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Due North

TIFF's quality is impressive; its quantity is a bit overwhelming

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333 films.

229 premieres.

27 cinemas.

11 days.

1 passport.

Anyone anxious to see where the next great film will come from need only to look up... as in north... as in Canada... as in Toronto. The Toronto International Film Festival, dubbed the "People's Festival"—attracting as many as 500,000 filmgoers—has been the launching pad for some of cinema's most unexpected classics. Chariots of Fire, The Princess Bride, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Slumdog Millionaire, The King's Speech and Silver Linings Playbook all emerged from TIFF; and just last year, the People's Choice Award (TIFF's only prize) went to Green Book, beginning a journey that landed the film this year's Best Picture Oscar.

True, I have a rather lengthy dance card for this year's TIFF; but a seasoned attendee always knows to pack his tap shoes. Here's a sampling of my must-see premieres over the next week and a half:

The Biggies (there's plenty of star-wattage in front of, and behind the lens)

The Aeronauts: Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne reteams with his The Theory of Everything co-star Felicity Jones as a 19th-century scientist and risk-taking balloon pilot.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: I'll be near the front of the line (and will probably be wearing a cardigan) to see two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers.

The Goldfinch: Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver) co-star in the much-anticipated adaptation of the bestseller, helmed by director John Crowley (Brooklyn).

A Hidden Life: Terrence Malick, one of the planet's great directors, explores the consequence of upholding one's convictions in a time of war.

Joker: It's a daunting challenge for any actor to take on a role brilliantly imagined before by no less than Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. But there's only one Joaquin Phoenix.

Ford v Ferrari: Christian Bale and Matt Damon star in the true tale of the Ford Motor Company challenging the gods of Italian auto racing.

Knives Out: Director Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) crafts a macabre all-star whodunit.

The Lighthouse: Willem Dafoe stars in a mind-bending thriller from director Robert Eggers, who dazzled TIFF in 2015 with his debut film, The Witch.

Up Close and Personal (TIFF 2019 will showcase a slew of biopics)

Dolemite Is My Name: Eddie Murphy stars as the most celebrated provocateur of the blaxploitation era.

Harriet: Of all of TIFF's premieres, I'm most excited to see this epic chronicle of Harriet Tubman, starring recent Broadway discovery Cynthia Erivo.

I Am Woman: An Aussie import weaves a musical biopic on—who else?—Helen Reddy.

Judy: Renee Zellweger does her own singing in a portrayal of Judy. Garland.

Lucy in the Sky: Natalie Portman is an infamous astronaut, consumed by an obsession with a fellow astronaut.

Radioactive: Rosamund Pike is the mercurial Marie Curie.

Seberg: Kristen Stewart is Jean Seberg, whose legend is eclipsed by mystery.

The Two Popes: Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce portray, respectively, Benedict and Francis.

Among the other juicy titles that I'll be cueing up for are: American Woman, a fresh take on the Patty Hearst saga; Clemency, starring Alfre Woodard as a prison warden struggling with a crisis of conscience; JoJo Rabbit, a black comedy about a young German boy whose imaginary friend is (gulp) Adolf Hitler; Just Mercy, a court drama starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan; The Laundromat stars Meryl Streep as the unlikely retiree who exposed the Panama Papers; Marriage Story stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a couple on the rocks; Motherless Brooklyn, actor/director/screenwriter Edward Norton's crime noir adaptation of the 1999 bestseller; The Report stars Annette Bening as Sen. Diane Feinstein in a docudrama about the CIA's use of torture after 9/11; Sound of Metal, starring Riz Ahmed as a metal drummer going deaf; Wasp Network, a sweeping political thriller starring Oscar-winner Penelope Cruz; and Western Stars, where Bruce Springsteen performs his latest album on the big screen.

True, I'm one of a privileged pack of press and industry types who will get a first glimpse at these and many more films; but ultimately, it will be TIFF audiences that will have the final say on which movies should be Oscar-bound.

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