The 12 Best Movies of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival
This year's TIFF had a lot of exciting fall movies, but the highlights of the festival were more than just the buzziest titles.
By Eric Kohn, Kate Erbland, Chris O'Falt, Anne Thompson, David Ehrlich
Sep 14, 2019 12:26 pm
Everyone is having the best time in Rian Johnson’s latest, a nifty “whodunnit” that capitalizes on his immense skill as both a storyteller and a director capable of getting the best out of even the most sprawling of casts. (Also having the best time: the audience.) While having big stars like Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, and Toni Collette all crammed into one feature is a daunting enterprise for any filmmaker, Johnson wisely deploys them into a stacked ensemble appropriately filled with colorful, wacky characters who aren’t exactly deserving of anyone’s trust. A murder?! Oh, that’s just icing on the cake. Built around the charms of both star Ana de Armas (yes, even with all that better-known star power, it’s the “Blade Runner 2049” breakout who owns this film) and Johnson’s dexterity with a genre-subverting screenplay, “Knives Out” both embraces the constraints of an old-fashioned Agatha Christie murder mystery and spins them off into fresh territory. A crowdpleaser through and through, Johnson isn’t shy about weaving a complex story that trusts its audience to pay attention to the details, even as they’re busy chuckling about the antics of the rich and wild Thrombey family. Whodunnit? Who cares when the trip there is this much fun? —KE
Toronto: 'Joker,' 'Knives Out' Star Chris Evans Dominated Twitter During Festival
6:48 PM PDT 9/15/2019 by Etan Vlessing
The Twitter Canada rankings reflect the most popular films and actors based on total mentions in tweets during the event's Sept. 5-15 run.
Toronto Film Festival chatter on Twitter during the 2019 edition was dominated by Hollywood's early award season contenders, Twitter Canada said Sunday.
Twitter conversations during TIFF's Sept. 5 -15 run made Todd Phillips' Joker, Joaquin Phoenix's take on the Batman villain that scored the top prize in Venice, the most mentioned movie title in Toronto, the social media site reported.
The film rankings from Toronto was followed by Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, which stars Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B and was released theatrically this weekend, in second place, and Kristen Stewart's Seberg in third.
And the most popular actors in Toronto, based on Twitter mentions over the last 11 days, put Knives Out star Chris Evans in first place, followed by The Friend star Dakota Johnson in second and Robert Pattinson, co-star of The Lighthouse, in third.
The Toronto Film Festival wrapped Sunday with Taika Waititi's anti-hate dramedy Jojo Rabbit earning the top audience award.
ROLLING STONE: 12 Best Movies at Toronto Film Festival 2019
From an A-list murder mystery to Romanian documentary on corruption, lies and journalism — these were the dozen films that earned TIFF’s best-of-the-fest status
Every person who heads to the Toronto International Film Festival — especially those who hope to take the pulse of the upcoming awards-circuit season — comes with certain expectations. Maybe these notions are industry-driven (the trades and the prognosticators says A and B are the big films to beat for months now!). Maybe they’re personal (I love X and Y, and can’t wait to see their latest work!). Maybe a few things that premiered in Venice or sneak-previewed in Telluride just a week or so prior have already had tastemakers’ tongues wagging, and thus had your curiosity piqued once you hit the Canadian ground running.
And inevitably, once everything is said and done some 10 days and god-knows-how-many movies later, everybody leaves with one or two suspicions confirmed…and a helluva of lot of expectations upended.
For example, a lot of folks figured that Tom Hanks’ portrayal of famed children’s-TV host Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood would be strong enough to garner him Oscar buzz (it is, and it should). Ditto Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story, a scathing tale of divorce among the bicoastal showbiz set. (Yes x 1000.) Almost no one came in thinking that people would be saying the same things about, say, Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers and Renee Zellweger in Judy, but guess who’s currently favored to go head to head in the Best Actress slot? The odds were against Joker being talked about as a potential Best Picture nominee lock, at least before it won the Golden Lion in Venice (!?!), and very much for The Goldfinch. Let’s just suggest that that conversation has now substantially changed.
It’s part of the fun of TIFF, getting a jump on what’s going to be talked about over the remainder of the filmgoing year. It’s also a chance to catch up with stuff that played the fest-circuit earlier in the year and have the opportunity to be blindsided by a few left-field titles. The 12 best-of titles below are a mix of all of the above — a dozen gems that thrilled us, chilled us, knocked us for a loop or simply left us grinning like a loon.
(Honorable mentions go to: Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness; Anne at 13,000 Ft., especially for Deragh Campbell’s performance; Color Out of Space; Dolemite Is My Name; Ford v Ferrari, notably for Christian Bale somehow finding the exact midpoint between likable scallywag and total dickwad; Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, which took home the festival’s big audience award; the Imelda Marcos doc The Kingmaker; Sea Fever, a sort of Irish Alien on a boat; the Mafioso drama The Traitor; Waves, primarily for Sterling K. Brown once again proving he’s one of the three greatest actors alive; the Springsteen concert movie-cum-visual album Western Stars; and Mark Cousins’ brilliant five-part doc series Women Make Film.)
In which writer-director Rian Johnson attempts to resurrect a somewhat dormant genre — the all-star A-list whodunnit mystery — and delivers a typically idiosyncratic take on familiar material while still bringing the fun. A bestselling author (Christopher Plummer) is found in his tony estate, his throat slit. All of his family members, played by [deep breath] Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon and Katherine Langford, have their reasons for wanting him gone; so, potentially, does his South American nurse (Ana de Armas). It’s up to supersleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig!), a Poirot by way of Lake Pontchartrain, to figure out what happened. And the fact that Johnson has slyly embedded some real-world concerns into the escapism only makes it that much more impressive.
TIFF 2019 Report Card: Critics Rank the Best Films and Performances 322 critics voted in the survey, which diverged from the TIFF People's Choice Award for the second year in a row.
By Eric Kohn and Christian Blauvelt
Some movies launch their awards season buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival; others use it to pick up steam. On the final day of this year’s TIFF, the coveted People’s Choice Award went to Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” a week after its premiere. However, IndieWire’s annual TIFF Critics Survey of the best films and performances at the festival tells a different story, singling out a movie that has been generating acclaim for months.
Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” took the top spot for Best Narrative, marking the first time in several years that the survey winner isn’t a movie launching on the fall festival circuit. Meanwhile, Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” topped categories for Best Screenplay and Best Performance for Adam Driver. “Collective,” a Romanian documentary that has yet to secure North American distribution, topped the Best Documentary category.
The “Parasite” win is the latest achievement in the life of a movie that keeps finding more fans. The Korean auteur’s Palme d’Or winner, about a family of con artists who overtake an affluent household, also topped IndieWire’s Cannes Critics Survey earlier this year. Bong also topped the category for Best Director and surfaced in the top five for Best Screenplay.
With 322 critics and other accredited TIFF journalists from around the world voting in the survey, the outcome is the latest indication of the robust support for “Parasite” as the movie gathers steam this fall.
Already a box office hit in Korea, “Parasite” next screens at the New York Film Festival, and hits theaters in North America on October 11 via Neon. The distributor is leaning on longstanding reverence for the filmmaker and his accomplishment here is a key factor in its burgeoning awards campaign, which is built around expectations for the movie to crack major Oscar categories beyond Best International Film (though many expect it to be a shoo-in there, where no Korean film has even been nominated before).
The positioning of “Parasite” at the top of IndieWire’s critics survey — in spite of the many newer titles at this year’s TIFF — is the latest indication of the widespread support for Bong and the intricate dark comedy he has constructed. However, critics aren’t Oscar prognosticators, and their favorites don’t always portend the momentum of an awards season frontrunner.
For the second year in a row, the outcome of the survey diverged from the TIFF People’s Choice Award: Last year, when that prize went to future Best Picture winner “Green Book,” the IndieWire Critics Survey winner was “Roma.” With Cuarón eventually winning three Oscars, “Roma” was another acclaimed foreign-language title that parlayed critical support to major awards season stature, but came up short of a Best Picture win. (In 2017, the survey winner was “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which also won the People’s Choice Award.)
Waititi’s whimsical Nazi satire “Jojo” wasn’t entirely absent from the survey. The movie did rank in the top five best narrative features of the festival, just behind Noah Baumbach’s divorce saga “Marriage Story,” another major fall release heading to NYFF in its Centerpiece slot. The Netflix-produced drama is the only fall entry playing at all four major awards-friendly fall festivals – Venice, Telluride, TIFF, and NYFF — and its wins for Best Screenplay and Best Performance correlate with the buzz it has been receiving at each of its festival stops to date. The other finalists in the Best Performance category speak to the range of performances that generated buzz at TIFF this year, from Joaquin Phoenix’s deranged super villain in “Joker” to Jennifer Lopez as a scheming stripper in “Hustlers.”
As usual, the movies at the top of each category only tell part of the story. Other major TIFF titles that received significant support include Rian Johnson’s playful whodunit “Knives Out” and Trey Shults’ operatic family drama “Waves.”
None of the categories, however, speak to the specificity of this survey more than Best Documentary. That’s where “Collective,” director Alexander Nanau’s look at the role of several journalists in exposing a health-care conspiracy, nabbed the top spot. The movie premiered in Venice and found many supporters at TIFF but continues to search for distribution, which makes it an unlikely awards contender in a crowded field of non-fiction entries. Nevertheless, “Collective” is exactly the sort of festival discovery that critics love to champion, and it landed a spot on IndieWire’s Memo to Distributors feature out of this year’s festival. In the survey, the movie came in just ahead of “Varda By Agnes,” the compendium of masterclasses that marks the final directing credit from the late French New Wave legend Agnes Varda, and National Geographic’s Syrian war thriller “The Cave,” which opened the TIFF Docs section.
Check out the full list of top films from each category below. BEST NARRATIVE FILM
Based on a ranked Top 3.
1. “Parasite” (10% of overall vote and 17% of first-place votes)
2. “Marriage Story” (9% of overall vote and 13% of first-place votes)
3. “Jojo Rabbit” (6% of overall vote and 8% of first-place votes)
4. “Knives Out” (6% of overall votes and 6% of first-place votes)
5. “Joker” (5% of overall votes and 5% of first-place votes)
These Top 5 alone account for 36% of all overall votes and 49% of first-place votes with all other narrative films in the lineup accounting for the remainder.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM
Based on a Ranked Top 3.
1. “Collective” (5% of overall vote and 12% of first-place votes)
2. “Varda by Agnes” (5% of overall votes and 8% of first-place votes)
3. “The Cave” (4% of overall votes and 8% of first-place votes)
4. “The Kingmaker” (4% of overall votes and 7% of first-place votes)
5. “Western Stars” (4% of overall votes and 5% of first-place votes)
BEST DIRECTED FILM (NARRATIVE OR FEATURE)
A single vote was cast for this section – percentages indicate the amount of the overall total vote each film received.
1. “Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho (15.72%)
2. “Joker,” Todd Phillips (7.23%)
3. “Waves,” Trey Edward Shults (6.92%)
4. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Marielle Heller (6.6%)
5. “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach (6.29%)
A single vote was cast for this section – percentages indicate the amount of the overall total vote each film received.
1. “Marriage Story” (20.57%)
2. “Knives Out” (14.87%)
3. “Parasite” (9.81%)
4. “Jojo Rabbit” (8.86%)
5. “The Two Popes” (4.11%)
Based on write-in votes.
1. Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
2. Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
3. Adam Sandler, “Uncut Gems”
4. Jennifer Lopez, “Hustlers”
5. Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
GQ: The Nine Movies You Need to See This Fall Based on what we saw at the Toronto International Film Festival. By Oliver Whitney
September 16, 2019
A few weeks ago, we came to you with a list of the movies we were most excited to see this fall. Since then, GQ's gone to the Toronto International Film Festival, where we had the chance to see some actual contenders. Here are our biggest takeaways.
It’s a miracle anyone could find a way to breathe invigorating life into the murder mystery film, but thankfully, Rian Johnson is perfect for the job. His Knives Out is a wildly entertaining whodunit with more on its mind than solving a murder. After the patriarch of a wealthy white family, Christopher Plummer’s Harlan Thrombey, is found dead after his 85th birthday, his greedy relatives become embroiled in an investigation led by Lakeith Stanfield’s detective and Daniel Craig’s Southern P.I. The giddy fun of watching Knives Out isn’t in trying to solve the mystery (its twists are expected, and it loses momentum in an overly drawn-out explanation near the end) but in watching an excellent cast continually one-up each other. You'll almost certainly walk away from Knives Out with a favorite performance, whether Toni Collette’s riotous parody of a lifestyle guru to Chris Evans as the family black sheep dirtbag or the movie's real breakout, Ana de Armas, (Blade Runner 2049) as Harlan’s caretaker.
So many Hitlers: On the biggest trends from the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival
Noel Murray September 17, 2019
One of the defining moments of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival happened thousands of miles away, in Italy. On Saturday — day three of the fest — the news broke that that the grim-'n'-gritty comic book thriller Joker had won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. Joker hadn't screened in Toronto yet, but fest-goers were already abuzz. Did a movie about a Batman super-villain really just win one of international cinema's biggest awards? Could it become an Oscar contender? Had the movie world gone as mad as the real world?
Joker proved just as divisive after its TIFF premiere. Joaquin Phoenix's nervy performance as a mentally ill comedian is undeniably remarkable, but many critics (myself included) found the movie tedious until its final 20 minutes, when the title character drags a whole city into his psychosis. Only at the end does Joker's warmed-over hash of Taxi Driver and Fight Club come to a point, having to do with the media's at-times dangerous attraction to unhinged oddballs.
Still, while Joker will undoubtedly find some fervent fans, the film felt out of place at his year's TIFF. In 2019, the best Toronto movies did indeed grapple with serious subjects: like fascism, corruption, divorce, income inequality, and the end-times. But they did so with more creativity, wit, and showmanship than Joker.
Here's just some of what film buffs can look forward to in the months ahead, as the multiplexes fill up with award-worthy movies trying to reflect our reality — and in some cases trying to shape it. Hi, Hitler!
Last year, Toronto audiences gave the race-relations dramedy Green Book the festival's "People's Choice Award" — an upset over Alfonso Cuarón's semi-autobiographical masterpiece Roma, in what turned out to be a preview of the 2018-19 Oscar race. This year, the people picked Jojo Rabbit, a whimsical World War II comedy, about a German boy whose loyalties are divided between his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (played by the movie's writer-director Taika Waititi) and the Jewish teenager his mother is hiding in the attic.
Jojo Rabbit may be too cutesy and eccentric to win any Oscars. But it's a fun film, with a meaningful reminder that turbulent times eventually pass. The movie argues that even the smallest gestures of human kindness and compassion matter, when the social order collapses.
That's also the theme of the more somber A Hidden Life, director Terrence Malick's visually lush, three-hour examination of the life of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis in 1943 because he refused to swear loyalty to Hitler. A Hidden Life is intense, bordering on grueling at times. But it's also frequently transcendent, as it explores the spiritual dimension of resisting immoral leaders.
There's a Hitler cameo in About Endlessness, Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson's latest exercise in elaborately choreographed, stubbornly deadpan absurdism. The movie consists of a series of sketches about everyday calamities and despair. At one point, Andersson depicts Hitler's final hours on Earth, in a scene no more or less significant than a later shot of some random schmo's broken-down car. Andersson's larger point is similar to Malick's and Waiti's: No matter what, the world keeps turning, revolving daily through darkness and light.
The most clever use of Nazis at this year's TIFF though came courtesy of writer-director Rian Johnson, whose lively murder mystery Knives Out sprinkles "alt-right" activists into its story of an obscenely wealthy family. Slyly political, the movie pits the blue-bloods against one of their employees (well-played by Ana de Armas), who may know more than she pretends about their patriarch's death.
Johnson is paying homage here to the classic 1970s and '80s movie and TV mysteries, many of which were similarly concerned with the arrogance of the rich. Knives Out dazzles with the intricacy of its storytelling, the delightful hamminess of its performances (from the likes of Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, and Don Johnson), and its optimism that simple human decency can prevail over self-serving greed.
The plots thicken ...
Knives Out exemplified a welcome trend at this year's TIFF: Riotously entertaining movies with impressively tricky plotting. The international cops-and-crooks thriller The Whistlers (about narcotics agents so deeply undercover that nothing they say can be taken at face value), the art-word Euro-noir The Burnt Orange Heresy (about a desperate critic trying to charm a famously reclusive painter) and the low-budget alien-invasion saga The Vast of Night (about two early '60s New Mexico teenagers investigating paranormal phenomena) are all stylish, well-acted, and masterfully told stories, first and foremost. They're a pleasure to watch, and admirable for their craft.
Some of these stories serve a larger purpose. The jaunty true-crime picture Bad Education stars Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney as Long Island public school administrators, caught up in an embezzlement scandal. Director Cory Finley and screenwriter Mike Makowsky spring surprises throughout the film, toying with the audience's sympathy. But anyone paying close attention to Bad Education should pick up on its deeply embedded critique of how inadequately compensated public servants are for the value they add to communities.
There are no such lessons in the white-knuckle suspense movie Uncut Gems ... but that doesn't make the movie any less magnificent. Adam Sandler (in a career-best performance) plays a gambling-addicted New York diamond dealer, who over the course of several days is juggling multiple make-or-break deals and a series of crazy high-roller bets. The writer-director team of Josh and Benny Safdie plunge viewers into the bedlam of their anti-hero's life, as it careens out of control.
Like the best plot-driven pictures, Uncut Gems is an experience, leaving viewers giddy and exhausted at the end — and perhaps happy that their own lives are comparatively saner.
Waiting for the end of the world
Almost as harrowing as Uncut Gems, writer-director Noah Baumbach's riveting Marriage Story (the first runner-up for this year's People's Choice Award) stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as New York theater-folk going through a divorce. Though it features Baumbach's usual sharp dialogue and keen observations, Marriage Story also has the urgency of a courtroom thriller, as the two exes — given equally sympathetic treatment by Baumbach — find themselves in competing "must-win" scenarios, regretting how the legal system forces them to confront their failures.
The death of the marriage in Marriage Story doesn't represent anything more than itself. Yet there's an underlying relevance here too, as these two characters endure one of the worst experiences of their lives, and somehow make it through. The movie is heartbreaking, but not pessimistic.
Overall, there were fewer howls of despair in Toronto this year, and a lot more, "Okay, now what?" In the monster movie Sea Fever, a fishing boat gets snared by a beast with poison-oozing tentacles, and the conversation among the crew slowly turns from "How can we kill this thing?" to "How far are we willing to go to survive?" In the animated Japanese fantasy-romance Weathering with You, two kids struggle to bring sunshine to a perpetually rainy near-future Tokyo, but soon wonder if their time might be better spent learning to live in a flooded city.
Over and over at this year's TIFF, filmmakers asked the same question: How should we react to impossible situations? Should we be like the late children's show host Fred Rogers — played gracefully by Tom Hanks in the tear-jerking slice-of-life A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — and urge people to love and appreciate each other? Should we be like the late comedian Rudy Ray Moore — played with infectious gusto by Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name — and create our own opportunities to succeed?
Or should we be like the family in Bong Joon-ho's wonderfully wicked Parasite, and just grab whatever we can? The winner of this year's Palme D'Or at Cannes — and the second runner-up for TIFF's People's Choice Award — Parasite is like a much more artful, enjoyable version of Joker. Both films are about class divisions, and an uprising of the downtrodden. But in Bong's story, the heroes are a lovably scruffy clan of grifters, who work their way into the lives of a rich family and exploit them ... until a startling mid-movie twist derails their schemes.
Smart, funny, exciting, and hooky, Parasite shared the strengths of the other great films that played Toronto this year. Our best filmmakers aren't ignoring the many ways our world seems to be sliding into chaos. They're yanking their audiences right into the mayhem, and helping us enjoy the ride.