Looking Ahead to the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival

The 2016 Toronto International Film Festival opens Sept. 8 with a bang — literally. Antoine Fuqua’s highly anticipated western The Magnificent Seven starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard and Haley Bennett among the outlaws, bounty hunters, hired guns and lawmen of the old west, has its world premiere as the curtain rises on the prestigious North American festival that’s considered an awards season barometer.

The Magnificent Seven is just one of the major titles at this year’s TIFF, which runs to Sept. 18. The huge slate features awards-season hopefuls that have already played Sundance, Cannes or Venice; world premieres; international titles; and small indies seeking distribution.

Canadian director and TIFF favorite Denis Villeneuve returns with his sci-fi drama Arrival, starring Amy Adams (also appearing at TIFF in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals), Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. (Check out the film's thrilling trailer here). Other big titles getting a first look at TIFF include Oliver Stone's biopic Snowden, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the NSA whistleblower; Peter Berg’s disaster drama Deepwater Horizon starring Mark Wahlberg (we just shared this great behind-the-scenes featurette on the film); and LBJ, Rob Reiner’s portrait of the man who succeeded JFK to the presidency. It stars Woody Harrelson as LBJ and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird. Coincidentally, TIFF also showcases the North American premiere of Pablo Larraín’s Jackie with Natalie Portman as former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Portman does double duty at TIFF, also appearing in Rebecca Zlotowski’s Planetarium opposite Lily-Rose Depp as two sisters who are supernatural mediums in 1930s France.

Jeff Nichols' drama Loving, which debuted at Cannes, makes its international debut at TIFF with awards buzz for the film and its two leads, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. They play Mildred and Richard Loving, a couple arrested because interracial marriage was a crime in 1960s Virginia. The Lovings’ suit led to a landmark United States Supreme Court ruling in 1967. In a unanimous decision, the high court ruled that no state could prohibit people from marrying because of their race.

The Sundance hit The Birth of a Nation, Nate Parker's directorial debut about Nat Turner’s slave insurrection in 1831, bows at TIFF before it reaches theaters on Oct. 7. Other films that arrive with awards season expectations include the Venice opener,  Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, a musical that stars Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and John Legend; Ewan McGregor's directorial debut American Pastoral, based on the Philip Roth novel and starring Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Connelly; Paul Verhoeven's French-language drama Elle, starring Isabelle Huppert (also appearing in Souvenir); Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, which earned acclaim at Sundance for the film and for star Casey Affleck; and A Quiet Passion, director Terence Davies’s biopic about poet Emily Dickinson that stars Cynthia Nixon.

Kristin Stewart reunites with her Clouds of Sils Maria director Olivier Assayas for Personal Shopper, about a young woman trying to reconnect with the spirit of her brother. Clouds won Stewart the César for Best Supporting Actress — an award that rarely goes to artists from outside of France — as well as several U.S. critics’ prizes. Stewart continues her streak of edgy, indie roles with the TIFF premiere of director Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women co-starring Laura Dern and Michelle Williams. 

The great Brazilian-born actress Sônia Braga returns in Kleber Mendonça Filho's Aquarius about a retired music critic battling a corrupt real-estate firm as she struggles to hold on to her apartment. Amma Asante’s latest, A United Kingdom is the biopic of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo, also at the festival in Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe), the former African royal who married Englishwoman Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) and later led his nation to independence from the British Empire as the first president of Botswana. Another anticipated premiere in the special presentations category is Oscar–winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman about a troubled couple starring Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini. The film won best screenplay and best actor (for Hosseini) prizes at Cannes. 

Other special presentations sure to pique audience curiosity include the North American premiere of Jim Jarmusch's Paterson, starring Adam Driver as a New Jersey bus driver; the world premiere for Christopher Guest’s latest, Mascots, which reunites Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban and Harry Shearer in a comedy about sport mascots; Andrea Arnold's Cannes winner American Honey, starring Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf; first-time director Alex Lehmann’s romantic drama Blue Jay starring Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass; Australian director Garth Davis’s debut Lion starring Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman; Nick Hamm's The Journey, starring Colm Meaney as Sinn Fein politician Martin McGuinness and Timothy Spall as the late Sir Ian Paisley; from Ireland comes The Secret Scripture, Jim Sheridan’s study of a woman's long hidden life of trauma which also stars Mara alongside Vanessa Redgrave, Jack Reynor, and Eric Bana; and the world premiere of director Terry George’s epic World War I-set romance The Promise starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale.

TIFF debuts two anticipated boxing-themed movies: Ben Younger's Bleed For This, with Miles Teller as pro boxer Vinny Pazienza and Aaron Eckhart as his trainer; and Philippe Falardeau’s The Bleeder, with Liev Schreiber as New Jersey boxer Chuck Wepner, whose legendary ability to take punishment in the ring inspired Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Elisabeth Moss, and Naomi Watts also star.

Featured image: Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) in Loving. Courtesy Focus Features


Loren King

Loren King is an entertainment journalist whose features and reviews appear regularly in various publications and online. She is past president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and lives in Southeastern Massachusetts. You can follow her on Twitter: @lorenkingwriter