Speaking of The Town, Affleck's heist drama of that name is one of the festival's most hotly anticipated films, along with Mulligan's mesmerizing Never Let Me Go, about children raised to be spare parts for wealthier, luckier humans. Having seen both, we can already declare them more than worthy (and look for Mulligan's name on Best Actress ballots come Oscar time).
Also generating heavy buzz is Franco in 127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle's film about Aron Ralston, the hiker forced to cut off his own arm after being trapped by a boulder, and Natalie Portman in Black Swan, a dark (some say creepy) film about the ballet world. Word is, we should expect to see Portman giving Mulligan some solid competition come awards season.
Refusing to get lost in the shuffle is Blue Valentine, a drama starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling as a couple trying to put their marriage back together.
Joaquin Phoenix 'Still Here'For those who favor reality, there are plenty of documentaries hitting Toronto, with two already sparking conversation. Early reports on Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman, about the public education crisis in America, give it a lead on becoming festival darling. Coming from the director of An Inconvenient Truth, that's hardly a surprise.
On the other end of the spectrum, Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck debut the polarizing I'm Still Here on these shores (the pair already unspooled the film a few days ago at the Venice film fest). I'm Still Here catalogs Phoenix's supposed descent into madness after quitting acting, but is it real or part of the elaborate hoax Phoenix was rumored to be perpetrating on the public? Tough to say, but we warn you: With drugs, sex and one particularly scatological scene, it's also tough to watch.
By the way, if you are in town and overdose on cinema, the festival kicks off Thursday night and is also having a giant block party Sunday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto's newest culture venue. The shindig features a lineup of local bands, a movie star lookalike contest, and a surprise musical performance by a Canadian "superstar." You thinking what we're thinking? If it's Celine Dion, we are so there.