Films starring Idris Elba, Emma Stone, Margot Robbie, Jennifer Lawrence, Gord Downie and two doses of Matt Damon are heading to the Toronto International Film Festival. Organizers revealed the lineups for the 42nd annual festival's Gala and Special Presentation on Tuesday morning, and while the slate reveals a healthy dose of prestige and celebrity, a good amount of chatter was devoted to what wasn't, as of yet, announced. Namely: the opening night film.
The rumour mill has been busy churning for the past few months with suggestions that the sci-fi sequel Blade Runner 2049 would bow in Toronto, possibly as a kick-off for the fest. But although the blockbuster comes with both a Canadian star (Ryan Gosling) and director (Denis Villeneuve), its plot has been handled with such secrecy that a TIFF premiere one full month before its wide release Oct. 6 just didn't track. Warner Bros. rightly wants to keep this property close to the chest, lest any twists leak out into the world, replicant-style.
Instead, TIFF will see Elba's survival adventure The Mountain Between Us, Stone's tennis drama The Battle of the Sexes co-starring Steve Carell, Robbie's Tonya Harding biopic I, Tonya, Lawrence acting for Darren Aronofsky in his gonzo-looking mother!, Downie leading The Tragically Hip in the documentary Long Time Running, and a double helping of Damon in both George Clooney's Suburbicon and Alexander Payne's Downsizing.
The lineup announced Tuesday by TIFF CEO Piers Handling and artistic director Cameron Bailey offers just a fraction of what the fest will eventually screen Sept. 7 through 17, though they are undoubtedly the splashier selections – and will face just that much more scrutiny thanks to a previously announced programming cut of 20 per cent. (Last year's edition featured 296 features, an intimidating number that Variety critic Peter Debruge, in a now-infamous column, decried with the headline, "Has the Toronto Film Festival Gotten Too Big for Its Own (Or Anybody's) Good?")
At first blush, Tuesday's selection reveals that TIFF has successfully balanced its typical desire for both celebrity and critical favourites. It is perennially a difficult act to pull off, especially with the festival butting up against the smaller but prestigious Venice (which starts nine days before Toronto, and where La La Land enjoyed its world premiere), and the more intimate and industry-friendly Telluride (seven days before Toronto, and where Moonlight made its world premiere).
In addition to the eclectic list of films above, expect plenty of additional awards chatter about such TIFF selections as the romance Breathe, which marks Andy Serkis's first time in the director's chair; David Gordon Green's Boston Marathon-centric drama Stronger, featuring Canadian Tatiana Maslany; Guillermo Del Toro's fantasy The Shape of Water; the Judi Dench-starring Victoria and Abdul; Angelina Jolie's First They Killed My Father; and Dee Rees's post-Second World War drama Mudbound.
The latter two are especially intriguing given that they're both from Netflix, which rained on Cannes' parade this past spring, when French theatre owners revolted over the company's insistence that its films play big screens the same day they're made available to stream. (Before Cannes effectively banned Netflix from its competition, Bailey told The Globe that "our festival selection is open to the best work we can find, whether or not it's destined for theatres.")
Surely to the relief of many at TIFF, there was zero talk about the festival's once-controversial, though still in-effect, programming policy designed to blunt Telluride and Venice's influence (any films to screen during the first four days that are not world or North American premieres are barred from TIFF's most desired venues).
Critics may instead want TIFF to turn its attention toward gender parity in its lineup. Although the organization just launched Share Her Journey, a fundraising campaign aimed to "jump-start gender-equality initiatives," of the 47 titles revealed Tuesday (more will be announced over the course of the summer), only 14 come from female directors – including two films that are co-directed by male partners – or about 30 per cent.
As ever, TIFF wants to lead the conversation – the remainder of its lineup just has to ensure the festival has something to say.