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A look ahead at this year’s Toronto film festival

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in “La La Land.”TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival begins on Thursday, and you know what that means.

The movie-awards hype season has begun in earnest.

Actually, the hype began last week, when “La La Land,” a full-on throwback to the classic Hollywood musical that stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and was directed by Damian “Whiplash” Chazelle, opened the Venice Film Festival to huzzahs and immediate best picture talk. Expect a quick backlash, and then a backlash to the backlash, and then a backlash to the backlash to the backlash. . .

But Toronto is where the film industry really shakes off the last kernels of summer popcorn and gets down to business. Nearly 300 features will unspool over a week and a half at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and other local venues, 138 of them seeing the light of a screen for the first time.


Others come to Toronto carrying the heat of earlier festivals: Kenneth Lonergan’s heartbreaking “Manchester by the Sea” (set in that North Shore town) and the doubly controversial “The Birth of a Nation” from Sundance, Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake,” which won the Palm D’Or at Cannes in May, Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” and Jeff Nichols’s “Loving,” also from Cannes.

As for new films, Hollywood likes to bring its glitziest productions and hope for the best. The festival’s opening night selection is Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the 1960 western warhorse “The Magnificent Seven” (itself a remake of Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai”) with Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt in the leads. Other big guns include Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” (with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as you-know-who); “Denial,” starring Rachel Weisz as a historian going up against a Holocaust denier; “American Pastoral,” a Philip Roth adaptation directed by and starring Ewan McGregor; and “Deepwater Horizon,” with Mark Wahlberg on that doomed offshore oil rig.


There are stretch limos and VIP parties. There are crowds choking King Street hoping for a glimpse of Leonardo DiCaprio (in town with his climate-change documentary, “Before the Flood”) or Kristen Stewart (bringing her Cannes hit, Olivier Assayas’s “Personal Shopper,” to Toronto).

The hardened film fan, though, skips the gala premieres and scouts out the offbeat, the ingeniously cast, the passion projects, and the latest from the more daring of American and international filmmakers. It’s very likely that the next best picture recipient will be shown in Toronto — nine of the last 11 Oscar winners have screened there — and if the buzz turns out to be true, “La La Land” is already on the schedule (and now probably impossible to get a ticket for). But here are 10 below-the-radar movies that might be better bets. If you can’t get to Canada, they’ll be coming to you sometime in 2017.

Free Fire” — Ben Wheatley, the gifted and bonkers British director of “High-Rise,” “Sightseers,” and “A Field in England,” makes good on his love for stylish classic crime films with this tale of gun deals gone bad in 1978 Boston. Martin Scorsese exec-produces, “Room” best actress Brie Larson stars, along with Cillian Murphy and Armie Hammer, and the movies Wheatley has nodded to as influences run from ’50s film noir (”The Asphalt Jungle,” “The Big Combo”) to existential shoot-em-ups (”Le Samourai”) to the modern-day trinity of John Woo, Quentin Tarantino, and Scorsese himself. We. Want. To. See. This. Movie.


My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” — Graphic novelist Dash Shaw (the melancholic “Bottomless Belly Button,” among other alt-classics) hand-draws his animated feature debut, which has been likened to a cross between a John Hughes movie and “The Poseidon Adventure.” Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts give voice to the lead characters, while Lena Dunham and Maya Rudolph also turn up, and Susan Sarandon plays Lorraine the Lunch Lady.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” — A documentary by Steve James about the tiny family-run bank that was the only financial institution to be criminally indicted during the 2008 meltdown. Think George Bailey of “It’s a Wonderful Life” in New York’s Chinatown. Sound a little dry? Not if the director of “Hoop Dreams” and “Life Itself” is behind the camera.

The Bad Batch” — Ana Lily Amirpour made quite the splash with her 2014 debut feature, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” a.k.a. “the Iranian vampire spaghetti western.” That was her description, not ours, and she’s calling her new film “a post-apocalyptic cannibal love story set in a Texas wasteland.” It stars Jason Momoa — Khal Drogo! — Suki Waterhouse, and, uh, Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves. Some people have labeled the director “the next Tarantino.” She seems quite content to be the current Ana Lily Amirpour.


(Re) Assignment” — Oh, this is gonna get a lot of people ticked. Michelle Rodriguez plays an assassin who was a man before deranged cosmetic surgeon Sigourney Weaver avenged her dead brother by giving his killer a gender transition. The LGBT community is already kicking about a transgender character played by a cisgender actress, but that could be the least of this movie’s provocations. It may be incredible. It may very well be a disaster. But it’s directed by the legendary Walter Hill (“The Warriors,” “The Long Riders,” “48 HRS”), and that means it’ll be something to see.

I Am Not Your Negro” — What would James Baldwin say about the current state of race in America if he were alive? Director Raoul Peck (“Lumumba”) was entrusted by Baldwin’s estate with the writer’s unfinished final novel, which the director apparently has turned into a forceful meditation on the deaths of great black men in the 1960s and the deaths of young black men today. It will be good, and necessary, to hear that cauterizing, truth-telling voice once more.

Colossal” — It’s a quirky indie comedy! No, it’s a Japanese monster movie! Wait, Nacho Vigalondo’s sophomore feature is both a quirky indie comedy and a Japanese monster movie! Anne Hathaway plays a hard-drinking party girl who somehow is connected to a Godzilla-sized kaiju laying waste to downtown Seoul.

Graduation” — A moralistic doctor in Romania steps ever deeper into corruption to ensure his daughter gets into the right college. Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days”), which is all you really need to know.


I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House” — A ghost story with deep Hollywood roots, this is the second feature directed by the late Anthony Perkins’s son, Osgood Perkins. Ruth Wilson (TV’s “The Affair”) plays an impressionable nurse hired to care for a famous horror novelist whose plots have a way of getting into the younger woman’s head. Playing the writer is 78-year-old Paula Prentiss, the star of ‘60s comedies and 1975’s “The Stepford Wives” in her first major role in decades.

Mascots” — Cause for rejoicing across the land: Christopher Guest (“Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind”) has a new movie. It’s about a competition of professional sports mascots, and it stars most of Guest’s stock company: Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, and that old Zen trickster Fred Willard. Plus, the return of Corky St. Clair (Guest) from “Waiting for Guffman”! We are not worthy.

Ty Burr can be reached at