Focus Features

Focus Features

The Toronto International Film Festival always comes crammed top to bottom with star power, lining up both big name stars and buzzy films that are already firmly in the “Oscar conversation” before the first curtain even goes up. But TIFF is still a film festival, and that means for every Benedict Cumberbatch-starring biopic, there’s a slightly smaller and definitely less well known feature just itching to bust out. This year’s festival is no different, and there are a hefty number of films and talent to keep your eyes peeled for, from total newbies to known names who are just on the cusp of something bigger.

Who will emerge from this year’s TIFF a bonafide star? We’ve got some ideas.

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Jones and Redmayne are certainly recognizable names already — Jones is a festival mainstay who also popped up in this year’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Redmayne had a big role in the last cinematic take on Les Miserables – but both of them are teetering on the cusp of big-time stardom and critical bankability. With The Theory of Everything, director James Marsh‘s take on the life of Stephen Hawking, the pair are poised to break out in a big way. It’s a serious biopic about love and disease! What else could you possibly want?

Melanie Laurent, Breathe

The Inglorious Basterds badass’ latest directorial outing — she previously helmed another feature and a pair of shorts — played to stellar reviews at Cannes (where it was more handily known by its French title, Respire). The film centers on a pair of teen girls (always good emotional fodder), best friends whose friendship proves to be all-consuming. Variety pretty neatly billed it “a chaste Blue Is a Warmest Color by way of Single White Female,” which is certainly intriguing. With the need for more female directors on the top of everyone’s mind, here’s one that sounds like a bit of a ringer.

Kaitlyn Dever, Men, Women & Children

Jason Reitman‘s latest is tied up with a mess of different, interconnected storylines, but the teen-centric (children-centric?) plot that centers on Dever’s Brandy and Ansel Elgort‘s Tim is reportedly the heart of the film. Dever is a fine young actress — if you’ve seen her stellar work in Short Term 12, you know what she’s already capable of doing at such a young age — and she’s ready to show that to plenty more people.

Mia Hansen-Løve, Eden

Hansen-Løve’s beloved Goodbye First Love (all mentions of love totally intended) was a hit on the festival circuit, and it looks like her Eden is about to go down the same track. The director has a bigger, brasher story here — it’s about the guy who invented house music, for chrissakes — and she’s also got some known names to push along her narrative (Greta Gerwig, Brady Corbet). Is this her breakout?

Adam Driver, Hungry Hearts, This Is Where I Leave You, While We’re Young

Yes, yes, you already know Adam Driver — we all do — but the Girls star has a big opportunity at this year’s TIFF, as audiences will see him in not just one, not even two, but three entire features at the fest. And these are three very different films, from the new Noah Baumbach to a family dramedy to whatever the hell is going to happen in the dark-sounding Hungry Hearts. Driver has already surprised critics and fans alike with his range, but TIFF should serve as the next step forward in that maturation.

Brit Marling, The Keeping Room

Marling’s charms are most closely associated with the Sundance Film Festival, where she had her first breakout with the double whammy of 2011, thanks to her roles in both Sound of My Voice and Another Earth (which she also co-wrote, because that’s just how good she is), and it will be interesting to see if she can work that kind of magic at TIFF. The Keeping Room is also a departure for her, a historical drama that’s heavy on its female characters, and the sort of thing that could push her to the next level.

Jeremy Jordan, The Last 5 Years

If you’re a theatre wonk, you already know about Jordan, but it’s high time the stage actor (who has occasionally dabbled in big screen work) bring those talents to the big screen. A cinematic telling of a beloved musical, you say? That sounds perfect.

Shira Piven, Welcome to Me

For her second feature, Piven has employed Kristen Wiig, a talented comedic actress who desperately needs to prove that her chops can actually work in the dramatic arena (was The Skeleton Twins just an outlier? we hope not), and Piven might be the one to push her in the right direction. Welcome to Me has a great premise: Wiig stars as a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who not only wins the lottery, but then uses that money to buy her own talk show, and that could pack a punch. So could Piven.

Yann Demange, ’71

The buzz on Demange’s first feature is already at a fever pitch. The historical feature, about a young British solider accidentally left behind enemy lines in Belfast after a brutal riot, also has rising star Jack O’Connell in the lead, so this one might be a big proving ground for newbies.

Pat Mills, Guidance

Multi-hyphenate Mills (he writes, directs and stars in his latest feature) has got a hell of a resume: he starred on You Can’t Do That on Television as a kid. Guidance looks funny and weird and sweet, the perfect palate cleanser for TIFF’s heavier fare and a solid way to announce the TIFF darling to the rest of the world.

The 39th Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 4th until September 14th.


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