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13 Must-See Toronto Films, From ‘The Martian’ to Michael Moore’s ‘Where to Invade Next’

With its stockpile of studio blockbusters, indies and documentaries, Toronto is the Wal-Mart of film festivals. As usual, this year’s slate promises to debut its share of box office hits as well as Oscar contenders and small, breakout films. Here are the 13 most anticipated movies at the festival, which kicks off Thursday.

The Martian
Directed by Ridley Scott, “The Martian” is the biggest movie to world premiere at Toronto. The sci-fi epic follows a NASA astronaut (played by Matt Damon) who finds himself stranded on Mars. The trailer for this 20th Century Fox release, based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel, suggests it could be this year’s “Gravity.” And the ensemble, which includes Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sebastian Stan, is formidable. –Ramin Setoodeh

Spotlight
Tom McCarthy’s chronicle of the Boston Globe’s efforts to expose the Catholic Church’s cover-up of a sex abuse scandal has been hailed as the “All the President’s Men” of our time. One of the breakouts of Telluride and Venice, Oscar-watchers will be looking to see if “Spotlight” can score the Triple Crown with another strong reception in Canada. If it lives up to the hype, the best picture race may have found a front-runner. -Brent Lang

Beasts of No Nation
After receiving strong reviews out of Venice and Telluride, Cary Fukunaga’s drama about a child soldier (played by newcomer Abraham Attah) in an unspecified West African country will screen at Toronto before it premieres to Netflix on Oct. 16. The streaming service is planning to roll out the red carpet for its inaugural dramatic feature, as part of an attempt to get into original moviemaking. If Oscars voters pay attention, Idris Elba, who plays the ruthless commandant, could be a strong force in the best supporting actor race. –R.S.

Freeheld
Although 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain” grossed $178 million worldwide, Hollywood has been wary of bankrolling projects headlined by gay characters. But with the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage this year, “Freeheld — a story about a lesbian couple’s (played by Julianne Moore and Ellen Page) battle for pension benefits — feels timely. –R.S.

Where to Invade Next
Michael Moore’s look at America’s military misadventures benefits from impeccable timing. It arrives in the heat of a presidential race in which issues like foreign interventionism and a nuclear deal with Iran are being hotly debated. Sight unseen, the “Fahrenheit 9/11” director’s latest documentary is expected to be one of the biggest sales of the festival. Bidding hasn’t started in earnest, but some potential buyers are already signaling that it’s getting too rich for their blood. -B.L.

The Danish Girl
Just one year after debuting his Oscar-winning performance as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” at Toronto, Eddie Redmayne returns with an equally powerful story directed by Tom Hooper. He plays Lili Elbe, one of the first documented transgender women to receive gender reassignment surgery. Alicia Vikander, who has a whopping eight movies out this year, plays her wife Gerda in a performance that could land her a first Oscar nom in the best supporting actress race. –R.S.

Our Brand Is Crisis
Sandra Bullock slowly rediscovers her moral compass as a spin-doctor sent in to prop up an unpopular Bolivian presidential candidate. Think of it as the Oscar-winner’s “Up in the Air” or “Thank You For Smoking.” -B.L.

Stonewall
Roland Emmerich tries to prove he can do more than usher in the apocalypse with this look at the early days of the gay rights movement. Like “Freeheld,” this drama about the Stonewall Inn riot feels very much in the zeitgeist, even if the events it dramatizes took place decades ago. Credit goes to Emmerich for using the clout he earned from “Independence Day” and “2012” to shine a light on this too-often-ignored chapter in history. Maybe the film will be rich and compelling — a fitting act of atonement for “White House Down.” -B.L.

Demolition
Jean-Marc Valle enters his third consecutive Toronto (after 2013’s “Dallas Buyers Club” and 2014’s Wild”) with this Black List screenplay about an investment banker (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who experiences a nervous breakdown after the death of his wife. This dark comedy from Fox Searchlight, which is the festival’s opening night feature, brings to mind “Jerry Maguire” meets “Donnie Darko” in its first trailer. It opens next year. –R.S.

Trumbo
Bryan Cranston hangs up Walter White’s tighty whities to portray another difficult genius. Based on the trailer, the “Breaking Bad” star is utterly transformed as legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. The top wordsmith behind “Spartacus” and “Roman Holiday” and victim of the Hollywood blacklist was a man of great conscience and tremendous ego. A socialist and a bon vivant. It could be thrilling to see Cranston burrow into the contradictions. -B.L.

Equals
After “The Martian,” the other most-anticipated science fiction film at Toronto is this drama directed by Drake Doremus (“Like Crazy”) which drew comparisons to “Gattaca” when it premiered at Venice last week. Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult play a couple on the run in the futuristic society, with a supporting cast that includes Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver. –R.S.

Truth
Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett headline this drama about a controversial “60 Minutes” report that alleged George W. Bush used connections to avoid serving in Vietnam by snagging a post with the Air National Guard. Released in the midst of the president’s 2004 re-election bid, the story became wildly divisive, bringing down the full force of the White House and derailing the career of Dan Rather. It’s a drama about the collision of a free press and political power that’s sure to kick up a hornet’s nest. -B.L.

Room
This drama, based on Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel about a mother and son held hostage in a garden shed, received rave reviews for its lead performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay out of Telluride. The film will be released by A24 on Oct. 16 — at the height of awards season. -R.S.

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