LOS ANGELES -- An origin story about the Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix, a Mr. Rogers biopic with Tom Hanks and a film about strippers scamming Wall Street bankers with Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B are among the films premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey and Executive Director Joana Vicente announced 16 gala selections and 37 in the special presentation category Tuesday morning, including Todd Phillips' "Joker," Marielle Heller's "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" and Lorene Scafaria's "Hustlers." Iranian-born director Marjane Satrapi's Marie Curie film "Radioactive," in which Rosamund Pike plays the groundbreaking physicist, will close the festival on Sept. 14.
Bailey told The Associated Press that "Joker" is somewhat of a first for the festival.
"This is our first entry into the superhero world as far as I can remember," he said. "But it's a really original vision. It's disturbing, utterly compelling, really gripping from start to finish. ... And one of the most remarkable things is that Joaquin Phoenix, in a career of great performances, gives one of his very best."
Other standout performances the programmers love are Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx in Destin Daniel Cretton's civil rights drama "Just Mercy," Meryl Streep in Steven Soderbergh's investigative journalism drama "The Laundromat," Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in Noah Baumbach's divorce saga "Marriage Story" and Renee Zellweger in the Judy Garland biopic "Judy."
"It's one of those career-best performances," Bailey said. "And that's coming from a guy who absolutely loves 'Jerry Maguire.'"
The Toronto selections often help define the looming awards race. Last year, TIFF's audience award winner "Green Book" went on to win the best picture Oscar.
"It's not the motivation, but it's always great to be a launchpad for films that will be part of the awards conversation," Vicente said.
Other high-profile films premiering include James Mangold's "Ford v Ferrari" with Christian Bale and Matt Damon, Kasi Lemmons' Harriet Tubman film "Harriet" starring Cynthia Erivo, Rian Johnson's star-studded ode to Agatha Christie "Knives Out," with Chris Evans and Daniel Craig, Edward Norton's adaptation of "Motherless Brooklyn," John Crowley's adaptation of "The Goldfinch" and the Bruce Springsteen concert film "Western Stars."
Some, a little less flashy, but just as worthy according to Bailey include the cancer drama "The Friend," from Gabriela Cowperthwaite with Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck, the animated teen love story "Weathering With You," from Makoto Shinkai, the Japanese director of the anime breakout "Your Name," and Michael Winterbottom's "Greed."
Bailey said "Greed," about the economy of fast fashion, is "one everybody should see."
Steve Coogan plays a mogul in the fast fashion world and it is "very funny and very biting."
And then of course there is "Hustlers," with Lopez and Constance Wu, which Bailey said is "a great watch."
"It feels like 'Casino' or 'Goodfellas,'" he said. "But instead of gangsters killing, these are women just scamming these guys."
Although films aren't selected with any theme or agenda in mind, Bailey said some do emerge eventually.
"It became clear that although we're living in a complicated, difficult world with a lot of conflict, a lot of the films that really resonated the most this year were ones that were about empathy, about reaching out and across borders to other people," Bailey said. "Maybe most emblematic of that is 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,' but also 'Just Mercy,' a really tough film about the death penalty ... and 'Jojo Rabbit.'"
"Jojo Rabbit," from filmmaker Taika Waititi, is about a young member of a Hitler Youth group.
"But he grows, he changes, he learns," Bailey said. "And you begin to feel at least some empathy for the possibility of change."
Vicente added that it was "one of our favorites. It really surprises and we all kind of fell in love with it."
The festival kicks off Sept. 5 with the previously announced opening-night film "Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band." More films will be announced in the coming weeks.
Corrects Radioactive date to Sept. 14, not Sept. 15.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr