Toronto Film Festival Preview: Our 21 Most Anticipated Movies

Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington in 'The Magnificent Seven'
Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington in ‘The Magnificent Seven.’ (Photo: MGM/Columbia)

With the Telluride and Venice film festivals winding down, all eyes in the movie biz will be shifting north of the border for the Toronto International Film Festival this week. The event kicks off Thursday night with the premiere of Antoine Fuqua’s star-studded Wild West remake The Magnificent Seven.

Yahoo Movies will be on the ground in Toronto bringing you all the latest on the future Oscar contenders and indie sensations. Before we leave, though, here are the 21 new films we’re most looking forward to seeing. Note: The list only includes world premieres at Toronto, so you won’t find some high-profile titles that have debuted elsewhere, like at Sundance (Birth of a Nation, Manchester By the Sea), Cannes (Loving, American Honey), Comic-Con (Snowden, Blair Witch), Telluride (La La Land, Moonlight), and Venice (Arrival, Jackie). — Ethan Alter and Kevin Polowy

American Pastoral
Adapting the unique voice of celebrated American author Philip Roth to the big screen has resulted in hits (Goodbye, Columbus) and misses (The Human Stain). So we’re excited to see how first-time director Ewan McGregor fares when he adapts Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1997 novel about a ’60s-era suburban family rocked by a terrorist bombing. Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Connelly, and Uzo Aduba costar along with McGregor.

Fans of the “live, die, repeat” school of time-travel stories — think Primer, Groundhog Day, and Edge of Tomorrow — will likely get a kick out of writer-director Tony Elliott’s chamber-room thriller. In a post-apocalyptic future, former lovers Renton (Robbie Amell) and Hannah (Rachael Taylor) re-live the same three hours over and over in a potentially futile quest to change the future … or die trying.

Devon Terrell as Barack Obama in 'Barry'
‘Barry’ (Photo: Courtesy of TIFF)

You can tell we’re entering the age of Obama nostalgia: The Michelle-Barack romance Southside By You is currently in theaters, and now this second young Barack story is hitting Toronto. The drama, directed by Vikram Gandhi (Kumaré) and written by novelist Adam Mansbach (Angry Black White Boy), looks back at the future president (Devon Terrell) as a college kid in NYC.

Anne Hathaway smiling and waving
‘Colossal’ (Photo: Courtesy of TIFF)

Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo made a big impression with his 2007 debut Timecrimes. Anne Hathaway must have been a big fan, because she’s making a rare foray into creature-feature territory with Colossal, Vigalondo’s first English-language film. She plays an alcoholic deadbeat who somehow shares a psychic connection with a Godzilla-like monster that’s wreaking havoc halfway across the globe in South Korea. Maybe it’s still angry about having to sit though Bride Wars?

Deepwater Horizon
Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, the real-life Texan and chief technician who was aboard the title drilling rig when it exploded in 2010, killing numerous crewmen and leading to the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) is sure to bring battle-like intensity to this survival story that also stars Gina Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, and Kate Hudson.

Rachel Weisz
‘Denial’ (Photo: Courtesy of TIFF)

A dramatic thriller that’s based on a true story and sure to spark debate and intrigue: Director Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard) pits historian Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) against one of the most famous — or, more accurately, infamous — Holocaust deniers, David Irving (Timothy Spall).

The Edge of Seventeen
Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s debut feature will probably make a lot of adult viewers happy that their teenage years are a distant memory. As if junior year isn’t awful enough, precocious high schooler Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) experiences a whole new level of social embarrassment when her brother (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson).

Watch an Edge of Seventeen trailer:

Hello Destroyer
While the world waits for Goon: Last of the Enforcers, the sequel to Seann William Scott’s hysterical hockey comedy, here’s a more serious take on Canada’s national pastime. Jared Abrahamson plays an emotionally troubled minor leaguer relegated to the margins of a middling team and chafing under the command of a tyrannical coach.

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
The spirit of Shirley Jackson is alive and well in writer-director Osgood Perkins’s exquisitely spooky ghost story about a caretaker (Ruth Wilson) looking after an aging novelist (Paula Prentiss) in a remote country estate. Eschewing the jump scares of a mainstream horror hit like The Conjuring, Perkins focuses his energies on creating a sustained atmosphere of creeping dread. Warning: You may never want to be alone in your own house again.

Woody Harrelson as LBJ
‘LBJ’ (Photo: Courtesy of TIFF)

Anyone who’s ever thought Woody Harrelson would be a good president will get their wish with this biopic about Lyndon B. Johnson. The drama focuses primarily on the days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when the Texan was thrust into the highest office. Here’s hoping Woody will have better luck than Bill Murray, whose FDR biopic Hyde Park on Hudson fizzled at Toronto four years ago.

The Magnificent Seven
Antoine Fuqua’s reimagining of the classic 1960 Western is a bona fide Training Day reunion, with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke ready to settle some scores. Joining them in the gun-slinging are Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeier.

Watch a Magnificent Seven trailer:

For his first film in 10 years, director Christopher Guest revives a character he originated two decades ago in Waiting for Guffman: Corky St. Clair, the finest musical theater director in Blaine, Mo. With a few notable exceptions, many of Guest’s regular troupe are back — including Parker Posey, Fred Willard, and Bob Balaban — for this mockumentary about the high-stakes world of sports team mascots.

Chadwick Boseman in 'Message from the King'
‘Message from the King’ (Photo: Courtesy of TIFF)

Message From the King
Now the world’s most famous Wakandan, Chadwick Boseman, plays a South African in this dark thriller from Belgian helmer Fabrice Du Welz. Like T’Challa, Boseman’s Jacob King is bent on revenge as he turns up in Los Angeles and attempts to hunt down his sister’s murderer.

Lewis MacDougall in 'A Monster Calls'
‘A Monster Calls’ (Photo: Focus Features)

A Monster Calls
You can bet the tears will be flowing at this premiere. The Impossible director, J.A. Bayona, presents this artful adaptation of Patrick Ness’s award-winning book about a young boy (Lewis MacDougall) who’s visited by a storytelling beast (voiced by Liam Neeson) as his mother (Felicity Jones) succumbs to a terminal illness. And if you want to cry some more, read the book’s backstory.

My Entire High School Is Sinking Into the Sea
An all-star cast provides the voices for comic-book artist Dash Shaw’s strikingly illustrated version of a high school story. After an earthquake sends Tides High sliding into the big blue sea, the marooned student body — who sound an awful lot like Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, and Lena Dunham, among others — struggles to survive the elements, not to mention one another.

The Promise
The Dark Knight vs. Poe Dameron in a love triangle? That’s enough to pique our curiosity about this period drama directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) set during World War I and during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. It’s there that Oscar Isaac’s medical student and Christian Bale’s journalist both try to woo Charlotte Le Bon’s very lucky artist.

Madina Nalwanga in 'Queen of Katwe'
‘Queen of Katwe’ (Photo: Disney)

Queen of Katwe
Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and acclaimed director Mira Nair (The Namesake) join forces for what we’re hoping will be the best chess movie since Searching for Bobby Fischer. In her first feature film role, Madina Nalwanga plays Phiona Mutesi, whose path to greatness begins when a missionary (David Oyelowo) in a poverty-stricken Ugandan town discovers her skill at the game. But first, he’s got to convince her indomitable mother (Nyong’o) that chess could take Phiona straight outta Katwe.

The one-two punch of The Warriors and 48 Hrs. is enough to enshrine Walter Hill’s name in Hollywood’s action movie Hall of Fame. The director is coming to Toronto with this new thriller about a surgeon (Sigourney Weaver) who forcibly turns hitman Frank Kitchen into a woman (Michelle Rodriguez). It’s a wild-sounding premise that has already raised the hackles of LGBT activists, who are concerned about the movie’s use of gender-reassignment surgery as a “sensationalistic plot device.”

Music video titan Garth Jennings has been in feature film jail since his first two features, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Son of Rambow, were met with undeserved shrugs by audiences. But he may finally have a hit on his hands with Illumination Entertainment’s follow-up to its summer cartoon blockbuster, The Secret Life of Pets. As the title implies, these talking animals don’t just crack wise — they also sing their hearts out, belting such radio staples as “Firework” and “Anaconda.”

Watch a Sing trailer:

Without Name
Fans of this year’s breakout indie, The Witch, and other atmospheric scarefests should be on the lookout for this eco-horror movie from first-time Irish filmmaker Lorcan Finnegan. The trailer makes it unclear what exactly is haunting the dense forest a land surveyor (Alan McKenna) is dispatched to, but it’s safe to say it’s the stuff of potential nightmares.

The award for strangest premise at Toronto goes to this Russian drama about a middle-aged zoo worker named Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova) who inexplicably grows a tail. Will she use it to exact revenge on those her taunt her? Will it lead to her sexual awakening? Will things generally get super-awkward? That’s the fun in discovering this highly original import.

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