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The Best Movies Coming Soon From Toronto’s Film Festival

Don’t miss these Oscar contenders starring Annette Bening, Paul Simon, Sylvester Stallone and more

spinner image sylvester stallone looking out of a window in sly annette bening swimming in nyad and colman domingo smiling while holding a notepad in rustin
(Left to right) Sylvester Stallone in "Sly," Annette Bening in "Nyad" and Colman Domingo in "Rustin."
Rob DeMartin/Netflix; Liz Parkinson/Netflix; David Lee/Netflix

The Toronto International Film Festival, which ends Sept. 17, is packed with Oscar-bait films that jump-start an awards season that may be severely impacted by the ongoing Hollywood strikes. But if the Oscar telecast comes off as planned on March 10, 2024, the films launched at Toronto will likely be in the mix. Many of TIFF’s movies are tailor-made for grownups, with stars who prove age is no obstacle to achievement worthy of that shiny, 24-karat doll. Standouts this year include Annette Bening, 65, Jodie Foster, 60, Jeffrey Wright, 57, Leslie Uggams, 80, Paul Giamatti, 56, Jamie Foxx, 55, Tommy Lee Jones, 77, and Colman Domingo, 53. And get ready for the documentaries In Restless Dreams, about the music of Paul Simon, 81, and Sly, starring Sylvester Stallone, 77.  Here are a few of our absolute favorites to keep in mind — and check AARP’s weekly What to Watch column, so you can catch their premieres in theaters and streaming.

​​Annette Bening eyes a fifth Oscar nomination with Nyad

After four Oscar nominations, Bening seems to be doing a brisk Australian crawl toward a splashy fifth nomination as the goal-driven marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, 74. The action-packed sports biopic (PG-13, in theaters Oct. 1, on Netflix Nov. 2) follows the prickly Nyad’s five attempts to swim the open ocean between Cuba and the Florida Keys. She failed at 28, tried again at 60, and continues, confronting box jellyfish, sharks, crosscurrents and her own demon memories, to complete the arduous two-plus-day race against herself. It’s a solo sport that takes a village, including best friend and coach Bonnie (a scene-stealing Jodie Foster), to navigate the span and protect the athlete. This is Bening’s Rocky, a performance that draws on every muscle and finds her often puffy-eyed, sunburned and sea-creature-stung. Definitely a 60-is-the-new-30 movie. (⭐⭐⭐⭐☆)

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Paul Giamatti and Alexander Payne go for gold — again — in The Holdovers

In 2004, director Payne, 62, made Giamatti famous overnight in Sideways, which got five Oscar nominations and won one (for adapted screenplay). In The Holdovers (R, in theaters Oct. 27), a 1970s memory piece that begins at a tony New England boarding school, the Billions star plays an ancient-history teacher so stuck in his boozy, belligerent bachelor ways that he’s desperately in need of a wake-up call if he’s to experience life in any of its juiciness. Punished for giving a donor’s son an F rather than a gentleman’s C, he must spend the Christmas holiday on campus babysitting a young “holdover” whose mother and new stepfather don’t have room for him on their belated winter honeymoon. With the school’s live-in cook (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), they struggle toward mutual understanding of each other — and themselves. Hilarious and heartbreaking, it puts Payne, Giamatti and Randolph in the Oscar mix. (⭐⭐⭐⭐☆)

Stallone’s life story, told in Sly, could punch its way to documentary honors

The classic, never-give-up Rocky boxing movies feature prominently in Sly (unrated, on Netflix Nov. 3), an appealing yet slick documentary about Sylvester Stallone, given the prestigious closing-night slot in the festival. When his parents split, he was raised by a brutal and competitive father who shaped Sly, who never surrendered to adversity (his partial facial paralysis). When his acting career failed to take off, he wrote and produced his own material, which exploited his strengths and downplayed his weaknesses. Triumph! His life has been built on franchises that define their times: the Rocky, Rambo and more irreverent, grownup-ensemble Expendables films. The movie is an entertaining portrait of relentless ambition, capturing the star’s innate desire to find his place in the world — and broadcast it to millions around the globe. Pretty sly for a kid with no prospects from Hell’s Kitchen, one of Manhattan’s poorest, crime-ridden neighborhoods. To paraphrase Rocky Balboa, “Life ain’t about how big your first hit is, it’s how you can get a hit and keep moving forward!” (⭐⭐⭐⭐☆)



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Rustin may put a forgotten civil rights hero in the Academy’s spotlight

It wouldn’t be the beginning of awards season without a crop of biopics. Among the best is Rustin (PG-13, in theaters Nov. 3, on Netflix Nov. 17), an engaging, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting biographical feature. Bayard Rustin was Black, political — and gay. An active organizer of the civil rights movement, he was the architect of Martin Luther King’s first March on Washington, where King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. But even in a movement demanding freedom and equality, Rustin’s homosexuality was not easily accepted by comrades and colleagues and made him vulnerable to blackmail and arrest for public indecency. With Domingo in the title role, the result is propulsive and deeply moving. (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

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Next Goal Wins might just be a winner

Director Taika Waititi, 48, earned a 2020 screenwriting Oscar for his hilarious and heartbreaking movie about life under Hitler, Jojo Rabbit (which got six Oscar nominations). He’s back in the race with Next Goal Wins (in theaters Nov. 17), a broad sports comedy in which he has a small role as a kooky man of the cloth. It’s a David and Goliath parable based on the true story of the crushing failures of the American Samoa soccer team and the raging alcoholic coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) sent to save the contenders from ignominious oblivion. The coach builds a team and, absorbing the spiritual ways of the local people, rebuilds himself in a way that reminds you of Ted Lasso. The movie has the potential to inspire audiences to rise in their seats and applaud this rag-tag bunch. (⭐⭐⭐☆☆)

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