From top left: The Imitation Game, Men, Women & Children, This Is Where I Leave You, Nightcrawler, The Equalizer, Rosewater, The Last 5 Years, Top Five
While it’s sad to see summer go, fall is just around the corner — and for movies, that means tons of (hopefully) ambitious thrillers, heartfelt true stories, and challenging dramas that engage us, provoke us, and sometimes go on to win awards. It all starts at the Toronto International Film Festival, running from Sept. 4 through 14, which marks the kickoff of Serious Movie Season. BuzzFeed will be headed to Canada to report on all things TIFF, but before we get there, here are the 24 titles we’re most looking forward to seeing.
1. Black and White
Starring: Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Anthony Mackie, Andre Holland, Bill Burr, Mpho Koaho, Gillian Jacobs, Jennifer Ehle, Jillian Estell
Directed by: Mike Binder
After his wife is tragically killed in a car crash, Elliot Anderson (Costner) tries to maintain custody of his biracial granddaughter Eloise (Estell), whom he had been raising with his wife on behalf of their deceased daughter. Rowena (Spencer), Eloise’s paternal grandmother, believes she would be better off living with her father, even though he struggles with drug addiction. The film creates a space for a discussion on racial issues in the United States, and it will be interesting to see how the dialogue progresses. —Emily Orley
2. The Cobbler
Starring: Adam Sandler, Cliff Smith, Ellen Barkin, Melonie Diaz, Dan Stevens, Fritz Weaver, Yul Vazquez, Steve Buscemi, Dustin Hoffman
Directed by: Thomas McCarthy
Sandler plays Max, a shoe repair man, who works in his family shop. One day, Max discovers a family heirloom that allows him to literally walk in anyone’s shoes. It will be interesting to see how McCarthy (The Station Agent) incorporates fairy tale-esque magic with some serious lessons. —E.O.
3. The Drop
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts
Directed by: Michaël R. Roskam
The Drop is bound to get the shorthand description of being Gandolfini’s final film, but there’s more to it than a last chance to enjoy a performance by the late, great actor. It’s the English-language debut of Belgian director Roskam, who got an Oscar nomination for 2011 thriller Bullhead. The lead of that film, Schoenaerts, also appears in this crime drama, which is scripted by Dennis Lehane (Gone, Baby, Gone) and stars Hardy (making this the most hulking cast in the festival) as a Brooklyn bartender who gets caught between the cops and the Chechen mob. —Alison Willmore
Starring: Félix de Givry, Pauline Etienne, Roman Kolinka, Vincent Macaigne
Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve
Hansen-Løve is one of the most interesting and gifted female filmmakers working today, and in her fourth film, the French director takes on the world of dance music by way of Paul (Félix de Givry), an aspiring DJ who gets caught up in the Parisian scene of the ’90s. Hansen-Løve’s movie is a look at a particular era in music as well as at a character who’s reluctant to change with the times. —A.W.
5. The Equalizer
Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, David Meunier, Haley Bennett, Allen Maldonado, Dan Bilzerian
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Moretz’s Elina is a far cry from Mia, her character in If I Stay. An escort to some of the most menacing members of the Russian mob, she is taken under the wing of Robert McCall (Washington), who is willing to go to every extreme to protect her. Moretz has been on the rise of late and this role seems to be her opportunity to really take her career to the next level. —E.O.
6. I Am Here
Directed by: Lixin Fan
The Chinese Canadian filmmaker 2009 doc Last Train Home was a beautiful, haunting portrait of contemporary China as seen through one family, a couple of migrant workers in a city who travel back to their home village on New Year’s to visit their daughter. In his new film, Fan promises to do something similar by way of an even more striking subject — he’s focused on the finalists in China’s most popular singing competition, Super Boy. Reality shows are so culturally specific and offer such interesting angles on the countries they’re from that they’re ripe for documentation — Havana Marking’s Afghan Star did something similar and was fascinating. —A.W.
7. The Imitation Game
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Alan Leech
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Cumberbatch’s ascendant career could reach a new peak with this biopic about British mathematician Alan Turing, the tortured genius largely responsible for breaking the Nazi’s Enigma code and helping to win World War II. He also basically conceived the modern computer, and he struggled to be gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal in England. Cumberbatch is already winning raves for his performance — whether that praise will extend to the rest of the film remains to be seen. —Adam B. Vary
8. The Judge
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Billy Bob Thornton, Ken Howard
Directed by: David Dobkin
Downey plays a big-shot lawyer who comes home to defend his estranged father (Duvall), a powerful small-town judge, after he’s accused of murder. It’s been a while since we’ve had a solid legal thriller to chew on, and it’s only the second leading role for Downey in a drama after his rise to mega-stardom in his Iron Man suit. It will be nice to see him sparring just with his wit and words. —A.B.V.
9. The Last Five Years
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan
Directed by: Richard LaGravenese
This is the year of Kendrick’s voice. But before fans turn their attention to Into the Woods (due out this Christmas), they should see how she fares as a struggling actress who has a romance with a rising novelist (Jordan) in this musical adaptation. —E.O.
10. The Look of Silence
Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer
Oppenheimer’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing, the most talked-about doc of last year, is another searing examination of the Indonesian killings of 1965–66, this time from the point of view of one of the victims’ families. The film focuses on an optician whose older brother was murdered as he journeys to confront the men who did it — some of whom remain unapologetic. Not easy viewing by any means, but Oppenheimer’s last documentary presented some profound truths about the mind-set of people who’ve perpetrated atrocities and just how much history remains in the hands of those in power. —A.W.
Starring: Al Pacino, Chris Messina, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Pacino’s a living legend, so the fact that he tends to chew the scenery in most roles from the past decade is forgivable. But this movie, which finds him pairing up with chameleonic filmmaker Green (Pineapple Express, Joe), looks like it might be Pacino’s first great role in a long while, as he plays a lonely locksmith pining for a past love. —A.W.
12. Men, Women & Children
Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ansel Elgort, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Elena Kampouris, Dean Norris, Adam Sandler
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult) has built an uncommon career making contemporary dramas about more-or-less regular people. At last year’s TIFF, he tried something new — the weepy period romance Labor Day — and no one seemed to like it much. This year, he’s back in more familiar territory with an ensemble drama about a Texas town plagued with suburban ennui that is largely fueled by internet porn and social media. But Reitman isn’t averse to taking at least one major creative risk: The movie starts, and ends, in space. —A.B.V.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
A skinny, wired-looking Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a drifter who tumbleweeds his way into life as a freelance crime journalist, trawling Los Angeles looking for footage and pushing legality and ethics past their breaking point. Nightcrawler is writer-director Gilroy’s filmmaking debut, but he’s worked as a screenwriter for years, with credits that include, among other movies, Real Steel and The Bourne Legacy. The thriller’s due out in theaters on Oct. 31, and the trailer makes it look like TV news’ answer to Bringing Out the Dead. —A.W.
14. Pawn Sacrifice
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Peter Sarsgaard, Liev Schreiber, Michael Stuhlbarg
Directed by: Ed Zwick
TIFF trend alert: Biopics about men trying to hold onto their accomplishments as their skills begin to deteriorate. McGuire plays the iconic chess player Bobby Fischer at a moment in his career when his wits start to fail him. The film follows an infamous match between Fischer and rival Boris Spassky (Schreiber). Spassky is Russian and the chess match happens to take place in 1972, right in the middle of the Cold War, so Zwick will undoubtably try to capture the tension on the board and off it. —E.O.
15. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Starring: Nils Westblom, Holger Andersson
Directed by: Roy Andersson
It’s got the most ungainly title in the festival, but it’s one worth remembering — Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson (You, the Living) doesn’t make many movies, but when he does, they’re indescribable and wonderful. This latest feature promises to be just as deadpan, funny, touching, and made up of blackly funny vignettes exploring human existence by way of such variety elements as rubber masks and King Charles XII. —A.W.
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Haluk Bilginer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Golshifteh Farahani
Directed by: Jon Stewart
The curiosity factor is incredibly high for The Daily Show host Jon Stewart’s feature directorial debut. It follows Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (Bernal), who was captured and imprisoned in Iran while covering the 2009 Green Revolution — and whose interview on The Daily Show was used as evidence that he was a spy. Early word out of its preview screening at the Telluride Film Festival is that the film is far more serious than fans of Stewart’s style of satire might expect. Which makes it all the more intriguing. —A.B.V.
17. St. Vincent
Starring: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Terrence Howard, Jaeden Lieberher
Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Bill Murray Behaving Badly, This Time With A 12-Year-Old — that’s the main selling point of this comic drama, but it’s not the only one. The film also co-stars McCarthy in her first dramatic role since her Bridesmaids breakout performance. She plays a single mother forced to hire her irascible neighbor (Murray) to watch her young son. Somehow, Watts fits into the mix as a pregnant Russian prostitute. Because, why not? —A.B.V.
18. The Theory of Everything
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis
Directed by: James Marsh
TIFF trend alert 2.0: Biopics about brilliant British scientific pioneers struggling to make a difference after facing enormous personal odds! This one is an exploration of the life of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (Redmayne), whose early promise and budding romance with a fellow Cambridge graduate student (Jones) are challenged after Hawking is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease similar to ALS. There have already been questions raised of whether the film glosses over the messier aspects of Hawking’s biography, but equal attention will likely be paid to Redmayne’s apparently transformative performance. —A.B.V.
19. This Is Where I Leave You
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn
Directed by: Shawn Levy
It will be interesting to see how this A-list cast translates Jonathan Tropper’s beloved novel on screen. And with the premise of the story being the death of the family patriarch and the children returning home for his funeral, actors like Bateman and Fey will be mixing their comedic roots with some serious family issues. Though Driver showed his feature-film chops in Inside Llewyn Davis, he seems poised to really shine as the youngest of the siblings. —E.O.
20. Top Five
Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd, Jay Pharoah, Anders Holm, Michael Che
Directed by: Chris Rock
Rock plays Andre Allen, a comedian and movie star whose career is nearly destroyed by a bad review. His fiancé (Union) and agent (Hart) both offer up (conflicting) advice to salvage his reputation, but he wants to ignore them and create a film about the Haitian revolution, while also letting the critic who almost ruined him (Dawson) follow his progress. —E.O.
Starring: Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Michael Parks
Directed by: Kevin Smith
After some big-screen flops and some TV guest star appearances, Justin Long is stepping into a leading and serious role as Wallace Bryton, a radio host who goes searching for an exciting interview and ends up going insane. The film is also a change of pace for Kevin Smith, who focused heavily on incorporating a good mix of comedic relief rather than just following a straight descent into darkness. —E.O.
22. Welcome to Me
Starring: Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Wes Bentley, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Linda Cardellini
Directed by: Shira Piven
A woman with borderline personality disorder (Wiig) wins the lottery, and starts her own talk show — about herself. This could either be an over-the-top disaster or an off-the-wall delight; a quick scan of the cast — Jennifer Jason Leigh! Tim Robbins! Joan Cusack! — gives us hope that it will be the latter. —A.B.V.
23. While We’re Young
Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Grodin
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Baumbach (Frances Ha) reunited with Stiller, whom he directed in a career highlight role as the title character in Greenberg, for what sounds like a companion-piece film, as well as another empathetic story etched out in acid dialogue. Stiller plays a documentarian who has never quite made it and who was unable to start a family with his wife (Watts). Driver, who’s all over the festival, and Seyfried play the hip creatives the two befriend, finding new vitality thanks to their relationship with the younger couple. —A.W.
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffmann, Kevin Rankin
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Witherspoon produced as well as starred in this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir, and it’s easy to understand why: The film tracks her 1,000-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in an attempt to escape her sexually promiscuous, heroin-addicted past. It’s a fabulous acting showcase for Witherspoon following several years wandering through a parade of less-than-thrilling roles after her 2005 Oscar win for Walk the Line. The film already garnered some rapturous reviews out of the Telluride Film Festival; perhaps TIFF could continue the movie’s momentum all the way to this year’s Oscars. —A.B.V.