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Toronto Preview: 20 Movies Worth Leaving the Country For

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It's September, and the fall movie season is upon us! That means we're going to set aside all of those summer frivolities and explosions, turning an eye towards more serious fare instead.

Speaking of serious, the hunt for Oscar starts this week at the Toronto International Film Festival, and the buzz generated by this year's official selections will tell us plenty about where the race is headed. Let's break down the most anticipated films our northern neighbors have to offer.

1. '12 Years a Slave'

Noteworthy Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Quvenzhane Wallis, and directed by the extremely buzzy Steve McQueen ("Shame").
TIFF Synopsis: The incredible true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.
Going for Oscars?: You have to love its chances for a Best Picture nomination, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is well positioned for a Best Actor run. Plus, take a look at the rest of that luminary cast — methinks we haven't heard the last of "12 Years a Slave."
The Buzz: This looks to be a certain winner. It's gotten great buzz at the Telluride Film Festival, so TIFF could end up being a coronation.

 

2. 'All Is By My Side'

Noteworthy Cast: Andre Benjamin! You know, from Outkast, aka Andre 3000.
TIFF Synopsis: Jimmy James, an unknown backup guitarist, left New York City for London in 1966. A year later he returned — as Jimi Hendrix.
Going for Oscars?: Oddly enough, the director, John Ridley, also adapted the screenplay and produced "12 Years a Slave." So he'll be competing against himself, and his chances aren't as strong for "All Is By My Side." But we've seen many a music-related biopic ("Ray," "Walk the Line") break out during awards season.
The Buzz: I'm a big Andre 3000 fan, so I'll catch it at some point, but to be fair his acting record is pretty spotty (anyone want to see "Four Brothers" again?).

All is By My Side TIFF

3. 'August: Osage County'

Noteworthy Cast: Abigail Breslin, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep.
TIFF Synopsis: Tells the dark, hilarious and deeply touching story of the strong-willed women of the Weston family.
Going for Oscars?: I'm not sure what it would take for Meryl Streep not to be nominated for a role, but we won't find out here. Best Picture is a pretty solid bet as well, though John Wells will have a tougher time being nominated for Best Director as the majority of his credits have come from television.
The Buzz: It feel a bit like "The Royal Tenenbaums" meets "Steel Magnolias." I'm in.

 

4. 'Can a Song Save Your Life?'

Noteworthy Cast: Mos Def, CeeLo Green, Catherine Keener, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Mark Ruffalo and Hailee Steinfeld.
TIFF Synopsis: Finds Gretta alone in New York City after being heartbroken by her musician boyfriend.
Going for Oscars?: Knightley and Steinfeld already have previous nominations but are probably too young to earn another one this year.
The Buzz: Any time your movie title has a question mark in it, you've got my attention.

Can a Song Save Your Life? TIFF

5. 'Dallas Buyers Club'

Noteworthy Cast: Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey.
TIFF Synopsis: In this fact-based drama, Matthew McConaughey portrays Texas electrician Ron Woodroof, an ordinary man who found himself in a life-or-death battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies.
Going for Oscars?: McConaughey will get a nomination for either this or Scorcese's "The Wolf of Wall Street." If it's great the film has a shot at a Best Picture nomination, because health care is an extremely timely subject.
The Buzz: A must-see, though the term "fact-based drama" gives me pause.

 

6. 'Dom Hemingway'

Noteworthy Cast: Jude Law, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke and Richard E. Grant.
TIFF Synopsis: Dom Hemingway is a larger-than-life safecracker with a loose fuse who is funny, profane and dangerous.
Going for Oscars?: Slim to none, as it looks to be a very light comedic drama.
The Buzz: Crime dramas are my jam. I'll be first in line.

TIFF TIFF

7. 'Don Jon'

Noteworthy Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (acting and directing), Julianne Moore, Tony Danza and Scarlett Johansson.
TIFF Synopsis: Jon Martello is a strong, handsome, good old fashioned guy. His buddies call him Don Jon due to his ability to "pull" a different woman every weekend.
Going for Oscars?: Gordon-Levitt has a few more years of dues-paying ahead of him, and the Academy tends not to reward comedies.
The Buzz: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directional debut! This will screen to a packed house.

 

8. 'Enough Said'

Noteworthy Cast: Toni Collette, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini and Catherine Keener.
TIFF Synopsis: A divorced single parent, Eva spends her days working as a masseuse and dreading her daughter's impending departure for college. She meets Albert, a sweet, like-minded man also facing an empty nest.
Going for Oscars?: This was James Gandolfini's final role, so it will be given every chance in the world to resonate.
The Buzz: James Gandolfini was an extremely underrated film actor, and it will be nice to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Veep," "Seinfeld") in a big screen role for the first time in ages.

 

9. 'Fading Gigolo'

Noteworthy Cast: John Turturro (acting and directing), Woody Allen, Liv Schreiber, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara.
TIFF Synopsis: Fioravante enters into the world’s oldest profession and ends up finding something he didn’t know he was looking for.
Going for Oscars?: A Woody Allen acting nomination would be interesting. It won't happen, but it would be interesting.
The Buzz: John Turturro directing Woody Allen? I'll bite.

 

10. 'The Fifth Estate'

Noteworthy Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie and Stanley Tucci.
TIFF Synopsis: Triggering an age of high-stakes secrecy, explosive news leaks and the trafficking of classified information, WikiLeaks forever changed the game.
Going for Oscars?: Perhaps for writing or Best Picture, but the acting nominations feel out of reach.
The Buzz: Somehow, Benedict Cumberbatch is in three of the 20 most anticipated film of TIFF. Anyone up for a triple feature?

 

11. 'Gravity'

Noteworthy Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and directed by Alfonso Cuaron.
TIFF Synopsis: Gravity is a heart-pounding thriller that pulls its audience into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space.
Going for Oscars?: Director Alfonso Cuaron already has multiple nominations from "Children of Men" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien" so a "Gravity"-related nomination wouldn't be a surprise.
The Buzz: This might be the biggest title of the festival, as it's been seven years since "Children of Men" and everyone wants to see if Clooney and Bullock can pull off this high concept thriller.

 

12. 'Hateship Loveship'

Noteworthy Cast: Nick Nolte, Guy Pearce and Kristen Wiig.
TIFF Synopsis: Johanna moves to a new town to work for Mr. McCauley and his granddaughter, Sabitha. Sabitha and her friend trick Johanna into a one-way romance with Sabitha's father Ken.
Going for Oscars?: Not at all; it's pure laughs for this one.
The Buzz: Kristen Wiig continues to grow as an actor and this could be a nice respite from the heavy dramas at TIFF.

Hateship Loveship TIFF

13. 'Kill Your Darlings'

Noteworthy Cast: David Cross, Elizabeth Olsen and Daniel Radcliffe.
TIFF Synopsis: This is the previously untold story of murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs at Columbia University in 1944, providing the spark that would lead to their Beat Revolution.
Going for Oscars?: If you've got a film about writing, it's going for Oscars.
The Buzz: It will be fascinating to see Daniel Radcliffe's transformation into Allen Ginsberg.

 

14. 'Labor Day'

Noteworthy Cast: Josh Brolin, Tobey Maguire, James Van Der Beek and Kate Winslet.
TIFF Synopsis: Centers on 13-year-old Henry Wheeler as he confronts the pangs of adolescence while struggling to be the man of the house and care for his reclusive mother.
Going for Oscars?: Young director Jason Reitman already has four nominations for his work on "Juno" and "Up in the Air," so the pedigree is firmly in place.
The Buzz: The "coming of age" style films can fall flat but Jason Reitman has proven his ability to deliver, even on subjects that don't seem all that interesting at first glance.

Labor Day Paramount

15. 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom'

Noteworthy Cast: Indris Elba and Naomie Harris.
TIFF Synopsis: Based on South African President Nelson Mandela's autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before working to rebuild his country's once-segregated society.
Going for Oscars?: Idris Elba is a contender for Best Actor, no doubt about it.
The Buzz: Biopics always run the risk of turning into schmaltz but they've certainly got a historically significant story to tell here.

 

16. 'Prisoners'

Noteworthy Cast: Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Jake Gyllenhaal and Terrence Howard.
TIFF Synopsis: Keller Dover is facing every parent's worst nightmare. His six-year-old daughter, Anna, is missing, together with her young friend, Joy, and as minutes turn to hours, panic sets in.
Going for Oscars?: A month ago, the answer would have been, "zero." Now? It has a "Zodiac" meets "Seven" sort of vibe, and it's not unheard of for films of that nature to receive nominations.
The Buzz: Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has another film at the festival, "Enemy," which is an impressive feat. As long as there is more to this movie than the previews indicate, it looks to be a solid and suspenseful trip.

 

17. 'Rush'

Noteworthy Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde and directed by Ron Howard.
TIFF Synopsis: A spectacular big-screen recreation of the merciless 1970s rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
Going for Oscars?: Not really, though potentially something in the sound or visual categories.
The Buzz: Ron Howard's film currently sits at 100 percent on RottenTomatoes.com, a very nice opening number. The trailer is probably giving far too much away, but it's hard not to be excited for this one.

 

18. 'The Double'

Noteworthy Cast: Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska.
TIFF Synopsis: Simon is a timid man, scratching out an isolated existence in an indifferent world. James is both Simon's exact physical double and his opposite — confident, charismatic and good with women.
Going for Oscars?: Nah, we're still too early in director Richard Ayoade's career, though he's certainly a talent to keep an eye on.
The Buzz: I don't remember seeing a Jesse Eisenberg performance I didn't enjoy, so I'm really looking forward to this one.

The Double TIFF

19. 'Third Person'

Noteworthy Cast: Kim Basinger, Maria Bello, Adrien Brody, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Liam Neeson and Olivia Wilde.
TIFF Synopsis: Love, passion, mystery, betrayal and hope infuse Paul Haggis' new feature, which follows the interrelated stories of three couples in three cities, Rome, New York and Paris — each with its own secrets.
Going for Oscars?: I could see a writing nomination, but that's about it.
The Buzz: It looks a lot like "Closer,"  and I loved "Closer," so I'm intrigued.

The Third Person TIFF

20. 'You Are Here'

Noteworthy Cast: Jenna Fischer, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler and Owen Wilson.
TIFF Synopsis: When Steve Dallas, a womanizing local weatherman, hears that his off-the-grid best friend Ben Baker has lost his estranged father, the two return to Ben's childhood home.
Going for Oscars?: Not even a little bit, no.
The Buzz: There's so much comedic firepower involved that it can't help but be at least a little awesome.

You Are Here TIFF

Is there a film out there that is high on your list that we might have missed? We'll be covering all of these titles and more at TIFF 2013, so stay tuned for more in-depth coverage.

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