As much as we love all that summer has to offer, fall is where it's at for true cinephiles. The movie lover's season officially kicks off (according to us, anyway) the same day the annual Toronto International Festival launches every year in early September.
As has been the case for several years now, Toronto serves as a platform for studios to launch their Oscar hopefuls and for smaller indies to find a home (and maybe some awards down the line). "The King's Speech," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Precious" and "The Artist" all played at the festival before going on to Oscar glory while films like "Beginners," "Killer Joe" and "Your Sister's Sister," all came into the event without a distributor, and left with one.
As is usually the case, this year's slate looks supremely promising, with new films from Terence Malick, Ben Affleck, Neil Jordan, Brian De Palma, Joe Wright and a slew of others. Some are screening in Toronto shortly before opening in theaters, while others have no release date as of yet. But chances are, if they make a dent at the festival, you'll be seeing the latter ones soon enough.
To distill the massive lineup for your perusing pleasure, we've handpicked the 20 films we're most excited to see at TIFF.
If you would have told us 10 years ago that Ben Affleck was poised to become our generation's Clint Eastwood — a good actor who makes an even better director — we would've laughed in your face. And yet here we are, two films in, and Affleck has proved to be just that. His third, "Argo," premieres in Toronto, and, if the buzz is to be believed, it's his best to date, following "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town." Working on his broadest canvas yet, "Argo" tells the true story of a covert operation to rescue six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979.
With only four films to his name ("Atonement," "Pride and Prejudice," "Hanna" and "The Soloist"), British director Joe Wright has singled himself out as one of the most eclectic and varied directors out there. Judging by the stunning trailer for his latest, his stock is only set to rise further with his radical take on the literary classic "Anna Karenina," starring his muse, Keira Knightley. Wright, never one to take the boring route, set the majority of the film on an actual stage to save on costs, and add a little theatrical flair to his period epic. Whether his gamble paid off, we have yet to see. But we sure can't wait.
It may be hard to fathom, but Michael Jackson's groundbreaking "Bad" album turns 25 this year. To pay tribute to the album's enduring legacy (and to the King of Pop himself), director Spike Lee has crafted what is sure to be the definitive documentary made as yet on the legend, and the album that has come to define him. The documentary features appearances by some of the King's collaborators including Martin Scorsese (who directed the "Bad" video) and Sheryl Crow (who toured with him) as well as those who were inspired by him, including such luminaries as Kanye West, Mariah Carey and Cee Lo Green.
"Interview With a Vampire" director Neil Jordan returns to the vampire genre with "Byzantium," starring Saoirse Ronan (arguably the most talented under 20 actress working today) and Gemma Arterton. The story centers on two female vampires (Ronan and Arterton), who wreak havoc on an unsuspecting seaside community. Given Jordan's track record since helming the Tom Cruise-starring "Interview" — he has since directed "Michael Collins," "The End of the Affair" and "Breakfast on Pluto," among many others — don't expect a "Twilight" knockoff, but something for the adult set with more on its mind than lust and blood.
We were skeptical when we first caught wind that Tom Twyker and the Wachowski siblings had plans to adapt David Mitchell's epic novel "Cloud Atlas" for the screen. The book, which spans the 19th century to a post-apocalytptic future for a tale that shows how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future, seems totally unfilmable on the page. But after catching the stunning six-minute trailer for the independently financed film, consider us sold. Heck, we cried watching the thing.
'End of Watch'
Jake Gyllenhaal, we're glad to have you back! It's been a year since "Source Code," the actor's last film to hit screens, so it's no wonder we're itching to see his heated turn in David Ayer's high-octane cop thriller, "End of Watch," co-starring Anna Kendrick and Michael Peña. Employing the found-footage aesthetic used in horror films like "The Blair Witch Project" and the "Paranormal Activity" series, "End of Watch" is said to plunge you into the lives of two L.A. cops (Gyllenhaal and Peña). How Ayer's method will pay off is anyone's guess. But, thanks to his cred (he penned the screenplay for one of the best cop films ever, "Training Day"), we have high hopes.
"Four Weddings and a Funeral" director Mike Newell offers another stab at the Charles Dickens' classic with the Gothic-looking "Great Expectations." Folks expecting a modern take on the material, like the dreamy adaptation helmed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, will be sorely disappointed, but we can't wait to see the story told the way Dickens meant it to be told. Like the novel, Newell's film is set in the mid-1800s. And, judging by the promising international trailer for the film, Helena Bonham Carter seems to be having a total campy ball as a spiteful recluse who tries to get between the two lovers at the center of the tale (played by "War Horse" breakout Jeremy Irvine and Holiday Grainger).
Celebrated animator Genndy Tartakovsky (best known for his work on "Star Wars: Clone Wars" and "The Powerpuff Girls") makes his leap into feature film animation with this ghoulish tale sure to enthrall both adults and kids alike. Headlined by a great voice cast that includes Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez and Steve Buscemi, "Hotel Transylvania" offers a lighter take on the Dracula story by centering on Dracula's attempts to keep his daughter protected from the vices of the outside world. To do so, he's built the titular hotel, a place where monsters of all kinds have a sanctuary to unwind and be themselves. Dracula's attempts at keeping his daughter in a bubble are thwarted when a human comes upon his castle.
'Hyde Park on Hudson'
Bill Murray is said to give an Oscar-worthy performance as Franklin Delano Roosevelt — the only U.S. president to hold office for three consecutive terms — in "Hyde Park on Hudson," a lighthearted glimpse into the life of the beloved icon. The film depicts one of the last pre-war weekends in 1939, when King George VI and Queen Consort Elizabeth (yep, the same folks played by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech") paid a visit to the president's estate in Upstate New York. To add some drama to the mix, the ever-reliable Laura Linney is said to give a great supporting turn as Roosevelt's distant cousin, whom the president takes a more than friendly liking to.
With her run on "Saturday Night Live" done and her last film to hit theaters, "Bridesmaids," a bona fide hit, Kristin Wiig is set to take the big screen by storm. That's the main reason we're so amped to see her back in leading lady mode in the indie comedy "Imogene," a character study about a down-on-her-luck aspiring playwright, who, at the story's outset, has staged her own suicide just to get her ex's attention. Desperate much? After the botched attempt to win him back, Imogene is remanded to the custody of her mother (Annette Bening), who, as it turns out, is just as messed up as her daughter.
If high-concept sci-fi is your thing, then you're undoubtedly psyched to see Rian Johnson's follow-up to "The Brothers Bloom," "Looper," which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as the same dude. Yeah, you heard that right. Set in the near future (well, 2072), "Looper" imagines a world where when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gunmen (called Loopers) await to finish them off, thereby erasing their future. So you can imagine one Looper's reaction when the guy they send back for him to kill is his older self. Will this be the next "Matrix?" Only time will tell, but we're hopeful.
Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" has been courting a ton of praise after selectively screening across the U.S. prior to its Toronto bow, with the majority of critics saying that this is one to beat come Oscar time. Joaquin Phoenix, who last appeared as himself in the divisive mockumentary "I'm Still Here," is said to give the performance of his career as a troubled WWII vet who finds himself under the wing of an enigmatic cult leader (Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman). There's been a ton of speculation as to whether "The Master" is Anderson's take on the birth of Scientology. Having not seen it, we don't know whether it is or not. All we know is that it looks like one of the best films of the year.
'Much Ado About Nothing'
Is there anything Joss Whedon can't conquer? After proving to be a force on the small screen by creating "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," one of the most beloved TV shows of all time, Whedon gave James Cameron a run for his title as King of the World after decimating box-office rivals with his summer smash hit, "The Avengers." And now with his black-and-white indie "Much Ado About Nothing," Whedon is out to prove that he can do Shakespeare... in modern day, no less. In Whedon we trust.
'On the Road'
All eyes with be on Kristin Stewart in Toronto, where the "Twilight" beauty is expected to make an appearance in honor of her buzzed-about supporting turn in "On the Road," Walter Salles' long anticipated adaptation of Jack Kerouac's seminal novel of the same name. While most of the focus will be placed on how she reacts when asked about her recent cheating scandal, we're more curious to see her performance as an uninhibited teenager in the epic indie. Both the film and Stewart drew rave reviews at Cannes following its world premiere earlier this year. Her romantic life might be in the stinker, but if the hype is to be believed, her artistic one is flourishing.
"The Paperboy" (a.k.a. the movie in which Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron) was one the most divisive movies to ever play in Cannes, courting both praise and derision, so it's no wonder we're curious to check out this potboiler. In the film, set in Miami in the 1960s, Efron plays a directionless young man drafted to help his journalist brother (Matthew McConaughey) investigate the possible wrongful conviction of a man (John Cusack) on death row. Kidman is said to give a scene-stealing performance as a horned up woman corresponding with the prisoner. In following up his Oscar-winning "Precious" with this lurid tale based on Pete Dexter's novel of the same name, Lee Daniels made one hell of risk. Here's hoping it paid off.
Sure to be the guilty pleasure of the festival is Brian De Palma's sleazy-looking follow-up to his divisive war film "Redacted," "Passion." The thriller finds the "Carrie" director back in "Femme Fatale" mode, pairing Rachel McAdams up with Noomi Rapace for a sexy tale centered on a driven ingenue (Rapace) who engages in a deadly battle with her ruthless mentor (McAdams), a woman she secretly harbors a deep attraction for. We can't wait to see Rapace bury deep into a role as dark as her breakout one as Lisbeth Salander, the original "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." As for McAdams, we can't wait to see her play another mean girl (forgive the pun).
'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'
Emma Watson has a huge fan base thanks to the "Harry Potter" franchise, but she has yet prove her staying power in Hollywood — hence the reason we're so curious to see how she fares as one of the leads in Stephen Chobsky's film adaptation of his own popular novel, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." In the coming-of-age drama, Watson and Ezra Miller star as two high school seniors who take an introverted freshman (Logan Lerman) under their wings to show him the ropes and a good time.
'Silver Linings Playbook'
Bad-boy director David O. Russell follows up his Oscar-winning crowd-pleaser "The Fighter" with something altogether different – a drama about a teacher (Bradley Cooper) with a troubled past who moves back in with his mother. Russell knows his way around actors ("The Fighter" netted Best Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor Oscars), so we can't wait to see what he wrings out of his new ensemble. Along for the ride with Cooper are Robert De Niro, Julia Stiles, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Tucker (remember him?).
Despite its Disney-friendly cast (Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens both headline), "Spring Breakers" ain't for the tween set. Directed by art house madman Harmony Korine ("Trash Humpers") and co-starring Hollywood's anti-conformist James Franco, "Spring Breakers" stars Gomez and Hudgens as two of four female co-eds in an unnamed college town who rob a coffee shop to help pay for their trip to a beach. Unfortunately, things don't go quite as planned, and they end up in the slammer. Franco, sporting dreadlocks and a gold grill, plays a local petty gangster who bails them out. Why Gomez and Hudgens risked alienating their fan base by taking part in this oddball flick is anyone's guess. We couldn't be happier. Is Bieber next?
'To the Wonder'
The ever elusive Terrence Malick usually takes more than 10 years between projects to wow the movie-going public, so you can imagine our disbelief when we learned that his follow-up to last year's stunner "The Tree of Life," "To the Wonder," is ready and primed for Toronto. Whatever caused the legendary director to pick up the pace, we'll likely never know. One thing we know for certain: we couldn't be happier. Rumored to be ever more experimental than his last film (and that's saying a lot), "To the Wonder" stars Ben Affleck as man who brings back a woman (Olga Kurylenko) from Europe to marry, only to fall back in love with his childhood sweetheart (Rachel McAdams). Who doesn't love a highbrow love triangle?