Looking for emerging trends in mainstream cinema? Consider the bookends of this year’s Toronto Intl. Film Festival.

The opening-night gala is “Looper,” a cerebral futuristic thriller in which Bruce Willis encounters his younger self (again!). It is an ambitious U.S.-China co-production and harbinger of many deals to come. The closing gala is “A Song for Marion,” in which a grumpy retiree takes his ill wife’s place in the local seniors’ choir. It’s “exotic marigold”-style fodder for the growing and demanding gray-hair demo.

Market trends can be gleaned from the festival’s 289 features (146 world preems, 75 feature bows) but overarching themes, feel-good moments and immediate talking points are what will resound with both auds and industry.

This year programming serendipity goes beyond such intriguing topics as Dickens’ birth bicentenary (Mike Newell’s lavish “Great Expectations” adaptation, Hugh Laurie as an expat teacher sharing his love of Dickens amidst a modern civil war in “Mr. Pip”), cool dudes (Michael Shannon as family man and prolific contract killer in “The Iceman,” docu “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp”), black-and-white indies (Joss Whedon’s homemade text-faithful “Much Ado About Nothing,” Noah Baumbach’s Brooklyn-bound flirty dance “Frances Ha”) and Ben Affleck (starring in “To the Wonder,” helming “Argo”).

There’s a bigger-than-average complement of inspiring new work by female directors — from masters Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and Margarethe von Trotta to exciting newcomers Ramma Mosley (“The Brass Teapot”), Kate Mellville (“Picture Day”) and Catriona MacKenzie (“Satellite Boy”).

Some nail today’s zeitgeist. Grace Lee’s “Janeane From Des Moines” is about a right-wing housewife confronting her own views during the Iowa caucus campaigns. Ruba Nadda’s “Inescapable” follows a Syrian-Canadian father’s search for his missing college-age daughter in Damascus.

“Everyone’s saying, ‘Good for you, so topical’ but of course the original idea came six years ago,” says Nadda, who lived in Syria as a teen. “I hope the story’s authenticity will provide a context to what is happening right now.”

As always, Toronto auds will find inspirational journeys — whether it be an aboriginal girl group sent to entertain troops in Vietnam in “The Sapphires,” Stephen Dorff’s downed Israeli pilot traversing a war-torn land with an angry Palestinian boy in “Zaytoun” or, perhaps, the one-way ticket punched by the Hellbound Saints of Brooklyn Parish in R-rated 3D horror-comedy “Hellbenders.”

“Midnight Madness has a large, passionate and phenomenally informed audience,” says “Hellbenders” helmer J.T. Petty, jazzed his pic will preem in its intended form, adding, “3D’s in a tenuous place right now — it’s a tool that deserves better use and needs a little festival love and support.”

Looking at this year’s stellar Toronto slate, auds and buyers should find plenty to love.

Toronto Int’l Film Festival 2012
Indie opportunities await at Toronto | Themes weave throughout diverse lineup | Toronto’s raffish hub gets posh hotels, grub | Focus stays downtown as docs get new home | Four spas offer pause to festgoers | Pic promoters blaze many trails to happy endings | Toronto giving docus Gala treatment | TIFF ratchets up femme focus in docs