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TIFF gives first glimpse of this year’s films and celebs

A scene from The Riot Club

Screen shot from movie trailer

The Toronto International Film Festival released its first group of Gala films and Special Presentations for the upcoming festival, with films from a diverse slate of directors such as David Cronenberg, Jason Reitman, Barry Levinson, Zhang Yimou, Chris Rock and Noah Baumbach, among others. The full list of more than 300 features and short films will be announced in coming weeks.

Possible breakouts among the diverse mix of Canadian, American and international fare include Edward Zwick's Pawn Sacrifice, a chess drama about the 1972 "match of the century" between American Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and Russia's Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) and The Riot Club, directed by Lone Scherfig (An Education). The film is based on Laura Wade's hit play about a bad night at a posh Oxford University dining club (a fictionalized version of the Bullingdon Club), where prominent Tory politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron, were members.

This year's festival is seen as a test of TIFF's new policy of having only world premieres or North American premieres for the critical first four days of the festival. The move is widely seen as an attempt to cancel the Telluride Film Festival's success in running sneak previews of such prominent films as Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Whether studios comply or opt for a bigger pop at smaller festivals may determine the future of Toronto as a festival for launching Oscar campaigns. Film news in recent weeks has been dominated by some high-profile titles having premieres at New York (Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice and David Fincher's Gone Girl) and Venice (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman, starring Michael Keaton and Emma Stone), in the tight competition for top titles.

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Toronto's announcement Tuesday morning consisted of a somewhat under-the-radar mix of studio fare and international art house offerings, though many titles expected when the festival runs Sept. 4 to 14 are still unaccounted for on the festival rosters.

The festival's galas tend to focus on star presence and crowd-pleasing movies. This year's selection includes Black and White, from director Mike Binder (Reign Over Me), starring Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer as grandparents on opposite sides of an in inter-racial custody battle. A mainstream Sony release, The Equalizer, gets an early bump: The action film directed by Antoine Fuqua is based on the television series, starring Denzel Washington and Chloe Grace Moretz.

Also included in the galas list is Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher, a Cannes hit by the director of Moneyball and Capote, which focuses on the real-life relationship between the American eccentric billionaire murderer John E. du Pont (played by Steve Carell) and Olympic gold-medal wrestling brothers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and and his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). The film comes to theatres on Nov. 17.

From South Korea comes Haemoo Shim Sung-bo, a thriller about a fishing crew who takes a group of illegal immigrants from China to Korea, co-scripted by Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer, The Host). Robert Downey Jr. stars in The Judge, as a lawyer who returns to his home town where his father, a judge, is suspected of murder. David Dobkin (Clay Pigeons, Wedding Crashers) directs.

Alan Rickman directs the closing night film, A Little Chaos, a period piece starring Kate Winslet as a landscape gardener who is invited to design a fountain in the gardens of Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV. So far, the festival has not yet picked its opening night film.

David Cronenberg fans will be looking forward to his Hollywood satire, Maps to the Stars, which was in competition in Cannes this year. The film stars Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska.

French director François Ozon brings The New Girlfriend, an adaptation of a Ruth Rendell short story about a young woman who discovers a secret about her late friend's husband.

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Also on the gala list is Samba, which brings back the directors and star of the hit The Intouchables, in what promises to be a crowd-pleasing comedy focusing on social issues; This Is Where I Leave You, from director Shawn Levy, starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Rose Byrne, in a story of adult siblings brought together for their father's funeral and having to deal with their wayward mother, played by Jane Fonda.

After his success with the Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club, Jean-Marc Vallee is back with Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon as a recovering heroin addiction who sets out on a solo hike of more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.

In the Special Presentations category, stand-outs include the latest from Noah Baumbach, entitled While We're Young, starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts and Amanda Seyfried, and David Gordon Green's Manglehorn, with Al Pacino and Holly Hunter, about a Texas ex-con.

Veteran director Barry Levinson is back with The Humbling, adapted from Philip Roth's novel, starring Pacino and Greta Gerwig. Festival regular Jason Reitman returns with Men, Women & Children, a look at sexual frustration, starring Ansel Elgort, Adam Sandler and Judy Greer.

For genre fans, there's been high-interest and buzz about Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler, a comic adaptation starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a young man who becomes involved in the world of freelance crime journalism.

China's Zhang Yimou brings Coming Home, a melodrama set against the background of the Cultural Revolution. It was shown out-of-competition in Cannes to generally favourable response. Similarly, the German film Force Majeure (directed by Rubin Östlund), a critical favourite at Cannes, is a bracing social commentary about a German family's disastrous ski vacation. Actress-turned-director Liv Ullmann, now 75, famous as Ingmar Bergman's star and muse, takes on one of the great Swedish dramatists in her adapation of August Strindberg's 1888 play, Miss Julie.

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Contemporary North American social issues are explored in both Good Kill (from Gattaca's Andrew Niccol) starring Ethan Hawke as a drone pilot who begins to question his ethics, and The Good Lie, in which Quebec's Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar) directs Reese Witherspoon as an American woman who adopts a child from Sudan.

Click here to see a list of the Galas and and here to see a list of the Special Presentations announced today.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More


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