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The most anticipated films at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival

Los Angeles Times film team members pick their most anticipated films at TIFF, including Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" and Darren Aronofsky's "Mother!" starring Jennifer Lawrence.

What's at the top of the must-see movies list at the Toronto International Film Festival? Tonya Harding, a forbidden love between a woman and a sea creature, President Obama, unicorns and a teeny, tiny Matt Damon.

Find out which films Los Angeles Times writers are eager to see and which movies are already stirring up Oscar buzz.

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“The Shape of Water”

After landing rave reviews at the Venice Film Festival and cheers at Telluride, Toronto is the next stop for Guillermo del Toro's monster movie about intolerance. And (if the buzz is to believed) the possible beginning of a long road toward the Academy Awards.

Set during the Cold War, the movie revolves around a mute worker at a secret government lab (Sally Hawkins) who falls in love with the facility's prize prisoner — the monster.

“Zama”

The first narrative feature from director Lucretia Martel in almost 10 years, "Zama" is an 18th century South American adventure epic inspired by Antonio Di Benedetto's 1956 novel, about a Spanish officer who has been waiting years for a transfer from his remote location back to Buenos Aires.

“Downsizing”

The cast alone in "Downsizing" has stirred excitement for this oddball comedy: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Laura Dern, Jason Sudeikis, James Van Der Beek, Neil Patrick Harris, Christoph Waltz and breakout star Hong Chau.

Directed by Oscar favorite Alexander Payne ("Sideways," "The Descendants"), "Downsizing" is set in the near-future, when citizens in search of a new life can shrink themselves down to four inches.

“I, Tonya”
Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in "I, Tonya."
Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in "I, Tonya."

"Suicide Squad" star Margot Robbie is Tonya Harding, the figure skater who was entangled in the assault of her skating competitor Nancy Kerrigan. Set during the '90s and directed by Craig Gillespie, the buzzy bio-pic follows the rise of Harding inside the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and the subsequent attack.

“Lady Bird”

Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, the dramedy focuses on a Sacramento high school student (Saoirse Ronan) eager to leave behind her Catholic school ties and strike out as an independent person. Meanwhile her mother (Laurie Metcalf), who struggles to keep the family afloat during a difficult financial time, pushes to keep her daughter's lofty life goals a bit more grounded. "Lady Bird" is Gerwig's first solo directorial debut.

“Unicorn Store”
Brie Larson in "Unicorn Store."
Brie Larson in "Unicorn Store." (Toronto International Film Festival)

Oscar winner Brie Larson will make her feature directing debut and star in "Unicorn Store." Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, and Bradley Whitford are also in the cast of this magical realist tale about "a woman named Kit [Larson] receives a mysterious invitation that would fulfill her childhood dreams."

“Roman J. Israel, Esq.,”
Denzek Washington in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,”
Denzek Washington in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” (Sony Pictures)

The second feature from Oscar-nominated "Nightcrawler" writer-director Dan Gilroy, "Roman J. Israel, Esq.," already has awards buzz thanks to casting of Denzel Washington in the titular role.

According to Sony's synopsis, Roman Israel is a "driven, idealistic defense attorney who, through a tumultuous series of events, finds himself in a crisis that leads to extreme action."

“mother!”

Until its recent premiere at the Venice Film Festival, very few people knew what Darren Aronofsky's psychological horror movie "mother!" was actually about, and even now the twists have remained mostly under wraps.

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Judging only by the exceedingly vague trailer, Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a kid-free couple content with renovating their home until it's befitting the pages of a Restoration Hardware catalog. Everything seems splendid until the enigmatic (and handsome) couple of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer (playing the roles of "man" and "woman") turn up uninvited, and promptly wreck the whole vibe.

"The Final Year”
A scene from "The Final Year"
A scene from "The Final Year" (Toronto International Film Festival)

The documentary "The Final Year" follows the 44th president during the last 12 months of the Obama administration. Boasting an unprecedented look at the shaping of foreign policy, director Greg Barker shadowed Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power and senior strategist Ben Rhodes in the West Wing and around the world as they applied their brand of engaged globalism on issues that included climate change and Syria.

Twitter: @MdellW

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