TIFF 2014 Preview: The Movies Everyone is Looking Forward To at the Festival

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On Thursday, the Toronto International Film Festival kicks off and this marks (along with Venice Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival) that, yes, Oscar season just fired its starting gun. I will be headed to Toronto to cover the festival for ScreenCrush and, well, it's a little overwhelming. There are a lot of good movies! There's Benedict Cumberbatch playing WWII code breaker Alan Turing in 'The Imitation Game'; and Jake Gyllenhaal as a sleazy freelance photographer in 'Nightcrawler,' and Jon Stewart's directorial debut, 'Rosewater'; and the Cannes darling, 'Foxcatcher,' starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo. And two -- count 'em -- TWO Adam Sandler movies that just might signal his long-awaited return to, let's say, well reviewed films with 'The Cobbler' and Jason Reitman's 'Men, Women & Children.'

Anyway, I can't decide on my own, so we enlisted the help of a slew of respected film journalists who are also headed to TIFF and asked them what it is they are all looking forward to seeing.

Scott Tobias, The Dissolve

Every TIFF has at least one half-day or all-day moviegoing experience, and I always pass on it—not because I don’t find the prospect of a long sit enticing, but because too many other movies are competing for my time. For that, I offer Frederick Wiseman my sincerest apologies. But for all the brutal choices I’ve had to make to complete my tentative TIFF ’14 schedule, I somehow have two clear opportunities to see Lav Diaz’s five-and-a-half hour 'From What Is Before,' which just picked up top prize at Locarno and will likely present a distribution challenge even to Cinema Guild, which release Diaz’s slender, four-hour 'Norte, The End Of History' earlier this year. I had my issues with 'Norte,' particularly once its spiritual components surface in Hour Four, but Diaz’s sense of time, culture, and history, combined with an impeccable eye for composition, has me excited to see another. Add to that the particulars of 'From What Is Before' -- black-and-white photography, a remote village setting, the historic moment before Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in Diaz’s native The Philippines in 1972—and outstanding reviews out of Locarno, and that’s emerging as a clear event for me.

Tim Grierson, Screen International and Paste

Since I didn't get to Cannes this year, I already feel terribly behind on the year's must-see films: ‘Foxcatcher,’ ‘Leviathan,’ ‘Winter Sleep,’ ‘Mr. Turner,’ ‘Maps to the Stars,’ ‘National Gallery,’ ‘Amour Fou’ ... it's really overwhelming. Catching all of those movies at Toronto will be daunting, especially since I also need to make time for ‘The Judge,’ ‘The Look of Silence,’ ‘While We're Young,’ ‘Eden,’ ‘Wild’ and others. Honestly, just thinking about all that schedule-juggling makes me anxious. So what I'm really looking forward to is the moment where I make peace with the fact that it's impossible to see everything I want. Also: I really want to check out ‘A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence,’ partly because I love director Roy Andersson (‘You, the Living’) and partly because that title makes me laugh every time.

Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

This being my first time at TIFF, I'm a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of movies to see. But, of course, the growing din of the Oscar-predicting machine does help hone the selection down a bit. That's probably a cynical way to approach a film festival, but I am a shameless devotee of all things awards season. To that end, I think the film I'm most curious about is Wild, which perhaps offers Reese Witherspoon the chance to reinvent, or at least revive, her career in the same way Matthew McConaughey did last year. With the same director, no less! Witherspoon has been plodding away at doing more ‘serious’ films for the last couple of years now, but 'Wild' looks to be her best bet yet at achieving the rare combination of acclaim and mass appeal. I'm rooting for her. I'm also interested to see what Julianne Moore does in her Alzheimer's drama 'Still Alice' -- it's been a few years since Moore really mixed it up in awards season, and I've missed her. Less likely to be Oscar bait, but a definite contender for critical adoration at the festival, is Noah Baumbach's new film, 'While We're Young.' I doubt he'll replicate the sublime--and surprising, coming from him--sweetness of last year's wonderful 'Frances Ha,' but a return to his more dyspeptic, neurotic stuff could be fun. Speaking of neuroses, I have to go make sure I packed everything I need for the third time.

Jada Yuan, New York Magazine

If I hadn't seen 'Two Days, One Night' already, I'd want to pair it with '99 Homes' for a seriously depressing double feature. Nothing like Marion Cotillard begging for her job in a Dardenne brothers movie, followed by Andrew Garfield losing his house, from the guy who made 'Man Push Cart.' I'm into 'The Theory of Everything' for personal curiosity -- I come from a family of physicists; 'Black and White' because it's about biracial families and is potentially controversial; 'Top Five' because Chris Rock; and 'St. Vincent' because something is medically wrong if I don't want to watch Bill Murray. Beyond that, I'm most interested in seeing Jon Stewart's directorial debut, 'Rosewater,' because it's the kind of movie that's going to be so scrutinized whether it's ultimately deemed a success or not, that the only person's opinion you can trust is your own.

Sam Adams, Indiewire

Narrowing one's TIFF list down to a title or two is a tough practice, but I think I can winnow it to three: Julie Taymor's ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream,’ which captures her own over-the-top production of Shakespeare's wildest comedy; Jean-Luc Godard's ‘Goodbye to Language,’ which finds the crotchety ciné-philosopher playing games with 3D photography; and the slimmed-down director's cut of Neil Young's ‘Human Highway,’ a loopy post-apocalyptic rock 'n' roll fable co-starring Russ Tamblyn and Devo.

Chris Rosen, The Huffington Post

This year's TIFF lineup is like a basketball team that goes 12 deep: There might not be a superstar in the class of ‘12 Years A Slave’ or ‘Gravity’ on this roster, but there is plenty of talent. As a result, it's hard to pick even a handful of most-anticipated titles, but I'll give it a whirl for the purposes of this blurb. ‘St. Vincent’ is near the top of my list, if only because it gives Bill Murray the chance to star in a Wes Anderson movie that isn't directed by Wes Anderson. There's the Adam Sandler, Dramatic Actor twosome of ‘Men, Women & Children’ and ‘The Cobbler.’ And then, of course, ‘Wild,’ which has what I assume is Laura Dern's return ticket to the Academy Awards after 22 years and Reese Witherspoon's best chance at her own McConaissance. A Reesissanace? A Spoonaissance? I'll work on the pun during the next five months.

Mike Hogan, Vanity Fair

I'm most interested in finding out whether ‘The Theory of Everything’ is the next ‘A Beautiful Mind,’ in which case I think Eddie Redmayne will be an unstoppable force in the Oscar race for Best Actor, or the next ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’ in which case I will regret ever writing this sentence. But I'm also dying to see all the other Oscar-buzz flicks: ‘99 Homes,’ ‘The Imitation Game,’ ‘Rosewater,’ ‘Wild,’ and so on. A few steps outside the white-hot core of awards hype, I'm intrigued by Nick Kroll's ‘Adult Beginners,’ Jen Aniston's ‘Cake,’ Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini's ‘The Drop,’ Denzel's ‘The Equalizer,’ Jake Gyllenhaal's ‘Nightcrawler,’ and Bill Murray's ‘St. Vincent.’ Too bad I'll be lucky to see a quarter of these movies, given VF.com's stocked video interview schedule (plug, plug)!

Kate Erbland, Film School Rejects and Cosmo

The problem with planning a TIFF schedule is certainly an enviable one to have: there's just too much good stuff to see. Smack in the middle of the fall festival season -- Venice and Telluride behind, NYFF to come -- the TIFF slate is crammed with films that have already gotten big buzz from earlier festivals, are part of the ‘Oscar conversation’ by virtue of their involved talents, or just plain sound good on the page. How to pick from that embarrassment of riches? My strategy: make room for all the features I've been desperate to see for months, like 'Foxcatcher' and 'While We're Young;' pepper in films that have recently picked up major momentum, like 'The Imitation Game;' and round it out with possible breakouts, like 'Eden' and 'Hungry Hearts.' Still, if there's one film I can't wait to see at TIFF, it's Dan Gilroy's 'Nightcrawler,' which is getting the sort of advanced praise that is impossible to ignore.

Jordan Hoffman, New York Daily News

Mia Hansen-Løve's first English-language film, ‘Eden,’ is pretty much all I care about. I barely know the premise, I just know that Greta Gerwig is in it and it is set in the ‘electronica movement’ of the '90s. Not that I was so big into this culture back in the day. ‘What, they can't afford instruments?!!’ I snarked from behind my flannel shirts, slowly refreshing Usenet. But Mia Hansen-Løve's ‘Goodbye First Love’ is one of my top movies of the decade, so my expectations are sky high. Also of note is ‘A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence,’ the latest from the not-very-prolific Roy Andersson, best known for ‘Songs From The Second Floor.’ This is another one I don't know too much about other than the director, but TIFF's website promises a film that ‘hilariously deadpan humour as it muses on man’s perpetual inhumanity to man.’

I am a little more familiar with ‘Rosewater,’ Jon Stewart's directorial debut loosely based on the imprisonment of an Iranian journalist that he (the real Jon Stewart) inadvertently provoked. That Stewart's return to cinema (never forget those deleted ‘First Wives Club’ scenes!) is something so personal and meta-textural (something of a hallmark for Persian movies) sets this up for something that could be quite momentous. Lastly, I must see Barry Levinson's adaptation of Philip Roth's ‘The Humbling’ with Al Pacino. I go in expecting it to be awful because Roth-on-film doesn't work (and this will make the fifth boneheaded attempt, with a sixth - ‘American Pastoral’ - in the pipeline!) but film festivals are tiring – seeing Al Pacino as a legendary stage actor who has lost his mojo will, I'm sure, involve a lot of hollering. It'll at least keep me awake.

Matt Patches, IGN

The Pennsylvanian in me needed to see future Oscar-contender 'Foxcatcher' yesterday (John du Pont's legacy lingers in Philadelphia to this day!), but there are three films I know little about and can't wait to discover: 'The Cobbler,' a new film from 'Station Agent' and 'Win Win' filmmaker Thomas McCarthy, should effectively dredge any remaining dramatic talent from Adam Sandler (though its ‘magical heirloom’ premise sounds a bit too much like 'Click' for its own good); Though Illustrator-turned-filmmaker Dave McKean's 2005 animation/live-action hybrid 'MirrorMask' didn't coalesce into greatness, it was dazzling and imaginative enough that 'Luna,' his tale of aging artists reuniting, demands attention;' And then 'The Tale of The Princess Kaguya,' a Studio Ghibli (RIP) production from 'Grave of Fireflies' director Isao Takahata that looks like a watercolor come to life. If I find time to stumble into something I've never heard of, have my mind blown without any anticipation, that'll be pure joy.

Erik Davis, Fandango

The thing I love about the Toronto fest is that it's kinda like the equivalent of pre-season football for the upcoming awards season. This is our chance to preview a whole bunch of the season's top awards contenders before they settle in for their official theatrical run. So of course I'm looking forward to that batch of movies, including 'Wild,' 'The Imitation Game,' 'Foxcatcher' and 'The Judge' (if only to see a Robert Downey Jr. performance that doesn't involve him suiting up as Iron Man).

That said, it's not an ideal film festival experience without a few unexpected discoveries, and so I'm also looking at films like 'Good Kill' (a 'Gattaca' reunion between director Andrew Niccol and star Ethan Hawke), as well as 'Nightcrawler' (star Jake Gyllenhaal is taking on some risky roles of late and they've all been fun to watch). Add to that Noah Baumbach's 'While We're Young' (I LOVED 'Frances Ha,' his last movie) and 'Big Game,' because I'll take any chance to watch Samuel L. Jackson play the President of the United States ... and so should you.

Wilson Morales, Blackfilm

'Beyond The Lights,' directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker and Minnie Driver. It's not an awards contender and it's NOT a biopic, which is rare these days for an African American director getting a film released by a distributor (Relativity). Unlike last year's '12 Years a Slave' and 'Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom,' here's a film that can hopefully be fun, romantic and not have a lot of pressure of getting the story right.

'Black and White,' directed by Mike Binder and starring Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Andre Holland and Anthony Mackie. Twenty years after directing 'Blankman' -- and seven years since his last film, 'Reign Over Me' gave Adam Sandler a meaningful film with depth -- I'm curious to see if Binder can tackle this racial drama that will be debatable if the outcome is controversial.

'Top Five,' written and directed by Chris Rock and starring Rosario Dawson, J.B. Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, and Kevin Hart. As great of a comedian Rock is, his directing skills are questionable. Can anyone count his 'Head of State' and 'I Think I Love My Wife' as urban classics? Does anyone have these films in their Blu-ray collection? Filled with lots of comedians, can their combined talent fit in this romantic comedy without overdoing it to get a laugh.

'Ruth and Alex,' directed by Richard Loncraine and starring Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman, two of the finest actors in lead roles. Having seen Freeman take checks for his bland roles in 'Transcendence' and 'Lucy,' he hasn't had a true lead role since 2007's 'Invictus.' Also, it would also be interesting to see he fairs well in a dramedy with racial themes.

Alex Suskind, The Daily Beast

I am looking forward to exactly 73 films at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Unfortunately, since I am only in town for six days––and because I have no idea how to clone myself, thus preventing me from covering everything at TIFF––I will likely only get to watch a third of these movies. Off this narrowed-down list, the ones I am most excited about are: 'Rosewater,' because it's the directorial debut from ‘The Daily Show’’s Jon Stewart; ‘Whiplash,’ because it stars the always-incredible J.K Simmons and Miles Teller––and it’s about drumming and I kinda sorta know how to drum; ‘While We’re Young,’ directed by Noah Baumbach, whose last film, the delightful ‘Frances Ha,’ was my favorite movie of 2012; and ‘Big Game,’ because it stars Samuel L. Jackson as the President of the United States, which is basically the plot to some fan fiction I have been meaning to write for years. I am also looking forward to shoveling down massive heaps of poutine (a Canadian dish consisting of fries, cheese curds, and gravy). I realize poutine isn’t a movie, but if you eat enough of it it will cause fever dreams and make you think you’re in one.

Edward Douglas, ComingSoon

I gotta say that while I might come off as a studio shill, most of my most anticipated movies already have distribution such as 'The Judge,' but really, for me it wouldn’t be a TIFF without a movie from Jason Reitman and I’m really looking forward to 'Men, Women and Children,' maybe because it’s getting back into the dark comedy of 'Thank You For Smoking' and 'Up in the Air.' I’m also really excited about Oren Moverman’s second movie as a director, 'Time Out of Mind,' starring Richard Gere, because he got some great stuff out of Woody Harrelson for 'Rampart' and he’s really an actor’s director along with being a great screenwriter. I’m hoping that one of the two if not both Al Pacino movies, 'Manglehorn' (from David Gordon Green) and 'The Humbling' (from Barry Levinson) begin to return him to greatness. And I’m always looking forward to what Michael Winterbottom has to offer and this year, he has 'The Face of An Angel' starring Kate Beckinsale, just a hugely underrated actress.

Alex Billington, FirstShowing.net

Returning to TIFF for my 8th year in a row, I'm always excited to delve into the extensive selection of films they have. This year I'm most looking forward to seeing Mia Hansen-Løve's EDM feature 'Eden,' as I'm a big fan of filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve and that scene. I'm also excited to catch Jason Reitman's new film 'Men, Women & Children' to see how he continues to evolve as a filmmaker, as well as David Gordon Green's wacky film 'Manglehorn,' starring Al Pacino. Of course there's 'Nightcrawler' with Jake Gyllennhaal which looks insane but in all the right ways. And finally, I'm hoping to catch two animated films: 'Song of the Sea' from the filmmakers behind 'The Secret of Kells,' and Studio Ghibli's 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya' (in Japanese, not dubbed!), which I still haven't seen yet. Time to start watching films and finding out what stands out from the crowd.

Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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