TORONTO - We're betting that buried among the nearly 290 movies at this year's Toronto International Film Festival is a flick with the popcorn appeal of "Silver Linings Playbook," the edge-of-your seat intensity of "No Country for Old Men" or the Oscar momentum of "The King's Speech." Which will emerge as the hot ticket when films begin unspooling Thursday? Guessing is a mug's game but here are 12 flicks we're anxious to see:
"12 Years a Slave" — The A-list cast, brutal subject matter and arty pedigree of director Steve McQueen make this historical drama one to watch. Whether it all adds up to a moving account of one man's triumph over adversity or a heavy-handed chronicle of sappy sentimentality remains to be seen. Inspired by a true story, it stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free black man in New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841 but never forgets his identity or lets his Southern captors crush his dignity. Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard and Brad Pitt, who also produces, round out the sprawling cast.
"August: Osage County" — Anticipation for this adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer-and Tony-winning play is as thick as the late-summer Oklahoma heat that permeates the story. There's a choice cast including Meryl Streep, Sam Shepard, Julia Roberts, and Ewan McGregor; a story about a dysfunctional family led by an alcoholic patriarch; and superstar producers including George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Harvey Weinstein. As if that wasn't enough, Letts herself wrote the screenplay, suggesting the play's darkly comedic and profound tone will be felt in the big-screen version directed by John Wells.
"Dallas Buyers Club" — There's committed, and then there's committed. Matthew McConaughey reportedly shed an astonishing 40 pounds to portray real-life AIDS activist Ron Woodroof in this '80s-set drama, directed by Quebec's Jean-Marc Vallee. The images leaked from the set are shocking, and predictions of an Oscar nomination are already being whispered for the normally buff rom-com star. Co-star Jared Leto similarly dropped pounds to play a desperate drag queen who teams up with Woodruff to smuggle illegal treatments to fellow AIDS and HIV sufferers.
"The Double" — The second feature from English multi-hyphenate comedian/writer/director/actor Richard Ayoade packs a strong cast — including rumoured lovebirds Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska — and an even more intriguing premise. "The Double" takes its inspiration from the Fyodor Dostoevsky novella about a meek man whose life is wrested away by his doppelganger. If nothing else, it should be entertaining to watch the Oscar-nominated Eisenberg portray two dramatically different characters: the tragically ineffectual Simon and his bold, egotistical double James.
"Enough Said" - It would probably be enough to say that this romantic comedy features celebrated "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini in one of his final roles. But the film from director Nicole Holofcener, who helmed the features "Friends With Money" and "Please Give" as well as episodes of "Parks & Recreation" and "Sex and the City," features other talented stars including Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Catherine Keener and Toni Collette. The original premise is intriguing, too: It centres on a divorcée who simultaneously enters a promising relationship with a new beau and a friendship with her beau's ex-wife.
"Fading Gigolo" — Oscar-winning filmmaker Woody Allen plays a pimp for his florist friend, played by John Turturro, who ends up facing a threesome with two bombshells played by Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara. Need we say more? Turturro also wrote the screenplay and directed this comedy that's set in Allen's hometown of New York City and co-stars Vanessa Paradis and Liev Schreiber.
"The Fifth Estate" — With the WikiLeaks scandal remaining in the international spotlight, it's no surprise this dramatization of the secret-spilling site and its enigmatic founder Julian Assange has been chosen to open the festival. The film has already been the subject of some controversy with Assange reportedly calling a version of the screenplay a "serious propaganda attack" on his site. It will be interesting to see how Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Assange in what looks like a fast-paced film that chronicles WikiLeaks' rise to notoriety and the subsequent breakdown of Assange's relationship with his trusted lieutenant.
"The Grand Seduction" — This Newfoundland-set comedy has all the makings of a crowd-pleasing hit thanks to a stellar cast led by versatile Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, "Friday Night Lights" hunk Taylor Kitsch and homegrown legend Gordon Pinsent — who plays a boozy fisherman. Then there's the fact it actually was a hit a decade ago — this is the English-language remake of the 2003 francophone smash "La grande seduction," which claimed the audience award at Sundance. The premise alone seems to brim with heartwarming feel-good charm: kooky residents of a dying fishing village conspire to lure a big-city doctor by secretly catering to his every whim.
"The Invisible Woman" — This Ralph Fiennes-directed drama about Charles Dickens and his mistress will no doubt prove irresistible to those who can't say no to a lush, angst-ridden British period piece. In addition to his duties behind the camera, Fiennes also stars as the prolific novelist. "English Patient" devotees will be tickled to see him back onscreen with Kristen Scott Thomas, who plays the mother of Dickens' young love interest, portrayed by rapidly rising star Felicity Jones.
"Labor Day" — It's always an event when Jason Reitman has a new film to screen at TIFF. The son of "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman has been a fixture at the fest ever since he wowed audiences here with his 2005 debut "Thank You For Smoking." Reitman has said he considers the low-key Ryerson Theatre to be the "birthplace" of his films and this year, he'll be on hand to showcase "Labor Day." Based on the brooding novel by Joyce Maynard and starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and Tobey Maguire, this one looks like a sure bet for Oscar prognosticators.
"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" — Magnetic Golden Globe winner Idris Elba ("The Wire") recently told the Independent newspaper that playing the legendary South African freedom fighter was "the biggest challenge of his life." Judging by the film's trailer, he conquered it, capturing the accent, cadence and mannerisms of the 95-year-old former leader, whose health has been unstable in recent months. Mandela's autobiography inspired the film, which delivers powerful visuals from director Justin Chadwick and co-stars Naomie Harris as his wife, Winnie.
"Parkland" — The JFK assassination has long provided fodder for fiction and film but this TIFF pick could offer a fresh take on the event with its focus on the minor characters around the president whose stories haven't been heard at length. The star-packed cast — with Zac Efron starring as the young surgeon who tries to save the president and later his assassin, Paul Giamatti as the bystander who famously filmed the shooting and Billy Bob Thornton as a surly secret service agent — signals some potentially meaty performances.
— By Canadian Press reporters Victoria Ahearn, Andrea Baillie, Diana Mehta, Nick Patch and Cassandra Szklarski
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