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Toronto Film Festival 2017 preview: Our 20 most anticipated movies

Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly’s Game (Photo: TIFF)

Looking for a few good movies? Go north, young cinephiles. The 2017 edition of the annual Toronto International Film Festival commences Thursday and will keep that teeming Canadian metropolis humming until Sept. 17. That’s 10 days filled with major Hollywood premieres, the best in foreign cinema, a host of cult classic midnight movies in the making, and even a few TV shows. And Yahoo Movies will be among the film fans taking in the many, varied offerings that this year’s TIFF has to offer. Here are the 20 movies we’re most anticipating from the 2017 lineup. (Note: this list only features films that are making their world premiere in Toronto. Several of the festival’s hottest tickets — including Darren Aronofsky’s mother! and Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father have previously debuted at other festivals.) —Ethan Alter and Kevin Polowy   

A battle rapping comedy produced by Eminem may sound like the kind of film that should have premiered at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival, when 8 Mile was the biggest thing around. But in the hands of director Joseph Kahn — who has helmed iconic music videos for Slim Shady, Taylor Swift, and Britney Spears — you can expect this portrait of a grad student-turned-battle rapper (Calum Worthy) to reverberate with lots of subversive humor and mad visual flow. For evidence, look no further than Kahn’s woefully underseen and underrated 2011 high school horror satire, Detention, a delightful fusion of Donnie Darko and Scream.

Shia LaBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason in Borg/McEnroe (Photo: TIFF)

The Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs Battle of the Sexes (also at TIFF after a Telluride premiere) is getting more awards season attention so far, but it’s another tennis match serving Toronto’s opening night audiences. In a stroke of highly appropriate casting, volatile actor Shia LaBeouf will play volatile champ John McEnroe in a film that follows his rivalry with Swede sensation Björn Borg (the relatively unknown Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason).

Brad’s Status
Mike White already wrote one of the best films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Beatriz at Dinner. That’s reason enough to be excited for his second feature film as writer and director. Another reason? Brad’s Status continues Ben Stiller‘s career comeback since disclosing his recovery from prostate cancer; the Tropic Thunder star plays a well-off family man suddenly visited by that green-eyed monster known as envy.

Not to be confused with the similarly titled world premiere Breath (pro tip: drop the “e” when searching in the festival program), Andy Serkis‘s directorial debut doesn’t involve apes or ring-obsessed monsters of any kind. Instead, Breathe recounts the real life love story between polio victim and crusading medical activist Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) and his wife, Diana (Claire Foy). Expect a moving drama with zero motion-capture enhancement.

Gaga: Five Foot Two (Photo: TIFF)

Gaga: Five Foot Two
It’s hard to imagine candid pop star Lady Gaga being any more unfiltered than we’ve seen her in the public eye over the past decade, but that’s exactly what this Netflix documentary directed by Chris Moukarbel (Banksy Does New York, Me at the Zoo) promises. The cinema verité-style portrait follows the hitmaker over an eight-month period as she prepares for her 2016 album, Jolene, and deals with some personal drama — including perhaps, a bad romance.

I Kill Giants
Danish director Anders Walter makes his feature filmmaking debut after nabbing an Oscar for his 2013 short, Helium, by adapting the acclaimed 2008 graphic novel from writer Joe Kelly and artist J.M. Ken Niimura. Rising star Madison Wolfe plays troubled outsider Barbara, whose overactive fantasy life stars to spill into the real world, much to the chagrin of her sister, and guardian, Karen (Imogen Poots) and the school psychologist, Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana).

I Love You, Daddy
Shot discretely in black-and-white 35mm by comedy favorite Louis C.K., Daddy is one of Toronto’s most mysterious projects. The TIFF site leaks no plot details and promises “the less you know going in, the better,” but we do know that in addition to C.K., it also features Chloë Grace Moretz, Rose Byrne, and a hyped-up John Malkovich. It’s the first feature film directed by Louis C.K. since the 2001 cult classic Pootie Tang. And yes, we did just call Pootie Tang a classic. Come at us.

Margot Robbie in ‘I, Tonya’ (Photo: TIFF)

I, Tonya
After bursting onto the scene with her breakout role in 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Margot Robbie is back in biopic mode. An image of her looking nearly unrecognizable as Queen Elizabeth I just ruled the internet, and she’ll hit Toronto to unveil her toe picks as disgraced figure skating star Tonya Harding. Avenger Sebastian Stan costars as her shady ex-husband Jeff Gillooly in this drama from Lars and the Real Girl director Craig Gillespie.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Bret Morgen (On the Ropes) follows up 2015’s acclaimed rocker doc Cobain: Montage of Heck with this deep dive into the world of primo primatologist Jane Goodall (not to be confused with her fellow “Trimate” Dian Fossey, immortalized by Sigourney Weaver in the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist).

Molly’s Game
The first of two Jessica Chastain features making their world premiere at TIFF, Molly’s Game also marks the directorial debut of Oscar-winning scribe — and master of the walk and talk — Aaron Sorkin. Based on the true story of Hollywood’s titular poker princess, Molly Bloom (Chastain), the film’s ensemble includes Idris Elba, Michael Cera, and Kevin Costner. Don’t be surprised if Sorkin uses his industry cachet to secure some A-list cameos as well.

Mom and Dad
Nicolas Cage and Lance Henriksen in a black comedy directed by one-half of the duo behind the Crank movies? Sign us up. Writer-director Brian Taylor imagines a Purge-type scenario where ordinary parents like Cage and Selma Blair suddenly switch from protecting their young to attacking them. Look for Cage to find the exact right balance between freaky and funny.

Elba and Kate Winslet in The Mountain Between Us (Photo: TIFF)

The Mountain Between Us
A pair of our favorite British imports, Kate Winslet and Idris Elba, play a pair of strangers who share a private plane together after their commercial flight is cancelled — only to crash and find themselves fighting for their lives in frigid, desolate high altitude. Director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now) put his stars through treacherous exercises while filming; now comes time to see if they deliver the goods.

It’s not exactly a female reboot of Ghostbusters, meaning this remake of the 1973 prison-escape film starring Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen has gone mostly under the radar in the fan ire department. The new-school combo of Charlie Hunnam (looking for redemption after this summer’s disappointing King Arthur) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) is certainly something to get excited about, though.

Bella Heathcote, Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall in Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (Photo: TIFF)

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women
Learn the strange, but true story behind the comic book icon and this summer’s reigning box-office queen courtesy of writer-director Angela Robinson’s timely biopic. Beauty and the Beast scene-stealer Luke Evans plays Wonder Woman’s controversial creator, William Marston, while Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote portray the two women in his life that helped bring Themyscira’s most famous Amazon to life.

Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Three years after electrifying Toronto audiences with his directorial debut, Nightcrawler, prolific screenwriter Dan Gilroy returns north of the border and brings Denzel Washington along for the ride. The Fences star plays a soft-spoken lawyer unaccustomed to arguing cases in court who suddenly finds himself in the legal limelight working alongside a much flashier legal eagle (Colin Farrell).

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
At 90 years young, Hollywood gadfly Scotty Bowers raises the covers on the sexual shenanigans pervading ’50s era Tinseltown. A gas station owner by day, Bowers catered to the after hours appetites of some of the town’s biggest boldfaced names, arranging girl-on-guy, guy-on-guy, and girl-on-girl-on-guy hook-ups. Valentino: The Last Emperor director Matt Tyrnauer gets all of these true Hollywood stories straight from the source.

Last year’s awards hopeful, Patriots Day, provided a gripping recreation of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Director David Gordon Green tells one small piece of that larger story in Stronger, which focuses on the long road to recovery faced by bombing victim Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), who lost both of his legs in the attack. Good thing that he’s got Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany in his corner as Bauman’s super-fit marathon-running lover, Erin. (In real life, though, their story has a slightly less happy ending.)

Brie Larson in her directorial debut Unicorn Store (Photo: TIFF)

Unicorn Store
Somehow, while acting in three movies this year (Kong: Skull Island, Free Fire, and The Glass Castle) and prepping for upcoming turn as Captain Marvel, Brie Larson found the time to direct (and star in!) this whimsical dramedy about a failed artist who’s offered the chance to buy a real live mythological creature. Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford, and Patti Cake$ breakout Mamoudou Athie round out the cast.

The Upside
Filed under comedic combos we were not expecting, Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart team bond as a wealthy paraplegic and down-and-out caretaker, respectively. Even more unexpected: Nicole Kidman costars as Cranston’s assistant. Neil Burger (The Illusionist) directs this American remake of the 2011 French sensation The Intouchables.

Woman Walks Ahead
Jessica Chastain’s other TIFF outing (though don’t be surprised if you hear as much, if not more, about this one as Molly’s Game) comes in this biopic of Catherine Weldon, a Brooklyn painter in the late 19th century who becomes an unlikely ally for the Sioux leader Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes) when the tribe’s hold over Standing Rock Reservation is threatened. Topicality ahead.

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