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#TIFF: 30 Must-See Movies

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 27, 2009 at 8:12AM

It's hard to narrow down the must-see Toronto Film Fest list to 30. After all there are 335 films at TIFF09. (I'm including movies that I've already screened in L.A., Sundance or Cannes.) Some fall openers are launching at TIFF, 100 pictures are available for acquisition, and a select few will emerge with their Oscar hopes intact. Reaction from media and audiences will determine which films earn a full-on Oscar push. And I'm listing the pictures in alphabetical order.
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Thompson on Hollywood

It's hard to narrow down the must-see Toronto Film Fest list to 30. After all there are 335 films at TIFF09. (I'm including movies that I've already screened in L.A., Sundance or Cannes.) Some fall openers are launching at TIFF, 100 pictures are available for acquisition, and a select few will emerge with their Oscar hopes intact. Reaction from media and audiences will determine which films earn a full-on Oscar push. And I'm listing the pictures in alphabetical order.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Werner Herzog directs this unlikely remake starring Nic Cage as a homicide detective addicted to sex, Vicodin and cocaine in post-Katrina New Orleans. (First Look)

The Boys Are Back
Scott Hicks directs Clive Owen as a widower dealing with two sons. (Miramax)

Bright Star
Jane Campion's romantic tragedy stars Abbie Cornish as a young woman who falls madly in love with poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw), who has just two years to live before he succumbs to consumption. (Cannes, Apparition)

Thompson on Hollywood

Capitalism: A Love Story
Michael Moore never fails to entertain, educate, challenge and provoke. This examination of Wall Street greed will be no exception. (Overture)

Chloe
Atom Egoyan's romantic triangle sounds sexy: Julianne Moore plays a doctor who suspects her music prof husband Liam Neeson is cheating on her. So she hires younger woman Amanda Seyfried to test his fidelity. (acq)

Thompson on Hollywood

Creation (opening night)
Jon Amiel's psychological thriller stars Paul Bettany as evolutionist Charles Darwin, a man of science in love with a religious wife (Jennifer Connelly, who is married to Bettany). (acq)

The Damned United
Tom Hooper (John Adams) directs Michael Sheen, Colm Meany and Timothy Spall in Peter Morgan's entertaining bromance about rival soccer coaches. As ever with Morgan, it's about power, ambition and love. (SPC)

Dorian Gray
Oliver Parker's adaptation of Oscar Wilde's classic stars Ben Barnes as the hedonist who will do anything to keep his looks. Colin Firth co-stars. (acq)

An Education
Nick Hornby and Lone Scherfig's relationship comedy about a young girl (Carey Mulligan) who falls for sophisticated roue Peter Sarsgard is tipped for Oscar consideration. (SPC)

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Terry Gilliam's lush period fantasy marks the final performance of Heath Ledger, whose role was completed by Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp and Jude Law. (SPC)

The Informant!
Steven Soderbergh directs Matt Damon in this comedic look at a fraudulent FBI whistleblower. (WB)

Leaves of Grass
When another project fell through, Tim Blake Nelson wrote this semi-autobiographical tale of a pot-grower in Oklahoma (Edward Norton) visited by his straight-arrow twin brother (Norton). (acq)

Life During Wartime
Todd Solondz directs a semi-sequel to Happiness about sexual obsession, natch. Allison Janney and Ciaran Hinds lead the ensemble. (acq)

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits
Don Roos's relationship drama stars Natalie Portman as a young wife struggling with love, loss and family. (acq)

The Men Who Stare at Goats
George Clooney's producing partner, ex-actor Grant Heslov, directed this military comedy about a reporter (Ewan McGregor) searching details on a mysterious "psychic warrior" (Clooney). Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey co-star. (Overture)

Micmacs
Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) directs a fantastical comedy that is beyond description. (acq)

Mother and Child
Executive produced by Cha Cha Cha's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, this relationship drama stars Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington. (acq)

Ondine
Neil Jordan directs fellow-Irishman Colin Farrell in a lyric fairy tale about a fisherman who catches a luscious woman (Alicia Bachleda) in his nets (shades of John Sayles' Secret of Roan Inish.) (acq)

Police, Adjective
Cornelieu Porumboiu (12:08: East of Bucharest) is one of the new wave Romanian directors. This Cannes hit was acquired by IFC.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
Writer-director Rebecca Miller adapted her own novel; Robin Wright Penn stars in the title role as a woman married to a much older man (Alan Arkin). Screen Media Films acquired the film out of Berlin.

Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
Lee Daniels directs this drama set in 1987 Harlem about an African-American teenager who overcomes huge hurdles: she's overweight, pregnant, illiterate and unloved, for starters. Critics raved at Sundance. (Lionsgate)

A Prophet
Jacques Audiard directs this prison drama, one of the best-reviewed films in Cannes. (SPC)

The Road
John Hillcoat directs an Oscar-worthy Viggo Mortensen in this heartrending and beautiful dystopian drama about a man trying to survive with his young son at the edge of the end of the world. (TWC)

A Serious Man
The Coen brothers investigate what it means to be Jewish in the 60s in the midwest. (Focus)

Solitary Man
Oceans 11 scripters Brian Koppelman and David Levien direct Michael Douglas as a wacky ex-car dealer with women issues. Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito and Mary Louise Parker co-star. (acq)

Solomon Kane
Michael J. Bassett's independently-financed action film stars James Purefoy as Robert Howard's devilish 16th century mercenary. (acq)

Up in the Air
Jason Reitman's follow-up to Juno stars George Clooney as a lonely corporate downsizing expert chasing frequent flier miles. (Paramount)

Whip It
Drew Barrymore makes her feature directorial debut with this roller derby coming-of-age tale starring Ellen Page (Juno). (Fox Searchlight)

Wild Grass
Alain Resnais's drama was well-received at Cannes and will open the New York Film Festival. (SPC)

The Young Victoria
Jean-Marc Vallee's drama about the early years of the famous queen (Emily Blunt) and her admirers was already released in the U.K. (Apparition)

This article is related to: Awards, Directors, Festivals, Headliners, Oscars, Steven Soderbergh, Coens, Michael Moore, Toronto, Viggo Mortensen, George Clooney, Nic Cage


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.