As you read this, the NPR Movies team is settling into their seats in movie theaters across downtown Toronto. For the next week, we'll be sitting in those seats or ones very similar to them, in the dark, taking furious notes, as we each power through marathon sessions of movie-watching.
The Toronto International Movie Festival (TIFF), which has been running since 1976, is the largest in North America. This year, from Sept. 6-16, hundreds of feature films, documentaries and shorts from around the world will be screened, in many cases months before they land in the nation's movie houses or on streaming services. Q&A sessions will happen, at which celebrities will gamely pretend never to have heard an audience member's question before. And movie critics will scuttle from screening to screening, rubbing their sore tailbones and cramming food down their gullets, stepping only rarely, blinking, into the harsh sunlight of the upper world.
NPR's Bob Mondello, Linda Holmes and Bilal Qureshi have attended TIFF several times; they know how to navigate the madness. But I (Glen Weldon) have never been before. I asked them each to tell me what films they were most looking forward to this year.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Director Barry Jenkins follows up Moonlight with this adaptation of the 1974 James Baldwin novel about a woman attempting to free her wrongly accused husband from prison before the birth of her child.
Linda: "Obviously Barry Jenkins has shown himself to be a director to watch, and this cast is amazing — I mean Regina King, Brian Tyree Henry, come on." The leads — Kiki Layne and Stephan James — may not be household names yet, but Linda says that doesn't matter. "Barry Jenkins is a director I trust."
Actor Paul Dano's directorial debut tells the story of the dissolution of a married couple played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan, from the point of view of their teenage son (Ed Oxenbould) in 1960s Montana. Based on the Richard Ford book.
Linda: "Zoe Kazan, whom I like a lot, wrote this with her partner Paul Dano, who directed. I really liked Ruby Sparks, which was their last collaboration. Plus this movie has an amazing trailer — you watch it and you just think: Yep. I'm in."
In his first feature film since 12 Years A Slave, director Steve McQueen presents this thriller, co-written with Gillian Flynn, about four women whose comfortable lives are imperiled when their criminal husbands are murdered, and there are considerable debts to pay.
Linda: "I mean it's Viola Davis and Steve McQueen. That's all I gotta know, personally."
Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet star in this drama about a father struggling with his son's addiction. Based on the memoirs of David and Nic Sheff.
Bob: "Having seen Chalamet tackle the role of a high-achieving, perfect son in Call Me By Your Name last year, I'm curious to see him go in the opposite direction, into a place of real darkness and pain and struggle."
This film about an infamous baby-faced serial killer who haunted Buenos Aires in the early '70s recently premiered in Argentina, where it quickly became a sensation.
Bob: "I spend a few months in Buenos Aires every summer, and this year there was no getting away from this movie. It's a hugely famous case there, and this film is the biggest thing in Argentinian cinema history — lines around the block, every showing. I was desperate to see it while there, but I don't speak enough Spanish — so I'm looking forward to seeing it subtitled, so I can learn what all the fuss is about."
A Star Is Born
Bradley Cooper stars in, and makes his directorial debut with, this latest retelling of the classic show-business yarn. This time, it's a country music setting, and the young chanteuse who gets discovered is played by Lady Gaga.
Bob: "I think I've seen 'em all — Gaynor! Garland! Babs! Clearly the story, like the breakout hit from the 1976 version, is ... evergreen. And Lady Gaga is cool casting. If Cooper can carry a note while directing, this could be serious fun."
This fictionalized, ruthlessly satiric account of Italian tycoon/ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his inner circle represents the second time director Paolo Sorrentino has skewered Italian politics (2008's Il Divo tracked the fall of Italian Prime Minister Andreotti.)
Bilal says he's excited about Loro because he so loved Sorrentino's 2013 film The Great Beauty, in which a man who's seduced his way through life suddenly takes stock of existence — in all its absurdity — on his 65th birthday.
Iranian director — and two-time Academy Award winner — Asghar Farhadi presents a thriller where familial tensions bubble under the surface when a kidnapping interrupts a large Spanish wedding. Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem star.
Bilal is eager to see the director's next film after his masterful works like 2011's A Separation.
Angels Are Made Of Light
Twelve years after the lyrical and impressionistic film Iraq in Fragments, American documentarian James Longley trains his camera on the students and teachers at a school in Kabul, and lets them tell their stories in their own words.
Bilal says he was particularly taken by Longley's 2006 film, which he calls "hypnotic and beautiful." He's eager to see the director's latest.
GLEN WELDON (Me)
I'm a big fan of Irish writer-director John Butler's Handsome Devil, which was charming and witty and came at the gay coming-of-age story at an oblique angle, making it new.
This film, in which the disquietingly symmetrical Matt Bomer plays a Los Angeles weatherman who has a breakdown and figures the best way to recover is by hiring a Mexican day-laborer to listen to Bomer whinge about his life, seems likely to skirt some dodgy race issues, but — I'm hopeful/confident — in a knowing way.
Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy
The too-weird-to-be-true tale of writer Laura Albert — who became a literary sensation when she created the pseudonym JT LeRoy, a wholly invented gay teenage sex worker, and then somehow convinced her sister-in-law (!) to pose as LeRoy in public — deserves a film. The fact that the film in question stars Kristen Stewart and Laura Freaking Dern is just icing on this crazy-bananapants cake.
We know almost nothing about this film, except that Natalie Portman plays a pop star who mines her personal tragedy for mass entertainment. That isn't a lot of information, granted — and yet it turns out to be more than enough to get my butt into a seat.