Top 12 Most Anticipated Movies at TIFF

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Tom Ford on the red carpet at the Venice International Film Festival for his film's premiere

Here, our top selects for TIFF 2016

Another September brings another Toronto International Film Festival – running the 8th-18th – and with it comes a celebrity onslaught the sight of which the city hasn’t seen since well, the last TIFF (though the NBA All Star Game came close). Movie stars are so rampant that sometimes the films get lost in the red-carpet frenzy.

The men of the red carpet: TIFF CEO Piers Handling (left), and TIFF Creative Director Cameron Bailey who are instrumental in what films screen at the festival.

Here then are our selects for TIFF 2016. And if you’re not attending the festival, no worries, all twelve of these films will receive a major release this fall, in time for the Awards Season countdown.

American Pastoral: Getting its World Premiere at TIFF is the highly anticipated screen adaptation of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer-Prize winning American Pastoral. Making his directorial debut is Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, who also stars alongside Jennifer Connelly as the parents of a girl (Dakota Fanning) who becomes a radicalized and violent anti-Vietnam protester, causing their perfect American family life to be torn apart.

Arrival: Directed by Canadian sensation Denis Velleneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario) this science fiction film has already been compared to Close Encounters of the Third Kind for its restraint in portraying an alien invasion – unlike recent studio tentpole pictures have done. Here Amy Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist, who the US government turns to to communicate with the aliens on board an enormous space craft in order to determine if they are friends or foes. Also starring Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker. The dark tone of Arrival gives great hopes to fanboys the world over as they eagerly awake Velleneuve’s sequel to Blade Runner, due out in 2017.

Filmmaker Nate Parker at Sundance this past January.

Birth of a Nation: The controversy over filmmaker Nate Parker’s past – he was charged with rape while at Pennsylvania State University in 1999 but found not-guilty, the victim committed suicide in 2012 – threaten to drown out the critical and public darling from Sundance, where it sold for a whopping $17-million and was an out of the gate Oscar favourite. Birth of a Nation is the story of Nat Turner, a slave who led a revolt against a white plantation owner in 1831. At TIFF Parker makes his first public press appearance since the rape charge re-emerged, and no doubt his presence will cause a firestorm that may unfortunately outweigh that of his film.

La La Land: A bona fide smash before it even hits mainstream theatres, La La Land is the latest from writer-director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) and stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a jazz pianist and singer who fall in love as they try and break into show business in, you guessed it, Los Angeles. And the best part? It’s a no-holds-barred old-fashioned homage to the great Hollywood musical. So yup, there’s singing and dancing aplenty and word has it the two young stars give Fred and Ginger a run for the money. Such was the gushing at both Venice and Telluride film fests that Tom Hanks sang the film’s praises during a press conference for his own film, Sully.

Loving and A United Kingdom: These two films share similar themes: both based on the true love stories of interracial couples who break every social, political and legal rule in the era in which they live. First off, the American offering, Loving, stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, as a couple (Loving is their surname) who were arrested in their home state of Virginia in 1958 where interracial marriages were illegal. They fought the system all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in their favour.

Secondly, the English film, A United Kingdom, stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike as a couple who meet at a jazz club in 1947 and fall in love and marry. The kicker being that Oyelowo’s character, Seretse Khama is actually an African Prince who goes on to lead his country to independence becoming the first president of Botswana, as apartheid nips at his heels in neighbouring South Africa – all with his white wife at his side.

Manchester By the Sea: Casey Affleck, the less known younger brother of Ben, takes the lead in this stark drama that critics adored at Sundance this past January. Lee (Affleck) is forced to return to his hometown when his older brother (Kyle Chandler) dies and leaves his nephew in his care. The two are mismatched in temper and goals but struggle to make their new life work. Many critics have said this is a career-making performance for Affleck that will surely see the young actor step out of his brother’s shadow.

Moonlight: This low budget indie has generated loads of buzz. This is the second feature from filmmaker Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) and traces the main character, Chiron, played by Trevante Rhodes, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood as he grapples with his sexuality in his drug addled Florida neighbourhood. After screening in Telluride the film received a 9.2 on Rotten Tomatoes and has hit several critics “best of” lists.

Tom Ford on the red carpet at the Venice International Film Festival for his film’s premiere

Nocturnal Animals: It doesn’t happen often on the red carpet but when Nocturnal Animals debuted at Venice, the movie’s stars – Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Armie Hammer – took a back seat to the filmmaker, fashion icon Tom Ford. We can expect an equally star-struck Toronto premiere. Already heaped with critical kudos, the film is part psychological thriller, part complex study of a woman’s inner demons, which is no doubt the reason several critics have compared it to a Hitchcock flick. It stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal but the real star is writer-director Ford, whose first foray into motion pictures, A Single Man, netted star Colin Firth an Oscar nomination.

Queen of Katwe: Also getting its World Premiere at TIFF comes Queen of Katwe. Based on the true story of a young girl in rural Uganda who becomes an international chess champion. Phiona, the chess champ, is played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o as her mother and David Oyelowo as the missionary who teaches Phiona the game.

Snowden: Who better to weave the various threads of political conspiracy, espionage and betrayal than director Oliver Stone (Platoon, JFK, Wall Street)? TIFF gets the world premiere of Snowden, where James Gordon-Levitt plays National Security Adviser Edward Snowden who alerted the world to the US government’s breach of its citizen’s privacy. Snowden remains in exile in Russia. The true story is startling enough but we can expect Stone to ramp up the tension in this re-telling. Stone recently told The Hollywood Reporter, “America is fed bullshit and we buy it.”

Xavier Dolan accepts the Grand Prix prize at Cannes this May for It’s Only the End of the World

It’s Only the End of the World: The latest film from 27 year old Quebec sensation Xavier Dolan, whose film Mommy won international acclaim in 2014. This time around his all French cast includes Marion Cotillard, Vincent Casel and other French stars, in this tale of a terminally-ill man who returns home after a 12-year absence to tell them the news but instead is greeted by a fractured family who aren’t ready to listen to him. The film has already won the Grand Prix Prize at Cannes this past May. Up next for the prolific Dolan is his English-language debut, The Death and Life of John A. Donovan, starring Kit Harrington, Jessica Chastain and Susan Sarandon.