updated 09/04/2012 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 09/06/2012 AT 10:45 AM ET
The calendar says it’s still summer and the kids call it back to school, but I say it’s Oscar season.
Yes, already! I know this because on Thursday the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) blows into Canada, with 372 movies in competition representing some 72 countries. Sure, some of the buzzy movies from Cannes and Venice pop up, but Toronto is where everything starts to shake out. As usual, the biggest of the A-listers will be in town, towing their Oscar-bait projects with them.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis open the festivities with the world premiere of their time-travel mind-bender Looper, about a mob hitman (Gordon-Levitt) hired to kill his own future self (Willis). I’m not sure why you’d take that gig if you were Hitman the Younger, but I’ll take it on faith that the film offers a convincing explanation.
Still, the hitmen are hardly the only heavyweights in town. If you’re in Toronto doing a little stargazing, keep your head on a swivel for Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Gwyneth Paltrow, Adam Sandler, Keira Knightley, Penélope Cruz, Jennifer Lawrence, Ryan Gosling, Kristen Stewart, Robert De Niro, Will Smith, and Snoop Dogg er, Lion, just to drop a few names.
Here’s what everyone will be lining up to see:
Argo – Ben Affleck directs himself, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin in a film that already has insiders betting it’s a lock for an Academy Award best picture nod. After the 1979 storming of the US Embassy in Tehran, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist (Affleck) proposes rescuing six Americans by pretending to be a Hollywood producer on a location shoot for a fake movie. The premise may sound wildly ambitious, but the early buzz is positively sterling.
The Master – With mixed reviews from its debut at the Venice Film Festival last week, director Paul Thomas Anderson’s fictional riff on the early days of Scientology is one of TIFF’s most controversial entries. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a charismatic sci-fi writer turned cult leader who enthralls Joaquin Phoenix’s Navy vet. Phoenix himself enthralled/perplexed the attendees at the film’s press conference, when he left and came back repeatedly. Art imitating life imitating art?
Silver Linings Playbook – Bradley Cooper stars (along with Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Stiles, Robert De Niro and Rush Hour’s Chris Tucker) as former teacher freshly sprung from a mental institution, but still struggling with his illness. Don’t let it get you down, though – the dramedy from director David O. Russell (The Fighter) looks sharply funny, with Lawrence giving Cooper a fit as a clingy, feisty fellow traveler.
Much Ado About Nothing – Okay, it’s not exactly Oscar bait, and it isn’t stuffed with big stars, but I’m still jonesing for Joss Whedon’s take on Shakespeare’s comedy about warring lovebirds and mistaken identity. Alexis Denisof (How I Met Your Mother) and Amy Acker (The Cabin in the Woods) square off and pair off as sharp-tongued Benedick and Beatrice, with Nathan Fillion (insert “squee” here) as the dimwitted Dogberry. If it’s anywhere near as good as the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson version from 1993, I’ll be delighted.
Hyde Park on Hudson – Bill Murray looks like he’s having a ball playing Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the height of his presidency and in the beginning of an affair with his cousin, Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), all while hosting the British royal family for an historic U.S. visit. By the bye, Eleanor Roosevelt was also a distant FDR cousin (Roosevelt was her married – and maiden – name). I’m just going to leave you with that.
The PEOPLE staff will be Tweeting, Instagramming, and engaging in all sorts of movie madness over the next several days, so look for more TIFF coverage right here