The 2016 Toronto Film Festival kicks off Sept. 8 – waving the flag for the unofficial start of the Oscar race.
Scores of films will screen over the festival’s 10 days – which in the past has seen the debuts of eventual Best Picture winners The King’s Speech, 12 Years a Slave and Spotlight. From big-time movie stars tackling gritty roles to biopics of fascinating geniuses to new takes on humanity’s big issues, there will certainly be a lot to watch.
As the contenders warm up, here are 10 films generating the biggest buzz.
1. La La Land
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reunite for the third time on screen in the original romantic musical from director Damien Chazelle (2014’s Whiplash). Gosling plays a dedicated jazz musician dating Stone, an aspiring actress. Both tackle the challenges of trying to make it in Hollywood and find love through song and dance. In a festival filled with films tackling darker subject matters, La La Land‘s bright, lavish, sun-drenched style is sure to stand out.
Anne Hathaway plays an alcoholic party girl who wakes up one morning (or, afternoon, as it were) to learn that a giant monster is wreaking havoc through Seoul, South Korea. While the destruction is happening on the other side of the globe, Hathaway’s character finds that her connection to the monster might be colossal. Directed by Nacho Vigalondo, expect blurred lines between sweeping sci-fi fantasy and tender character-driven drama.
3. Deepwater Horizon
Who says that big-budget disaster flicks are just for the summer? The 2010 oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico comes to the big screen in Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson and Gina Rodriguez, the film looks to humanize one of the world’s most devastating man-made environmental catastrophes.
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Jackie – oh! Natalie Portman plays Jackie Kennedy in director Pablo Larrain’s tale of the days following John F. Kennedy‘s assassination. In first look photos, the Oscar-winner already appears to have mastered the poise and heartbreak the First Lady exuded as a widow at just 34 years old. Jackie costars Peter Sarsgaard and Greta Gerwig.
5. Hidden Figures
Taraji P. Henson is leaving Cookie behind for her turn as a space scientist in the film adaptation of Margot Lee Shetterly’s best-selling novel. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory for Project Mercury and later Apollo 11’s 1969 flight to the moon. Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monée costar as colleagues Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – who support Johnson in her discovery of the calculations that helped the first American astronaut make a complete orbit around the Earth.
6. The Birth of a Nation
Nate Parker’s passion project – which he wrote, directed, produced and stars in – is a harrowing dramatization of Nat Turner’s famous 1831 slave revolt, and after debuting to rave reviews at Sundance earlier this year, it scored an unprecedented $17 million deal. The film, however, has been overshadowed by renewed attention on Parker’s involvement in a 1999 college rape case. Festival organizers have said that the film is still set to screen at Toronto as scheduled.
Former CIA employee Edward Snowden made headlines in 2013 for releasing documents detailing two NSA surveillance programs authorized by Congress that he felt intruded on Americans’ right to privacy. Some lauded him as a hero – others, a traitor. And now, director Oliver Stone will bring this complicated character to the big screen, in a film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley.
8. Nocturnal Animals
Director Tom Ford returns with his second feature film after 2009’s A Single Man. This time, Ford turns to Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan for the adaptation. The film tells the story of a woman who confronts the demons of her past while reading a thriller novel written by her ex-husband. Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Armie Hammer star.
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An Indian man who was separated from his family as a young boy uses Google Earth to locate his original home 25 years later in this remarkable, touching true story. Saroo Brierley’s autobiography A Long Way Home is brought to life by first-time director Garth Davis. Dev Patel plays Brierley in the picture, alongside Oscar winner Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara.
Richard and Mildred Loving became icons of the civil rights movement when their fight to marry led the Supreme Court to rule all bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional. This film on their story generated immediate Oscar buzz after it debuted at Cannes this year, with many singling out the powerful performances of its two leads, Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.