Beyond Oscar buzz: From sci-fi to docs, more Toronto films we can't wait to see

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With roughly 400 films screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs Thursday through Sept. 16, choosing which movies to keep an eye on can feel like wading into a large pool of marbles, with each one a slightly different color, shade, and texture. Documentaries? Check. Mega sci-fi tent pole pictures? Definitely. Animated family fare? Indeed. Foreign films from Japan to Argentina? Yep.

Beyond Oscar-buzz movies such as Ben Affleck’s political thriller Argo, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor’s tsunami saga The Impossible, the John Hawkes and Helen Hunt polio survivor-meets-sex surrogate dramedy The Sessions, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cult leader drama The Master, Emma Watson’s coming-of-age high school tale The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Marion Cotillard’s emotional whale trainer-in-wheelchair French-language drama Rust and Bone, there’s a spate of movies to watch out for.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes head-to-head with Bruce Willis in the opening night premiere of Looper, Kristen Stewart stars in beat flick On the Road, and Brian De Palma, six years after directing his last film, introduces his sex-oozing thriller Passion, with a blonde Rachel McAdams swapping smooches with Noomi Rapace.

Below, check out a preview of some of the films we’re excited to see at Toronto, from the big budget feature to indies:

Looper
One of the most anticipated films at the fest makes its premiere Thursday night. Brick director Rian Johnson’s Looper is a swirling, skittering sci-fi thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also starred in Brick. Gordon-Levitt plays a mob assassin called a looper who is tasked with killing himself — 30 years in the future — played by Bruce Willis. Through time travel (and amazing makeup), Gordon-Levitt’s soft baby face is eerily hound-dogged into looking like Willis’ gritty one.

Seven Psychopaths
Directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), Seven Psychopaths includes a who’s who cast who’ve all played their fare share of psychopaths: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and Christopher Walken. Farrell, who headlined In Bruges, stars here as a struggling screenwriter attempting to write a script about serial killers, and enlists the help of an actor buddy, played by Rockwell, who has a dognapping business on the side with Walken. The pair end up stealing a pooch belonging to Harrelson, a mob boss, and bloody hilarity ensues, along with a litany of serial killers. The Midnight Madness screening of the movie this Friday night is slated to be a big draw.

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On the Road
Also premiering Thursday is The Motorcycle Diaries director Walter Salles’ adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s seminal youth road novel On the Road, starring Kristen Stewart as the lover of Garrett Hedlund, who plays freewheeling protagonist Dean Moriarty. With Stewart crouching low since the media exploded over her affair with her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders, causing a vampire’s bite rift into her relationship with fellow Twilight-ie Robert Pattinson, all eyes are on Stewart – what will she be wearing? Will she be smiling?

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Cloud Atlas
The Matrix directing duo Lana and Andy Wachowski — formerly known as the Wachowski brothers (Larry became Lana) — plus co-director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) premiere their decade-hopping, world-leaping sci-fi fantasy opus Cloud Atlas at the fest. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, and Jim Broadbent star in the movie, with an against-type appearance by Hugh Grant, based on David Mitchell’s epic book of the same name. Woven, dense narratives circle through the 1800s, 1930s, 1970s, present-day England, and beyond, into apocalyptic Korea and Hawaii. Visuals, violence, and Hanks as a futuristic tribesman. Sounds heady beyond belief.

Spring Breakers
Beware, Spring Breakers is not for the Disney-fied faint of heart, though it stars gals with Disney-affiliated pasts. Director Harmony Korine (Gummo, Trash Humpers, Mister Lonely) has always been known for spreading a layer of uncomfortable, boundary-pushing sleaze in his films. In Spring Breakers, pouty-lipped Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Korine’s wife Rachel Korine don bikinis as four hard-partying college girls getting into spring break trouble in Florida. James Franco, as a gangster with a shiny grill, corn rows, and a collection of Hawaiian shirts, bails them out of jail. The movie’s already gained quite a naughty reputation.

What Maisie Knew
In this talked-about version of the Henry James novel, Julianne Moore stars as a rock ‘n’ roller married to Steve Coogan, who plays an art dealer. They divorce, and their kid Maisie — big-eyed, quiet Onata Aprile — is sucked into a world of adult disrepair and conflict. Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (Bee Season), the movie also stars the ever alluring Alexander Skarsgard.

Hotel Transylvania
One of the most anticipated animated movies at TIFF, Sony’s Hotel Transylvania sports star power, music, and a few sly swats at Twilight. Dracula, voiced with a heavy lilt by an unrecognizable-sounding Adam Sandler, has a problem, a big problem: his precocious 118-year-old vampire daughter Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez, just wants her freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the monsters-only hotel her doting father runs and keeps her almost imprisoned in to protect her from humans. When Mavis, whose blunt bangs recall hipster chicks from high school, meets very dude-like human Jonathan, voiced like a true valley boy by Andy Samberg, they fall for each other. Dracula no like.

Ginger and Rosa
Orlando director Sally Potter is back with this friendship-centric story of two teen girls, New Zealand’s Alice Englert and Dakota Fanning’s more-adult-than-ever sister Elle Fanning, whose relationship splits apart during the 1960s in London, smack in the middle of the Cold War. Potter has coaxed greatness out of many an actress, and the movie also stars heavyweights Annette Bening and Christina Hendricks.

PASSION

NEXT: Brian de Palma’s Passion, Venus and Serena doc, more

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