Canada beckons! Every September, we anticipate our trip to the Great White North, where the film industry aims to put their best on display as part of the sprawling, stimulating and overwhelming (in a good way) slate at the Toronto International Film Festival. Toronto arrives on the heels of Venice and Telluride -- two equally powerful bellweathers in the field of Awards prediction (which is why we attend TIFF), so a handful of these anticipated features come with that ever-valuable "heated" generated by critical buzz.
Knowing that we are taking our first tentative steps into the Awards race -- as well as keeping a close eye on the best films that will be screening near you between now and year's end -- here are the 10 movies we can not wait to see and report on during our time in Toronto. Which of these are you dying to see?
The Shape of Water
Even before it opened the Venice Film Festival, we were excited to see Guillermo del Toro's supernatural romance... because it's a supernatural romance by Guillermo del Toro. The brilliant mind behind Pan's Labyrinth and Crimson Peak turns his attention to a King Kong-esque love story between a woman (Sally Hawkins) and an amphibious creature being held captive in a lab. The reviews out of Venice and Telluride moved The Shape of Water near the top of our TIFF list, though.
Alexander Payne has been on a roll, exploring the pain and peril of, well, humanity in deeply personal stories like The Descendants and Nebraska. And yet, he's had his foot in the comedy genre before, delivering the bitingly satirical Election, a true masterpiece. This one sounds like a total departure into sci-fi, with Matt Damon playing a man who invests in an experimental technology that shrinks people down to tiny size as a means of coping with the globe's overpopulation. Get it? Downsizing. Venice flipped for Payne's dark comedy, but Telluride was driven in half between supporters and detractors, so we'll see how the movie plays for Canadian audiences.
Darren Aronofsky directs a riveting, psychologically disturbing thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris, about... seriously, who cares WHAT it is about. That cast, in Aronofsky's hands? Sold. On the surface, mother! looks like it's treading into the murky, demonic waters of a Rosemary's Baby remake, with Lawrence playing the unsuspecting vessel of the spawn of Satan. At the very least, mother! wins the trailer contest for its well-paced and disturbing teaser. And I'm still a little unnerved by Aronofsky's Black Swan, which floored me when it first played at TIFF. We'll be first in line Sunday morning to see how badly this one gets under our skin.
I love George Clooney's directorial efforts. Yes, even Leatherheads. So when you tell me that Clooney is directing off of a screenplay by his frequent collaborators Joel and Ethan Coen, and putting Matt Damon through the wringer as a not-so-innocent suburban dweller who gets in over his head when he messes with career criminal Oscar Isaac -- yeah, I'm 100% in. Clooney has proven that he has a firm grasp on the unexpected genres that he tackles, and if Suburbicon turns the 1950s family drama sect on its ear by filtering it through a comically dark and violent lens, this could be an unforgettable night at the cinema.
Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Very little is known about this drama on the onset, with Sony making it a last-minute addition to the Toronto programming slate. We know it's a legal drama, and that it stars Colin Farrell and Denzel Washington, under the watchful eye of director Dan Gilroy. And Gilroy brought his brilliant Nightcrawler (with Jake Gyllenhaal) to TIFF a few years back. But then, when we hear that this movie is aiming for the same stratosphere as Paul Newman's The Verdict... well, that's more than enough to get us into the theatre for the World Premiere on Sunday night. ANOTHER Oscar hopeful for the amazing Denzel? Don't put anything past him.
The Florida Project
Another one with pre-festival buzz, this one thanks to early screenings at Cannes. But then the most recent trailer for Sean Baker's The Florida Project hinted at what a unique gem this might end up being. Willem Dafoe looks heartwarming and sad as the proprietor of a Florida motel, who cares for a little girl (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) whose mom is neglectful and selfish. But the imagery in Baker's trailer also sells what an unusual setting the Sunshine State is, giving The Florida Project a leg up on its competition as it embraces the land of neon-drenched putt-putt golf courses and gaudy souvenir shops. Early word says this one steals your heart.
Battle of the Sexes
There are two high-profile tennis competition films playing TIFF this year, and while we plan to check out Borg/McEnroe (because, really, Shia), I think Battle of the Sexes is the more mainstream play as the rest of the year rolls out. Steve Carell and Emma Stone step onto the clay to play Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, who participated in a high-profile tennis match that said plenty about the gender gap on America at the time. Stone already is getting Oscar buzz, now that Sexes played in Telluride, and the co-directors are moving from this to Captain Marvel, so we're excited to see how this plays.
The true story of Molly Bloom, who ran a high-stakes poker franchise that attracted Hollywood elite, mega-rich athletes, and even the Russian mob. All of this put her on the radar of the FBI. Sounds like a rich and detailed story, and one that becomes all the more tantalizing when you learn that Molly's Game will mark the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin, working from his own screenplay. Also, he lured the always captivating Jessica Chastain to play Molly, a tough-talking, take-no-bullshit protagonist who should wrap her tongue around come delicious Sorkin monologues. Idris Elba, Kevin Costner and Michael Cera join the mix, putting this one high on our TIFF radar.
Who doesn't love a good scandal? Tonya Harding's attack on her bitter skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan, dominated national headlines and made both champion skaters gossip-rag fodder. The wicked drama will fuel I, Tonya, which casts Harley Quinn herself, Margot Robbie, as the ice queen of the title. Mix in Sebastian Stan as Tonya's hitman, Jeff Gilooly, and this has the making of a soap opera melodrama that could be a real guilty pleasure. I'm mainly curious what tone director Craig Gillespie takes with this, because it could be a dark comedy, or if could be played as straight as Foxcatcher. Either sounds like a win.
I Love You, Daddy
A total mystery, but if you are going to roll the dice on anyone, it should be Louis CK. Apparently the genius comedian -- the brains behind his own FX program and the experimental Horace and Pete -- shot this movie in private, and on the quick. The supporting cast includes Chloe Grace Moretz, John Malkovich, Rose Byrne, Helen Hunt, and Pamela Aldon (of course). But if it has the biting wit and brilliant observational humor that have become Louis' staples recently, then I Love You, Daddy has real potential to b a breakout hit, the way Chris Rock's Top Five was at TIFF recently. Stay tuned fore more details on CK's latest.