Each September, cinephiles are faced with an enormous problem: how to wisely schedule their time during the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s an impossible conundrum, really—there’s simply too many movies and too little time to see everything on the wish list. But with a little bit of planning—and a lot of patience—it’s possible to single out the must-sees. Read on for some of the top TIFF 2013 picks worth rearranging your schedule for:
12 Years a Slave: The latest drama from director Steve McQueen (the Turner Prize-winning British artist and filmmaker behind Hunger and Shame) tells the true story of a 19th-century free black man who’s kidnapped from his home in New York and sold into slavery in the South. From its trailer, the film appears far more conventional than McQueen’s previous abstract work, but it has a ridiculously stacked cast (Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch and frequent McQueen muse Michael Fassbender) and a potentially Oscar-winning performance in star Chiwetel Ejiofor.
All Cheerleaders Die: This offering from genre favourite Lucky McKee, who typically brings a feminist spin to the horror genre, will surely whet the appetites of the fest’s dedicated Midnight Madness fans.
All Is By My Side: Outkast’s Andre Benjamin stars in this biopic of Jimi Hendrix—though the production ran into controversy once it was revealed that the Hendrix estate wouldn’t allow the filmmakers to use any of the guitarist’s actual music. It will be interesting to see how the film steps around that—it could very well be a disaster waiting to unspool.
The Art of the Steal: A Canadian production starring an unusually heavy roster of marquee actors (Kurt Russell, Terrance Stamp, Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon), this heist-gone-wrong tale could make for an interesting peek into the next step of homegrown films (ones that are actually, you know, successful across the border).
August: Osage County: This adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-winning play is a sure-fire Oscar contender, and its cast (Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Sam Shepard) ensures maximum star power at the festival.
Blue is the Warmest Color: The winner of Cannes’ Palme d’Or this year is a nearly three-hour epic French romance about two young women—including one very explicit and lengthy sex scene. One of this year’s highest-profile foreign offerings.
Dallas Buyers Club: From Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee (C.R.A.Z.Y.) this based-on-a-true-story drama about an accidental AIDS activist stars Jennifer Garner and Matthew McConaughey, the latter of whom is enjoying a late-career renaissance. This may also very well be Vallee’s much-deserved big cross-border break.
Don Jon: Joseph Gordon-Levitt directs, writes and stars in this dark comedy-romance about a womanizing bridge-and-tunnel boy from New Jersey. It received mixed reviews at Sundance, but reportedly features good turns from Scarlett Johansson and Tony Danza (!) as Gordon-Levitt’s father.
The Double: An intriguing update of Dostoevsky’s novella, with an odd pedigree: It stars Jesse Eisenberg, but is written and directed by Brit Richard Ayoade, best-known for his comedic acting and the coming-of-age film Submarine. It’ll be fascinating to see how it all washes out.
Enough Said: The latest drama-comedy from Nicole Holofcener (Please Give, Friends with Money) would be notable enough on its own—that it features one of the last big-screen roles for James Gandolfini pushes it to a whole new level of interest.
The Fifth Estate: As the opening night TIFF film, expectations are both high and low for this Julian Assange biopic. Opening night films are traditionally odd beasts: high-profile enough to draw crowds, but usually disappointing, cinematically speaking. Will Benedict Cumberbatch’s star turn as the WikiLeaks mastermind turn tradition around?
Filthy Gorgeous: Normally, Canadian director Barry Avrich’s biopics of Hollywood big-shots tend to be light weight, but this doc about Bob Guccione, founder of Penthouse and producer of Caligula, has a colourful enough subject to break the mold.
The Grand Seduction: Hollywood, by way of Canada, remakes the Quebec hit Seducing Doctor Lewis. This time, director Don McKellar directs and Michael Dowse (FUBAR, Goon) scripts the tale of a small fishing village conspiring to charm a disgraced big-city doctor (Taylor Kitsch). This has audience-award written all over it, if handled right.
Gravity: One of the festival’s most-anticipated films, this 3D space thriller from Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as two astronauts in peril, and is filmed in one long singular take. The previews have been remarkable.
The Green Inferno: Horror master Eli Roth returns to the festival that made him famous for Cabin Fever. This time, the director plunks some well-meaning American Peace Corps. types into the midst of a cannibal revolution in the Amazon. Expect good, gory fun.
Hateship Loveship: Kristen Wiig and Nick Nolte star in this adaptation of an Alice Munro story. The advance buzz has been nonexistent, but Munro and Wiig should be enough to spark legitimate interest.
Horns: A small-town guy awakens one morning to find a pair of horns growing from his head—and that’s when things get really weird. Starring Harry Potter‘s Daniel Radcliffe and directed by French horror star Alexandre Aja, it will be interesting to see how the filmmakers balance the tone of the novel upon which it’s based.
Joe: David Gordon Green, lately known more for his stoner comedies like Pineapple Express than the small films he got his start in, returns to his Southern gothic roots with this tale of an ex-con (Nicolas Cage) who becomes the protector of a troubled teen.
Jodorowsky’s Dune: This documentary explores one of the greatest movies never made: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaption of the sci-fi classic Dune. It’ll be a trip to hear how the film fell apart, as it was supposed to feature Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and Mick Jagger.
Kill Your Darlings: Another Daniel Radcliffe film, this one stars the one-time Harry Potter as a young Allen Ginsberg, and focuses on his relationship with William S. Burroughs.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: With Mandela top of mind, this biopic starring Idris Elba is already sparking Oscar talk. Hopefully it’ll do better than the last Mandela biopic to hit TIFF, the poorly reviewed Winnie.
Third Person: The latest from Oscar-winning Canadian director Paul Haggis (Crash) is another multi-character drama, which spans Paris to Rome and stars Liam Neeson, Adrien Brody and James Franco.
You Are Here: Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner makes his big-screen directorial debut with this comedy about two friends (Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson) who feud over a legal challenge brought on by one of their sisters (Amy Poehler). The Mad Men angle, plus the heavy comedic stars, makes it a must-see.