Given the iffy screen careers of David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, we should all be thankful that Bono chose activism as his side career rather than acting. Just think of all the roles we were probably spared –- surely it was only a matter of time before he'd have tried his luck as a hot-headed Irish mob boss in a Martin Scorsese movie or opposite Kate Hudson in a rom-com about battling employees at a Sunglass Hut.
Chances are none of these hypothetical star vehicles would have been rewarded with an honor as prestigious as the first-night slot at the Toronto International Film Festival. Instead, Bono earned that by just being himself, as have the rest of his bandmates in U2. The Irish rock superstars are the subject of 'From the Sky Down' -- a new film by 'It Might Get Loud' and 'Waiting for Superman' director Davis Guggenheim -- that makes its world premiere as TIFF's opening gala film. A portrait of the years leading up to the band's reinvention with 1991's Achtung Baby, it is the first-ever documentary to open the 36-year-old festival, which dominates the city of Toronto and most of the movie world from September 8-18.
The doc's appearance at the festival also signals a distinctly musical bent for TIFF judging by the inaugural slate of announcements. Since U2's on tour, a special performance or appearance tied in with the premiere seems likely. As for a band featured in another new documentary debuting at the festival – 'Pearl Jam 20' by director Cameron Crowe – the Seattle grunge kings are already set to play Toronto's Air Canada Centre on Sept. 10 so an appearance on a red carpet seems probable for Eddie Vedder, too. (Note to Stone Gossard: Shorts do not count as black-tie attire.)
Local autograph-seekers and shutter-bugs will almost certainly be seeing yet another music icon, one who still harbors big Hollywood ambitions despite many disastrous outings both in front of and behind the camera. A drama about the love affair between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, 'W.E.' is the second directorial effort by Madonna. Whatever the merits of the movie turn out to be when it has its North American premiere at TIFF, audiences will surely be grateful she gave Abbie Cornish the leading role instead of keeping it for herself.
This influx of music celebs may seem a little odd for a festival that prides itself on its ability to attract the most famous faces in filmdom. Then again, few of last year's visiting actors got as much attention as Bruce Springsteen when he appeared to promote 'The Promise,' a made-for-HBO documentary about the making of his album Darkness at the Edge of Town. Maybe adding a rock star or two to the mix of luminaries is the only way the festival can increase its already sky-high glam factor.
As for TIFF's line-up of movies featuring bona fide movie stars, well, there'll be plenty of those too. The first announcements included highly anticipated new ventures for Brad Pitt ('Moneyball'), George Clooney ('The Descendants' and 'The Ides of March'), Matthew McConaughey ('Killer Joe'), Jennifer Garner ('Butter'), Gerard Butler ('Machine Gun Preacher') and Rachel Weisz ('The Deep Blue Sea'). That's the kind of star power that the festival regularly commands so don't be surprised to hear their names when TIFF releases the official word on its guests later in August.
More film announcements will also trickle out over the next several weeks. Likely additions such as Roman Polanski's 'Carnage' -- which may bring Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet to Toronto if not its director – will add another layer of lustre to TIFF's latest edition. Of the movies already set to play which have nothing to do with the recording of U2's Mysterious Ways, here are the five most buzz-worthy:
'A Dangerous Method': Canadian cinema's master of creepiness, David Cronenberg, re-teams with his 'A History of Violence' and 'Eastern Promises' star Viggo Mortensen for a drama about the founding fathers of psychoanalysis. Mortensen's Freud looks on with disapproval as his colleague Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) gets steamy with an alluring patient played by Keira Knightley. Rarely has an analyst's couch been put to better use.
'Take This Waltz': That the sophomore effort by actor-turned-filmmaker and local fave Sarah Polley was passed over as opening gala is the biggest mystery at TIFF so far. Nevertheless, 'Take This Waltz' is the local fave's second feature to debut there after 2006's 'Away From Her,' which went on to great critical and commercial success. In this romantic dramedy, Michelle Williams plays a young woman torn between her husband (Seth Rogen) and a new prospect (Luke Kirby). Judging from the title, the music of Leonard Cohen presumably makes an appearance, too.
'The Descendants': Clooney is also at TIFF with a directorial effort of his own, the political drama 'The Ides of March.' But here he hands the reins to Alexander Payne, who successfully launched his wine-tour buddy flick 'Sideways' at the festival in 2007. Here, Clooney plays a family man reeling from the news that his now-comatose wife was unfaithful.
'Drive': Ryan Gosling reaches new levels of cool as a stunt driver who gets mixed up with Carey Mulligan and some very heavy characters in this stylish action thriller that slayed 'em at Cannes.
'Anonymous': Giving a gala slot to the new movie by the director of 'Independence Day' and 'Godzilla' counts as TIFF's second-most surprising move so far. Then again, this Elizabethan-era period piece – a mystery thriller that purports to reveal the true author of Shakespeare's plays -- counts as an unusually classy effort for cheese-meister Roland Emmerich. We're still hoping he gets the chance to blow something up, even if it's only the original set for Hamlet.