TIFF 2012: Toronto International Film Festival announces first slate of films

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For Torontonians, the arrival of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) every year means two things: One, summer is officially over, signaling the beginning of another eight months of darkness and despair, and two, some of the best movies and biggest stars in the world are about to descend on the city for ten days film madness. It's a mixed bag.

Now in its 37th year, TIFF has steadily become one of the most important destinations for Hollywood and international films over the past few decades. Movies that come out of the fest with prizes or strong audience buzz often take home big trophies come awards season. Past "People's Choice" award winners at TIFF, like "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The King's Speech," went on to win the Academy Awards for Best Picture.

It's poised to be another big year for the festival if today's announcements are any indication. This morning, the TIFF group announced the opening night film of the 2012 festival and over sixty galas and special presentations taking place this year. There will be plenty more announcements before the festival begins (check out the TIFF slate so far here), but here are a few of the highlights so far.

"Looper." (Tristar Pictures.)

"Looper"
Director Rian Johnson ("Brick") will open the festival on Sept. 6 with the premiere of his sci-fi crime thriller "Looper." Based on the premise that organized crime in the future uses time travel to dispose of its victims (sure beats a pair of concrete shoes or a baseball bat!), Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) plays an assassin for hire in the not-too-distant future. It's an odd job, but his character is paid extremely well by the future mafia to knock off people they send back to him. However, things get complicated for Joe when his next mark turns out to be a future version of himself (played by Bruce Willis), and he is forced to either kill or save the man he will become. Johnson's genre-bending trip is sure to be a solid way to kick off the fest.

"Argo." (Warner Bros.)

"Argo"
Based on the true story of the so-called Canadian Caper, "Argo" follows the efforts of the U.S. and Canada to rescue diplomats from Iran during the hostage crisis of 1979. Employing an elaborate plan that included fake identities, scouting for a fake science fiction film, and bicycles, CIA officer Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) spearheads the daring rescue mission with the help of the Canadian ambassador to Iran (played by actual Canadian Victor Garber). "Argo" was also directed Affleck ("Gone Baby Gone," "The Town"), and looks like yet another taut thriller from the actor-turned-filmmaker.

"To the Wonder." (Redbud Pictures)

"To The Wonder"
Another Ben Affleck movie at TIFF? And he's not directing it? Uh-oh. We never thought we'd be excited about the prospect of more Affleck, but "To The Wonder" happens to be directed by enigmatic filmmaker Terrence Malick. It could star Pauly Shore and we'd still be interested. Affleck plays a divorced man who returns to his hometown to connect with an old flame. The "Tree of Life" director will make a rare festival appearance in Toronto this September with the film, one of the three movies he's filmed over the past year or so. The suddenly prolific director has only made five movies in his forty year career -- all of them brilliant in their own rights -- so the prospect of the sixth making a fest appearance should be enough to get TIFF audiences buzzing.

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"Much Ado About Nothing"
Joss Whedon doing Shakespeare? Yes, this is happening. Filmed on location at the "Avengers" director's house in Santa Monica, "Much Ado About Nothing" is Whedon's DIY take on one of the Bard's most beloved works. Starring some of Whedon's frequent collaborators, including Amy Acker ("Dollhouse"), Nathan Fillion ("Castle"), and Clark Gregg ("The Avengers"), "Much Ado About Nothing" is sure to be as unique a take on Shakespeare as audiences have ever seen. Just don't expect any vampires, superheroes, or spaceships.

Halle Berry on the set of "Cloud Atlas." (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

"Cloud Atlas" - The Wachowskis return after a multi-year absence, and they've brought "Run Lola Run" director Tom Tykwer along for the ride. Based on David Mitchell's novel of the same name, "Cloud Atlas" follows the journey of a single soul across the centuries, through six connected stories that span from the 19th century South Pacific to the far-flung cyberpunk future. Yes, "The Matrix" sequels were a terrible mistake, but the directing duo more than made up for it with the off-the-wall racing romp "Speed Racer." With this compelling material and a cast that includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugo Weaving, "Cloud Atlas" is one to watch at TIFF 2012.

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