16 films you need to see at TIFF 2016

It’s September, which can only mean one thing: the Toronto International Film Festival is approaching, and fast.
 
While TIFF serves as an integral Oscar bellwether — let’s not forget that “Room” won the People’s Choice Award at the festival last year, and went on to earn a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars and a Best Actress win for Brie Larson — it’s also the largest festival of its kind in Canada, and brings Hollywood north. The audience not only gets a chance to see over 300 films or TV series premieres, but they also have an opportunity to engage with their favourite stars and filmmakers before and after the elite screenings, often months before the movie’s release.  
 
This time around, TIFF ups the ante once again with three special concerts in the city. John Legend, Jennifer Hudson (with Tori Kelly) and Pharrell Williams will all perform in Toronto during the festival, and some of the shows will be free to the public.
 
But, do not let the possibility of an A-list encounter scare you off from setting your festival schedule before tickets go on sale Sept. 4. Buying tickets is easier than it seems, and even though some gala premieres are already off-sale, patience could get you into your desired screening. Each film or event often has a rush line open for extra seats, so try arriving early. Plus, during the festival, more tickets are released at 7 a.m. each day.
 
Since the festival kicks off with the world premiere of “The Magnificent Seven” — which hits theatres on Sept. 23 — here are 16 other TIFF films that should be on your radar:

Arrival

The sell: What happens when unidentifiable spacecrafts start setting up shop in various cities around the world? Well, you try to communicate with them in order to determine what brought them to earth in the first place. Amy Adams leads the charge in connecting with the visitors, much like Jodie Foster in “Contact” before her. This shot-in-Montreal thriller is the latest film from Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario,” “Prisoners,” “Enemy,” “Incendies”), and if Emily Blunt’s performance in “Sicario” is any indication, “Arrival” is sure to be one of the most engaging films of the year. Plus, it’ll provide a sneak peek for what to expect from Villeneuve’s upcoming “Blade Runner” sequel, which is currently in production.

Stars Attending: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
When? Mon. Sept. 12 at 9:30 p.m., Tues. Sept. 13 at 2:45 p.m., Sun. Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m.

Jackie



The sell: Natalie Portman stars as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in one of the most hotly-anticipated biopics of the year. The film highlights John F. Kennedy’s final days leading up to his assassination, and the aftermath of the shooting, but tells the story from Jackie’s perspective. The film has been receiving awards attention since an image of Portman in character was released months ago. Her poise and resemblance to the late first lady is uncanny, and her performance will likely be just as thrilling. Oh, and Portman and Peter Sarsgaard get to reunite on-screen for the first time since “Garden State.”

Stars Attending: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig
When? Sun. Sept. 11 at 8:30 p.m., Mon. Sept. 12 at 2:30 p.m., Sun. Sept. 18 at 3:45 p.m.

Nocturnal Animals



The sell: Doppelgangers, abound! It’s another big film starring Amy Adams, but this one is fashion designer Tom Ford’s second feature. His first film, A Single Man, starred Julianne Moore and Colin Firth, premiered at TIFF to much acclaim back in 2009, and now he’s returning with another marquee effort starring Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Armie Hammer, Isla Fisher, Michael Shannon, Laura Linney and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. This time around, Adams plays the ex-wife of an author (Gyllenhaal) who gets caught up in her past and begins to lose touch with reality upon reading his latest novel.

Stars Attending: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Armie Hammer, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon, Tom Ford
When? Sun. Sept. 11 at 10 p.m., Mon. Sept. 12 at 11 a.m., Sat. Sept. 17 at 5:45 p.m.

Manchester by the Sea



The sell: Bring the tissues, because who said you can go home again? Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, who returns to his hometown of Manchester, Mass. after his older brother’s (Kyle Chandler) death to take care of his beloved nephew. Once home, he quickly realizes he can’t escape his personal demons and struggles to adjust to his new reality. Michelle Williams also stars in the film, which was the talk of Sundance in January. If top-notch performances are not your thing – there’s also major pedigree behind the camera. The complicated family drama is the latest pet project from super-producers and real life best buds Matt Damon and John Krasinski, who have been tirelessly promoting the film for months.

Stars Attending: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Kyle Chandler
When? Tues. Sept. 13 at 6 p.m., Wed. Sept. 14 at 11:30 a.m.

Denial



The sell: Rachel Weisz lawyers up in the gripping true story about an academic (Weisz) who takes on a Holocaust denying historian (Timothy Spall) in British court after he sues her for libel. She’s faced with the challenge and burden of proof of having to prove he’s a deliberate falsifier of history, but can she do so without compromising her beliefs? Think “The Contender” meets “The Verdict,” but with a thick Queens, NY accent.

Stars Attending: Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson
When? Sun. Sept. 11 at 7 p.m., Mon. Sept. 12 at 10:30 a.m.

The Bleeder



The sell: Did you ever want to know the true story of Rocky Balboa? “The Bleeder” profiles Chuck Wepner, the inspiration behind Rocky’s relentless attitude and stamina in the boxing ring, while flipping everything you know about the fighting movie genre. “Ray Donovan” himself Liev Schreiber stars in the film, which marks Canadian director Philippe Falardeau’s third consecutive film in the festival following “The Good Lie” and “My Internship in Canada”. Schreiber’s real-life partner Naomi Watts plays Wepner’s third wife in the film, and Elisabeth Moss plays his second wife.

Stars Attending: Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Elisabeth Moss
When? Sat. Sept. 10 at 10 p.m., Sun. Sept. 11 at 1:30 p.m.

Free Fire / Burn Your Maps (tied)


The sell: “Room” stars Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay make their triumphant return to TIFF one year after the festival turned them into household names! One’s coming for a charming story about an eight-year-old boy who believes he’s a Mongolian goat herder and embarks on an epic quest (“Burn Your Maps”), while the other plays a gun runner whose latest deal goes horribly, horribly wrong (“Free Fire”). Guess which one belongs to which star? While the two films debut within a week of each other, and could not be more different, Larson and Tremblay are sure to have the biggest “homecomings” of the festival. 

Stars Attending: “Free Fire”: Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer
“Burn Your Maps”: Jacob Tremblay, Vera Farmiga
When? “Free Fire”: Thurs. Sept. 8 at 11:59 p.m., Fri. Sept. 9 at 11:30 a.m.
“Burn Your Maps”: Thurs. Sept. 15 at 6 p.m., Fri. Sept. 16 at 9:30 a.m., Sun. Sept. 18 at 12:30 p.m.

Colossal



The sell: Anne Hathaway plays against-type in a dark comic sci-fi thriller about addiction, and more traditional demons. It’s “Rachel Getting Married” with a touch of the paranormal and with Jason Sudeikis in the role of Hathaway’s childhood friend. Hijinks ensue… as this is definitely not “The Intern 2.”

Stars Attending: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Tim Blake Nelson
When? Fri. Sept. 9 at 9 p.m., Sat. Sept. 10 at 12 p.m., Sat. Sept. 17 at 8 p.m.

Catfight



The sell: TIFF has something for everyone – there’s foreign language films, concerts, animated films, and also… a black comedy involving what Seinfeld’s J. Peterman would call a “good old-fashioned catfight.” Sandra Oh and Anne Heche star as two old friends who reconnect with each other after spending several years apart. Though their reunion is initially polite, sentimental and blissful, it quickly devolves once old feuds and longstanding resentment begins to simmer to the surface. Alicia Silverstone also stars.

Stars Attending: Anne Heche, Sandra Oh
When? Fri. Sept. 9 at 6:15 p.m., Sat. Sept. 10 at 8:15 p.m., Sun. Sept. 18 at 3:15 p.m.

Boundaries



The sell: To help nurture a great Canadian filmmaker. At only 28, Chloe Robichaud is a writer and director with a searing voice, which is already so distinctive and unique. Her first film, “Sarah Prefers to Run” chronicled a young woman’s uncompromising pursuit of her athletic dreams, even when that meant she needed to get married in order to continue training. This time around, Robichaud casts Emily VanCamp (“Captain America: Civil War,” ABC’s “Revenge”) as a mediator who is trying to fairly moderate a natural resources standoff between a fictitious Atlantic island and the rest of Canada, as she struggles to keep her personal life in check.

Stars Attending: Emily VanCamp
When? Sat. Sept. 10 at 7:15 p.m., Mon. Sept 12 at 9:15 a.m.

Two Lovers and a Bear



The sell: “The Shining” meets “True Romance,” but set in the Canadian arctic. Tatiana Maslany and Dane Dehaan star as lovers on the run in the latest film from Kim Nguyen (the CSA winner and Oscar nominee behind “War Witch” [or “Rebelle”]), which won raves at Cannes. Oh, and Gordon Pinsent plays the polar bear spirit guide, too.

Stars Attending: Tatiana Maslany, Dane Dehaan, Gordon Pinsent
When? Tues. Sept. 13 at 6:30 p.m., Wed. Sept. 14 at 3 p.m.

Amanda Knox



The sell: The American, who spent four years in prison and was later acquitted of killing her roommate while on exchange in Italy, finally gets to tell her side of the story about the scandalous murder trial that captivated the globe. Do you know the real “Foxy Knoxy”?

Stars Attending: N/A
When? Fri. Sept. 9 at 9:30 p.m., Say. Sept. 10 at 2:15 p.m., Fri. Sept. 16 at 9:15 p.m.

Personal Shopper



The sell: Kristen Stewart reteams with filmmaker Olivier Assayas for the second time after her critically acclaimed turn in “Clouds of Sils Maria” from 2014. In “Personal Shopper,” Stewart faces a paranormal encounter, but it’s hardly “Twilight.” Instead, she’s haunted by ghosts and spirits while trying to navigate through the Parisian fashion scene. This polarizing film made a big splash at Cannes in May, and is sure to provoke a major reaction from the audience.

Stars Attending: N/A
When? Sat. Sept. 10 at 9 p.m., Sun. Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m.

Moonlight



The sell: It’s a coming of age story with a focus on black masculinity, and homosexuality. The film profiles Chiron through different stages of his life as he tries to forge his own path while surrounded by drugs, crime and other negative influences. The film has been receiving plenty of pre-festival raves, and much of its plot is being kept under wraps. 

Stars Attending: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes, Janelle Monae, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Andre Holland
When? Sat. Sept. 10 at 8:30 p.m., Sun. Sept. 11 at 9 a.m., Sat. Sept. 17 at 3:15 p.m.

Christine



The sell: It’s the intense and tragic true story which has transformed into somewhat of an urban legend. In 1974, newscaster Christine Chubbuck committed suicide on live television, but what could have led to that decision? Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “The Town”) stars as the title character, a reporter, who wrestles with her disillusionment and refuses to change what she considers “news,” much to the behest of her superiors.  

Stars Attending: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts
When? Wed. Sept. 14 at 6 p.m., Thurs. Sept. 16 at 3 p.m., Sat. Sept. 17 at 8:45 p.m.

Sing!



The sell: “Despicable Me!” meets “The Producers,” but with karaoke. Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Hudson, Scarlett Johansson and Leslie Jones are just a few of the stars who come together to appear in this animated film about a show business koala who desperately tries to keep his theatre afloat with the help of his friends from the animal kingdom. It’s a crowd-pleaser for the whole family, and several of the film’s most high profile stars will be at TIFF for the big premiere, which will also include a live performance from Hudson and Tori Kelly.

Stars Attending: Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Hudson, Tori Kelly, Beck Bennett, Jay Pharoah
When? Sun. Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m., Sat. Sept. 17 at 6:45 p.m., Sun. Sept. 18 at 3:30 p.m.
 
Honourable Mentions: Rooney Mara and “The Night Of”’s Riz Ahmed star opposite Ben Mendelsohn in the latest adaptation of the famed play “Blackbird,” dubbed “Una”; Christopher Guest (“A Mighty Wind,” “For Your Consideration,” “Best in Show”) reassembles his comic troupe for an all-new mockumentary about notable mascots in, well, “Mascots”; Nate Parker’s searing slave rebellion epic, “The Birth of a Nation”; Xavier Dolan’s latest family drama “It’s Only the End of the World,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in May. 
 
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