The Toronto Film Festival slate can be a fickle animal. Some years, it is packed with noteworthy dramatic heavyhitters and potential Oscar contenders from some of the top names in the storytelling business. And other years, the initial blast of programmed films lacks pizzazz, meaning that it's time to hunker down and find gems from unheralded voices (and gems, believe me, can always be found on the fest slate at TIFF). The 2018 schedule -- of which we have only seen a sliver -- already belongs in the former category, with highly-anticipated titles by household-name directors like Alfonso Cuaron, Barry Jenkins, Claire Denis, Damien Chazelle, Jason Reitman and Bradley Cooper, making his directorial debut with Lady Gaga in tow.
The first wave of announced programming for the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival was limited to 17 Gala screenings and 30 Special Presentations, and already, we found 10 movies that are categorized as "Must See" for us as we prepare to head to the Great White North to cover another chapter in the ongoing TIFF saga. A full list of announced titles can be found on the festival's official website. Here, though, are the 10 high-profile films we can't wait to see.
A Star Is Born
This isn't the first time this material has been adapted to the big screen. In years past, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand have stepped into the role of a timid songwriter with a powerful voice who has to be coached to find their inner goddess. This time out, Lady Gaga tests her acting chops in the title role, while Bradley Cooper proves he can thrive as a director... or not.
I've already got a box of tissues ready to go. Steve Carell and Timothy Chalamet star as a father and son grappling with the teenage boy's descent into drug addiction. The movie is based on the best-selling memoir by David Sheff, and based on the early footage shown at CinemaCon and in trailers, the cast is sinking their teeth into the inherently dramatic material. As the father of two boys of my own, this might be horrifying... but I'll be at the first screening!
Damien Chazelle is one of the few directors I trust wholeheartedly, and I'll go see whatever he puts out, knowing next to nothing about it. His two previous films, Whiplash and La La Land, were both my No. 1 films the years that they were released, so I am all in on First Man, the story of the moon landing with Ryan Gosling playing Neil Armstrong.
Much like Damien Chazelle, I will follow Alfonso Cuaron anywhere. Gravity? Children of Men? The best Harry Potter sequel, Prisoner of Azkaban? Sold. And yet, heading into Roma, we know next to nothing. It's in black-and-white. It's shot on 65mm film. And it's reportedly a deeply personal story from this acclaimed filmmaker. So stay tuned. More on this as we get closer, and finally see it.
The Hate U Give
Sometimes it's difficult going to the movies and seeing themes that are prevalent on the nightly news being beamed into the safe space of the theater. And yet, we are intrigued by The Hate U Give, which will address racial violence, and the shooting of African-Americans by police officers. The focus will fall on Amandla Stenberg (also starring in The Darkest Minds), playing a teenager from a poor neighborhood who also attends an upscale private school. How will the shooting affect the balance of her world?
The Front Runner
Jason Reitman has been hit and miss lately. After dominating with his earliest films -- Thank You for Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air -- the writer/director has cooled off with Labor Day and Men, Women & Children. Earlier this year, the director found modest success with Tully, and now we have a second film in the same year with The Front Runner. Too much? We'll see, but we're really intrigued by the idea of Hugh Jackman playing a presidential candidate whose campaign might get derailed by allegations of an affair. Timely?
The Kindergarten Teacher
This is one of the few films on this list that comes with pre-packaged film festival buzz. Netflix acquired The Kindergarten Teacher after it played to raves at Sundance, with a lot of attention paid to Maggie Gyllenhaal's title character. The movie -- a remake of an Israeli film of the same name -- dropped off the radar as Netflix saved it for an awards push. And now that Toronto is here, the campaign for Kindergarten begins.
Steve McQueen makes masterful, harrowing and unforgettable films. From 12 Years a Slave to Shame, McQueen isn't afraid to tackle uncomfortable but important topics, with unflinching honesty and uncompromising candor. To be fair, the premise of Widows doesn't sound quite as riveting, with four widows trying to pick up the pieces of their husbands' criminal empires. But we trust in McQueen, wholeheartedly, and this cast is ACES.
If Beale Street Could Talk
How does Barry Jenkins follow up his Best Picture win for Moonlight? We'll find out when his adaptation of James Baldwin's 1974 novel. The story follows a woman's efforts to free her wrongly imprisoned lover, and to do it before their baby is born. The material sounds rich for exploration, especially from Jenkins' point of view. And we can see if Moonlight was a lightning-strike, or the start of a rewarding career.
The Sisters Brothers
Westerns are few and far between. Good Westerns are even more rare. But the moment Jacques Audiard cast Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal in his vengeance-driven black comedy, we moved Sisters Brothers to the top of our anticipated list, primarily because we would watch all four of those men in ANYTHING. The fact that Sisters Brothers looks really good is icing on the cake.