Home Movies Movie Lists

30 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at Toronto Film Festival 2018

From Lady Gaga singing the blues to docs on Bannon, Bergman and beyond — our preview of this year’s must-see TIFF titles

The 30 movies to catch at Toronto Film Festival 2018 — from 'If Beale Street Could Talk' to 'First Man.'

Venice kicks off the red-carpet fest trifecta with glitz and glamor, and Telluride drops a lot of hush-hush early looks at big-name titles — but the fall movie season really doesn’t officially start until the Toronto Film Festival kicks into high gear. A come-one-come-all mix of MVPs from Cannes and Berlin, potential Oscar-contenders, the occasional Hollywood tentpole, midnight movies, foreign-language and non-fiction flotsam and jetsam, some local flavor and whatever else can be fit into what’s always a 100-plus programming lineup, it can be a daunting task to see everything for those who head north every year. But it’s the fest that sets the pace for what you’ll be talking about movie-wise for the lead-up to Oscarapalooza next winter, as well as a great look back at what’s made an impact at other international cine-get-togethers. It remains a permanent fixture on critics and cinephiles’ calendars.

Out of the [counts number of movies in this year’s roster] roughly gajillion titles that will be showing at TIFF from September 6th to the 16th, we’ve singled out 30 that have us intrigued, curious and/or chomping at the bit to see. We’ll be filing a half dozen or so dispatches during the event over the next 10 days, but for now, here’s a preview of what’s pinging, very loudly, on our festgoing radar.

‘American Dharma’

He’s interviewed Holocaust deniers, convicted killers, Abu Ghraib prison guards and the architect of the Vietnam War — now legendary documentarian Errol Morris takes on former Trump enabler (and New Yorker festival dis-invitee) Steve Bannon. How the ex-Breitbart chief handles the pressure of the Interrotron’s all-seeing eye remains to be seen, but considering the grilling that Morris gave Robert McNamara (The Fog of War) and how he fought Ol’ Slippery Don Rumsfeld to a draw (The Unknown Known), we expect a hell of a conversational showdown.

‘Burning’

It’s your typical Boy (Yoo Ah-in) Meets Girl (Jun Jong-seo), Boy Competes For Girl’s Hand With Rich Rival (The Walking Dead‘s Steven Yuen) story — except in the hands of South Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong (Peppermint Candy, Secret Sunshine), this movie is anything but typical. What starts out as a class-based character study slowly reveals that, at its dark heart, it’s really a thriller … and if word out of Cannes is to be believed, a beautifully brutal one.

‘Carmine Street Guitars’

Head down to Carmine and Bleeker Street in downtown New York, and you’ll see Rick Kelly and his associate, Cindy Hulej, crafting intricate, insanely detailed guitars made from locally recycled wood — if the materials happen to be from a Gotham landmark like McSorley’s, all the better. Filmmaker Ron Mann (Comic Book Confidential) details a week in the life of a beloved West Village institution, from famous-folk drop-ins (Jim Jarmusch, Nels Cline, the Roots’ Kirk Douglas) to being solicited by realtors looking to build condos around his modest storefront. It’s a love letter — to NYC, to the bohemians and musicians who call the place home, to the art of crafting a damn fine customized Stratocaster, to taking pride in your work and to finding a place for freaks and misfits to call home.

‘Climax’

Cinematic agent provocateur Gaspar Noe’s latest has been described as Fame directed by the Marquis de Sade” and “a slick mashup of the Step Up franchise and Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom — personally, you had us at “the man behind Enter the Void makes a dance movie.” During a troupe’s post-performance party, someone spikes the punchbowl with high-grade acid; serious freakouts, psychedelic revelry, sex, screaming, house music, upside-down camerawork, Atomic Blonde‘s Sofia Boutella giving good glare and some seriously dope moves ensue. Check out the trailer — this could be the feel-bad headfuck movie of the fest.

‘Cold War’

If Oscar-winning Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski’s last film Ida channeled the ghosts of transcendental arthouse cinema past — your Bergman, your Bresson, your old-school foreign-language films better than Logan — his latest movie takes a more personal route. A jazz pianist (Tomasz Kot) and a singer (Joanna Kulig) meet, fall in love, marry, fight and eventually call it quits; in between the couple’s highs and lows, a whole era of Eastern European history transpires. The filmmaker based the story loosely on his own parents’ own tumultuous relationship; it’s an intimate look at massive social upheavals. Also the black-and-white cinematography looks breathtaking.

‘Destroyer’

Erin Bell is the sort of Los Angeles detective that wears her scars proudly and past traumas on her tattered sleeves — you almost wouldn’t know this law-enforcement officer who looks like she’s seen the worst humanity has to offer is played by Nicole Kidman. Early word on Karyn Kusama’s gritty, grimy cop thriller is that the Australian actress goes full chameleon here; if this take on the self-destructive, personal-demon-battling hero with a badge is half as intense as the filmmaker’s debut Girlfight or her recent horror flick The Invitation, you’d best strap yourself in for a rough ride.

Divide and Conquer

‘Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes’

The late, most-certainly-not-great Roger Ailes is as responsible as anyone for the current divisive moment we find ourselves in — and this doc by Alexis Bloom (Bright Lights) traces the history of a man who started as a TV producer, found himself dabbling in political consulting and eventually gave the world the pox that is Fox News. Oh, and there was a sexual-harassment scandal or two (or a dozen) on his resumé as well. You may need a steel-wool shower after viewing this.

‘Driven’

John DeLorean’s story is as American as they come: work hard, get an M.B.A., invent something (say, a muscle car), revolutionize your industry, chase a crazy dream, take too many drugs, have a spectacular fall from grace. Filmmaker Nick Hamm’s biopic on the automotive mover and shaker picks up in ’77, when DeLorean (Halt and Catch Fire‘s Lee Pace) is attempting to make this thing; meanwhile, his neighbor (Jason Sudeikis) gets in trouble with the Feds, who want to use him to get to the sports-car mogul. For those who don’t know the story: No, in fact, this does not end well.

‘First Man’

Space … the final frontier. That’s where Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is headed, along with the rest of his Apollo 11 astronauts. And it’s on that massive, orbiting rock we see up in the night sky that he and his fellow American pioneers will make history. Damien Chazelle’s drama about the first man to walk on the moon has already attracted praise, sparked arguments and inspired a wee bit of controversy. It may also nab a few of its participants, like Gosling and Claire Foy (who plays Janet Armstrong), some shiny statues in the near future. Its official lift-off toward Oscars glory or a sudden trajectory back down to Earth starts now — either way, we can’t wait to see it.

‘Gloria Bell’

Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio has been on a role in the last year thanks to the one-two punch of A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience — now he returns to his 2013 chronicle of a single woman Gloria and retools it for an English-language remake. If you’ve seen the absolutely wonderful original, you may wonder why anyone would bother with a new version … until you hear that Julianne Moore is playing the title role, a woman who’s looking for love in all the wrong places. Yes!

‘Greta’

A twentysomething New Yorker (Chloë Grace Moretz) finds a handbag on the subway; it belongs to a lonely older woman named Greta. The fact that said character is played by the great Isabelle Huppert signals that we may be heading into psychological thriller territory — and since Neil Jordan (Mona Lisa, The Company of Strangers) is calling the shots, it should be a doozy.

‘Halloween’

Forget about all those sequels and random one-offs associated with the horror franchise. This revamping of the slasher-flick Rosetta stone, courtesy of director David Gordon Green and his cowriter/producer Danny McBride, picks up 40 years after John Carpenter’s original and once again pits Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis!) against an unstoppable force of evil with a mask and a butcher knife. Carpenter himself signed off on this and contributed a new soundtrack; the midnight screening of this at the fest should be insane.

‘Her Smell’

Taking a break from being the face of our collective femme-dystopic nightmares (fictional division), Elisabeth Moss reunites with her Listen Up Philip/Queen of Earth director Alex Ross Perry for this drama about, per the fest’s press notes, “a brilliant and brash frontwoman for [a] ’90s rock band … foul-mouthed, nihilistic and incredibly talented.” (Which sounds like no one we can think of off-hand.) As with most of Perry’s work, you can expect some rawness, realness, really great performances and a sort of you-are-there feeling regarding a character’s personal meltdown. Also, Legion‘s Dan Stevens is in this!

‘High Life’

Claire Denis! Robert Pattinson! Juliette Binoche, and André 3000, and cerebral sci-fi! The French director — arguably one of the five greatest filmmakers working today — returns for this tale of a spaceship heading into the middle of a black hole. The handsome Good Time actor is the only crew member awake, which means he’s the one who has to care for a baby girl who’s born in transit. Problems arise, however, as they so often do in such interstellar-overdrive parables. This may be the one we’re looking forward to the most.

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’

We still have fond memories of seeing the first “official” public screening of Moonlight at TIFF in 2016 — so we can’t think of a better place to see Barry Jenkins’ follow-up, an adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel about a young woman named Tish (KiKi Layne), her man “Fonny” (Stephan James — remember this name), the neighborhood known as Harlem and a system designed to keep everyday folks like these down. If you can get through the emotionally intense trailer without tearing up a bit, you’re a stronger person than we are.

‘In Fabric’

It’s a movie about a demonic dress, we say. (Not a typo, folks.) Oh, um, no thanks, you say. But wait, you ask: Who made it? Peter Strickland, the warped British mind behind such odd, oddly beautiful cult movies as Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and The Duke of Burgundy (2014), we say — at which point you go and immediately get in line for tickets. A filmmaker with a penchant for mining retro exploitation genres and enough idiosyncratic kink to fuel a fetishwear convention, Strickland splits his tale of haunted fabrics and coven-run boutiques into two strands: one involving a single woman (Jean-Marie Baptiste) re-entering the dating pool; and another centered around a dweebish washing-machine repairman (Leo Bill). You’ll never look at department stores the same way again.

‘Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy’

At this point, we know the J.T. LeRoy story pretty well: Author Laura Albert began writing sordid, lyrical tales of life on the margins under a pseudonym; the books became hits and the “novelist” a modern lit-celebrity; she enlisted her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, to portray the waif-ish young man of letters; it was revealed to be a hoax. What distinguishes director Justin Kelly’s take on the story is: He got Laura Dern to play Albert and Kristen Stewart to play Knopp. Suddenly, we’re extremely intrigued.

‘The Land of Steady Habits’

Let us now praise Ben Mendelsohn, who brings a hangdog, lost-boy charm to his role as a middle-aged man in the middle of an existential crisis. That doesn’t stop this ex-financial analyst from compulsively seducing half the woman in his small Connecticut town, or driving his ex-wife (Edie Falco) and son (Thomas Mann) crazy, or possibly from finding a second chance at romance with a woman (Connie Britton). Given that this is a Nicole Holofcener joint, you know it will be funny and poignant, as well as having some of the sharpest dialogue you can find a modern American movie.

‘Maya’

After being taken hostage while reporting in Syria, a French journalist (Roman Kalinka) travels to India in seach a postraumatic spiritual salve; while there, he starts a relationship with the daughter (Aarshi Banerjee) of a family friend. If you’re thinking, oh great, another film in which a white person is “saved” by an exotic person of color, you’re not alone — except this story is being told by Mia Hansen-Løve (Eden), a filmmaker of extraordinary sensitivity and an eye for small moments with huge reverberations.

‘Meeting Gorbachev’

Seriously, who wouldn’t want to eavesdrop on a conversation between Werner Herzog and Mikhail Gorbachev? This meeting-of-the-minds doc, co-directed by Herzog and André Singer, lets you be a fly on the wall as the German filmmaker and the former Russian leader talk politics, how the past echoes in the present, the concept of legacy and, per the festival’s catalog write-up, “how to catch slugs with beer.” Did not see that last one coming, to be honest.

‘Non-Fiction’

“The New Media landscape” — if that phrase strikes fear in your heart, imagine what it must do to a middle-aged Parisian book publisher (Guillaume Canet) who’s having a hard time wrapping his head around what all these damned Tumblrs and Twitters are. You’d expect Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper, Boarding Gate) to make a techno-thiller out of this idea; instead, the French auteur opts to construct a comedy out of this, co-starring Juliette Binoche. [Presses “like” button, RTs to followers.]

‘Roma’

From the moment that first gorgeous, black-and-white widescreen shot trailer hits you — a woman cleaning a floor, throwing water over the tiles — you can tell that Alfonso Cuaron’s long-awaited follow-up to 2013’s Gravity will be both more intimate then his lost-in-space drama and just as epic. Following the story of a domestic worker and her family in early 1970s Mexico City, the filmmaker has said that it’s the closest he’s come to making an autobiographical movie — “Ninety percent of the scenes are taken out of my memory,” he told IndieWire — and his first film shot in native country in almost two decades. This is what go-for-broke personal cinema looks like circa 2018.

‘Screwball’

A documentary on Major League Baseball doping and focusing on Anthony Bosch, the man who helped supply performance-enhancing drugs to numerous all-star players? Ok. It’s made by Billy Corben, the guy behind such gonzo history lessons as Cocaine Cowboys and Limelight? Sure, why not. And it features child actors portraying both Bosch and numerous modern MLB legends? YOU COMPLETELY HAVE OUR ATTENTION NOW.

‘Searching for Ingmar Bergman’

The director of Persona, Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal and roughly a half dozen other masterpieces cast a long shadow over world cinema — and Margarethe von Trotta’s portrait of an artist as an existential Swede dives deep into Ingmar Bergman’s career, life, loves, influences, inspirations and how he set an insanely high bar for a certain type of personal, transcendental moviemaking. There will be ennui.

‘Shoplifters’

The Palme d’Or winner at this year’s Cannes (and already a huge hit in Japan), Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s drama about a group of petty thieves trying to survive one grocery-store boost at a time has earned across-the-board praise virtually everywhere it’s played; like most of this modern master’s movies, it’s said to be empathetic to the max and a graceful study of humanity on society’s margins. If it’s half as moving as Still Walking or Our Little Sister, we imagine this will reduce us to a puddle.

‘Sunset’

In the early part of the 20th century, a young Hungarian woman (Juli Jakab) enters a hat shop in Budapest; what happens next involves a deep-dive into her family’s past, her nation’s history, some dark and deeply troubling secrets and the art of millinery. It’s hard to think of a more impressive debut film in recent years than László Nemes’ 2015 Holocaust drama Son of Saul, so expectations are high for this sophomore film/historical drama.

‘Teen Spirit’

Elle Fanning is a 17-year-old Polish immigrant living on the Isle of Wight, one with a song in her heart and the voice of an angel. She’s content to haunt the open-mic nights at her local pub, wowing regulars like the ex-opera singer (Zlatko Buric) who’s trying to drink away decades of pain. Then a local American Idol-style TV show comes to town and the older man prods the young lady to try out. We think you see where this is going, but we’re intrigued to check out how actor Max Minghella, a.k.a. Nick from The Handmaid’s Tale, handles the story in his directorial debut. (His dad was Anthony Minghella, the man behind The English Patient, so the chops may run in the family.)

‘Vox Lux’

Speaking of teen singers: Natalie Portman plays the grown-up version of a young woman who, along with her sister, had turned a tragic experience into a hit song in the late Nineties. Fast-forward to 2017, and the pop chanteuse now has a daughter, a career, and another violent incident to contend with. Word on the street is that Portman is phenomenal. Brady Corbet, the intense actor best known for his parts in Martha Marcy May Marlene and the American remake of Funny Games, directs.

‘Walking On Water’

In 2016, the artist known as Christo mounted an installation he called “The Floating Piers”: a long walkway covered in golden fabric that connected two Northern Italian lakes. It would be the first piece he’d done since his collaborator and wife, Jean-Claude Javacheff, passed away in 2009. This makeshift riff on the yellow brick road would also allow visitors to literally walk on water. This doc doesn’t just detail every aspect of the process; it also captures a litany of diva-like temper tantrums, behind-the-scenes art-world bureaucracy, several near-disasters and a compelling peek inside a singular creative mind.

‘Widows’

In a complete 180-degree turn from his Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, filmmaker Steve McQueen goes the genre-movie route with this take on the 1983 British TV miniseries, in which the widows of professional thieves find they have to finish the job their late husbands started. This may have, pound for pound, the best ensemble cast of the year — Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Ferrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon. But there are three people you want to keep an eye on here: Atlanta‘s Brian Tyree Henry as a gangster looking to make some political moves; Elizabeth Debicki as one of the women who takes up the crime gig; and Tony award winner Cynthia Erivo, who joins the ad hoc crew and then practically walks away with the movie.