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Toronto International Film Festival: 13 Movies To Know Before Awards Season

Bill Murray as FDR. Don’t pretend you’re not curious.

Photo: Toronto International Film Festival

There’s arguably no more important film festival for an Oscar hopeful than the Toronto International Film Festival, which kicked off today. 

In recent years, “The King’s Speech,” and “Slumdog Millionaire” won top prize, the People’s Choice Award, meaning a film’s Toronto reception is a great barometer for awards season.

At this point, its stranger not to show a film there, which has lead to 11 days jam-packed full of dozens of high-profile films featuring major stars from major filmmakers. While we can’t possibly cover them all, here’s a list of 13 to know for the coming months. 

TIFF runs from September 6 to 16.

See the complete lineup of films here

It's wasn't long ago that Affleck's legacy was 'Gigli' and 'Paycheck,' but in one of the most impressive turnarounds in Hollywood history, the actor established himself as skilled director--making 'Gone Baby Gone' and 'The Town' to critical acclaim. If 'Argo' is as well received, he'll officially establish himself as one of the best working American filmmakers, which is truly amazing.

Science fiction is best used when it is only a small element of a larger story. 'Looper' may involve time travel, but it's really the twisty story of a mafia grunt forced to hunt someone down while questioning his purpose. Starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and directed by Johnson (the brilliant neo-noir 'Brick'), his first studio film, this might be the film that officially launches Gordon-Levitt to the A-list (apologies to 'Premium Rush').

Not much is known about Malick's newest film (is there ever?), but the fact that he's releasing another movie just one year after 'The Tree of Life' is a feat in and of itself. The director famously takes an incredibly long time on his projects, directing only six films since 1969. Ben Affleck headlines an all-star cast in one of the buzziest films of the festival.

The director of 'Blue Valentine' returns with Ryan Gosling in a movie about a stunt driver that turns to a life of crime (sound familiar, 'Drive' fans?) to support his child. Bradley Cooper co-stars.

Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts star in this film based on a family's experience in the 2004 tsunami. A Spanish-language trailer has been out since last December and it looks stunning. This could be a somewhat surprising contender come award season.

Following the trailer there were comparisons to 'Garden State,' indicating that this idea has been done before. Toronto will show whether O. Russell's follow up to 'The Fighter' is awards-worthy or simply a Zach Braff-knockoff. With up and coming A-listers Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence starring, don't bet against it.

Sure it's got Tom Hanks, but at 164 minutes it may just be too long. It will be visual stunning, but that didn't save the Wachowski's 'Speed Racer.' This will either be amazing or horrendous. With that runtime, there's no in between. Anything short of a masterpiece will just be seen as a film that's too long. If reviews out of Toronto aren't rapturous, this movie could be dead before it ever reaches U.S. screens.

The last two times Wright teamed up with Keira Knightley, we got the Oscar-nominated period pieces 'Pride & Prejudice' and 'Atonement.' Clearly, this is going to garner some attention.

Newell's take on the classic Charles Dickens tale has Best Picture contender all over it, if done right. It's certainly got a good shot at acting nods for Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes.

This film has a 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' feel to it, and a talented, funny cast including Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walker, and the criminally underrated Sam Rockwell. If this doesn't catch on in the festival circuit and passes through theatres without much of a bang, it has cult classic written all over it.

If early reviews are any indication, 'Master' is the first (though certainly not last) front-runner of the award season. Acting nods for Philip Seymour Hoffman (lead or supporting?) and Joaquin Phoenix are all but locked up, with Best Picture, director for Anderson and possibly supporting actress for Amy Adams all good possibilities. This will be the film others are initially compared to in the coming months, so its to best join the conversation early.

This Sundance darling is sure to be a Toronto crowd-pleaser as well. The film is based on the story of journalist/poet Mark O'Brien, a man confined to an iron lung who decides to lose his virginity in his mid-30's. At the very least, this will produce two to three acting noms, with John Hawkes and Helen Hunt a certainty and William H. Macy a definite contender as well. Hawkes has been doing some brilliant work the last few years, including 'Martha Marcy May Marlene' and his Oscar-nominated turn in 'Winter's Bone,' and will garner even more praise here.

Kristen Wiig's first post-'Saturday Night Live,' post-'Bridesmaids' gig sees her faking a suicide to get back with her ex-boyfriend, but winding up in the custody of her mother. This black comedy territory is an interesting test for the comedian, who is trying to successfully transition into a full-fledged movie star. Toronto will decide whether 'Imogen' will be a forgotten first step, or her ascent to the A-list.

But film stars haven't always looked so picture perfect ...

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