TIFF header, preview

Fall festival season is officially underway: this morning saw the cinematic version of a starter’s pistol being fired with the unveiling of “Everest” (read our review), the opening movie at the Venice Film Festival and the fall’s first Oscar contender. Venice continues on for another ten days, and our Playlist rep for the Telluride Film Festival is about to get on a plane and head to Colorado, but we’re still a week away from perhaps the biggest of them all: the Toronto International Film Festival.

Increasingly important in recent years as an Oscar launching pad, TIFF is also pure cinephile heaven, featuring literally hundreds of movies from all over the world, from giant blockbusters to tiny foreign pictures. With just seven days to go, we’ve picked out our twenty most anticipated films from the festival (mostly excluding those premiering elsewhere). Take a look below and check back from September 10th to September 20th for our verdict on all the below and much, much more.

Demolition
"Demolition"

“Demolition”
After the one-two punch of “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Wild,” French-Canadian helmer Jean-Marc Vallée is becoming one of the more awards friendly directors working, but he’s sitting this season out —his latest, “Demolition,” won’t land til next spring. That’s probably good for the movie's chances, which stars on-a-hot-streak Jake Gyllenhaal as a grieving husband who starts taking out his despair on inanimate objects around him, and Naomi Watts as the vending machine company employee he begins a correspondence with: it gets to open TIFF without Oscar-watchers picking at its bones. The history of the opening night slot is a chequered one —we got “Looper” in 2012, but “The Fifth Estate” and “The Judge” since then— but with Gyllenhaal, Watts, Chris Cooper and a vibe that seems to be closer to Vallée’s quirky French-language work like “C.R.A.Z.Y.” and “Café de Flore,” we’re optimistic.

Desierto

“Desierto”
As the various Republican presidential contenders compete with each other to be the most batshit crazy about the question of immigration (Scott Walker and his Canadian wall currently taking the lead), that subject is once again a hot-button one, making it the perfect time for “Desierto” to land. The second directorial feature from Jonás Cuarón, son of Alfonso and co-writer of “Gravity” (he also helmed the excellent companion-piece short to the latter, “Aningaaq”), it stars Gael Garcia Bernal as the leader of a group of Mexicans attempting to cross the border into the U.S, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a fearsome vigilante out to kill them to protect his borders. It seems to fall neatly between the genre and arthouse tents, digging into one of the biggest issues of the day while also hopefully delivering thrills, and we’re excited to see Cuarón Jr. step up onto a bigger stage.

High Rise
"High-Rise"

“High-Rise”
For a while, Ben Wheatley was making films as fast as we could watch them, with “Down Terrace,” “Kill List,” “Sightseers” and “A Field In England” arriving within a few short years of each other. A couple of aborted projects and a brief run helming “Doctor Who” means it’s been two and a half years since we last had a Wheatley pic, but “High-Rise” is undoubtedly his most hotly anticipated yet. Adapting J.G. Ballard’s dystopian satire about the inhabitants of a luxury tower block, Wheatley’s gathered a superb cast, with Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons leading Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy and Wheatley regulars like Reece Shearsmith and Neil Maskell. The great Clint Mansell is scoring, and from everything we’ve heard so far, this feels like a culmination of everything that Wheatley has been building towards.

Family Fang

“The Family Fang”
Kevin Wilson’s novel “The Family Fang” is one of our favorite books of the last few years —the legitimately funny and moving tale of a dysfunctional family reunion proved to b a bestseller. And as is so often the case with a bestseller, it’s now a movie, with Nicole Kidman picking up the rights for her Blossom Films company, and Jason Bateman making it his second directorial outing, with the two playing siblings with their lives in disarray who return home to their performance artists parents (Christopher Walken and stage actress Maryann Plunkett), who made their upbringing into art, only to find the rest of the family missing. We weren’t crazy about Bad Words,” Bateman’s first film as director, but the material is so good (and it’s been adapted by “Rabbit Hole” writer David Lindsay-Abaire) that we’re hopeful that this film turns out much better.

I Saw The LIght
"I Saw the Light"

“I Saw The Light”
The second TIFF premiere set to throw Tumblr into a tizz thanks to the presence of Tom Hiddleston, “I Saw The Light” promises to put the erstwhile Loki a little further out of his comfort zone than “High-Rise” —the very English actor is starring as country music legend Hank Williams, and is singing the songs as such. Written and directed by veteran producer Marc Abraham (“Children Of Men”), it looks to focus on the sweep of Williams’ troubled, alcohol and drug-suffused life, specifcally on his relationship with first wife Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen). Abraham’s first film, windshield-wiper-inventor biopic “Flash Of Genius” was kind of milquetoast, and it remains to be seen if anyone can take a country biopic seriously after “Walk Hard,” but we’re fascinated to see how Hiddleston does, and a prime awards-season slot from Sony Pictures Classics suggests the studio has faith in him.