TIFF 2019: Festival Highlights

The 44th Toronto International Film Festival opens this Thursday 5th September, with public tickets now on sale.

TIFF 2019 features new work from filmmakers such as Marielle Heller, the Safdie brothers, Pedro Almodóvar, Steven Soderbergh, Noah Baumbach, Amy Jo Johnson, Yorgos Lanthimos, Ira Sachs, Lorene Scafaria and Taika Waititi, as well as the final film from Agnès Varda. Heavy traffic is expected on the festival’s multiple red carpets with a starry guest list that includes Ellen Page, Cynthia Erivo, Idina Menzel, Nicole Kidman, Michael B. Jordan, Janelle Monáe, Sarah Paulson, Javier Bardem, Toni Collette, Jennifer Lopez, Antonio Banderas and Robert Pattinson.

This year’s festival includes 245 feature films and 82 shorts, with 36% of titles directed, co-directed, or created by women (up 1% from last year). TIFF has committed to encouraging its audience to actively support women in film, with the Share Her Journey initiative.

We’ve already highlighted some of the LGBTQ+ related features and shorts that The Queer Review is looking forward to, so here’s a rundown of the other titles we’re excited to see at TIFF 2019.

Judy. Courtesy of TIFF.

Canadian Premiere

OK, so we’re not straying too far from our LGBTQ+ focus with this Judy Garland biopic directed by Rupert Goold starring Renée Zellweger, focusing on the last year of the icon’s life based on the play End of the Rainbow. When the casting was first announced there were some serious concerns being voiced on social media, but let’s face it whoever was stepping into those ruby slippers to portray such a beloved figure would likely have been met with some degree of caution. Personally Tracie Bennet would’ve been top of our list to play her on screen having seen her stunning performance on stage in the same play that the film is based on, which received raves on both sides of the pond, but early word is that Zellweger dazzles with a stunning turn at Garland.

Screenings: Tuesday 10th September at 6pm and Wednesday 11th September at 11am.

Synonyms. Courtesy of TIFF.

Synonyms (Synonymes)
North American Premiere

Winner of the prestigious Golden Bear at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival, Nadav Lapid’s latest sees Yoav, (Tom Mercier), a young Israeli man, who has just moved to Paris with great expectations that France will save him from what he sees as the madness of his country. Things don’t get off to a great start as he discovers that the flat he’s supposed to stay in is unfurnished and completely empty, and, while taking a bath there, his belongings are stolen. Not deterred easily and desperate to erase his origins, he refuses to speak Hebrew, relying on a French dictionary as his constant companion, and to communicate with the various people he encounters. Based on the real life experiences of writer-director Nadav Lapid (The Kindergarten Teacher), Synonyms is billed as “a tragicomic puzzle about cultural identities and the challenges of putting down roots in a new place”.

Screenings: Monday 9th September at 9:45pm, Tuesday 10th September at 1pm and Saturday 14th at 5:45pm.

The Goldfinch. Courtesy of TIFF.

The Goldfinch
World Premiere

Based on Donna Tartt’s bestselling novel, The Goldfinch, is directed by BAFTA-winner John Crowley who brought us the emotionally potent, stunning period film Brooklyn and lensed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, who will be honoured by TIFF with the Variety Artisan Award at this year’s festival. Theo Decker (Ansel Elgort) was only 13 when his mother died in a museum bombing, sending him on an odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption. Through it all, he holds on to one tangible piece of hope from that terrible day: a priceless painting of a bird chained to its perch.

Screenings: Sunday 8th September at 6pm and 8pm, Monday 9th September at 12:15pm and Wednesday 11th September at 2:45pm.

Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star in Hustlers

World Premiere

Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, adapted from a New York magazine article Hustlers follows a savvy crew of strippers who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. Starring Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart, featuring Cardi B, Lizzo, Trace Lysette and Julia Stiles. Scafaria wrote the screenplay for the 2008 TIFF selection Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and TIFF 2015 title The Meddler. She’s also directed episodes of New Girl and wrote and directed the feature Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

Screenings: Saturday 7th September at 9:30pm and Sunday 8th September at 6pm.

Frankie. Courtesy of TIFF.

North American Premiere

Described in the TIFF programme notes as ” athoughtful dramedy”, the latest offereing from queer filmmaker Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On, Love is Strange) had its world premiere at Cannes and follows an aging actor (Isabelle Huppert) who summons her idiosyncratic extended family on a fateful holiday. The cast also includes Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Jérémie Renier and Greg Kinnear.

Screenings: Wednesday 11th September at 6pm and Thursday 12th September at 2:30pm.

Harriet. Courtesy of TIFF.

World Premiere

The Grammy, Tony and Emmy award winning Cynthia Erivo stars in Kasi Lemmons’ (Eve’s Bayou, Talk To Me) biopic about renowned abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and risked her life to lead others to freedom through the network of safehouses known as the Underground Railroad. The cast also features Janelle Monáe.

Screenings: Tuesday 10th September at 6pm and 8pm, Wednesday 11th September at 3pm and Saturday 14th September at 2:45pm.

Jojo Rabbit
World Premiere

Writer-director Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark, What We Do in the Shadows) satire about a young German boy who discovers a Jewish girl hiding in his home and consults with his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler (Waititi). According to TIFF’s Artistic Director, Co-head and festival programmer Cameron Bailey Jojo Rabbit “walks a precarious high wire, savaging the antisemitism of the Nazi era while identifying pointed parallels to today’s fascist groupthink.”

Screenings: Sunday 8th September at 9:30pm, Monday 9th September at 10am, Friday 13th September at 9:30pm and Sunday 15th September at 12pm.

Joker. Courtesy of TIFF.

North American Premiere

With positive reactions coming in from the Venice film festival, Todd Phillips’ standalone origin story of the iconic arch-nemesis promises to deliver one of the most talked about performances of TIFF 2019, with Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. The setting is 1981 Gotham City, inspired by New York of the same era and according to the TIFF programme notes, “part of the pleasure of watching Joker stems from its technical brilliance. Its production design and cinematography capture the supersaturated grit of a rotting Gotham. Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver course quite recognizably through the film’s veins. And Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score contributes to the feverish effect. This movie is proof that even the most familiar can begin anew.”

Screenings: Monday 9th September at 9pm, Tuesday 10th September at 2:30pm and Friday 13th September at 9:45pm.

How to Build a Girl. Courtesy of TIFF.

How to Build a Girl
World Premiere

A working-class British teenager (Beanie Feldstein) tries to reinvent herself as a hip London music critic, in this unconventional coming-of-age story based on Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel. The 1990s set comedy also stars starring Chris O’Dowd, Emma Thompson and Paddy Considine. TIFF programmer Diana Sanchez writes in the festival listing, “brimming with great music, wild escapades, and memorable cameos…How to Build a Girl is a cautionary tale about growing up fast, and slowing down just enough to get to know who you really are.”

Screenings: Saturday 7th September at 12pm, Sunday 8th September at 7:15pm and Friday 13th September at 6pm.

Marriage Story. Courtesy of TIFF.

Marriage story
Canadian Premiere

The latest offering from Oscar-nominee Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, Frances Ha, While We’re Young) is a portrait of a marriage breaking up, and a family staying together, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, with a supporting cast featuring Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta. “Baumbach’s elegant narrative goes back and forth through time, showing how Charlie and Nicole fell in love and built a life together alongside a detailed, blow-by-blow chronicle of their marital dismantling,” TIFF Artistic Director, Co-head and festival programmer Cameron Bailey.

Screenings: Sunday 8th September at 5:30pm, Monday 9th September at 11:30am, Friday 13th September at 6pm and Saturday 14th September at 2:45pm.

Knives Out. Courtesy of TIFF.

Knives Out
World Premiere

Director Rian Johnson’s (Brick, Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) latest is a whodunit about a famed southern detective (Craig) who joins forces with local police to investigate a group of eccentric suspects following the murder of a wealthy crime novelist (Christopher Plummer). The cast also features Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon and LaKeith Stanfield. TIFF festival programmer Michael Lerman enthuses in the programme notes, “irreverent, intelligent, and, most importantly, pure fun from beginning to end, Knives Out is a modern popcorn whodunit of the highest order.”

Screenings: Saturday 7th September at 6pm and Sunday 8th September at 11am.

There’s Something in the Water. Courtesy of TIFF.

There’s Something in the Water
World Premiere

Ellen Page and her Gaycation collaborator Ian Daniel bring attention to the injustices and injuries caused by environmental racism in her home province, in this urgent documentary on Indigenous and African Nova Scotian women fighting to protect their communities, their land, and their futures. “All of it is deeply sobering and scary, but like Page and Daniel we may find solace in the bravery of their subjects, who are the kind of resourceful and compassionate people you should place your bets on”, TIFF festival programmer Steve Gravestock.

Screenings: Sunday 8th September at5:45pm, Saturday 14th September at 4:15pm and Sunday 15th September at 3:30pm.

Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. Courtesy of TIFF.

Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema

Mark Cousins previous feature documentaries include The Story of Film: An Odyssey, A Story of Children and Film, The New Ten Commandments, The First Movie and What Is This Film Called Love? His latest work, Women Make Film, which runs at 840 minutes, is the continuation of an episodic film project that screened at the TIFF in 2018, with Cousins’ long-time collaborator Tilda Swinton executive producing. Women Make Film includes over 700 film clips from 183 female directors. Cousins has divided the film into the following five programmes:

Programme 1: How directors achieve tone, believability, introduce characters, capture conversations, and handle framing and tracking shots.

Screens: Saturday 7th September at 9am.

Programme 2: How directors stage scenes, capture journeys, discoveries, depict the adult child, exercise economy, editing, point of view, and close-ups.

Screens: Sunday 8th September at 9am.

Programme 3: How directors portray bodies, sexuality, home, religion, work, politics, changing gears, and comedy.

Screens: Monday 9th September at 9am.

Programme 4: How directors handle melodrama, sci-fi, depictions of hell, tension, stasis, what is left out, story reveals, memory, and time.

Screens: Tuesday 10th September at 9am.

Programme 5: How directors depict interiors, the existential, love, death, endings, and song and dance.

Screens: Wednesday 11th at 9:30am.

Varda by Agnès. Courtesy of TIFF.

Varda by Agnès (Varda par Agnès)
Canadian Premiere

The final work from the French New Wave filmmaker Agnès Varda (Faces Places) who died a month after the film premiered at Berlin, traces her legendary career and life with characteristic humour and vibrant energy, presenting a portrait of an artist who lived through her films and revealed the extraordinary in the ordinary. According to the TIFF programme notes, Varda by Agnès “offers a wide-ranging journey through her world: her filming process, her feminism, her fine-art photography, her long-time relationship with director Jacques Demy. There are signature flourishes of animation, and formal detours into the dreams that form the integral basis of her reality.”

Screens: Friday 6th September at 11:30am.

Uncut Gems. Courtesy of TIFF.

Uncut Gems
International Premiere

From acclaimed filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie (Daddy Longlegs, Heaven Knows What, Good Time) comes an electrifying crime thriller about Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score. When he makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime, Howard must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides, in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.

Screenings: Monday 9th September at 9:15pm, Tuesday 10th September at 10:30am, Saturday 14th September at 1pm and Sunday 15th September at 6pm.

Ema. Courtesy of TIFF.

North American Premiere

After a terrible accident fractures her family and her marriage, a woman sets out on a risky quest to reset her life, in this incendiary drama about art, desire, and family from Chilean director Pablo Larraín (Jackie, Neruda).

Screenings: Sunday 8th September at 9:15pm, Wednesday 11th September at 9:30pm and Sunday 15th September at 9pm.

Nimic. Courtesy of TIFF.

North American Premiere

Shifting back to shorts after his triumph with The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) demonstrates his forte for inimitably weird stories with a drama starring Matt Dillon as a classical musician whose life takes a strange direction after an encounter with a stranger on the subway.

Screens as part of Short Cuts Programme 01 on Thursday 5th September at 9pm and Thursday 12th September at 6pm.

The 44th Toronto International Film Festival runs 5th – 15th September 2019. Festival tickets are on sale now online at tiff.net, by phone at 416.599.2033 or 1.888.258.8433, or in person at a box office. See box office locations and hours at tiff.net/tickets.

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