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32 Movies We're Excited To See At This Year's Toronto Film Festival

Lots of biopics, lots of LGBT visibility, and double helpings of Tom Hardy and Tom Hiddleston — these and more are among the promising highlights of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, which starts Sept. 10.

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1. About Ray

Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon, and Tate Donovan

Directed by: Gaby Dellal

One of two high-profile movies at TIFF about transgender people — the other being The Danish Girl starring Eddie Redmayne — About Ray is set in contemporary New York City. As teenaged Ray (Fanning) seeks to physically transition, he faces the struggles his divorced mother (Watts) and lesbian grandmother (Sarandon) have with his gender identity. Compounding the drama, Ray has to seek permission from his absent father (Donovan) in order to get the medical care he needs. Both About Ray and The Danish Girl have already become the subjects of some controversy, as the practice of cisgender actors playing trans roles becomes more fraught. General audiences will be able to see About Ray soon enough: It opens on Sept. 18. —Kate Aurthur

2. Anomalisa

Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan

Directed by: Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman

It's been seven long years since we've gotten to see anything new from Kaufman, the virtuosic writer of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There's been nothing, not since his 2008 directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, after which Kaufman attempted to return to television with a pilot FX passed on. So anticipation's riding very high with Anomalisa, on which Kaufman has teamed up with co-director Johnson for his first animated venture. Anomalisa's been described as a romance between a motivational speaker (voiced by Thewlis) and a woman (voiced by Leigh) he meets on tour. But given Kaufman's involvement, as well as that of Johnson, who did the stop-motion Christmas episode of Community, there's sure to be at least a streak of surrealism and meta-comedy. —Alison Willmore

3. Beasts of No Nation

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Starring: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, and Ama K. Abebrese

Directed by: Cary Fukunaga

Netflix is ready for its Academy Awards moment. That's the unspoken message in every aspect of Beasts of No Nation, the streaming giant's first original feature. It's directed by True Detective Season 1's Fukunaga and stars Elba as the commander of a group of mercenaries in West Africa — hot filmmaker on the rise, actor ready for a big moment, weighty subject matter, go! But from all appearances, the movie isn't glossy Oscar fare but a very dark drama focusing on how a young boy (newcomer Attah) becomes a child soldier under the sway of Elba's charismatic, frightening warlord. —A.W.


4. Beeba Boys

Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Randeep Hooda, Sarah Allen, Gulshan Grover, and Waris Ahluwalia

Directed by: Deepa Mehta

Mehta is best known for her critically acclaimed "elements" trilogy, a trio of films exploring social issues in India, from homosexuality to the 1947 partition to a rural tradition of widows being expected to spend their lives in seclusion after the deaths of their husbands. But her new movie is an Indian-Canadian gangster thriller that just looks like delirious fun. Hooda stars as a ruthless criminal (and observant Sikh) who teams up with other ambitious young men (including designer and Wes Anderson regular Ahluwalia) to establish and defend territory against rival gangs. —A.W.

5. Black Mass

Warner Bros. Pictures

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson, Corey Stoll, and Peter Sarsgaard

Directed by: Scott Cooper

It seems like ages since Depp has played a recognizable human person and not a living cartoon. With Black Mass, the actor is already winning raves for his performance as real-life Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, a larger-than-life figure whose allegedly cozy relationship with the FBI gave him wide latitude to do all the horrible things gangsters do. It's clearly a big star vehicle for Depp, and yet the movie is also backed by a massive ensemble with two major standouts: Cumberbatch as Bulger's upstanding state senator brother, and Edgerton as Bulger's old friend and FBI contact. —Adam B. Vary

6. Born to Be Blue

Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Kevin Hanchard, Kedar Brown, and Callum Keith Rennie

Directed by: Robert Budreau

Hawke plays the jazz musician Chet Baker during the late 1960s when Baker was trying to emerge from his years of career-damaging heroin addiction. The film isn't a strict biopic, however: Hawke told Variety earlier this year that it's a "reimagining of Chet's life." The film promises to be a story about the racial dynamics of Baker as a jazz figure, with Hanchard playing Dizzy Gillespie and Brown playing Miles Davis. (The Canadian Budreau, who wrote Born to Be Blue as well as directed it, also directed a short in 2009 called The Deaths of Chet Baker.) —K.A.

7. The Danish Girl

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Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts

Directed by: Tom Hooper

In another major entry in this extraordinary year of trans visibility, recent Oscar winner Redmayne plays Lili Elbe, a landscape painter living in 1920s Copenhagen who becomes one of the first trans women to undergo sex reassignment surgery. The film already debuted to wide acclaim for Redmayne and co-star Vikander (as Lili's wife, Gerda) at the Venice Film Festival, but in Toronto, perhaps unfairly, this film is fated to be compared with About Ray. The two films seemingly have little in common with each other, other than they are about two trans people — and those people are both played by cisgender actors. Twitter should be interesting! —A.B.V.


8. Demolition

Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, and Judah Lewis

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée

Gyllenhaal has quietly become one of the most interesting actors of his generation, seeking meaty, complex roles that push him to unexpected extremes as an actor and evince a deeply rewarding experience for audiences. Last year at TIFF, Gyllenhaal wowed in the flashy and exciting thriller Nightcrawler. This year, with Demolition from Wild and Dallas Buyers Club director Vallée, he appears to be swinging in a more subtle and emotionally internal direction: Gyllenhaal plays a New York investment banker and recent widower whose inability to grieve manifests in his need to literally dismantle his life, starting with his home, and Watts is the customer service rep who forms what the TIFF programmers called "a strange and beautiful alliance" with Gyllenhaal's character. —A.B.V.

9. Desierto

Esperanto Kino / Itaca Films / CG Cinéma

Starring: Gael García Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, and Diego Cataño

Directed by: Jonás Cuarón

Jonás Cuarón continues to follow in the filmmaking footsteps of his father, Alfonso Cuarón, with whom he wrote Gravity, with this drama set on the Mexican-American border. Bernal plays one of a group of Mexicans trying to make their way into the U.S., only to find that in addition to the typical dangers of the desert crossing, they're also being hunted by a shotgun-wielding racist (Morgan) who's decided to volunteer himself for his own violent, vigilante version of border patrol. The thriller element and the political timeliness of this setup should make for a provocative combination. —A.W.

10. The Dressmaker

Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, and Liam Hemsworth

Directed by: Jocelyn Moorhouse

Winslet plays Tilly Dunnage, a stylish dressmaker returning to the Australian town from which she was exiled for... something. Tilly moves back into her decrepit childhood home, where her (seemingly also decrepit) mother (Davis) still lives. As she seeks redemption, she also brings new life to neighboring women through her skills. The TIFF description of The Dressmaker mentions Chocolat, and that is certainly what the trailer brings to mind. Not a bad thing! At all! Just saying — there's a '90s Miramax era vibe to this project. (As well as some others the programmers picked this year.) —K.A.

11. Equals

Starring: Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult

Directed by: Drake Doremus

Doremus veers dramatically from the contemporary setting of his 2011 Sundance hit Like Crazy (and the similarly themed Breathe In) into science fiction territory. In a future world in which love has been eradicated so that people can live productive, calm lives, Stewart's Nia and Hoult's Silas end up defying genetics. Equals is also playing at the Venice Film Festival, and Variety gave it a decent review, one that compared it to Gattaca, which is a great sign. (For those who love Gattaca, anyway — and I am one.) —K.A.


12. Evolution

Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, and Julie-Marie Parmentier

Directed by: Lucile Hadžihalilović

If you've had the uneasy pleasure of seeing Hadžihalilović's first film, 2004's Innocence, then you know why her long-awaited follow-up is one to look forward to. If you haven't — well, it's this mesmerizing, never-quite-parsable fable about an all-girls school out in the woods, overseen by two mysterious headmistresses, one of them played by Marion Cotillard. Evolution sounds like a companion piece, this time about a boy living in a secluded community by the sea, where he and other males his age are subject to unexplained experiments. Childhood rarely seems as eerie a place as in Hadžihalilović's lush envisionings. —A.W.

13. Freeheld

Phil Caruso / Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell, and Josh Charles

Directed by: Peter Sollett

Both a love story between two people and a story of activism that lit up a New Jersey community, Freeheld is set 10 years ago — but feels like longer. Moore plays Laurel, a police detective, and Page plays Stacie, a mechanic. They start dating, and then become partners through a civil union (the only option available to them at the time), but find it's not enough for Laurel to bestow her pension to Stacie after she finds out she is terminally ill. What begins as a personal tragedy and injustice then inspires the people around Laurel and Stacie, leading these allies to try to change the law. Freeheld is based on a true story, and adapted from Cynthia Wade's Oscar-winning 2007 documentary short. It's one of two Page movies at TIFF this year, the second being Into the Forest, in which she co-stars with Evan Rachel Wood. (Page also produced both films.) —K.A.

14. He Named Me Malala

Courtesy of TIFF

Featuring: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai Yousafzai, Khushal Yousafzai, and Atal Yousafzai

Directed by: Davis Guggenheim

Every time I watch the trailer for this documentary about Yousafzai — the Pakistani girls' rights advocate who survived a Taliban assassination attempt at 15 and, two years later, won the Nobel Peace Prize — I cry. I'm just so moved by Yousafzai's determined grace and uncomplicated strength, and I expect the portrait Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) has crafted about her life and the circumstances of her advocacy will keep those tears flowing for much of its 87-minute run time. —A.B.V.

15. High-Rise

Aidan Monaghan / Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, and Elisabeth Moss

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

In one of two Hiddleston films at TIFF this year, the actor plays a young physician who moves into an apartment tower that becomes a teeming microcosm for British class warfare, this being an adaptation of J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel of the same name and all. To underline that point further, Irons plays the building's owner and architect who lives in the penthouse and is named, aptly, Mr. Royal. This film also earns the distinction of participating in TIFF's inaugural Platform program, a juried competition among 12 films that will result in a $25,000 prize. —A.B.V.


16. I Saw the Light

Sam Emerson / Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, David Krumholtz, and Cherry Jones

Directed by: Marc Abraham

In High-Rise, Hiddleston plays the kind of role audiences have come to expect from him: a posh British man with impeccable manners that perhaps mask a darker purpose. But with I Saw The Light, it's fair to say no one has ever seen Hiddleston tackle a role like Hank Williams, the legendary country-western singer-songwriter who rocketed to fame in the 1940s with songs like "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Hey, Good Lookin'," and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" — and Hiddleston does all his own singing in the film. Along with his enduring songs, Williams' biography sadly followed a kind of live hard, die young recording artist template — replete with a volatile marriage to singer Audrey Sheppard (Olsen), severe alcohol and drug abuse, and a tragic death at just 29 — that would repeat itself so often in the ensuing decades. —A.B.V.

17. In Jackson Heights

Courtesy of TIFF

Directed by: Frederick Wiseman

Eighty-five-year-old Wiseman is one of the greatest and most influential documentarians, from 1967's Titicut Follies, which detailed the conditions of the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane, to last year's National Gallery, about the famed London art museum and its visitors. For his new film, Wiseman turns his camera to the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights, one of the world's most diverse, winding his way into clubs, community centers, and stories on the street, and highlighting the vast variety of immigrant experiences contained in the bustling 300-acre area. —A.W.

18. Je Suis Charlie

Courtesy of TIFF

Directed by: Emmanuel Leconte and Daniel Leconte

It's been only nine months since the terrorist attacks on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo in which 12 people were killed. In Je Suis Charlie, the Lecontes, a father and son, use news footage, archived interviews with some of the murdered journalists, their own interviews, and their own filming of the remaining staff assembling the first post-attack issue, for this documentary about the history of Charlie Hebdo, the attacks, their context, and their aftermath. —K.A.

19. Legend

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Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palminteri, Tara Fitzgerald, and Taron Egerton

Directed by: Brian Helgeland

Hardy plays both twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of Britain's best-known gangsters, who rose to power in 1960s London due to Reggie's suave calculations and Ronnie's brutish muscle. Ronnie was also an out gay man at a time when there was practically no such thing in polite society, let alone in the bruising criminal underground (or, for that matter, in a crime thriller backed in the U.S. by a major studio like Universal). Browning (Sucker Punch) plays Reggie's long-suffering wife, in what is something of a depressingly familiar motif for this year's TIFF. —A.B.V.


20. Maggie’s Plan

Jon Pack / Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke, Maya Rudolph, and Bill Hader

Directed by: Rebecca Miller

For her first film in six years, Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) has pulled together a downright phenomenal cast headed up by Gerwig as the Maggie of the title, a young woman whose desire to have a baby leads her into a romance with an unhappily married professor (Hawke). The comedic love triangle that follows, and that involves Hawke's critical theorist wife (Moore), sounds promisingly like one that will defy expectations while skewering academia — and who doesn't like that? Did I mention this film features an appearance from punk icon Kathleen Hanna? —A.W.

21. The Martian

Aidan Monaghan / 20th Century Fox

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis, and Donald Glover

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Science fiction has never been a real fixture at major film festivals, but two years ago, Gravity was such an incredibly hot ticket at TIFF that the line for the press and industry screening of the film devolved into a small mob. The heat on The Martian may not reach quite that fever pitch, but it certainly remains one of TIFF's most anticipated premieres. Based on Andy Weir's best-selling novel, the film tracks astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) after he is accidentally stranded on Mars, along with NASA's effort to bring him home, and the fallout among his crew mates once they realize they left him behind. Screenwriter Drew Goddard (World War Z, The Cabin in the Woods) was going to direct the film until he moved on to another project, giving director Scott, who certainly knows from sci-fi, a perfect opportunity to recover from the dour one-two punch of The Counselor and Exodus: Gods and Kings. —A.B.V.

22. The Meddler

Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, and J.K. Simmons

Directed by: Lorene Scafaria

Sarandon works constantly, but she doesn't always get to be at the center anymore —here, as "the meddler," she will get that opportunity. And after Sony Pictures Classics recently acquired this movie for release this year, Oscar pundits seem to presume that she will be an awards contender for her performance as Marnie, who, after her husband dies, continuously interferes in her daughter's life. (Byrne plays Lori, Marnie's daughter.) Simmons plays Marnie's love interest, a "charismatic chicken-raising rent-a-cop," to quote from the TIFF description. This is Scafaria's first feature since 2012's well-received Seeking a Friend for the End of the World; she wrote the screenplay as well. —K.A.

23. Miss You Already

Nick Wall / Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Paddy Considine, Dominic Cooper, and Jacqueline Bisset

Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke

Barrymore and Collette play two best friends with very different lives — Barrymore's Jess lives on a houseboat with her boyfriend, while Collette's Milly has a high-pressure job and family. Their relationship evolves when Jess learns she is pregnant just as Milly finds out she has cancer. Hardwicke spun gold with the first Twilight in 2008, creating the template for that billion-dollar franchise, but her efforts since have not succeeded (Red Riding Hood and Plush). Miss You Already seems squarely in the mainstream for Hardwicke — in fact, the trailer makes it seem almost Beaches adjacent. And who doesn't love Beaches? —K.A.


24. Office

Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Chow Yun-fat, Sylvia Chang, Wang Ziyi, Eason Chan, and Tang Wei

Directed by: Johnnie To

Hong Kong's To is a famous director of crime dramas — check out his gangster duo Election and Triad Election, or the gun and public relations battles waged in Breaking News, or the informant drama Drug War. But Office is To's first musical, and not just any musical, but one that mixes song and dance numbers in with a tale of corporate intrigue — a combination you don't find every day, and that promises to be either insane, awesome, or both. Chang (who also directed a TIFF film, Murmur of the Hearts) plays a tough CEO whose scheming relationship with her mentor turned lover (Yun-fat) is complicated by an audit and the arrival of an inconveniently idealistic newcomer. —A.W.

25. Our Brand Is Crisis

Patti Perret / Warner Bros. Pictures

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan, and Dominic Flores

Directed by: David Gordon Green

Into this potently surreal political season steps this political satire, loosely based on the acclaimed 2006 documentary of the same name about the crucial role American political strategists played in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Bullock (playing a gender-flipped role once meant for George Clooney) and Thornton play rival political operatives hired to apply American-style campaign tactics in a far more turbulent election in Bolivia. —A.B.V.

26. The Program

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Starring: Ben Foster, Chris O'Dowd, Guillaume Canet, Dustin Hoffman, and Jesse Plemons

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Two and a half years ago, Lance Armstrong gave a shocking and at times bizarre interview to Oprah Winfrey in which he finally admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his career as a competitive cyclist. The challenge for this film, about Armstrong's systematic efforts to evade detection and win an unprecedented seven Tour de France championships, is whether it can match the high drama of that interview and the media firestorm surrounding Armstrong's confession. Foster (Kill Your Darlings, The Messenger), who is pretty much always great, has never really been given as big a role as Armstrong. And because few people probably want to see this story just from Armstrong's perspective, the film also tracks the efforts of journalist David Walsh (O'Dowd) to discredit the cyclist amid his smokescreen of denials. —A.B.V.

27. Room

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Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

Room, which has already generated ecstatic reviews for star-in-waiting Larson out of its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, has the kind of premise that might require a trigger warning. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay, it's about a young woman (Larson) who, seven years before, was kidnapped by a man who's kept her and the son (Tremblay) she conceived captive in a shed in his backyard. It's an understatement to describe this as difficult subject matter (inspired by the real-life case of Elisabeth Fritzl), but the story is as much about how a 5-year-old who's been kept in isolation all his life starts to experience the world as it is one about intense trauma. —A.W.


28. Spotlight

Kerry Hayes / Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Brian d'Arcy James, Gene Amoroso, John Slattery, and Liev Schrieber

Directed by: Tom McCarthy

Writer, director, and actor McCarthy is a beloved indie film figure, thanks to The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win. But he's also now in need of a comeback, thanks to The Cobbler, the Adam Sandler magical realist comedy that had the distinction of being the most critically reviled movie at last year's TIFF. Fortunately for McCarthy, it hasn't taken him long to bounce back. Spotlight is a sleek, star-filled affair about the team of Boston Globe journalists who won a Pulitzer for their Catholic sex abuse scandal coverage. Ruffalo, McAdams, James, and Amoroso are reporters, and Slattery, Keaton, and Schreiber are editors, and together they seem destined to remind us of the awesome power of the media and to compete for many Oscars. —A.W.

29. Stonewall

Philippe Bosse / Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Jonny Beauchamp, Joey King, Caleb Landry Jones, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ron Perlman, and Vladimir Alexis

Directed by: Roland Emmerich

This film — about the landmark 1969 riots that launched the modern LGBT rights movement — arrives at TIFF under a cloud of controversy over the perception given by its first trailer that the movie places a white cis gay man (Irvine) at the center of an event dominated by people of color, drag queens, and trans women. Director Emmerich (White House Down, The Patriot) and screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz (Brothers & Sisters, The Slap) — both gay men — have expressed sympathy with those concerns, but they've also urged patience until the film premieres at TIFF and it can be judged on its own merits. That premiere, however, is during the festival's far quieter second weekend, which could help cool off the heat surrounding it — and, perhaps, minimize the PR damage in advance of its Sept. 25 theatrical debut. —A.B.V.

30. Trumbo

Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Elle Fanning, Diane Lane, and John Goodman

Directed by: Jay Roach

Cranston has not rested since Breaking Bad came to an end in 2014. And Trumbo will be the showiest leading film role in his career, surely putting him in the Oscars conversation for Best Actor. He plays the eponymous flashy Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted but refused to let it end his career. —K.A.

31. Truth

Courtesy of TIFF

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace, and Dennis Quaid

Directed by: James Vanderbilt

Redford and Blanchett play, respectively, Dan Rather and former 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes in Truth, which follows Mapes and her team as they report on a story about how then-president George W. Bush had avoided serving in the Vietnam War. The now-infamous 2004 60 Minutes report, delivered by Rather, was based in part on documents that were never authenticated. Though the contested story ended both of their careers at CBS, both Mapes and Rather still stand by it, and Truth is based on Mapes's memoir Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power. In other words, this movie will be controversial. It's also the directorial debut for Vanderbilt, who has written such screenplays as Zodiac and The Amazing Spider-Man. —K.A.


32. Where to Invade Next

Directed by: Michael Moore

The documentary world's favorite firebrand is back with a new film about how everything's going fine and we're all getting along! Hah, no — actually, Where to Invade Next finds the Oscar-winning director taking on America's military industrial complex, foreign policy, and seeming need to be forever at war with someone. Moore's keeping mum about the details of the doc, which he managed to shoot quietly and keep off the radar until the surprise TIFF announcement. But according to the festival, Where to Invade Next will be about Moore trying to figure out a way for the U.S. to do a better job invading other countries. —A.W.