NEW YORK (AP) — Hank Williams, Dan Rather and Lance Armstrong: The fictional guest list to the 40th Toronto International Film Festival is a curious group.
As the largest launching pad to the fall movie season, the Toronto Film Festival is a regular home to the biopics and other true-life tales that usually populate awards season. This year’s fest, which kicks off Thursday, is no different, and might be especially crowded with dramatizations ranging from the infamous (Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger in “Black Mass”) to the blacklisted (Bryan Cranston as screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in “Trumbo”).
The festival, too, is kicking off with not just a starry drama about an investment banker’s rehabilitation (“Demolition,” with Jake Gyllenhaal, a film not due out until next spring), but the always provocative prospect of a new Michael Moore documentary about American perpetual war: “Where to Invade Next.”
Toronto, which heralds the coming fall with a cool Canadian breeze and one of the strongest festival documentary slates, typically has its feet set more squarely in the real world than, say, the glamorous splendor of Cannes.
Documentaries inspired two of the most notable films set to premiere: “Freeheld,” in which Julianne Moore and Ellen Page play a humble New Jersey lesbian couple fighting for the rights of married couple, and “Our Brand Is Crisis,” David Gordon Green’s dramatization of the intrusion of American campaign politics into a Bolivian election.
Those films add to a based-on-a-true-story slate that also features an adaptation of Mary Mapes’ account of the CBS News scandal over its reporting of President George W. Bush’s military record (“Truth,” with Cate Blanchett as Mapes and Robert Redford as Rather), a biopic of the country legend Williams, starring Tom Hiddleston (“I Saw the Light”) and Stephen Frears’ Armstrong drama (“The Program”).
But Toronto is a massive, multi-headed machine that features big-time movie premieres, mammoth amounts of media hype and so many promising smaller films that some are sure to slide under the radar. Here are some other movies at the festival likely to have people talking:
— “The Martian,” by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon as an astronaut left for dead on Mars, gives Toronto its strongest dose of sci-fi spectacle. Scott’s recent track record is iffy (“Exodus,” ”The Counselor”), but he remains one of the most trusted hands in the genre. In “The Martian,” adapted from Andy Weir’s novel by Drew Goddard (“Cabin in the Woods”), Scott trades horror and aliens for humor and science.
— “Spotlight,” Thomas McCarthy’s detailed docudrama of the Boston Globe investigative reporting of the Boston Catholic priest abuse scandal, has already won raves for its savvy depiction of journalism and a cast including Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo. Like many other films, “Spotlight” will stop in Toronto and likely benefit from further buzz. Other movies looking for an added bounce on the festival circuit leading into awards season, include “The Danish Girl,” Tom Hooper’s drama about a transgender pioneer; “Beasts of No Nation,” Cary Fukunaga’s Netflix release about a child soldier in West Africa; “Room” a suspenseful, confined drama about a mother (Brie Larson) and her son; and the latest from Charlie Kaufman, the stop-motion animated film “Anomalisa.”
— “Maggie’s Plan,” a comedy by Rebecca Miller (“Personal Velocity”), stars Greta Gerwig as a New York woman eager to have a baby who falls for a married professor (Ethan Hawke). It’s among the many high-profile titles looking for distribution out of Toronto. Others include Ben Wheatley’s “High-Rise,” a dystopian drama about the residents of a luxury tower; and “The Family Fang,” a family drama that marks Jason Bateman’s second directorial effort after “Bad Words.”
— “Land of Mine,” a Danish post-World War II drama directed by Martin Zandvliet about German POWs digging up Nazi mines. International films and documentaries have a lot of high-powered competition for eyeballs in Toronto, but some strong contenders include “Bolshoi Babylon,” which depicts the Russian ballet’s 2013-14 season when its director, Sergei Filin, was attacked with acid; and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” a Netflix release on the Ukrainian uprising of 2013-2014.