By Cameron French
TORONTO (Reuters) - The Toronto International Film Festival promises a heavy dose of popcorn movies on a slate normally noted for Oscar contenders, opening with time-travel thriller "Looper" and featuring premieres of films directed by Ben Affleck, Robert Redford and Tom Twyker.
Opening on September 6 and widely considered a kick-off to Hollywood's Oscar season, the 37th edition of the festival will feature films starring Ryan Gosling, Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro, as well as Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut and many movies from India.
"Looper," directed by Rian Johnson and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as a time-traveling assassin assigned to kill his future self, was one of 62 titles announced by the festival on Tuesday. It is the third straight year the festival, known as TIFF, has launched with a non-Canadian film.
While the opening-night spot at festivals such as Cannes and Sundance is considered an honor, the leadoff in Toronto has typically been used to showcase smaller Canadian films that otherwise received little widespread attention.
The festival tried to change that with the opening-day screening of the U2 documentary "From the Sky Down" in 2011, and festival director Piers Handling acknowledged starting this year's event with an action movie makes a statement.
"I think (it) will set a very different, very important tone," he said. "For your opening-night film, you want a film that actually commands the screen, that is entertaining, that people will really enjoy and get their heads into the rest of the festival."
Also aiming to fill seats will be political thriller "Argo", helmed by and starring Affleck, Redford's "In the Company You Keep," about a civil-rights lawyer exposed as a fugitive for murder and the hotly anticipated "Cloud Atlas," an adaptation of the best-selling novel starring Hanks and Halle Berry, directed by Twyker and "Matrix" co-directors Andy and Lana Wachowski.
Launched in 1976, TIFF now ranks with festivals such as Cannes and Sundance among the world's top movie events, and serves as a launching point for international films seeking North American distribution.
TIFF enjoys a good record of unearthing films that go on to success at the Academy Awards, such as "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The King's Speech," which both won best-film Oscars.
The 62 movies unveiled on Tuesday -- including 38 world premieres -- represent about a quarter of the final slate, which will be unveiled over the next few weeks.
The announcement included 10 from Mumbai as part of TIFF's "City-to-City" program, which spotlights a different locale each year.
Handling noted that other Indian films screening include the long-awaited adaptation of Salman Rushdie's novel "Midnight's Children," by Indian-born Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta.
Other titles unveiled on Tuesday were David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook," which stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and De Niro, Terence Malick's "To the Wonder," which stars Affleck alongside Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem, and Hoffman's directorial debut in the comedy "Quartet."
Fans of British comedy troupe Monty Python will likely be intrigued by "A Liar's Autobiography - The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman," a tongue-in-cheek animated account of the life of troupe member Chapman, who died in 1989 of cancer.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Dale Hudson)