By Steve Pond
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - This year's Toronto International Film Festival will screen 288 feature films, so singling out just 20 is an impossible task. But here, with the caveat that for every film on this list there are several deserving omissions, are 20 movies that will come to the fest bearing questions that need to be answered.
Alfonso Cuaron's drama that maroons Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in space has drawn such a rapturous response in Venice and Telluride that there's only one question surrounding the film.
Q: Can it possibly be as good as they say
12 YEARS A SLAVE
Steve McQueen's pre-Civil War drama is reportedly unflinching, brutal and brilliant - leading to a question about its effect on another, friendlier film about the African-American experience.
Q: Will it blow "Lee Daniels' The Butler" out of the water?
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
John Wells assembled a powerhouse cast for his adaptation of Tracy Letts' Broadway drama: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch ... Early reports said that the Weinstein Company might campaign for Roberts in the Best Actress category and Streep in supporting, but lately they seem to be wavering.
Q: Meryl Street - lead or supporting?
THE ARMSTRONG LIE
Alex Gibney thought he was documenting Lance Armstrong's Tour De France comeback when he began filming in 2009, but subsequent revelations dramatically changed his movie.
Q: We know Lance Armstrong lied - what else will we learn from Gibney?
One of the hottest tickets in Toronto last year was Jason Reitman's "Live Read" of the "American Beauty" script. In addition to bringing his new film to TIFF, he's reprising the Live Read with a reading of "Boogie Nights."
Q: Can Reitman's movie be more of an event than his reading?
CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE?"
John Carney's "Once" was a quiet gem that captured the life of an itinerant musician, aided by marvelous performances by unknowns Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. His new movie, also about musicians, features Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo.
Q: Will movie stars disrupt the delicate tone Carney nailed with "Once?"
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Matthew McConaughey lost 40 pounds to play a homophobic Southern lawyer who unexpectedly became a champion for AIDS patients when he himself contracted the virus.
Q: Will the film simply be a showcase for McConaughey, or is it a contender in its own right?
Canadian director Atom Egoyan tackles the case of the West Memphis Three, which has already been chronicled in Amy Berg's "West of Memphis" and the three "Paradise Lost" documentaries for HBO.
Q: After four documentaries, can a fictionalized version of the story add anything?
UNDER THE SKIN
The third film in 13 years for British director Jonathan Glazer (the others being "Sexy Beast" and "Birth"), "Under the Skin" stars Scarlett Johansson as an extra-terrestrial sent to Earth for nefarious reasons.
Q: Will we buy Scarlett as an alien?
THE WIND RISES
The last film from Japanese animation pioneer Hayao Miyazaki has won raves, but the retiring master's films doesn't always win favor and awards in the U.S.
Q: Will this be another Oscar-winner like his "Spirited Away," or an overlooked film like "Ponyo?"
YOU ARE HERE
Matthew Weiner's television series "Mad Men" has won four drama-series Emmys, and helped create the climate in which lots of people think TV is more creatively vibrant than film.
Q: Can Weiner's movie be as satisfying as his TV series?
More than a decade after winning an Academy Award for her brief role in "Shakespeare in Love," Judi Dench is stirring up awards talk for her lead role as a woman searching for the illegitimate son she was forced to give up by the Catholic Church.
Q: After winning an Oscar for an eight-minute role, what can Judi Dench do with a 90-minute role?
THE UNKNOWN KNOWN
In the Oscar-winning "The Fog of War," Errol Morris grilled ‘60s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who admitted culpability and apologized for the Vietnam War. His new subject is more recent defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who reportedly is of no mind to apologize for his excursions into Iraq.
Q: If Rumsfeld won't fess up, what's left?
ALL IS BY MY SIDE
Outkast singer/rapper Andre Benjamin has done some acting ("Be Cool," "Four Brothers," the Outkast movie "Idlewild"), but he tackles the role of Jimi Hendrix in writer-director John Ridley's look at a key year in Hendrix's life.
Q: Can a rapper pull off playing an iconic rocker?
Denis Villeneuve's crime thriller stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman, and is reportedly as tense as it is glacially paced.
Q: Isn't "slow thriller" an oxymoron?
MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM
Clint Eastwood's "Invictus" won an Oscar nomination for Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, but the film itself fell flat with many critics and voters; Jennifer Hudson in "Winnie Mandala" was a big miss.
Q: For Mandela-themed films, will the third time be a charm?
Most American movie viewers won't even remember the pitched battles between Formula One racers Niki Lauda and James Hunt, but director Ron Howard is hoping that some high-octane racing footage and personal drama will interest them anyway.
Q: Auto racing? Will anybody care?
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
It won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and it won an NC-17 rating from the MPAA.
Q: Can a three-hour, sexually explicit, lesbian coming-of-age drama make the NC-17 rating viable?
MAN OF TAI CHAI
It's a story partly inspired by stuntman Tiger Chen, complete with lavish martial-arts action, brought to you by a first-time narrative director whose name you may have heard: Keanu Reeves.
Q: Can Keanu direct?
Japanese director Sang-il Lee remakes Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning "Unforgiven."
Q: Clint's version was great, but isn't once enough?