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10 must-see movies for music lovers at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival

Melody Lau

Toronto will soon be swarmed by celebs and movie lovers alike as the Toronto International Film Festival kicks off on Sept. 6. As in previous years, this fest will have something for everyone: potential Oscar contenders, exciting foreign entries, groundbreaking documentaries and even something for the music fanatics.

Tickets go on sale to the public on Sept. 3 and if you still need help narrowing down which movies to catch, CBC Music is here to help you find some of this year’s best music films to add to your list.

A Star is Born
Starring Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga
Directed by Bradley Cooper

One of the most highly-anticipated films at this year’s festival will be A Star is Born, directed by and starring Bradley Cooper alongside pop star Lady Gaga. This will mark the third remake of the 1937 film, which originally starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. (Some may recall the 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason, or the 1976 film featuring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kirstofferson.) While the film hasn’t screened in many places yet, early reviews are already predicting Oscar nominations for first-time director, Cooper.

Maria by Callas
Featuring archived footage of Maria Callas
Directed by Tom Volf

Anyone who has been bitten by the Maria Callas bug is familiar with the opera legend’s discography and the small number of TV interviews, documentaries and concert videos that survive. But filmmaker Tom Volk has taken his fandom a step further by travelling the world to interview everyone who knew Callas (including her maid and butler!) and unearthing new interview footage, letters and memorabilia that he includes in his new portrait, Maria by Callas. In his film, Callas is revealed entirely in her own words (with excerpts from her letters voiced by opera singer Joyce DiDonato) and through performances of her signature arias. A must-see for die-hard fans and the Callas-curious alike.

Starring Quincy Jones
Directed by Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks

Quincy Jones has a career that many in the music industry can only dream of. The producer and musician has been nominated for 79 Grammy Awards, produced some of music’s biggest hits (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Lesley Gore’s I’ll Cry if I Want To, USA For Africa’s “We Are the World”) and has even played an integral role in TV and film, producing The Color Purple and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In this new documentary, co-directed by his daughter Rashida Jones, audiences will get an intimate look inside Jones’ creative process as he puts together a star-studded concert for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Wild Rose
Starring Jessie Buckley, Sophie Okonedo, Julie Walters

Directed by Tom Harper

Touted as TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey’s under-the-radar movie to see at this year’s festivities, Wild Rose is a small U.K. film with big potential to win over audiences. The film follows a country singer named Rose-Lynn Harlan (played by TIFF 2017 Rising Star Jessie Buckley), who has just been released from prison but has aspirations of making it big in the country music capital of Nashville. Buckley has committed to this role so much that she has even performed shows in real life as her character of Rose-Lynn. She made her debut in June at Kris Kristofferson’s birthday party in London, England.

The Old Man and the Gun
Starring Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Tom Waits
Directed by David Lowery

Director David Lowery’s latest film is not necessarily about music, but it does star a legendary artist. American singer-songwriter Tom Waits appears alongside acting heavyweights, Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek and Danny Glover in this adaptation of a New Yorker feature of the same name. It follows Redford as a criminal who escapes prison and pulls of a string of heists while being chased by a detective (Affleck).

Starring Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub
Directed by Gasper Noé

If you’re looking for something more thrilling and experimental, then Climax is the film for you. Part of this year’s Midnight Madness programming (the horror-leaning late-night screenings), Climax takes viewers on a wild drug-fueled ride as a dance troupe spirals out of control after someone spikes their afterparty sangria with LSD. It’s a visceral experience that’s marked by horrific turns, lots of dancing and a killer soundtrack that is equal parts haunting and exhilarating.

Her Smell
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Amber Heard, Cara Delevinge
Directed by Alex Ross Perry

Director Alex Ross Perry (Queen of Earth, Listen up Philip) teams up with Elisabeth Moss once again for a new film that takes viewers into the self-destructive mindset of a musician. Moss plays Becky Something, the frontwoman of a ‘90s rock band called Something She. As Becky reaches the height of her career, she has alienated everyone around her. The film features a star-studded cast that includes Amber Heard, Cara Delevigne, Dan Stevens, Virginia Madsen, Ashley Benson and Eric Stoltz.

Carmine Street Guitars
Starring Rick Kelly
Directed by Ron Mann

You may not be familiar with Rick Kelly’s name, but you have most likely heard of his famous clients: Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and Charlie Sexton, just to name a few. In the documentary Carmine Street Guitars, audiences get to know the Greenwich Village guitar maker who has created custom-made instruments for some of music’s biggest names.

Teen Spirit
Starring Elle Fanning, Agnieazka Grochowska

Directed by Max Minghella

The Handmaid's Tale star Max Minghella steps behind the camera for his directorial debut with Teen Spirit, a film about a teenager (Elle Fanning) who dreams of pop stardom and enters an international singing competition in hopes of leaving her small town existence.

Through Black Spruce
Starring Tantoo Cardinal, Brandon Oakes, Graham Greene

Directed by Don McKellar

Fans of the Canadian rock band Yamantaka // Sonic Titan will want to check out Don McKellar’s film, Through Black Spruce. The film, which is about a Cree woman searching for her lost sister, was scored by the band’s leader, Alaska B, who helped create music for a video game back in 2016. For a band whose music is often built around epic, cinematic narratives, it’ll be interesting to see the Toronto-based artist finally bring her musical skills to the big screen.


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