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TIFF 2016: 13 Movies We Can’t Wait To See At The Festival

The annual festival plays home to over 300 new films, but here are 13 we are most excited to finally lay our eyes on.

The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off this week, and with it, the rest of a very busy fall festival season. In preparation for the Canadian festival, we’ll be rolling out a series of previews to point you in the direction of all the movies you have to see (or at least, all the movies you have to start anticipating right now). Next up, a batch of new features we’ve yet to see…and can’t wait to check out in the coming days.

“The Promise”

The Promise Oscar Isaac

“The Promise”

Courtesy of TIFF

Oscar-winning director Terry George has been MIA from the big screen since 2011’s “Stand Off” (a little-seen Brendan Fraser vehicle that’s hardly worth mentioning) and the awards conversation since 2004’s “Hotel Rwanda” (though his subsequent film, the 2007 Mark Ruffalo-starring “Reservation Road” got a little love), but he seems poised to be back in a big way, thanks to a sweeping and complex period-set love story featuring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale. Set in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, the film sets up a love triangle between the trio — tough choices for Le Bon’s Ana, surely — and steps back to watch things unfold. Expect actorly fireworks to abound. -KE

“Queen of Katwe”

Queen of Katwe

“Queen of Katwe”

Disney

Beware of the middle of the road inspirational rags to riches female empowerment story. But the the smart move made by Disney when they decided to turn the true story of Ugandan girl Phiona Mutesi, who pulls herself out of the slums via chess, was hiring filmmaker Mira Nair. Born in India, educated at Harvard, with residences in New York and Uganda, Nair vividly brings this story to life, supported by Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo. Expect an uplifting film teeming with color and humor and emotion. -AT

“A Monster Calls”

"A Monster Calls"

“A Monster Calls”

Focus Features

The third and best of three 2016 movies featuring a giant who picks up a human in his hand, “A Monster Calls” is a fantasy tale adapted from 2011 British fantasy novel by Patrick Ness by J.A. Bayona. The four-hankie movie stars “The Theory of Everything” Oscar nominee Felicity Jones as a single mother fighting cancer while trying to keep her bright 12-year-old son Conor (Lewis MacDougall) from falling apart. He’s being bullied at school, and doesn’t get along with her mother (Sigourney Weaver), who is a tough-as-nails control freak. He adores his father (Toby Kebbell), but he has moved to Los Angeles with his new family. So Conor retreats into his imagination. Or does he? At any rate, a giant yew tree comes alive as a charismatic and ancient (CG) monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who visits Conor at 12:07 AM every night (like a ghost from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”) to help him deal with his conflicting emotions by telling him instructive (animated) stories. -AT

“The Bad Batch”

"The Bad Batch"

“The Bad Batch”

Apparently IndieWire wasn’t the only one who took notice of writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour’s 2014 first feature, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” a black and white tale of a chador-wearing vampire (Sheila Vand) stalking her prey on a skateboard in a fictional Iranian town. Auteur patron saint, Megan Ellison signed up to back her second feature “The Bad Batch,” which stars Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa (“Game of Thrones” Khal Drogo), Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey.  The premise for “Batch” sounds just as deliciously off-the-wall as “Girl Walks Home Alone,” with Waterhouse starring as a young woman who has been exiled to the dessert and must find a way to survive a world run by cannibals. -CO

“Catfight”

"Catfight"

“Catfight”

Onur Tukel has been churning out amusing portraits of neurotic characters for years, with recent examples “Summer of Blood” and “Applesauce” delivering hilariously unsettling visions of urban mayhem, like the DNA of a Woody Allen movie turned up to 11. No matter how obnoxious his creations, however, Tukel still manages to find ways of sympathizing with them. That’s an especially appealing trend when anticipating “Catight,” his biggest effort to date, which stars Sandra Oh and Anne Heche as old rivals in their forties who wind up confronting each other — in literal, physical terms — about their past. Expect a hilariously intense showdown the likes of which American cinema has never seen before, from two first-rate actresses who deserve some great material. -EK

“Free Fire”

"Free Fire"

“Free Fire”

A24

Not much is known about the latest film from prolific British director Ben Wheatley (whose dazzlingly demented “High-Rise” was released earlier this year), but everything we do know about “Free Fire” suggests that it’s going to be one of the most purely enjoyable breakout hits from TIFF 2016. An explosive throwback to the lean, mean ’70s crime movies that Wheatley watched as a kid, “Free Fire” stars Brie Larson as the broker of an IRA gun deal that goes seriously wrong. Largely confined to a single room (but still managing to pack in a supporting cast that includes the likes of Cillian Murphy and Armie Hammer), the film seems like a John Woo wet dream told in an Irish brogue. -DE

“Jackie”

"Jackie"

“Jackie”

Pablo Larraín was already launching into the fall with an inventive look at a well-known historical figure: “Neruda,” a hit from Cannes about the iconic Chilean poet, will continue its progress on the festival circuit this fall. But so will “Jackie,” which arrives at TIFF shortly after its Venice premiere, and it’s likely to bring a whole new level of exposure to the prolific filmmaker. Natalie Portman stars in this blacklist script, originally set to be directed by Darren Aronofsky, which revolves around Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ efforts to arrange her husband’s funeral in the days following the JFK assassination. Said to feature Portman in every scene, the film looks like a fascinating immersion into the construction of a political legacy, from a filmmaker who knows that world better than anyone. -EK

“My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea”

"My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea"

“My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea”

Graphic novelist Dash Shaw (“Cosplayers”) makes his way into the filmmaking arena with this visually audacious and whimsical look at a group of teen survivors facing the titular threat. Voiced by Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts, the pair of young high school newspaper reporters face a series of familiar conundrums given new value under the absurd catastrophic circumstances. As supporting characters voiced by the likes of Lena Dunham, Susan Sarandon and Maya Rudolph come together, “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” becomes a vividly hilarious depiction of what it means to traverse the absurd Darwinian challenges of the locker hall and stumble toward adulthood. It may just be the survival movie of the year. -EK

“Buster’s Mal Heart”

"Buster's Mal Heart"

“Buster’s Mal Heart”

Rami Malek’s first big movie role would appear to be a perfect fit for the “Mr. Robot” star, as he plays a conspiracy theorist whose story the audience must piece together through a fractured narrative, which includes memories of his family and visions of having been lost at sea. Malek is Buster, a hardworking family man-turned-fugitive, who is hiding out in Montana where he survives by breaking into people’s empty vacation homes. It’s the second feature from director Sarah Adina Smith, whose latest effort is a blend of arthouse and genre that has brought veteran horror producer Travis Stevens together with Gamechanger Films, which specializes in funding under-$5 million features made by promising female directors. -CO

“Brain on Fire”

"Brain On Fire"

“Brain On Fire”

Based on Susannah Cahalan’s bestselling memoir of the same name, “Brain on Fire” stars Chloë Grace Moretz as Susannah, a 24-year-old reporter for the New York Post who suffers from a rare autoimmune disorder. After bring misdiagnosed by multiple doctors, Susannah wakes up one day in a New York hospital unable to move or speak and with no idea how she got there. The film follows her horrific experience of dealing with hallucinations and memory loss while doctors scramble to rescue her from a life-threatening illness. Produced by Charlize Theron, “Brain on Fire” was adapted and directed by Irish filmmaker Gerard Barrett, who won a Rising Star Award at the Irish Film and Television Academy Awards in Dublin for his 2013 debut feature “Pilgrim Hill.” His other feature film, 2014’s “Grassland” was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. -GW

“Before the Flood”

"Before the Flood"

“Before the Flood”

National Geographic Channel

Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, “Before the Flood” is documentarian Fisher Stevens’ look at Leonardo DiCaprio’s campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of climate change through his role as a UN Ambassador of Peace. Formerly titled “The Turning Point,” the documentary explores how climate change affects the environment and what steps society can take to prevent the demise of endangered species, ecosystems and native communities around the world. Stevens previously won an Oscar for producing the 2009 doc “The Cove,” about a group of activists who exposed shocking animal abuse and threats to human health in Japan. -GW

“ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail”

"ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail"

“ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail”

Steve James is an American documentary film legend, coming to Toronto with his first feature since his 2014 Roger Ebert biography “Life Itself.” Usually synonymous with Chicago, James has shifted his focus to New York and Abacus, a family bank prosecuted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis when many of its gargantuan counterparts evaded punishment. James’ career has been highlighted by individuals beset by near-unconquerable foes (eradication of inner-city gang violence, terminal illness, traumatic brain injuries). To see that same approach applied to the twin pillars of the financial industry and the American justice system should make for an enlightening watch. -SG

“Colossal”

"Colossal"

“Colossal”

Nacho Vigolando’s “Timecrimes” is a recent benchmark for well-crafted indie sci-fi/horror. With his following two films (“Extraterrestrial” and “Open Windows”), the writer/director has preserved that sparse approach to genre stories, whether it’s through restrictions on cast size or the constraints of a digital screen. With “Colossal,” Vigolando is tackling mental health in a monster movie, a pairing that should be right at home with his allegorical tendencies. This time, he also has a bulked up ensemble at his disposal, with Anne Hathaway front and center and a strong supporting cast including Dan Stevens, Jason Sudeikis and Tim Blake Nelson. Let’s see if the bigger scope can reap similar storytelling rewards. -SG

The festival runs September 8 – 18.

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