The 24 Films at the Toronto Film Festival That Already Have People Buzzing

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The Shape of Water, Stronger, Unicorn Store. Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures/Lionsgate/51 Entertainment

It’s fall film-festival time, and while Venice and Telluride have gotten their licks in this past week, it’s the Toronto Film Festival that offers the biggest explosion of movies yet. Offering highly anticipated premieres and several brand-new standouts, there’s almost too much to see at Toronto — including, in this heavily female-fronted lineup, what seems like a new Best Actress contender every few hours — but the crew at Vulture will do our damnedest to cover it all over the next week and a half. What movies should you expect to hear more about? Here are some of the Toronto titles that have got film fans buzzing.

Borg/McEnroe
TIFF’s opening-night film about the greatest tennis rivalry in history definitely looks more intense and more replete with naked male bodies than the fest’s other big tennis movie, Battle of the Sexes. That lighter fare already debuted at Telluride, with middling reviews and renewed Oscar talk for Emma Stone as Billie Jean King (facing off against Steve Carrell’s Bobby Riggs). But we’re more intrigued about seeing Shia LaBeouf as a tantrum throwing John McEnroe and Stellan Skarsgård as Bjorn Borg’s win-or-be-labeled-a-disgrace-to-Sweden coach. Borg (who’s played by Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason) has already seen the movie in Stockholm and given his thumbs up, while McEnroe has, of course, been outspokenly disapproving, particularly of LaBeouf: “Supposedly he’s crazy, so maybe that works. I’ve never talked to him, so I don’t know how he could play me.” We can’t wait. — JY

I, Tonya
Margot Robbie as disgraced figure-skating icon Tonya Harding? Allison Janney as her mother from hell? Sebastian Stan as Harding’s doofus husband-accomplice Jeff Gillooly? We don’t know why we keep phrasing I, Tonya’s selling points in the form of a question, but we’re just really excited right now, okay? Let’s hope that Craig Gillespie’s eagerly awaited dark comedy can do justice to one of the sports world’s most sordid sagas. — KB

I Love You Daddy
This is the Louis C.K. movie that TIFF added at the last minute, driving everyone crazy (both because it fucked up our schedules, and because … Louis!). Although C.K. has directed plenty of TV, this is his first movie behind the camera since 2001’s Pootie Tang, and he apparently filmed it in secret this summer; until the festival announced they were showing it, no one knew of its existence. All we know is that it’s in black and white, and stars C.K. as a successful TV producer and writer, and Chloë Grace Moretz as his daughter. Also, C.K’s tightest collaborator, Pamela Adlon, is in it, so at least it’ll satisfy your Louie cravings. — JY

The Death of Stalin
No one has been better at skewering the doublespeak and intense narcissism of politics than Armando Iannucci, creator of HBO’s Veep and director of 2009’s satire of Anglo-American officials scrambling to justify the Iraq War, In the Loop. And, boy, do we need him now more than ever. This farce, following the somewhat-true chaos and machinations that began when Joseph Stalin dropped dead in 1953, features Jeffrey Tambor as his inept deputy (in a Ken-doll toupee), Rupert Friend as his idiot son, and Steve Buscemi in a ridiculous prosthetic nose as the politician trying to keep the peace. Zero of the actors even attempt a Russian accent. It looks absolutely perfect. — JY

Gaga: Five Foot Two
Lady Gaga is usually a master of her own image, so we’re intrigued by Chris Moukarbel’s new documentary on the singer, for which Gaga ceded control to his camera and agreed to her most candid portrayal yet. Expect personal revelations, full-throttle performances, and to judge from the trailer, a bone that Gaga has to pick with Madonna. — KB

Stronger
It simply wouldn’t be a Toronto Film Festival without Jake Gyllenhaal. The TIFF staple stars this year in David Gordon Green’s Stronger, where he plays a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing who loses his legs — and his anonymity, once the general public tries to hold him up as a hero. He’s not comfortable with that role and has trouble adjusting to his post-recovery life, but his girlfriend (Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany) is determined to help him through the worst of it. — KB

The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro’s new interspecies romance has been burning up the fall film-festival circuit over the past week and will get its widest look yet in Toronto. Sally Hawkins stars as a mute woman who forms a very special bond with a fish-man under scientific scrutiny, while Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, and Richard Jenkins either stymie their love connection or offer support. Could this become one of the biggest titles of Oscar season? — KB

Unicorn Store
In between her Oscar win for Room and her upcoming superheroic turn as Captain Marvel, Brie Larson found time to make her directorial debut on this colorful coming-of-age story, which she also stars in. Kit, an aimless office drone who’s not so good at adulting, happens upon an offer she can’t refuse: A mysterious benefactor (Samuel L. Jackson, with tinsel in his hair and a spring in his step) promises her a real-live unicorn, with just a few hoops she needs to jump through to claim her equine prize. In order to claim the animal she’s wanted since she was a little girl, though, Kit might have to finally grow up. — KB

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Could this period drama about the feminists who inspired the Wonder Woman comics become an awards contender in the same year that the women-led DC blockbuster conquered summer? Luke Evans plays Dr. William Moulton Marston, the American psychologist who decided to tap into the liberated values of his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their lover, Olive (Bella Heathcote), with whom they lived in a polyamorous relationship, to create a comic-book superhero young girls could look up to. And then he got brazen and started slipping sadomasochistic themes into the comics. Get excited; you can’t make this stuff up. — JY

The Current War
The last time we saw Benedict Cumberbatch in Toronto, he was fending off legions of admirers, including a woman who asked to taste his “yumminess” at a Q&A for The Imitation Game. Now he’s back in another Weinstein Company, Oscar-bait, period-piece nerd thriller as Thomas Edison, in race against Michael Shannon’s George Westinghouse to build the electrical current system that all of the modern world will use. Cumberbatch and Shannon as 18th-century inventors literally mad for power? Yeah, done. — JY

Brad’s Status
Honestly, we were onboard with this one the moment we saw it was written and directed by Mike White, the affable wordsmith who dreamed up School of Rock. This is, shockingly, only White’s second time directing a feature, following 2007’s Year of the Dog, and therefore a major event in the world of wry one-liners. Ben Stiller continues his streak of embodying men in midlife crises, as a father taking his son on a tour of East Coast colleges, while running into old friends whose lives among the rich and powerful make him feel bad about himself. Though the real treats may be Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, and Jemaine Clement, who’ve all been given ample room to play pretentious assholes. — JY

Molly’s Game
This is one of two based-on-a-true-story Jessica Chastain movies at TIFF (the other being the Western period piece Woman Walks Ahead), but it’s the only one that’s also Aaron Sorkin’s directing debut, using his own script. The story is practically unfathomable: An Olympic-class skier winds up under investigation by the FBI for running the world’s most exclusive (illegal) high-stakes poker gang. From the looks of it, there will be signature Sorkin walk-and-talks among Wolf of Wall Street–level decadence, plus ample time with Idris Elba playing a lawyer who appears to be Molly’s ace in the hole. The common complaint about Sorkin, though, is that he has trouble writing believable female characters — ones who are smart but not randomly inept, funny without being laughable — so how will he fare when his entire movie is centered around one? — JY

Kings
The internet has been none too pleased with the synopsis of this seeming “white savior” drama set during the 1992 Rodney King riots, in which Daniel Craig, as one of the only white residents of South Central L.A., helps Halle Berry’s foster mom protect her many adopted children from the chaos. But on the bright side, the French-Turkish writer and director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, whose debut film, Mustang, was nominated for a foreign-language Academy Award, has not an obvious or trite move in her playbook; the film was acquired by the Orchard well before TIFF;  and Berry is due for a win. Could this be a return to her Monster’s Ball form? — JY

Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig has proven herself an able chronicler of eccentric young women who dream big, but haven’t quite figured out how to make anything happen, in the films she’s co-written and starred in with her partner Noah Baumbach (Frances HaMistress America). But this “indie gem” — as one rave out of Telluride called it — is her first time stepping out as a solo writer-director. Saoirse Ronan, in a spectacularly 2002 bright-red dye job, is Gerwig’s stand-in, a disaffected 17-year-old from Sacramento who gave herself her own nickname and is itching to see the world. Judging from the movie’s spectacular trailer, there will be awkward sexual encounters (with the best of the new crop of actors, Timothée Chalamet and Lucas Hedges); a relationship that’s equal parts infuriating and heartwarming with Lady Bird’s mom (Laurie Metcalf — Roseanne forever!); and Gerwig’s wonderful, idiosyncratic voice, for once clear and unfiltered by anyone else’s vision. — JY

Thelma
What more do you need need to know other than “Norwegian psychosexual thriller with explorations of lesbianism and religious undertones?” We’re cheating because we already saw this dark and sexy feature from Oslo, August 31 director Joachim Trier, about a young woman whose mind is exhibiting unhinged, and possibly evil, powers, but couldn’t resist giving it a shout-out. The unknown female leads are gorgeous, and, as the trailer shows, you can expect enough snakes, people on fire, windows spontaneously imploding, medical experiments, and eerily frozen lakes to make David Cronenberg proud. — JY

Chappaquiddick
Making movies about real-life disasters, such as this one, centered on Ted Kennedy’s horrifying car wreck in 1969 that killed a young campaign strategist, Mary Jo Kopechne, and nearly destroyed a political dynasty, always seems like a flirtation with bad karma. From the beginning, the road has been rocky for this Black List-ed script. Original director Sam Taylor-Johnson dropped out, to be replaced with a less-edgy John Curran (whose last Toronto foray, Tracks, starring Mia Wasikowska as a woman on a camelback journey across the Australian outback, to be fair, was very beautiful and underappreciated). Will this be a wreck itself, or one of the surprises of the season? At least we’ll get to see the always excellent Jason Clarke dust off his Boston accent from HBO’s Brotherhood, in what’s sure to be a barn-burning performance as Kennedy. — JY

Mary Shelley
Does Elle Fanning have a collection of Victorian nightgowns she just carts around from movie set to movie set? Because it feels like she practically lives in them. Still, it’ll be pretty thrilling to see her go full soap-operatic in this sweeping romance from Haifaa al-Mansour (the first female Saudi filmmaker) about Frankenstein author Mary Shelley’s early years involving her relationship with married poet Percy Shelley. If the film follows history, Mary winds up pregnant and in debt, dogged by the suicide of Percy’s wife, and ostracized by her friends (one of whom is played by Maisie Williams). Cheery! — JY

The Mountain Between Us
We’ve seen a sneak peek of this love-in-the-time-of-a-horrible-plane-crash-in-the-mountains-of-Utah drama, and it’s pretty conventional fare — but for the intriguing pairing of stranded strangers Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. Two of our greatest thespians spent months freezing their asses off on location in British Columbia, and that alone is worthy of attention. Plus, watching Idris go all MacGyver on wreckage in mounds of snow will at least tide us over until someone wises up and gives him a Bond movie. — JY

Downsizing
Alexander Payne veers into Charlie Kaufman/Michel Gondry territory in his “whimsically outlandish” new work of near-future sci-fi, which just had the prestigious opening slot at the Venice Film Festival. Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig play a cash-strapped couple who decide to join the small percentage of the population who’ve undergone an irreversible procedure (designed by Norwegian scientists, of course) to shrink themselves down to six-inches tall to increase their net worth. See, when you’re super tiny, it costs nothing to live in a mansion or drape yourself in diamonds, plus you’re not contributing to famine and produce negligible environmental waste. Awesome, right? Except if when you go in for the procedure, your wife chickens out — which has to be a bummer for your sex life. We’re expecting social satire, cool effects, and a tiny and obnoxious Christoph Waltz, but this movie looks so spectacularly weird that we’re most excited about not being able to predict a thing. — JY

Darkest Hour
There are many reasons to be excited about this taut WWII drama about the days in which France and Belgium seemed to be on the verge of collapse to Hitler’s forces, and a new, unpopular prime minister in Britain stepped in to turn the tide of the war. For one, as Variety’s Peter Debruge noted, it shows the political intrigue behind that daring military operation you witnessed in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. For another, director Joe Wright (Atonement) is a master spinner of edge-of-your-seat period potboilers. But, really, what you want to see is Gary Oldham’s nearly unrecognizable, tour de force performance as Winston Churchill. He’s got double chins, and wisps of white hair, and shouts things like, “Do not interrupt me when I am interrupting you!” If ecstatic tweets out of Telluride are to believed, Oldman — who has, shockingly, only been nominated for an Oscar once before — may be riding this fighter plane straight to a Best Actor statue. — JY

The Upside
It’s hard to get behind the American remake of one of the most successful French movies in history. Can’t we all just watch things with subtitles, people? Like the original film, 2011’s The Intouchables, this Weinstein Company signature tearjerker with laughs follows a paralyzed billionaire who strikes up an unlikely friendship with the young black man, fresh out of jail, he hires to be his caretaker. The only reason to give it a chance, and it’s a big one, is that it teams up Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, and there’s a strong chance they have the kind of chemistry that could make this whole endeavor not just watchable but perhaps even enjoyable. — JY

Disobedience
Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as two women in an insular Orthodox Jewish community who find love with one another, while one of them is married to the other’s cousin? Sold. — JY

First They Killed My Father
Angelina Jolie’s latest directorial effort has been marred by controversy over a possibly exploitative exercise she used to cast the lead in this story of a young girl’s experience of the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Then people actually saw the movie at Telluride, where it got a standing ovation and was hailed as the best film of her career. Jolie has said she made the film, based on the best-selling memoir of Loung Ung, so that her Cambodian son Maddox could know who he is. The woman is a Hollywood megastar who made an entire movie starring Asians, and it looks gorgeous from the trailer. Let’s maybe give her the benefit of a doubt. — JY

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
There are two kinds of people, those who’ve experienced the wry, profane, bloodlust-y whip of Martin McDonagh’s Irish humor and walked away lifelong fans, and those who don’t yet know who Martin McDonagh is. The writer-director behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths has made what may well turn out to be his first Oscars vehicle, with Frances McDormand in a performance no one at Venice could shut up about, as a grieving mother bent on revenge, whose decision to put up billboards calling out the police department’s ineptitude at solving her daughter’s brutal murder throws her small Missouri town into chaos. Frequent McDonagh collaborator Sam Rockwell has also been touted as a revelation as a racist, idiot police officer. But if you’re among the first kind of person mentioned in this blurb, you already knew he had it in him. — JY

The 24 Most-Anticipated Films at the Toronto Film Festival