Let the awards race begin! Toronto International Film Festival (which runs from Sept. 5–15) is where Oscar contenders are born. Here are the performances that audiences — and Academy voters — will be buzzing about.
Jamie Lee Curtis, Knives Out
Curtis stands out in the most star-studded ensemble of the year (more on the rest of the terrific cast later) as the suspiciously no-nonsense daughter of the man whose death sets a murder mystery in motion.
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name
The comic legend and Oscar nominee (Dreamgirls) makes a vibrant return to movies in this fascinating ’70s period piece, portraying multihyphenate Rudy Ray Moore — as well as his blaxploitation-cinema alter ego, Dolemite.
Throw a bunch of A-listers into an Agatha Christie-style whodunit, and what do you get? Everything you’d hope for: Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Lakeith Stanfield, Toni Collette, Daniel Craig, and Don Johnson at their deliciously over-the-top best.
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
The actor-rapper, best known for his Emmy-winning turn on HBO’s The Night Of, plays a heavy metal drummer reexamining his life after struggling with addiction issues and losing his hearing.
Adam Driver, Marriage Story, and The Report
Fresh off his first Oscar nomination for BlacKkKlansman, Driver pulls double duty with dynamite — and completely different — performances, as a celebrated New York playwright wading through a devastating divorce in Marriage Story and a driven Senate staffer in The Report.
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Erivo’s rise since her Tony Award-winning The Color Purple turn continues. Here she stars as Harriet Tubman, brilliantly imbuing the heroic Underground Railroad pioneer with grit and humanity.
Beanie Feldstein, How to Build a Girl
If you thought her riotous work in Booksmart would mark the peak of Feldstein’s year, think again. She is spectacularly appealing in Girl, which chronicles a young woman’s bumpy, risqué path to becoming a music journalist.
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Phoenix follows in the footsteps of Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson as the latest great actor to inhabit the Joker’s skin. He undergoes what may be his biggest transformation yet in this dark exploration of the Batman villain’s origins.
Jason Segel, The Friend
Segel is powerfully understated in this tear-jerker, playing the best friend to a married couple in which the wife (Dakota Johnson) has been given months to live.
Kristen Stewart, Seberg
Stewart anchors this politically-charged drama as the acclaimed late actress Jean Seberg, one of the main targets of a covert FBI program used to neutralize “subversive” organizations.
Constance Wu, Hustlers
The Crazy Rich Asians star adds emotional heft to Hustlers as Destiny, a struggling single mother-turned-stripper. She joins forces with Ramona (a magnetic Jennifer Lopez) to scam wealthy men in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Baumbach brings his gift for depicting moments of intimacy and humor to the story of a divorce — searingly told from the perspectives of the husband (Adam Driver) and the wife (Scarlett Johansson).
Chinonye Chukwu, Clemency
The story of death-row warden Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) makes for an intoxicating character study in the hands of Chukwu.
Alma Har’el, Honey Boy
Har’el had the unenviable task of making Shia LaBeouf’s wild autobiographical script her own, but does so beautifully, honing in on the dynamic between father and son.
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Bong has already won Cannes’ Palme d’Or for this darkly comic thriller about a poor family’s involvement with a rich one — as entertaining as it is morally urgent.
James Mangold, Ford v Ferrari
The tale tracks the team building the Ford GT40, a race car with the capacity to outperform Italy’s Ferrari. Mangold films the hell out of the drama and mines great performances from his starry cast, too.
Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers
We already gave props to Constance Wu, but the woman behind her performance, Scafaria, deserves equal recognition for delivering a timely, captivating crime movie.
Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
Waititi has helmed indie comedies and blockbusters alike, but this bracing satire about a German boy who makes a shocking discovery circa WWII is a revelation.
Zazie Beetz, Joker, Seberg, and Lucy in the Sky
The Atlanta actress is everywhere at TIFF. She leaves memorable impressions in all her films, but truly shines as a fiery activist in Seberg.
Tilda Cobham-Hervey, I Am Woman
Cobham-Hervey takes on feminist icon Helen Reddy — best known for recording the song “I Am Woman” — in this affecting biopic.
Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit
As Jojo, Davis, 12, makes the kind of debut that doesn’t come along often: touching, funny, utterly raw.
Ana de Armas, Knives Out
De Armas is a luminous force as the unassuming caregiver for a wealthy patriarch — who may know more about his death than anyone else.
Noah Jupe, Ford v Ferrari, and Honey Boy
Jupe steals scenes as Christian Bale’s son in Ford v Ferrari and, especially, as a fictionalized version of a young Shia LaBeouf in Honey Boy.
Sound of Metal
Metal feels like the little movie that could — in large part because of its fabulous cast, featuring terrific work from Olivia Cooke, Lauren Ridloff, and Paul Raci.
Edward Norton & Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Motherless Brooklyn
Norton has been trying to get his ‘50s-set adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s detective novel for years. His persistence pays off: He’s riveting as Det. Lionel Essrog, while Mbatha-Raw brings pathos to his love interest, Laura Rose.
Jake Giles Netter/Warner Bros.
Jamie Foxx & Michael B. Jordan, Just Mercy
This sobering tale needs heavyweights to fill its two main roles: Walter McMillian, wrongly jailed for murder, and Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who took his case. In Foxx and Jordan, we get the star power — and they more than deliver.
Antonio Banderas & Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory
In Almodóvar’s most personal film to date, Banderas — still without an Oscar nomination — is heartbreakingly good as a version of the director, struggling with depression and aging while reflecting on his queerness and love for his mother.
Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones, The Aeronauts
The Theory of Everything pair makes magic together again in this adventure movie about pilot Amelia Wren and scientist James Glaisher’s fight for survival in a gas balloon.
Willem Dafoe & Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers’ chilling film wowed audiences at Cannes — quite a feat for a tale featuring just two men. As lighthouse keepers grappling with madness, Dafoe and Pattinson are totally compelling.