By John H. Foote

In announcing the first group of titles of films to be screened at the 40th anniversary edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, there was excitement in the air as well as melancholy. Great titles dominated the first group of announcements, but this marks the final festival with Piers Handling at the helm, the CEO who has guided the festival to the international stage will step down at the conclusion of this festival.

As always Handling has downplayed his retirement, stressing it is always about the films. The man is just a class act.

Some of the GALAS announced are as follows.


FIRST MAN — Directed by Oscar winner Damien Chazelle, who dazzled the festival two years ago with La La Land (2016) this biography of astronaut Neil Armstrong promises to be an Oscar frontrunner. Ryan Gosling will portray the first man to set foot on the moon in what should be a major film event. Expect to be dazzled.

A STAR IS BORN — Did we really need another version? After three in 1937, 1954 and 1976 was it necessary? Apparently yes because early word on the film is huge, with industry folks saying it is the best of the lot, and an Oscar contender. Lady GaGa portrays the nobody who becomes the star of the title with her big voice and Bradley Cooper is the star on the way down she falls for. Cooper also directs.

BEAUTIFUL BOY — A father, portrayed by the gifted Steve Carrell deals with his sons addiction to meth, meaning he watches his son spiral downward. Timothee Chalamet portrays the son, which after his stunning Oscar nominated work last year in in Call Me By Your Name (2017) is reason to be excited.

WIDOWS — Steve McQueen is back after his last film, 12 Yeras a Slave (2013) won the Academy Award for Best Picture with this film. A terrific cast should attract the attention of critics and audiences. Viola Davis, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, and Jackie Weaver are among the cast.

EVERYBODY KNOWS — This brings together Spanish actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in a thriller from acclaimed Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi, which alone makes it exciting. The director seldom missteps with a strong cast.




THE SISTERS BROTHERS — Based on the best selling book, this western deals with two brothers who are guns for hire moving about the American west. Joaquin Phoenix and JOhn C. Reilly are the brothers, with support coming from Jake Gyllenhall in a film directed by Jacques Audiard.

BEN IS BACK — Julia Roberts portrays an average blue collar mom who sees her life turned upside down by the return of her estranged son, portrayed by Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges. Roberts has been seeking a great role since being snubbed for Closer (2004), this could be it.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK — His first film since Moonlight (2016) stunned the film world winning Best {Picture, director-writer Barry Jenkins will no doubt be in the mix again. The gifted director is poised to be among the finest over the next twenty years.

THE FRONT RUNNER — Jason Reitman is no stranger to TIFF nor the Academy Awards, having been a Best Director nominee twice, for Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009), both TIFF premieres. This time he is here with his film about the 1988 presidential run of Gary Hart, portrayed by Hugh Jackman. Vera Farmiga and J.K. Simmonds co-star.

WHITE BOY RICK — Tough film about the underworld involving crime and drugs features Matthew McConaughey in what is said to be his best performance since his Oscar win, Bruce Dern, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN — Robert Redford stars in this powerful drama with an all star cast including Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Sissy Spacek, Elisabeth Moss, and Tom Waits. Inside word is very good.

ROMA — Alfonso Cuaron directs his first film since winning the Academy Award for Gravity (2013), his science fiction masterpiece. Tghis one is much more grounded..

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? — In a rare dramatic role, Melissa McCarthy portrays a writer who plagiarizes work to make a living.

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