Toronto International Film Festival Roundup: 10 Must-See Standouts!

Greetings! I’ve come from the future — actually, a bustling city in Canada — to report that excellent movies are on the way. Amy Adams plays a frosty girlfriend in one drama and a devoted mother in another. There’s a lush live-action musical featuring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling tap dancing with each other, and an animated musical in which Scarlett Johansson voices a rocker porcupine. All of these projects and more were spotlighted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The lineup was so flush with future Oscar contenders that the sluggish summer slate instantly became a distant memory. These 10 favorites** already have awards prognosticators buzzing. (**I didn’t have a chance to see Nicole Kidman’s comeback vehicle, Lion. Mainly because I wasn’t expecting a Nicole Kidman comeback vehicle.)

La La Land

As if Gosling needs any more girls swooning over him. He and Stone sing and dance their hearts out in a truly marvelous musical about the restless pursuit of romantic and artistic dreams. Gosling is the underachieving jazz musician; Stone is the aspiring actress. Together, they make magic in Los Angeles. Standing Os for everyone involved with this surefire crowd-pleaser. (Limited release December 2; in theaters everywhere December 23)


Aliens have invaded Earth, but that’s not the point. Instead, this exquisitely rendered sci-fi pic focuses on the personal struggles of the linguist (Adams) chosen to communicate with two of them. While trying to discover the ETs’ intentions, she starts having visions of her deceased daughter. So brilliant, it needs to be seen again — if only to appreciate its deep emotional core. (In theaters November 11)


Sometimes the quietest dramas are the most powerful. Take this mini-masterpiece, in which a reserved African American boy grows up in Miami and grapples with his race, class and sexuality in extremes. Unfolding in three chapters over 20 odd years, the stark coming-of-age tale (which stars Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland and Naomie Harris) doesn’t contain one false moment. Brad Pitt is an executive producer. (In theaters October 21)

Nocturnal Animals

Leave it to renowned designer turned auteur Tom Ford to craft an ultrataut thriller that features both style and substance. Adams is an art gallery owner caught between the past and the present as she becomes engrossed in a novel written by her cuckold ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). At times, the tension in this potboiler is heart-stopping. Still not sold? Michael Shannon, Laura Linney, Armie Hammer and Isla Fisher also shine in indelible performances. (In theaters November 23)

A Monster Calls

This is a children’s story, except for the minor fact that only adults will be able to appreciate its sophisticated themes of grieving and loss. In England, a boy (Lewis MacDougall) copes with the madness surrounding his mother's (Felicity Jones) illness by conjuring up a tree creature that sprouts roots as well as important life lessons. (A growling Liam Neeson voices the tree.) Thanks to its bark and bite, tears will be shed. (In theaters December 23)


Many actresses have played Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The great Natalie Portman is the first one to fully inhabit her. The haunting drama zeroes in on the chaotic aftermath of the 1963 JFK assassination, as the former first lady summons the strength to protect her two children, honor her husband’s legacy and quietly persevere. (In theaters December 9)

Amanda Knox

Get ready, true-crime addicts — this compelling documentary unearths new facts about the infamous “Foxy Knoxy” murder case. The details remain salacious: In 2007, Amanda Knox and boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were arrested for brutally killing her roommate in Italy. Both parties plead their innocence in new interviews, while the lead detective lays out the evidence against them. (On Netflix September 30)

The Edge of Seventeen

Just like the white winged dove sings a song sounds like she's singing, ooh, ooh, ooh. The days go by and finally we get a witty and heartfelt film that, for a change, focuses on the plight of a teenage girl. Hailee Steinfeld stars as a high school loner who becomes unglued after her only friend (Haley Lu Richardson) falls in love with her stud of an older brother (Blake Jenner). The angst is real. Very real. (In theaters November 18)

Bleed for This

Yo, Adrian, not another boxing movie! This one, however, is a punch to the gut. The edgy (if rote) tale is based on real-life blue-collar champ Vinny "The Pazmanian Devil" Pazienza (Miles Teller). After a car accident leaves him with a fractured neck, he can barely walk, let alone throw a right hook. His determination to reclaim his career is an inspiration. (In theaters November 4)


No need to wait any longer to hear Reese Witherspoon voicing a pig and belting out a rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” That’s just one of the musical numbers in this mindlessly entertaining kiddie flick about a koala bear producer (Matthew McConaughey) who stages a singing competition to save his theater. (Johansson's porcupine is among the contestants.) Whether parents like it or not, this is destined to be a long-road-trip favorite. (In theaters December 21)