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25 Must-See Movies at Toronto Film Festival 2015

From Oscar-buzzed biopics to music docs on Arcade Fire and Aretha, our can’t-miss picks for the fall’s biggest film fest

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It's the second-to-last stop on the Fall film-festival circuit, after Venice and Telluride and before the carefully curated New York cinefeast — but the Toronto International Film Festival holds a special place in traveling festgoers hearts. It's a chance to catch up on the year's already lauded entries from Cannes, Berlin and, occasionally, Sundance. You don't need to fly to the nosebleed-altitude Colorado mountains to get there. It's the semi-official kick-off of the awards season, when prestige films start garnering buzz and truly bad Oscarbait get Bronx cheers. And its catch-all approach to programming (big studio releases, under-the-radar docs, deep-cut foreign-language movies, namebrand-auteur hat tips, a raucous Midnight Madness section — and starting this year, a TV sidebar) means fanatics get a well-balanced diet of visual gorging.

After poring through the fest's lineup with the intensity of Talmud scholars and breaking down everything from its Gala presentations to its "Platform" section, we've identified 25 movies we can't wait to check out at this year's TIFF, running from September 10th through the 20th. Some are major fall autumn releases that'll be coming soon to a theater near you; others are the kind of smaller treasures that you might not hear about otherwise. But all of them are reminders of why many of us head to the Great White North for 10 days every year: to sit down in the dark and emerge with our eyes opened to the world.

London Fields

Courtesy of TIFF

‘London Fields’

Everybody from Starred Up's David Mackenzie to David Cronenberg have been attached to adapt Martin Amis' class-driven, darker-than-dark 1989 novel about a self-destructive young woman into a movie over the years. So kudos to you, first-time feature director Mathew Cullen, for finally getting it done. Amber Heard plays the novel's heroine, Nicola Six; Jim Sturgess, Billy Bob Thornton and Divergent's Theo James show up as the three men in her life — one of whom she knows will kill her, thanks to a precognitive dream. We have it on good authority that Johnny Depp makes a cameo as an unspecified character. We're assuming that it won't be a Whitey Bulger reprise, though how awesome would that be?

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‘Love’

You expect France's enfant terrible filmmaker and provocateur extraordinaire Gaspar Noe (Irreversible, Enter the Void) to make controversial, boundary-pushing movies; even give his track record, you still might not have expected his latest work to be a 3-D skinflick filled to the brim with explicit, hardcore sex. (The trailer, suffice to say, is NSFW and then some.) Having already shocked the crowd at Cannes this year, the auteur's tale about a cinephile caught between two lovers makes it way to our shores and threatens to change the way you think about onscreen intimacy, one money shot at a time.

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‘The Martian’

Message to Matt Damon: You may want to steer clear of faraway planets, as you seem to have a nasty habit of getting stranded on them. Ridley Scott's latest sci-fi endeavor leaves the androids and aliens at home, opting instead for a survival drama involving Damon's marooned deep-space botanist fighting to stay alive on the fourth rock from the sun. If this film adaptation of Andy Weir's self-published book is half as scientifically wonky as its source material, we fully expect to get collegiate credit along with the tension and thrills.

Miss Sharon Jones

New York, NY - February 2, 2014 - Sharon Jones performs at the Beacon Theater following cancer treatment. CREDIT: Jacob Blickenstaff

Courtesy of TIFF

‘Miss Sharon Jones!’

She's the face of the old-school soul revival and the frontwoman for the Stax-style group the Dap-Kings — if anyone deserves a docu-portrait, it's Sharon Jones. Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple (Harlan County U.S.A.) followed the singer during a tumultuous year in which, on the eve of a new album and tour, Jones was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and almost saw her band disintegrate.

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Courtesy of TIFF

‘Our Brand Is Crisis’

David Gordon Green takes the 2005 documentary about an American political marketing firm advising a candidate in Bolivia's presidential election (spoiler alert: he won) and remakes it as a star vehicle for Sandra Bullock. Normally, we'd cry foul with something like this, but the potential in mining this true story for sharp political satire seems too good to pass up. And after that impressive turn in Gravity, we're genuinely curious to see what Bullock does next.

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‘The Program’

It was perhaps inevitable that someone would make a based-on-a-true-story movie about Lance Armstrong and the doping scandal that led to his disgrace — but that fact that Stephen Frears, the versatile filmmaker behind everything from My Beautiful Laundrette to The Queen, is responsible for this retelling has us more than a little interested. (Even his occasional misfires are intriguing.) The always intense Ben Foster is the tarnished golden boy; Chris O'Dowd is the muckraking journalist David Walsh, who helped uncover the titular "program" responsible for the cyclist's dominance of the sport; and an all-star cast shows up to add glamor to the "say it ain't so, Lance!" gasps.

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‘The Reflektor Tapes’

Music-video director Kahlil Joseph chronicles the Arcade Fire's making of their 2013 album Reflektor and the beginning of their subsequent around-the-world (and cover-song-heavy) tour behind it. We expect some incredible performance footage, an accordion solo or three, some stream-of-consciousness detours, scenes of producer James Murphy drinking coffee and several numbers featuring that weird guy in the mirrored suit from the title track's video.

Son of Saul

Courtesy of TIFF

‘Son of Saul’

The breakout hit of this year's Cannes, Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes' Holocaust drama views the 20th century's worst atrocity through the perspective of one locksmith (Géza Rohrig) hellbent on secretly burying a child's corpse in Auschwitz. To say that viewers are in for some seriously heavy-duty despair would be putting it lightly, but the manner in which the first-time feature director tackles the subject — by keeping the camera tightly on its protagonist throughout the entire movie — has earned the work raves up and down the Croisette.

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‘Spotlight’

In 2002, a group of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe began looking into an incident involving a priest and numerous allegations of sexual abuse; they'd end up uncovering a systematic conspiracy of cover-ups within the Catholic Church that would change the way we view the institution. An all-star cast — Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber, Mad Men's John Slattery — play the dogged journalists and editors, while director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) aims squarely for an All the President's Men-level of compelling fourth-estate drama.

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‘Trumbo’

Bryan Cranston continues his post-Breaking Bad career plan of playing divisive great men (he'll reprise his Tony-winning turn as LBJ for HBO next year) by taking on Dalton Trumbo, the Hollywood screenwriter who became one of the McCarthy era's most famous victims. The biopic is supposed to cover everything from his early successes in Tinseltown to his post-blacklist victory lap after Kirk Douglas put Trumbo's name in the credits of Spartacus; the star-studded cast also stars Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper (!) and A Serious Man's Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson (!!!).

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‘Victoria’

A Spanish ex-pat (breakout star Laia Costa) gets picked up by a handsome young gent outside a Berlin nightclub late one night — and soon finds herself roped in as the getaway driver for an impromptu heist. That pulpy plot would be exciting enough on its own, but German actor-director Sebastian Schipper ups the ante by filming the whole shebang in a single shot. You read this correctly: The whole 140-minute movie is one solitary unbroken shot. Wow.

Where to Invade Next

This is a group photograph of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and several Commanders in Chiefs taken on July 1, 1983, in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff dining room, located in the Pentagon. Shows (left to right): U.S. Navy Adm. Wesley L. McDonald, Commander in Chief, US Atlantic Command; U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Paul X. Kelley, Commandant of the Marine Corps; U.S. Army Gen. Paul F. Gorman, Commander in Chief, US Southern Command; U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Robert C. Kingston, Commander in Chief, US Central Command; U.S. Army Gen. John A. Wickham, Chief of Staff, US Army; U.S. Army Gen. Wallace H. Nutting, Commander in Chief, US Readiness Command; U.S. Air Force Gen. James V. Hartinger, Commander in Chief, Aerospace Defense Command; U.S. Navy Adm. William J. Crowe, Commander in Chief, US Pacific Command; U.S. Air Force Gen. Charles A. Gabriel, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force; U.S. Army Bernard W. Rogers, Commander in Chief, US European Command; U.S. Army Gen. John W. Vessey, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; U.S. Air Force Gen. Bennie L. Davis, Commander in Chief, US Strategic Air Command; U.S. Navy Adm. James D. Watkins, Chief of Naval Operations; and U.S. Air Force Gen. Thomas M. Ryan, Commander in Chief, Military Airlift Command. OSD Package No. A07D-00347 (DOD Photo by Robert D. Ward) (Released)

Courtesy of Tiff

‘Where to Invade Next’

Wondering what Michael Moore has been up to lately? He's apparently been making a movie on the down-low about the military industrial complex and our country's fetish for perpetual war — a worthy target for the Fahrenheit 9/11 filmmaker if there ever was one. The controversial documentarian have been mum on the specifics, though the festival's press notes quote Moore as saying that the Pentagon needs to "stand down" and that he'll "do the invading for America from now on." Oh, this should be good.

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