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TIFF 2016: 9 Breakthrough Names To Look Out For At The Festival

The annual festival is stacked with new talent -- here are 9 newbies to keep an eye 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). First up, we’re looking at all the up-and-coming talents who just might break through at this year’s festival. Keep your eyes peeled, this batch just might end up being the brightest one yet.

Alex Lehmann, director, “Blue Jay”

"Blue Jay"

“Blue Jay”

Director Alex Lehmann cut his teeth as a cinematographer on short films and horror movies before landing his feature film directorial debut, “Blue Jay.” A comedic drama starring Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, “Blue Jay” centers on a pair of high school sweethearts who meet by chance upon returning to their hometown in California. TIFF calls the film as a “stateside cousin to ‘Before Sunset,’” partially because Paulson and Duplass are the only two characters in the movie. Lehmann shot the film himself, and recently served as director, DP and editor on his feature documentary debut, “Asperger’s Are Us,” produced by Duplass Brothers Productions. -GW

Suki Waterhouse, actress, “The Bad Batch”

"The Bad Batch"

“The Bad Batch”

Annapurna Pictures

Few 2014 debuts were as beloved among cinephiles as Ana Lily Amirpour’s “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” With the black-and-white streets of Iran swapped out for an apocalyptic Texas, Suki Waterhouse is looking to fill the shoes of Sheila Vand, whose enigmatic vampire made “A Girl Walks” all the more transfixing. Waterhouse, who has worked on recent bigger-budget fare like “Insurgent” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” leads an eclectic supporting cast, including Jason Momoa, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves and Giovanni Ribisi. As our guide through the cannibal-fraught open lands of Lone Star territory, she might be the one who emerges from the bloodshed as the real one to watch. -SG

Mahershala Ali, actor, “Moonlight”




Last month in our fall preview, we told you that director Barry Jenkins would be one of this year’s big breakouts. Well, if you missed it, that kind of happened in a major way this weekend as “Moonlight” premiered at Telluride and critical response has been nearly universal in calling it a masterpiece. As the critical praise will only likely steamroll headed into TIFF, it’s now time to take a deep look at Jenkins’ remarkably talented cast. You likely know Mahershala Ali as “House of Cards” Remy Danton, the reluctant Washington insider, but in “Moonlight” he plays a confident drug dealer who takes the film’s protagonist under his wings. The role is receiving positive notices in most reviews and with Ali set to star in Marvel/Netflix’s upcoming “Luke Cage,” it’s likely “Moonlight” will serve as the platform from which Ali will quickly become one of Hollywood’s most sought after stars. -CO

Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten, actors, “Tramps”



Courtesy of TIFF

“Tramps” is a wisp of a film, a low-stakes crime caper that’s told with the ramshackle energy of Preston Sturges and laced with the vulnerable capriciousness of early Casavettes. The story couldn’t be simpler: A shady business deal goes wrong, leaving two patsies — a nice Polish kid (Callum Turner) and the street-smart girl (Grace Van Patten) he partners with — holding the loot and on the run. But, thanks to the immense charisma of his leads, director Adam Leon is able to pop a wonderful little movie from that kernel of an idea. Turner, solid as a supporting character in “Green Room” and brilliant as the conflicted lead in John Boorman’s “Queen and Country,” proves that he can make any kind of part feel like the most natural thing in the world. Van Patten, who pretty much comes out of nowhere, lights up the screen like the second coming of Shailene Woodley. Tough, nuanced, and totally in the moment, you can’t take your eyes off of her. With a role already lined up in the next Noah Baumbach movie, you may not have to. -DE

Olivia Cooke, actress, “Katie Says Goodbye”

"Katie Says Goodbye"

“Katie Says Goodbye”

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” co-star Olivia Cooke may have already “broken out” with her turn in the Sundance favorite, but her starring role in Wayne Roberts’ debut feature firmly establishes her as a leading lady to watch. As the eponymous Katie — a sweet young waitress in a truck stop town, whose only real problem is she’s just too damn nice — Cooke balances some extremely delicate material with charm and skill. Katie is a dreamer — she’s the kind of girl who has a box of money under her bed, all saved up for a big time dream of running off to San Francisco, a place she’s never even to before — but she’s also firmly rooted in the nastiness of the real world. When ex-con Bruno (Christopher Abbott) comes to town, Katie sees the promise of a new future unfolding before her. But the gruff Bruno — and a hamlet filled with people who have only ever abused Katie — have different ideas in store. It’s an absolute heartbreaker, and Cooke is responsible for the film’s most honest and gut-churning moments. -KE

Nick Cannon, writer and director, “King of the Dancehall”

"King of the Dancehall"

“King of the Dancehall”

Hollywood multi-hyphenate Nick Cannon has proved himself as an actor, record producer and television personality, but with “King of the Dancehall,” a feature film musical, Cannon will look to make a name for himself in the directing world. The film centers on a young man from Brooklyn who falls into the Jamaican dancehall music scene. Cannon previously co-wrote and directed the Nickelodeon 2010 made-for-TV musical “School Gyrls” and the 2014 comedy “School Dance,” but “Dancehall” represents his first project to hit the major film festival circuit. He stars in the movie alongside Busta Rhymes, Whoopi Goldberg and Louis Gossett Jr. Cannon previously honed his directing skills working on a string of television projects and sketch comedy shows. -GW

Lily-Rose Depp, actress, “Planetarium”



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Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily Rose-Depp got her first acting role playing a minor part in Kevin Smith’s 2014 film “Tusk” before landing a lead role in his next horror-comedy, this year’s “Yoga Hosers.” Rose-Depp has quickly branched out into more dramatic roles, however, most recently playing a lead role alongside Natalie Portman in “Planetarium,” from French writer-director Rebecca Zlotowski (“Grand Central,” “Dear Prudence”). Rose-Depp plays Kate, a supernatural medium in 1930s Paris who performs séances with her sister (Portman) for people seeking to communicate with the dead. The film represents the second French-language movie for Rose-Depp, who also starred in this year’s Cannes entry “The Dancer,” a biographical drama about the American dancer Loïe Fuller and her protégé and rival Isadora Duncan (Rose-Depp). -GW

Kasper Collin, writer and director, “I Called Him Morgan”

"I Called Him Morgan"

“I Called Him Morgan”

There are always a handful of music docs that set the pace on the festival circuit, but Kasper Collin’s documentary on jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan looks primed to bring a fresh spin to this year’s crop. In addition to the music hooks (both in subject and in archival recordings), Collin’s doc also interweaves another current doc fascination: true crime. Benefiting from a specific story tied to ’60s and early ’70s New York, Collin’s also employed the talents of DP Bradford Young, whose stellar work on “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and “Selma” is as impressive as it is varied. The film drew some attention after its Telluride premiere, but TIFF might be where it plants its flag alongside the offerings of some established doc veterans. -SG

The festival runs September 8 – 18.

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