EPA/Landov; Inset: Hubert Boesl/Abaca
Alynda Wheat
September 08, 2011 11:00 AM

Forget New York City, London and even Hollywood. Beginning this week, the starriest city on Earth will be in Canada.

The 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival kicks off on Thursday, and the celebs are headed up north in droves.

Among the A-listers? George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Salma Hayek, Keira Knightley, Gerard Butler and even Madonna are scheduled to be on hand for the North American premieres of their much-anticipated films.

Check out some of PEOPLE’s movie critic’s picks for the most buzz-worthy films of the festival:

For her directorial debut, Madonna takes on a woman arguably as iconic (and even more controversial) than herself: Wallis Simpson. Andrea Riseborough stars as the wife of Britain’s King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy), for whom he abdicated his throne and shocked the world. W.E. garnered mixed reviews at its Venice Film Festival premiere last week, so look for it to stir conversation in Toronto.

The Ides of March
Already generating Oscar buzz, this political thriller stars (and is directed by) George Clooney as a dynamic presidential candidate looked after by a wide-eyed campaign staffer (Ryan Gosling) caught between loyalty and ambition. Gosling does double duty in Toronto, by the way, with his gritty, stylish noir drama Drive also unspooling at the festival.

The Descendants
It’s Clooney again. (You just can’t escape the guy – not that you’d want to.) Only this isn’t the dazzling, dapper George we usually see. In The Descendants he plays an average joe whose wife has a boating accident in Hawaii. In the aftermath, he discovers painful secrets about his marriage and tries to reconnect with the daughters he sees every day but barely knows.

Brad Pitt’s baseball movie has seen its share of drama already. Directors have come and gone, shooting was shut down at one point, and then there’s the basic problem of how you make a movie that’s essentially about statistics. Those are the knocks. But what Moneyball has going for it is strong early buzz, a great cast – including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and Jonah Hill, who plays a genius in the science/art of sabermetrics – not to mention Aaron Sorkin’s name on the screenplay. The last thing he wrote? A little movie called The Social Network.

Pearl Jam Twenty
Director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) continues his cinematic love affair with rock and roll, bringing his documentary about the seminal band to Toronto for its world premiere. With concert scenes, interviews, and rarely-seen footage, Crowe chronicles Pearl Jam’s meteoric rise and rocky years in the spotlight.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
It’s the first feature film for writer/director Sean Durkin and it’s been kicking around since the Sundance film festival … last January. So what’s the big deal with this tongue-twister of a movie? Only that’s it the unveiling of a new star: Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen, younger sister of Ashley and Mary-Kate, plays a young woman who’s lured into a cult and psychologically (and in all other ways) tortured by the charismatic cult leader (Winter’s Bone‘s brilliant John Hawkes). She finally flees to her estranged sister (Sarah Polley), but soon realizes that she may have left her sanity behind. Here’s my take: If Olsen doesn’t receive award-season recognition, something is rotten in Hollywood.

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