The 41st edition of the Toronto International Film Festival doesn't start until Sept. 8, but The Globe and Mail's Arts team isn't taking it easy. For the past few weeks, we've been writing down, then scratching off, various films of interest – and with 296 features to choose from, our notepads have been experiencing more than a bit of wear and tear. Here, members of our TIFF team each offer their top three most anticipated festival films:
The Death of Louis XIV: Hard to believe but Jean-Pierre Léaud, the vibrant star of all those great Truffaut nouveau vague films, is now 72. The perfect age, in short, to play the Sun King as he ever-so-slowly expires in his majestic bed chamber in Versailles. Directed by Spain's Albert Serra, Death promises to be a marvel of glacial pacing, period-perfect detail, amber-lit decor and exquisite suffering.
Jackie: This has greatness and trainwreck written all over it. Ostensibly about Jacqueline Kennedy in the immediate wake of her husband's assassination, it has a strong cast (Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup), a clever director (Chile's Pablo Larrain), plus Darren Aronofsky as co-producer and much else. That's why I'm worried: The ingredients could add up to something so right, or failed opportunity.
Paterson: Nothing and everything can happen in a film by Jim Jarmusch, that master of Zen mesmerism. This two-hour "epic" is about a bus driver (Adam Driver) who writes poetry, his wife (Golshifteh Farahani), who does artsy things to their house, and a bulldog named Marvin. Driver's character is called Paterson and the city he works in is called … Paterson. Sounds sublime.
Carrie Pilby: For those who saw last year's fantastic The Diary of a Teenage Girl, it's likely that star Bel Powley has been floating through your mind – the young performer holds more charisma and charm in her pinky than an entire stable's worth of more gainfully employed starlets. Hopefully, this new coming-of-age film from Susan Johnson (adapting Caren Lissner's novel) will put Powley in the spotlight she truly deserves.
Colossal: Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Open Windows) makes genre films like no one else, so it's little surprise that he's crafted his own spin on the kaiju film (Godzilla movies, for those less familiar with Japanese iconography). What is surprising, though, is that he managed to persuade Anne Hathaway to star. Who knew that the actress who gleefully clutched her Academy Award for Les Misérables would one day be playing a "party girl with a mysterious connection between herself and a giant monster wreaking havoc on the other side of the globe"? Colossal is easily the biggest curiosity of the festival.
Strange Weather: From a distance, this new drama starring Holly Hunter sounds like the quintessential festival film: A woman (Hunter) travels into the American South with her best friend as she tries to mourn her dead son. Fine, sure, sounds like an emotionally cathartic journey. But the fact that the best friend is played by Carrie Coon (HBO's The Leftovers), one of the most exciting actors working today, elevates the film to a whole new level of anticipation.
La La Land: A beguiling trailer and hearty buzz from the Venice film fest heralds writer-director Damien Chazelle's follow-up to his thrilling Whiplash, which became a sleeper hit after TIFF in 2014. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are star-crossed lovers in an effervescent if misty-eyed tribute to Hollywood's dream factory. Maybe it ends badly, maybe not; but like life itself, it's guaranteed to be one heck of a ride.
Weirdos: After beginning his career with a trio of hard-ass road movies (Roadkill, Highway 61, Hard Core Logo), Bruce McDonald returns to the genre with an unlikely turn, working from a script by Daniel MacIvor to serve up a gentle slice of mid-seventies nostalgia about a couple of small-town Nova Scotia teens hitchhiking to the big city of Sydney for a weekend of fun. The killer cast includes Allan Hawco, Molly Parker, Dylan Authors and Julia Sarah Stone, and the soundtrack makes the ride extra sweet. Oh, and Andy Warhol pops up, too.
Werewolf: After a string of compelling short films that have brought awards and a growing body of admirers, Cape Breton-based Ashley McKenzie takes a bow at TIFF with the world premiere of her first feature, about two young methadone addicts struggling to straighten out their lives. McKenzie draws raw performances from her first-time actors, dropping her camera into their tight quarters with empathy rather than voyeurism. One to watch.
The Handmaiden: Fingersmith, Sarah Waters's mind-bending thriller about a young woman sent to bilk an heiress out of her vast fortune, ranks among my favourite novels of the young century. Park Chan-wook, director of Oldboy, one of the most unforgettable films of the new century, adapts it for the screen, which caused me to shriek like a child when the news was announced. The action moves from Victorian-era London to Japanese-occupied Korea in the years before the Second World War.
Arrival: It was recently reported that astronomers are investigating a radio signal from a faraway star (HD 164595, if you must know), leading to all sorts of wild speculation, from people such as me, that aliens are out there. But what would happen if uninvited extraterrestrial guests showed up on our front door? In the latest by the always-interesting Denis Villeneuve, a linguist (Amy Adams) and a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner) are among those investigating the fleet of alien spacecraft that have arrived on planet Earth.
Blair Witch: I watched the original Blair Witch Project the night before going camping with my family; it remains one of the most terrifying cinematic experiences of my life. In Adam Wingard's long awaited but only recently announced sequel (Book of Shadows is a story parents tell their children so that they behave), the brother of one of the original filmmakers ventures back into the dark Maryland woods to find out what happened all those years ago.
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki: You can't swing a roundhouse right hand these days without hitting a boxing biopic, but it's not Hands of Stone (recently pulled from its Canadian release) or TIFF's Bleed for This (Miles Teller as the underdog-y Vinny Pazienza) that has me jazzed. Instead, it's The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, the low-key, foreign-made comedy-drama about Finnish boxer Olli Maki that stands the best chance to punch above its weight.
LBJ: "LBJ" stands for Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Woody Harrelson stands in for that 36th President of the United States. Rob Reiner directs, and if 1995's The American President showed us anything, it's that the left-wing filmmaker knows his way around the Oval Office.
Mascots: Working for Netflix, the mockumentary maestro Christopher Guest has gathered his quirky company of actors (Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Ed Begley Jr., John Michael Higgins, Bob Balaban and Fred Willard) for a look at the mostly undiscussed world of sports mascots. We all have our favourite teams, but Guest and his bunch (which here includes the wonderful Chris O'Dowd) is one of the easiest comedy squads to root for.
For information on tickets and screening times, see tiff.net/tiff.