clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

19 standout movies from TIFF to look forward to this fall

Science fiction, musical melodramas, heist movies, several rising pop stars, and a lot more.

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Viola Davis in Widows, Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and Robert Pattinson in High Life.
Viola Davis in Widows, Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and Robert Pattinson in High Life.
20th Century Fox; Fox Searchlight Pictures; Wild Bunch
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Throughout the first half of September, the Toronto International Film Festival screened hundreds of films for hundreds of thousands of moviegoers and launched more than a few awards hopefuls on a path to the Oscars.

Some of the festival’s buzziest films will hit theaters over the next several months. Not all of them will end up in the awards race, but many of them are worth your time and attention.

Here are 19 films from the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival to watch out for.

The Sisters Brothers

Release date: September 21

Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly star in The Sisters Brothers, a darkly comedic Western based on Patrick deWitt’s 2011 novel of the same name and directed by Jacques Audiard, whose previous films include the lauded A Prophet and The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Phoenix and Reilly play brothers who work as assassins in the Wild West; they’re set on the trail of a thieving prospector in 1851 in a story that’s as much about family as it is about the Gold Rush. Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal also star as prospectors the brothers cross paths with.

Fahrenheit 11/9

Release date: September 21

Fahrenheit 11/9, though sprawling and imperfect, is Michael Moore’s best film in years. It’s a sweeping broadside against Donald Trump, which is by no means an original approach in documentary filmmaking these days. But it also does what few political films seem willing to do in the Trump era: It powerfully (if unsystematically) dismantles idealistic notions about how much better things were before Trump took office. And when Fahrenheit 11/9 does turn to the election itself, it’s less interested in Trump as a cause than as a symptom of nationwide disillusionment, money-driven elections, and resulting apathy toward the political process.

Free Solo

Release date: September 28

National Geographic Documentary Films is the distributor behind Free Solo, and that makes sense: It’s a film about free climber Alex Honnold, who’s planning to climb the 3,000-foot vertical rock face at Yosemite’s El Capitan ... without ropes. The resulting film is both beautiful and harrowing, and it’s a thoughtful look at what drives people like Honnold to attempt feats like this. Those prone to vertigo should be ready to cover their eyes.

The Old Man and the Gun

Release date: September 28

In what he says is his final role before retiring from acting, Robert Redford stars as Forrest Tucker, a career bank robber who escapes San Quentin at age 70 and begins robbing banks again. Set in 1981 and styled to look like a film from that era, it’s the latest project from David Lowery, whose stories of love and longing (see: A Ghost Story and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) make him a natural fit for the material. Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck co-star with Redford in a fitting farewell to an onscreen legend as well as an archetype — the celebrity bank robber — that dominated the American consciousness for so long but is starting to fade.

A Star Is Born

Release date: October 5

For his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper took on the much-adapted narrative of A Star Is Born, which first appeared in 1937 and then was remade in 1954, 1976, and now 2018. Cooper stars alongside Lady Gaga in the latest version, a love story about a fading music star who gives a talented newcomer the push she needs to break through — and then she begins to eclipse him. Laced with instantly memorable songs and outstanding performances, 2018’s A Star Is Born is the kind of movie that tries to harness all of its cinematic possibility to make your heart burst. And it more or less succeeds.

The Hate U Give

Release date: October 5

Amandla Stenberg leads a truly outstanding cast in The Hate U Give, an adaptation of Angie Thomas’s best-selling novel. The film has a great deal to say and no apologies to make about its outspoken message, even as it presents itself as a straightforward family drama. But The Hate U Give strikes a perfect balance between being a coming-of-age story on the one hand and a social drama on the other. And in never sacrificing either of those two interests, it becomes a strong example of both.

First Man

Release date: October 12

First Man, from director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) and screenwriter Josh Singer (The Post, Spotlight), is less concerned with delivering a triumphalist portrayal of the 1969 moon landing — which has been done before, we’ve all seen it — and more with telling the story of astronaut Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) the way he saw himself.

Based on Armstrong’s authorized biography, First Man presents a historic moment through the lens of an intimate personal experience, reminding us that events that appear triumphant in history’s rearview mirror often come at the expense of pain and great personal sacrifice shouldered by real people. We’re allowed to see the moon landing through Armstrong’s eyes, but in return, the film asks us to respect what he went through to get there.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Release date: October 19

Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) directs Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name. McCarthy plays Israel, a successful celebrity biographer who falls on dire financial straits and later turns to literary forgery and theft. Richard E. Grant co-stars in the comedy, which probes the darker side of trying to make a living as a writer while also depicting a kind of delightfully misanthropic friendship.


Release date: October 26

Burning, from Korean director Lee Chang-dong, has been one of the most critically lauded films at this year’s film festivals, topping many critics’ lists and drawing nearly universal praise. It’s loosely based on Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning,” which was first published in the New Yorker in 1992. The film is gripping and unnerving, a noir-style mystery that goes in entirely unexpected directions (and harbors a hint of William Faulkner), and featuring a cast that includes The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun. You can expect it to become a favorite at arthouse cinemas around the country when it opens later this fall — and if you love a haunting mystery, it’s one to watch for.


Release date: November 16

Director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) has made a heist movie that has all the trappings of a typical heist movie — the plans, the machinations, the twists — but a lot more too. After a group of women, previously strangers to one another, are widowed following their husbands’ deaths in a botched heist, they band together to finish the job against the backdrop of a corrupt election on Chicago’s South Side. Viola Davis leads a star-studded cast that includes Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Carrie Coon, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Jon Bernthal, and Robert Duvall.


Release date: November 23

Shoplifters made its debut earlier this year at Cannes, where the jury awarded it the top prize, the Palme d’Or. It’s an intimate and accessible drama about a family of small-time petty crooks from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. But as the story unfolds, a mystery seems to emerge almost imperceptibly from the family’s ordinary interactions, and it eventually becomes something else altogether. With strong performances and an engaging narrative, the movie is continuing to earn praise and capture hearts throughout its fall festival run.

If Beale Street Could Talk

Release date: November 30

For his follow-up to Moonlight, which won Best Picture in 2017, director Barry Jenkins chose to adapt James Baldwin’s 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk. Set in Harlem, the story centers on a young black couple who grew up together and fell in love. But then conflict takes over — not originating from inside their relationship but pressing in from the outside world. If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful, lyrical film, at times feeling like a tone poem or lyrical plaint. It’s hard not to fall under its beautiful, somber, lustrous spell, and as a story about black American life framed as a love story, its images are indelible.

Cold War

Release date: December 21

Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig star in Cold War
Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig star in Cold War.
Cannes Film Festival

Cold War — a decade- and continent-spanning, pristinely shot romantic tragedy from Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski — was my favorite film at Cannes (where it premiered earlier this year), and it easily won hearts at Toronto as well. Set in Europe in the early decades of the actual Cold War, the film balances its captivating main characters and their fiery love with the grand sweep of the places and times they find themselves in. It shows how those two things intertwine, with country and ideology pushing and prodding the characters into shapes that ultimately determine their fate.

You couldn’t call Cold War a political film, exactly, but if the central couple’s stars are crossed, then politics had a hand in crossing them, and in the end, the tragedy of realizing that is almost too much to bear.

High Life

Release date: TBD

Robert Pattinson in High Life
Robert Pattinson stars in High Life, a sci-fi drama like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Courtesy of TIFF

High Life is a wild, visionary film from director Claire Denis about a group of convicts on death row who are sent into deep space for the sake of science. It’s not for the faint of heart — it’s about sex and reproduction and death and life — and it’s anything but sterile; in this case, sci-fi’s enduring quest to probe what it means to be human means that bodily fluids, violence, and deep loneliness all make their appearances. Robert Pattinson leads a cast that also features Mia Goth and Juliette Binoche, and gives a performance that’s equal parts unexpected and tender. All told, the film is confounding but wholly original.

American Dharma

Release date: TBD

Steve Bannon is the subject of Errol Morris’s latest documentary, American Dharma.
Steve Bannon is the subject of Errol Morris’s American Dharma.
Courtesy of TIFF

For American Dharma, documentarian Errol Morris sat down for an extended conversation with former Breitbart chair and White House adviser Steve Bannon about his ideological views, his interpretation of history, and his involvement in Donald Trump’s presidency, the alt-right, and the reemergence of militant white nationalism in America.

The result isn’t exactly satisfying; if you go into American Dharma hoping for a systematic and explicit confrontation or dismantling of Bannon’s often disturbing views, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, Morris is interested in revealing his subject as a farce: a deluded figure with fantasies of grandeur and little substance beneath the grandiose clichés — a grown man desperately play-acting at being the tragic hero he saw in the movies.

In Fabric

Release date: TBD

A scene from In Fabric
In Fabric is one of the strangest, most twisted films that screened at Toronto this year.
Courtesy of TIFF

I’m still not sure I know what In Fabric is actually about, but it was one of the weirdest, nastiest, most fun movies to screen at TIFF this year. Director Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy) tells a twisted tale of shopping — for clothes and for people — that centers on a red dress that keeps mysteriously killing those who come into contact with it. Shot in a self-consciously ’60s style with a hint of sexploitation, the movie feels like a waking nightmare, and it at least partly concludes that women’s fashion is more or less a product of hell.


Release date: TBD

Roma is one of the year’s most anticipated films, and it delivers. In this lushly shot monochromatic domestic drama, director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men) tells the story of a family in Mexico City and the girl who works for them. Focusing on the struggles and strength of the family’s women, Roma is funny, sad, and carefully told — a challenge to the viewer to simply sit and pay attention to people who find themselves overlooked in their own homes. The film will be released in select theaters and on Netflix later this fall.

What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire

Release date: TBD

A scene from What You Gonna Do When the World’s On Fire
Roberto Minervini’s What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire is one of the most challenging documentaries from this year’s TIFF.
Courtesy of TIFF

Roberto Minervini’s documentaries — such as 2015’s The Other Side, about the often forgotten corners of America — are remarkable not only for the access they have to their subjects but also because Minervini is an outsider, an Italian filmmaker working in America who gains those subjects’ extraordinary trust. In What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire, Minervini quietly observes the lives of a handful of black residents in Louisiana, including a group of residents who are forming a chapter of the New Black Panther Party to address injustices in their own community that go unnoticed. It isn’t an easy watch, but it’s a vital one.

Vox Lux

Release date: TBD

A sort of darkly inverse A Star Is Born, Vox Lux is the story of Celeste (Raffey Cassidy), a teenage girl who’s wounded in a school shooting. She sings an original song at a memorial service for her slain classmates and becomes a national sensation, rapidly rocketing to pop stardom under the guidance of her older sister (Jennifer Ehle) and a new manager (Jude Law). But then the movie jumps forward in time to center on a grown Celeste, played by Natalie Portman, who has been hardened by show business and is attempting a comeback.

It’s a highly stylized, incredibly ambitious film that doesn’t quite hit its marks, but it tries hard to illustrate how the modern appetite for sensationalism and spectacle leads to both celebrity and self-destruction — and Portman’s performance as a strung-out pop star is appropriately hard-bitten and manic. Sia wrote a number of the film’s songs and serves as executive producer.