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Xavierpop’s MovieJay runs down his picks for #TIFF11

When the morning air gets that familiar autumn crisp, for movie-lovers in Toronto, that can only signal one thing: the start of the good movie season. A time where sequels and TV remakes give way to more thoughtful movies, many of which will premiere at the most important film festival on the planet for movies – the Toronto International Film Festival.

Over 300 feature films will play over 11 days during this, the 36th edition of the festival, (and my 17th personally).

My first TIFF movie?

“Leaving Las Vegas” at Roy Thomson Hall. That’s when TIFF showed movies on a dozen screens. Just two years later I saw “Life Is Beautiful” at the magnificent Elgin Theatre. Within a couple of years after the Elgin opened for TIFF movies, the Varsity Cinemas expanded and became the home of press/industry screenings while the multiplex Scotiabank Theaters entered the fray along with the Isabel Bader Theatre. This year the Princess of Wales Theatre has been tapped to open several big opening-weekend movies, adding more lustre to an already huge and exciting ten day extravaganza.

Like most festival veterans, I seem to be forever tinkering with my schedule, trying to fit in all the movies I want to see only to get sidetracked when the buzz starts to swell on a particular movie just when I feel like my schedule was settled. I always start with looking at the director vs the actor and then just grow my list from there as various factors come into play.

So after all my research/frustration/enjoyment, I now give you my movies to look for this year, all of which I can’t wait to see and will write more about on our sister site http://xavierpopdoestiff.com as the festival gets going this Thursday:

Probably the most anticipated film of the festival is Drive, and it’s also an exception to the rule I just wrote about for selecting movies as director Nicolas Winding Refn is coming off of Valhalla Rising, a movie that is presently scoring a 5.8/10 at imdb.com. It stars Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt man and has a lot of hype coming from Cannes as Refn walked away with the directing prize.

Also from Cannes is the Artist about silent-era film star George Valentin starring the French actor Jean Dujardin (who you may remember from last year’s wonderful family drama Little White Lies). Dujardin comes to Toronto having taken the actor prize at Cannes.

On the hometown front, Sarah Polley and David Cronenberg are the two heavyweights with their new films Take This Waltz and A Dangerous Method, but look out for my dark horse Philipe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar, which is hot off of two big wins at the Locarno festival, Guy Maddin’s Keyhole with Jason Patric and Isabella Rosselini and Cafe De Flore, the new drama with warm advance buzz that brings Jean-Marc Vallee back to the familiar territory we discovered in his 2006 festival hit C.R.A.Z.Y.

Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Bug) is an expert at portraying disturbed men and Take Shelter is being talked-up as his best performance yet, his time in another small-town southern drama from the director of the powerful Shotgun Stories (which also starred Shannon as the eldest brother on one side of a bitter family feud).

Albert Nobbs is no ordinary butler in a movie where Glenn Close appears to have the early lead among the lady thesps for Oscar gold. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia, who made the wonderful Nine Lives and last year’s Mother & Child, (one of the most unfairly neglected films of 2010). Garcia specializes in humanist movies that depend on the attention paid to his characters, particularly women, so it’s no surprise that Close’s performance here is being hyped as one of her very best.

Steve McQueen scored a huge hit a couple years back with the intense prison-strike film Hunger and his new film Shame is about to put him on the A-list. Opening to rave reviews at Telluride over Labor Day weekend, Shame stars Michael Fassbender as a sex addict.

Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud were the directing team that brought us the inspired tale based on Satrapi’s younger life and portrayed unforgettably in the animated Persepolis in 2007. They’re back with their second feature Chicken With Plums, another big Telluride opener that recently scored terrific buzz. I have no idea what the film is about however Persepolis and a warm opening for this new one is enough for me to have it in my schedule.

From Colombia in Maria Full of Grace to Albania in the Forgiveness of Blood, Joshua Marston from California stays in foreign film territory. It isn’t about the drug trade so it may not find the audience that Maria had however the Forgiveness of Blood is just as good. Marston is an assured director who involves us so deeply within his characters that the plot becomes secondary to us. Caught this one at a pre-fest screening and it’s one of the year’s best films, even if it doesn’t break through the way Maria did.

The docs I’m looking forward to most are Into the Abyss from Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Rescue Dawn, Cave of Forgotten Dreams), a director who has never made an unworthy film; Pina, the modern-dance doc from Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas), and the Last Gladiators from Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side and Client 9 director Alex Gibney.

TIFF runs from Sep. 8-18 this year, and don’t worry, if the movie you wish to see is blotted out in red on the big boards, same-day tickets are typically released for over 80% of all films for those who can get to the festival box office well before it’s 7 a.m. opening. Barring that, there is always the Rush lineup, where it is advised by me to find yourself about 90 minutes before showtime.

Enjoy the festival and make sure you check us out at xavierpopdoestiff.com for all of the reviews you need for people by people so that we actually understand what is going on.