| Updated at: 1115 PST, Wednesday, September 15, 2010|
TORONTO: Get ready for a high-stakes, star-packed game of musical chairs as the 35th Toronto International Film Festival gets under way Thursday.
During the next 10 days, several dozen movies -- many boasting marquee names in unexpected roles -- will be unveiled with hopes that after all the attendant music dies down, they'll find themselves in the arms of an enthusiastic domestic distributor and not be left abandoned on the sidelines.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart will wrestle with the death of a child in "Rabbit Hole," directed by John Cameron Mitchell. "The Conspirator," directed by Robert Redford, will offer James McAvoy as a reluctant attorney defending a woman (Robin Wright) accused of involvement in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Oscar-winning "Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black will make his directorial debut with "What's Wrong About Virginia," in which Jennifer Connelly stars as a mentally ill mother. Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor will share the screen as father and son in Mike Mills' "Beginners" -- the surprise being that Plummer's character, rather late in life, is coming out of the closet.
In a change of pace, Will Ferrell will star in Dan Rush's "Everything Must Go," playing a man who resorts to staging a yard sale as his life falls apart around him. And Mickey Rourke, whose "The Wrestler" was the talk of the 2008 fest, will slip into the skin of another damaged soul, this time a down-on-his-luck trumpeter in Mitch Glazer's "Passion Play."
And that's only a sampling of the high-profile projects that will be competing for attention. But will buyers respond in kind?
Last year, with just a few exceptions -- like the Weinstein Co.'s decision to snap up "A Single Man" just hours after its Toronto debut -- no buying frenzy ever really developed. And though prospects this year appear more upbeat, there are enough question marks hovering over a number of distribution companies for even the most eager sellers to strike a cautious note.
The established players in the field are arriving at the festival with dance cards that already are fairly full.
Fox Searchlight, for example, will show off a fall lineup that includes Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan," Danny Boyle's survival story "127 Hours" and the Hilary Swank starrer "Conviction," directed by Tony Goldwyn.
Focus will unveil the psycho-ward comedy "It's Kind of a Funny Story," starring Emma Roberts and Zach Galifianakis, and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
And Sony Pictures Classics will tub-thumb several titles first seen at Cannes (Mike Leigh's "Another Year," Stephen Frears' "Tamara Drewe" and Charles Ferguson's "Inside Job") while introducing new titles like the distaff labor tale "Made in Dagenham," directed by Nigel Cole.
Buyers expect Focus and Searchlight to be very selective about any purchases. Sony Classics, though, is likely to be a much more active buyer, along with IFC Films and Magnolia Pictures, all of which left Cannes with multiple films.
"We're bringing some great films," Sony Classics co-head Michael Barker said, "but there's always room for one more."
With hundreds of titles on tap, it's nearly impossible to generalize about this year's offerings. Actors including David Schwimmer with the seriously dramatic "Trust" and Casey Affleck with the offbeat Joaquin Phoenix documentary "I'm Still Here" will test their skills behind the camera.
Kelly Reichardt already has earned appreciative notices in Venice for "Meek's Cutoff," set on the Oregon Trail during the 1840s; Abe Sylvia is conducting a femme-centric road trip in "Dirty Girl," starring Juno Temple; Keanu Reeves stars in Malcolm Venville's comedy "Henry's Crime"; Guillaume Canet has assembled a cast of French beauties for "Little White Lies"; music rules in David M. Rosenthal's "Janie Jones," starring Abigail Breslin; Max Winkler follows a wedding crasher in "Ceremony"; Rainn Wilson dons a superhero costume in James Gunn's "Super"; and Larysa Kondracki tackles sex trafficking in "The Whistleblower."