Winds of Change: The Welcoming Breeze of The Toronto International Film Festival 

The long-range forecast looks promising

click to enlarge Top row: Ryan Gosling in First Man, Keira Knightly as Colette and Robert Redford in Old Man and the Gun. Bottom row: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born.

Courtesy TIFF

Top row: Ryan Gosling in First Man, Keira Knightly as Colette and Robert Redford in Old Man and the Gun. Bottom row: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born.

More than any other force of nature, it is wind that disrespects the borders that separate us, and the gale that sweeps across Lake Ontario is a superb example. In winter, a blistering wind can dump lake-effect snow on anything in its path on Ontario's shoreline; while a burst of summer wind can spank the most stifling August humidity. Yet every September (you can set your watch by it), an early autumn breeze twirls across the shoreline to announce that change, quite literally, is in the air.

Whether organizers first considered any of that meteorological poetry when they dreamed up the Toronto International Film Festival back in the 1970s is anybody's guess. Their real goal was to create a showcase of great films, and indeed, they have done just that for nearly half a century—driven not by ambition, but by unbridled passion. All the while, the wind off of Lake Ontario has done its part, swirling a breeze through Toronto each September as if one of the great cities of the world was a mere wind chime. To be clear, some film festivals can be stuffy affairs, while others have all the subtlety of a monster truck rally. But TIFF feels like the best wedding reception you've ever attended. Mind you, the party is rather long: 11 days—this year, running from Thursday, Sept. 6, through Sunday, Sept. 16.

On a more serious note, TIFF organizers are not to be confused with the Harvey-come-lately's, masquerading as born-again advocates of feminist agency. This year, 36 percent of TIFF's movies come from women filmmakers. Compare that to the recently wrapped Venice Film Festival, which The Hollywood Reporter recently scolded for reflecting a "culture of toxic masculinity." Additionally, TIFF is a people's festival; approximately 480,000 moviegoers stood cued up last year, nearly all of them members of the paying public. In fact, TIFF's most coveted prize isn't handed down from a lofted jury. It's the People's Choice Award, which has previously been given to Chariots of Fire, The Princess Bride, The King's Speech and Silver Linings Playbook, all of which emerged from Toronto.

Of the 342 films that will be screened at TIFF this year (232 are world or North American premieres), here are some of the most anticipated features:

A Star is Born: The buzz couldn't be greater for this rebooted musical starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper (who also directs).

Beautiful Boy: Steve Carell and the hottest young talent in Hollywood, Timothee Chalamet.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Melissa McCarthy as real-life biographer-turned-scammer Lee Israel.

Colette: Keira Knightley always dazzles in a costume drama. Here, she's the enigmatic French novelist.

First Man: Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. If this doesn't scream "Oscar," I don't know what does.

Front Runner: Hugh Jackman as... wait for it... disgraced presidential hopeful Gary Hart.

Red Joan: Dame Judi Dench. Super spy. Intrigue. Check, check and check.

Roma: The much-anticipated return to the big screen from director Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity).

The Old Man and the Gun: Robert Redford says this is his final acting role, and the advance word is great.

The Sisters Brothers: Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly in an old-school western.

Widows: Perhaps the ultimate #MeToo film of 2018, starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Liam Neeson and Robert Duvall.

I'll be sending dispatches from Toronto throughout the run of the festival, reporting from red carpet premieres and conversations with Oscar hopefuls as we begin to stack the deck for what promises to be a pulse-racing 11 days of moviegoing.

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