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25 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at Toronto Film Festival 2016

From big Oscar hopefuls to rock docs and WTF midnight-madness flicks, the must-see movies of TIFF 2016

25 Movies We Can't Wait to See at Toronto Film Festival 2016

From big Oscar hopefuls to rock docs, foreign-language epics to WTF midnight-madness flicks — the 25 must-see movies of Toronto Film Festival 2016.

Courtesy of TIFF (3)

It's that time of year, when the festival axis of Venice, Telluride and Toronto officially kick off the prestige-film season and the steady building drumbeat of the awards circuit starts to grow deafening. But while the Italian fest has the international glamor and the Colorado mountain town's get-together has the cachet of a secret-club meeting at a cinema speakeasy, the Canadian event is the one we always keep an eye on. This is the festival in which you not only get to see what will undoubtedly be causing chatter among the Gold Derby set over the next few months; it's also where you can catch up with earlier Cannes-and-beyond favorites, discover hidden documentary gems, and sample a genuine round-the-world offering of foreign-language treats. All this, and a documentary about the complete and utter history of our universe. Directed by Terrence Malick. In IMAX.

We've parsed the Toronto International Film Festival's lineup, and singled out 25 things we're dying to check out once the 41st edition of the fest kicks off on September 8th. Here are the Oscar-hopeful biopics, the batshit-crazy midnight movies, the stranger-than-fiction tales, the world-cinema treasures, and a few genuinely unclassifiable flicks that are on our must-see list. Let the viewing begin. 

'American Pastoral'

Courtesy of TIFF

‘American Pastoral’

Let no one say that Ewan McGregor was ever lacking in ambition: For his directorial debut, the actor decided to tackle the work of novelist Phillip Roth, a writer who's work has yielded few hits (see Indignation) and a whole lotta misses, movie-adaptation-wise. The Scottish star also plays the film's protagonist — Seymour "Swede" Levov, a typically Rothian neurotic Jew who's caught up in a postwar crisis after his teenage daughter (Dakota Fanning) commits an act of political terrorism. You've gotta respect McGregor's swing-for-the-fences audacity. CB

Arrival Movie

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‘Arrival’

Before we get to see director Denis Villenueve tackle the long-awaited sequel to Blade Runner, we'll get a glimpse of his take on Close Encounters of the Third Kind — that's the movie that folks have been namechecking (along with 2001, because of course) in regards to his story of a linguist (Amy Adams) recruited to make first contact with visiting extraterrestrials. The trailer definitely gives off a heavy Kubrick vibe, and if the Canadian auteur does for cerebral sci-fi what he did for kidnapping thrillers (Prisoners) and Feds-vs-cartel procedurals (Sicario), count us in. DF

The B Side Movie TIFF

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‘The B Side’

Trace the lineage of the Polaroid as an perma-trendy style of photography, and you'll end up at the works of esteemed portraitist Elsa Dorfman. Working with an unorthodox large-size 20"x24" insta-cam, she captured intimate moments with everyone from bohos like Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsburg to bona fide rock stars like Steven Tyler. Now documentarian and (and Dorfman's personal friend) Errol Morris gives her the cineprofile treatment, tracing her artistic evolution as she regales him with anecdotes and scattered memories along the way. Smile and say "art!" CB

'The Bad Batch' TIFF

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‘The Bad Batch’

Few debuts have impressed us as Ana Lily Amirpour's Iranian-vampire-Spaghetti-Western-whatsit A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and the concept behind her sophomore movie — an exiled woman (Suki Waterhouse) encounters some nasty, flesh-eating folks in a postapocalytpic landscape — had us salivating like Pavlov's pups from the get-go. Festival press notes describe the movie as "a girl walks across a cannibal-infested desert at midday," which would be a clincher even if Khal Drogo himself (Jason Mamoa), Keanu Reeves (!) and Jim Carrey (!!!) weren't costarring. This woman is a visionary. Bow down. DF

Barry Movie TIFF

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‘Barry’

We've already seen a cinematic recreation of the First Couple's first date; now we get Barack Obama's Even Earlier, Pre-Michelle Years, courtesy of filmmaker Vikram Gandhi (Kumaré). Rewind and go back to 1981, when young "Barry" (newcomer Devon Terrell) was a junior at Columbia University and dealt with NYC's aggressive law-enforcement officers, the ins and outs of negotiating college life as a mixed-race individual and how this crash course in identity politics would later shape his ideology — and by extension, our nation's future. All this, plus The Witch's Anya Taylor-Joy as an object of the 20-year-old Obama's affections. DF

'Chasing Trane'

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‘Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary’

Southern child in the Jim Crow era, jazz legend in the Blue Note era, canonized musical genius by the late 1950s, gone way too soon by the end of the Sixties — John Coltrane's story is well-known at this point. But documentarian John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs. John Lennon) digs in deep to get the stories behind the stories, unearthing rare footage of the Love Supreme innovator in action and getting everyone from Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins to Cornel West to weigh in on the man behind the horn. DF

Colossal Movie TIFF

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‘Colossal’

After scaring the bejesus out of audiences with the techno-thriller Open Windows, the creepy time-travel headscratcher Timecrimes and a handful of horror shorts, Spainish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo returns with another English-language project, as unsettling as ever. Anne Hathaway plays a hard-partying slacker who returns to her childhood hometown to drink her way to rock bottom; she soon learns that a monster has appeared in Seoul, and she can't shake the feeling that they're somehow connected. Bring on the fusion of creature-feature and personal drama! CB

Free Fire Movie TIFF

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‘Free Fire’

He's done kitchen-sink gangster dramas, Ye Olde Weirde England historical pieces and one of the most unnerving hitman-meets-horror films of the last 10 years — so why wouldn't writer-director Ben Wheatley switch up yet again and do a Boston-based Seventies crime thriller about a gun deal gone wrong? Word on the street is that this pulp nugget makes excellent use of its cast (Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley), its claustrophobic setting, and its cult filmmaker's knack for upending audience expectations. Also, check out those Me-Decade duds! DF

Gimmie Danger Movie TIFF

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‘Gimme Danger’

You can get your traditional Jim Jarmusch fix at the festival (his characteristically stoic character study Paterson, starring Adam Driver, is also playing at TIFF). But you don't need to be devotee of the director's work to dig this rock documentary on the Stooges — the pioneering proto-punk group that gave the world some of the most brutal rock riffs ever ("1969," "I Wanna Be Your Dog," "Search and Destroy") and a peanut-butter smeared Iggy Pop. Raw power doesn't begin to describe the band's sonic attack, and Jarmusch traces Iggy and Co.'s rise, fall and brief reunion before the Asheton brothers' respective deaths. DF

I am Not Your Negro TIFF

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‘I Am Not Your Negro’

Working from an unfinished manuscript by the late, great James Baldwin, director Raoul Peck (Lumumba) constructs an open-ended mediation and the lives and deaths of three Civil Rights leaders — Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers — while reflecting on the epidemic of African-American deaths that have become public flashpoints over the last five years. The fact that the author's words are still so pertinent regarding the way that black lives do not seem to matter to so much of society is depressing; that someone as deft and unflinching as the Haitian filmmaker is connecting these dots is inspiring beyond words. DF

Into the Inferno TIFF

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‘Into the Inferno’

Want to go volcano-spelunking with Werner Herzog? That's the premise of his new documentary/film essay, "co-created" with noted volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer. (Oddly enough, this is one of two projects he has at the fest involving these large, gassy ruptures; see also his narrative feature Salt and Fire.) The pair dive deep into some of the largest active lava-furnaces on the planet in this new project, but this is no gnarly rework of Planet Earth. Because this is Herzog we’re talking about, his press soundbite states that "what we are really chasing is the magical side, the demons, the new gods." You had us at "volcanoes." CB

Jackie TIFF Movie

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‘Jackie’

Chilean director Pablo Larrain (No) heads to Toronto with not one but two biopics: Neruda, his take on the famous poet starring Gael García Bernal; and this look at former First Lady Jackie Onassis Kennedy as she endures the President's assassination and the immediate political aftermath. The cast is littered with stars, including Peter Sarsgaard (as RFK), Greta Gerwig, John Hurt and Bill Crudup, but it's Natalie Portman's portrayal of the woman in the pillbox hat that's been attracting the loudest buzz. DF

Justin Timberlake Tennessee TIFF

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‘Justin Timberlake + the Tennesee Kids’

Jonathan Demme gave the world the greatest concert film of all time with Stop Making Sense and has done right by Neil Young in a trilogy of documentaries — now he's trained his camera on pop-music monarch Justin Timberlake. The director was at the Las Vegas blowout performance that concluded the star's 20/20 Experience world tour in January 2015, capturing both the show and the backstage action. The finest living chronicler of musicians doing what they do best, working with the one of the most charismatic pop star in the game? That's music to anyone's ears. CB

'La La Land' TIFF

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‘La La Land’

People have already started going ga-ga over Damien Chazelle's throwback musical, in which Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone engage in some serious Ginger-and-Fred hoofing and everyone breaks into lavish, MGM-style numbers in vibrant, eye-popping color. Whether or not the director's follow-up to the Oscar-winning Whiplash resurrects the genre, we can't wait to see this movie — and we're 100-percent positive that somewhere out there, Arthur Freed is positively beaming. DF

Loving TIFF

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‘Loving’

Richard and Mildred Loving didn't want much more than to be left alone and allowed to build marital bliss in their beloved home state of Virginia. But through the late Fifties and Sixties, their interracial union embroiled them in a landmark legal case that went all the way to the Supreme Court and changed  anti-miscegenation laws forever. Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special) tells the tale of their struggle in a less-tolerant time with understated tenderness; Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga play the history-making couple. CB

Mascots TIFF

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‘Mascots’

A new Christopher Guest comedy is always a sight for sore eyes; one about the cutthroat, take-no-prisoners world of professional sports mascots vying for an annual trophy sounds like a gift from the gods. The Best in Show maker's latest mockumentary puts Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr., Parker Posey and Fred Willard in the fluffy-suited hot seat and lets them improvise their way through the usual cringe-comic exchanges — only this time, they'll be wearing oversized heads and dancing on the 50-yard line. Yes! DF

'My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea'

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‘My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea’

Graphic novelist Dash Shaw tells the torrid tale of two high-school newspaper friends who engage in a war of mudslinging — until actual mudslides start occurring due to a massive earthquake and their entire campus begins to, y'know, sink into the sea. (See title.) A who's who of names lend their voices to the delightfully crude animated disaster movie (Maya Rudolph, Reggie Watts, Susan Sarandon, Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham), in which Irwin Allen and John Hughes finally meet on common, if not stable, ground. We've got a very good feeling about this one. DF

'Nocturnal Animals'

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‘Nocturnal Animals’

Fashion titan Tom Ford made his behind-the-camera debut with the stylish A Single Man (2009); after a seven-year breather, he's back, and putting Amy Adams through her paces as an art gallery owner who sees veiled threats in the violent new novel from her ex-husband (Armie Hammer). The more she obsesses, the more the events of the book happen to play out onscreen. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the lead character from the story within the story; Laura Linney, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher and Aaron Taylor-Johnson fill out the ensemble in this sleek-looking thriller. CB

Personal Shopper TIFF

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‘Personal Shopper’

Kristen Stewart gets cyberbullied by a ghost over the course of a 20-minute text-message exchange displayed onscreen — and yes, you’re damn right that it’s compelling cinema. Reuniting with her Clouds of Sils Maria director Olivier Assayas, Stewart is a marvel as a prima donna's whipping girl tasked with flitting from boutique to boutique. Mostly, she tries to contact the restless spirit of her deceased brother, and realizes she couldn't possibly fathom the forces she’s dealing with until it’s too late. It's profound, unclassifiable and completely haunting. CB

Prevenge

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‘Prevenge’

Actress/writer/director/you-name-it Alice Lowe helped turn Ben Wheatley's pitch-black comedy Sightseers into a genuinely cracked love story; we can only imagine what she's going to do with the story of a pregnant woman who feels her baby is communicating with her. The in-utero messages, however, involve a lot of how-to tips on committing homicides, which … well, let's just say Mom really wants to bond with her offspring. The fact that Lowe filmed this while actually expectant only adds a gleefully sick edge to the proceedings. Moms-to-be, the gauntlet has been thrown down. DF

The Promise Movie TIFF

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‘The Promise’

Oh right, the Oscarbait stuff — so how about Oscar Isaac as a medical student, Christian Bale as a seen-it-all journalist and rising international star Charlotte Le Bon as the dancer/artist who comes between them? And World War I is starting to cause strife, upheaval and history-changing class struggles in Europe, where the three of them are located? And also, director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) turns the whole thing into an old-school Doctor Zhivago-style epic, the sort of big-screen romance that people say "Oh, they don't make them like they used to" about. Yeah, that'll do, folks. That'll do. DF

Quiet Passion

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‘A Quiet Passion’

Imagine Oscar Wilde wrote an epigram-filled biopic of Emily Dickinson — that's the feeling you get watching Terence Davies' extraordinary recounting of the poet's life and work, with Cynthia Nixon adding backbone and a bruised humanity to the person behind the timeless verse. (Apparently, the woman who wrote "This world is not conclusion" was a Miranda; who knew?) The highlight of this year's Berlin Film Festival, the Brit writer-director's period piece has both a beating heart and a tart tongue — the phrase "must-see" was made for movies like this. DF

'(Re)Assignment'

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‘(Re)Assignment’

Viva Walter Hil!! The venerable tough-guy director of The Warriors, 48 Hours and Southern Comfort returns with a genuinely WTF story about a surgeon (Sigourney Weaver) who takes revenge upon the hitman who offed her brother. The method in which she prepares that dish served cold, you ask? She gives the male killer a gender-reassignment makeover. Cue Michelle Rodriguez with a gun, bloody chaos and carnage. We have no idea about the sort of thorny political issues this premise will bring up. We do know, however, that Hill's reputation as a peerless pulp-action director precedes him, and that we'll undoubtedly be in for a helluva ride. DF

'The Rolling Stones Olé!'

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‘The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé! : A Trip Across Latin America’

In which Mick, Keef and the boys journey through Central and South America before playing a historic show in Havana, Cuba — their first ever concert in the country. Described as part concert flick, part "rock and roll road movie," Paul Dugdale's visual diary of the band's tour is said to take a very intimate look at the Stones as they prepare to play for their Latin American fans and check out the local culture. We also hear there's an off-the-cuff acoustic duet of "Honky Tonk Woman" between the Glimmer Twins that will knock people's proverbial socks off. DF

'Sadako vs. Kayako'

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‘Sadako vs. Kayako’

In the grandly disreputable tradition of Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator comes this new face-off between two icons of J-horror. In this corner: the perpetually drippy wishing-well phantom from The Ring films; in the other corner, the pallid-skinned, gape-mouthed child monstrosity from The Grudge and its many sequels. A new generation of unsuspecting souls incite the wrath of these creepy Japanese spirits, and realize their only hope of survival is to pit them against one another. To paraphrase a great tagline: Whoever wins, we can’t sleep for a week. CB

'The Sixth Beatle' Movie TIFF

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‘The Sixth Beatle’

There have always been numerous contenders for who might be the "Fifth Beatle" — if anybody deserved to be dubbed the sixth member of the Fab Four, however, it's Sam Leach. This documentary makes a case for how important the Liverpudlian concert promoter was to the band's post-Hamburg, pre-Ed Sullivan Show period of their career, as the octogenarian gives viewers a tour of the group's legendary haunts and a first-hand account of seeing scruffy lads slowly turn into a fierce rock and roll force. DF

Snowden Movie TIFF

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‘Snowden’

National hero or traitorous weasel? Director Oliver Stone appears to fall on the "hero" side of the debate regarding Edward Snowden, and we're curious to see his highly partisan take on this exciting chapter of modern American history. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as the Kermit-voiced whistleblower who leaked classified CIA documents and then became an international fugitive; Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo and Tom Wilkinson costar. CB

Tramps Movie TIFF

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‘Tramps’

Ah, it's the old boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-transport-an-illegal-briefcase-to-Atlantic-City, boy-and-girl-fall-in-love chestnut. Anyone who was lucky enough to catch writer-director Adam Leon's incredible debut Gimme the Loot (2012) knows that he can do scrappy underdog tales with the best of them, and that clichés are bound to get upended in the most graceful of ways. Callum Turner, soon to be seen in the Assassin's Creed blockbuster, is the young gentleman who finds himself in hot water; Grace Van Patten is the woman who's trying to bail them out of said predicament. DF

'Trespass Against Us' TIFF

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‘Trespass Against Us’

A young man who's expected to lead the family business — in this case, a British crime syndicate — finds himself butting heads with his father over wanting to go his own way. (Just when he wants out, they pull him back in!) The fact that Michael Fassbender plays the heir apparent and Brendan Gleeson is his volatile Pops, however, has us positively giddy over what sort of Shakespearean conflict and gangster violence, U.K. division, this movie has in store. DF

'Una' TIFF

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‘Una’

We'd see Ben Mendelsohn do anything — cause problems as a Florida family's resident black sheep, play a deranged Aussie gangster or a troubled Midwestern gambler, lead the Empire's stormtroopers in assault against rebel bases, you name it. And if anyone was going play the male lead in this adaptation of David Harrower's scorched-earth theater piece Blackbird, in which a middle-aged man is confronted with a ghost from his past, we'd want it to be the character actor du jour. Rooney Mara plays a young woman who has a few things to discuss with him. Folks familiar with the play know what comes next — suffice to say, you are in for a genuinely harrowing journey. DF

'Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey' TIFF

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‘Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey’

What's better than a new Terrence Malick movie? How about one that explores the history of life, the universe and everything starting from the Big Bang, and shot in IMAX to boot? The filmmaker's decades-in-the-making chronicle of the ongoing evolution — or devolution, take your pick — of our Big Blue Marble is finally reaching screens, and given the peeks of visually sumptuous cosmic tapestries and untouched-nature tableaux he's sprinkled throughout recent work, we can only imagine the treat we're in for. For once, the starchild narration of his work will have an appropriate context, and if you're one of those folks who wished The Tree of Life had even more dinosaurs, we think your prayers are about to be answered. DF

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