50s. Part frontier western, part comedy of manners and part screwball, The Dressmaker also stars Liam Hemsworth and Judy Davis, ensuring a well-tailored and classic cut to director Jocelyn Moorhouse’s (Proof, How to Make an American Quilt) latest reel.

STONEWALL: From the man who brought us Independence Day comes the story of the Stonewall riots: Roland Emmerich directs Ron Perlman and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in this dramatized account of the historic standoff between the NYPD and patrons of the Stonewall, a gay club in Greenwich Village. Movies with gay themes can do surprisingly well with a mainstream push — witness Brokeback Mountain — and with hyperbolic Emmerich at the wheel, Stonewall could prove explosive.
THE FAMILY FANG: Jason Bateman directed Bad Words two years ago, and returns as a director with this original story of the Fangs — a dysfunctional family with a twist: They are performance artists. For Fang kids Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Baxter (Bateman), getting away from their public-minded parents (Christopher Walken, Maryann Plunkett) was always the life priority, but when Baxter finds himself with a head injury and in need of help, he winds up back with mom and dad until his sister saves him from another Fang family stunt. The heavy-hitter cast of Bateman, Kidman and Walken makes this title an immediate curiosity, and with a script based on Kevin Wilson’s bestseller, there’s already a built-in audience of millions.

BORN TO BE BLUE: Canadian director Robert Budreau made a short film called the Deaths of Chet Baker in 2009, and here, he turns the Baker story in a feature film starring Ethan Hawke as the troubled trumpet player. Given how well Whiplash performed with a relatively unknown cast, Born to Be Blue could keep the box-office fortunes in the black.

I SAW THE LIGHT: It’s not the first Hank Williams biopic ever made, but Marc Abraham’s (Children of Men) feature stars Tom Hiddleston (Thor) as the ill-fated country singer who proved country was the white man’s blues, and the early production shots are downright eerie: He looks just like Williams, which means I Saw the Light could create an original love bond between history, Hollywood and honky-tonk.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs to September 20.




2 Replies to "Can TIFF ride to box-office rescue?"

  • Dave Chesney September 10, 2015 (6:38 pm)

    Thank you K.Monk and Ex-Press for the overview of the movie industry this past year and what is on the horizon. “I Saw The Light” and “The Martian” just got added to my must see list

  • joan Monk September 10, 2015 (9:09 pm)

    if people are not doing the big screen, that means that they are downloading onto the small screen, and Net flix and others have cut into the big screen market for tickets. But some people still down load off the internet their entertainment for free? How can the producers and artists make their numbers if this goes on?