25 Movies We Can't Wait to See at Toronto Film Festival 2019 - Rolling Stone
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25 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at Toronto Film Festival 2019

From a Brazilian Western to a Bruce Springsteen concert film — our must-see TIFF 2019 preview


Kristen Stewart in 'Seberg', Bruce Springsteen in 'Western Stars' and Eddie Murphy in 'Dolemite Is My Name'.

Courtesy of TIFF, Danny Clinch, Courtesy of TIFF

It’s the third stop on the major fall festival circuit after Venice and Telluride, the place to catch up with the best of Berlin and Cannes and the beginning of what for some films are a long, hard awards-circuit slog. But mostly, the Toronto International Film Festival is a movie lover’s dream. It’s a celebration of what the seventh art has to offer, from the sort of blockbusters and A-list prestige dramas that Hollywood loves to fawn over to experimental whatsits. You can walk out of a feel-good comedy and right into the bleakest of foreign-language dramas. Works from established auteurs five decades into a career, as well as the debuts of promising next-gen newcomers? It has those. Docs on everything from social issues to musical artists, and WTF genre flicks, and an abundance of shorts collections? Yes, yes, and yes.

There are a number of big-ticket items in the 2019 edition that kicks off on September 5th, from Todd Philips’ supervillain-meets-’70s New Hollywood franchise detour Joker to the all-star murder-mystery throwback Knives Out, that we’re insanely curious about. But the 25 movies we’ve highlighted below are a hodgepodge of different titles — a Brazilian Western, a Bruce Springsteen concert film, adaptations of an H.P. Lovecraft short story and a Charles Dickens novel, a 21st-century character study about a deaf drummer, a white-hot 18th century romance — that run the gamut of what TIFF has to offer. (There’s a slight overlap with our Fall Movie Preview, but not much.) It’s a concentrated sampling of what we can’t wait to see, or in a few cases see again, over the next week-plus.

Courtesy TIFF


Brazil, the near future. The poor denizens of a village named Bacurau find that basic amenities have become scarce. Soon, they find out why: The government is pretending that the region no longer exists and have leased the area to rich hunters, who are free to treat the working class folks are prey. (This is a work of fiction…we think.) Fortunately, a former resident (Bárbara Colen) has returned just as the shit is about to seriously hit the fan, and she has a few ideas about how the townspeople can fight back. The new film from Brazilian directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles was described as a “revisionist Western” after it premiered on the Croisette in May. It sounds like exactly the type of socially conscious, mad-as-hell genre tonic we need right now.

Courtesy TIFF

‘The Capote Tapes’

For years, Truman Capote had been threatening to write a novel that would pull back the curtain on the lifestyles of the rich and famous — specifically, the New York high society folks he called friends after becoming a literary sensation and bon vivant. He called it Answered Prayers, and after an excerpt of this scorched-earth work-in-progress ran in Playboy, he suddenly found himself persona non grata among the hoity-toity crowd. Using taped interviews between Capote and The Paris Review cofounder George Plimpton as its foundation, Ebs Burnough’s documentary explores the legacy of the late writer and late-night talk show staple, how his class aspirations affected his work and the way he perfected the art of burning bridges.


Courtesy TIFF

‘Color Out of Space’

Richard Stanley (the South African cult filmmaker behind the psychotronic 1990 sci-fi opus Hardware), a short story by H.P Lovecraft, the participation of one Nicolas Cage — our minds are already blown. A meteor touches down in a quiet New England town. A malevolent force begins to gradually take over a family living there. Quicker than you can say “scraaaaaping at the dooorrrrr,” the patriarch — played by guess who? — starts to act a little weird. Well, maybe more than a “little.” Prepare for midnight-movie greatness.

Courtesy TIFF

‘Dolemite Is My Name’

Once upon a time, Rudy Ray Moore was a comedian who recorded R&B songs on the side and put out a few stand-up albums. Then he heard someone talking about the filthy misadventures of a man named “Dolemite,” borrowed some of those blue stories for his act — and thus an obscene signifying legend was born. Eventually, Moore decided to bring his character to the screen for some low-budget kung-fu/blaxploitation films — it was the 1970s, people! — and that’s when things get really interesting. Director Craig Brewer (Hustle and Flow) retelling the saga of Dolemite is enough to get us interested. But getting Eddie Murphy (!!!) to play Moore? That’s genius, and makes this, to paraphrase the man himself, mo-ther-fuck-iiiing unmissable.

Courtesy TIFF


Chilean director Pablo Larrain has done well with this festival and movies with female monikers for titles — it’s where Jackie made its North American premiere — and this tale of a dancer (Mariana Di Girólamo) who sees her life turned topsy-turvy looks like it’ll keep the winning streak. The women-on-the-verge storyline alone sounds compelling; throw in reggaetón musical numbers, troubled children, arson, Gael García Bernal, maternal melodrama and some insanely colorful cinematography, and we’re 100-percent there.


Courtesy TIFF


God bless you, Isabelle Huppert. The actor has already given us one of 2019’s best batshit performances in Greta; now she plays an aging star who summons her ex-husbands, family members, grandkids and several close friends to Portugal for an extended “vacation.” She also has an announcement to make. Director Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On, Love Is Strange) has assembled a solid bench of supporting players — everyone from Marisa Tomei and Brendan Gleeson to French film stalwarts Pascal Greggory and Jérémie Renier — but the spotlight is on Huppert, and you can guess that she makes the most of it.


Courtesy TIFF


A billionaire (Steve Coogan) who made his fortune off of fashion is celebrating his 60th birthday on a Greek island. It is shaping up to be a lavish occasion, except there are Syrian refugees that have set up camp near his party’s location. Also, like most ridiculously wealthy businessmen, there are some skeletons in his closet — especially regarding, y’know, little things like ethics and labor practices — that are in danger of becoming public scandals. Nobody does sneering entitlement better than Coogan; nobody gets better performances out of Coogan than director Michael Winterbottom (see: The Trip movies, 24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy).

Jojo Rabbit

Courtesy TIFF

‘Jojo Rabbit’

As World War II rages on, a young German boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) frets over the fact that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl from the authorities. He only has one person to talk to regarding this moral dilemma, an imaginary friend played by the movie’s director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok). This confidant, it bears mentioning, is also an era-appropriate world historical figure. Think tiny mustache. No, not Chaplin. The guy who looks like Chaplin. Austrian guy. Failed painter. Yeah, that dude. If you only see one Hitler-related comedy this year….


Lauren Greenfield

‘The Kingmaker’

No stranger to the rich and infamously gauche (see her 2012 doc The Queen of Versailles), Lauren Greenfield trains her lens on Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines and vintage late-night-talk-show punchline. Yes, the movie mentions the whole shoe thing. But it also lets Ms. Marcos tell her story in her own words, detailing how an ex-beauty pageant contestant caught the eye of a future leader and became a politically savvy player on the world stage. More importantly, it also gives a voice to her detractors — most of whom have not forgotten the seven years of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos’ rule that gutted a generation, or that the couple have not answered for the fortune that stole from their Filipino people, or how the family is still trying to consolidate political power in some questionable ways.


Courtesy TIFF

‘Marriage Story’

There’s already a deafening just-give-’em-all-the-Oscars-now chatter over Noah Baumbach’s depiction of a matrimonial union rent asunder, especially regarding the performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. He’s a playwright. She’s an actor. They’re in the middle of what could be categorized as a nuclear-grade divorce, and Baumbach’s film pinballs between both sides of the story, as well charting how these two middle-class bohemians fell in love, started a family and watched their relationship turn toxic over the course of time. It’s a 21st century Kramer vs. Kramer by all accounts.


Courtesy TIFF

‘Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band’

He wrote his first song at 15 — then Robbie Robertson, along with some likeminded Canadian musicians, began honing his chops in bars while backing Ronnie Hawkins. Eventually, the young man and his collaborators would hook up with Dylan and form The Band…and the rest is rock & roll history. Daniel Roher’s profile digs in to the good, the bad and the ugly of the groundbreaking group, as well as Robertson’s solo career, personal ups and downs and what he’s learned along the way. “It’s a goddamn impossible way of life,” the man once said about the road. He survived it, and still lives to tell the tale.


Courtesy TIFF

‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’

Sure, you’ve endured more than your fair share of Masterpiece Theater-style Dickens’ flicks, including several takes on the author’s serialized story of a plucky young lad making his way in 19th-century Londontown. But have you seen one done by Armando Iannucci, the brilliant, biting satirist behind The Thick of It, In the Loop and Veep? No, you have not. Expectations are high for this latest version of Mr. Copperfield’s wild ride, with Dev Patel as Davey C. and a supporting cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Gwendoline Christie, Ben Whishaw, ex-Doctor Who Peter Capaldi, Benedict Wong, Hugh Laurie and undoubtedly enough British character actors to stock several dozen Harry Potter movies.


Courtesy TIFF

‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’

Marianne (Noémie Merlant) has been hired to paint the portrait of a beautiful young woman living in Brittany and destined for marriage to 18th-century nobility. Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is her headstrong subject, who’s unaware that this new companion has been sent to sketch her. Cue a white-hot passion that can be contained by neither repressive social notions nor corsets. You may not see a more achingly romantic, heartbreaking, gorgeously rendered love story this year, and what these two actors and French filmmaker Céline Sciamma (Girlhood) accomplish with this modest period piece is nothing short of a miracle. It lives up to its title in more ways than one.


Courtesy TIFF


Based on the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss — and adapted by author/artist/filmmaker Marjane Satrapi, no stranger to comic-to-screen translations — this drama about the life and times of Marie Curie (Rosamund Pike) depicts her struggle to be recognized in a time period that devalued women’s achievements. (Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.) Emigrating from Poland to Paris, meeting Pierre Curie (Control‘s Sam Riley), publishing gamechanging scientific research, winning Nobel Prizes in both chemistry and physics: it’s all here.


Courtesy of Amazon Studios


We’re getting a number of biopics on great women of the past this year — only one of them will star Kristen Stewart as a pixie-haired starlet who played Joan of Arc and helped turn Breathless into the beginning of a revolution. (Behold, the missing link between Godard and Paint Your Wagon!) Benedict Andrews’ look back at the actor starts in 1968, just as the Iowa native is becoming politically radicalized and attracting the attention of the FBI, including an agent (Jack O’Connell) who begins to sympathize too much with his subject. In a perfect world, this portrait will be worth its weight in copies of the New York Herald Tribune.


Courtesy TIFF

‘Sound of Metal’

A heavy metal drummer (Riz Ahmed) can’t seem to shake the constant ringing in his ears. Soon, however, he begins to lose his hearing altogether — which not only threatens his music career and his relationship with his bandmate/life partner (Olivia Cooke), but also his own sense of self. Director-cowriter Darius Marder work double-time to immerse viewers in their hero’s world, creating the sensation of being trapped in — and then adapting to — a landscape in which negotiating life one sound at a time is no longer an option. And really, who wouldn’t want to see Ahmed as someone who goes from executing vicious double-bass fills to existential despair to enlightenment?


Courtesy TIFF


The big winner at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, the latest from Israeli director Nadav Lapid (Policeman, The Kindergarten Teacher) tags along with a soldier (Tom Mercier) who decides to ditch military service for the motherland and leave the country. He heads to France, despite the fact that he barely knows a word of French; when a wealthy couple takes him in after his belongings are stolen, the stranger in a strange land quickly immerses himself in all things Gallic. Based loosely on Lapid’s own experience after moving to Paris, it’s been described as a satirical look at Israeli masculinity, European intellectuals and the boho ideal of being an ex-pat in the City of Light. Sold!


Courtesy TIFF

‘The Traitor’

One of the last of the Italian-cinema giants left standing — his scorching angry-young-man screed Fists in the Pocket was released in 1965, and is screening for free at the fest — the 79-year-old Marco Bellocchio drops an ambitious, sprawling look at Tommaso Buscetta, a boss in the Sicilian cosa nostra who narrowly avoided getting bumped off in Brazil. He eventually decides to cooperate with the authorities in their case against organized crime. Given the Mafia’s traditional stance on snitching, let’s say that this does not make him very popular with his fellow capos. It’s epic character study, a compelling court drama, a gloriously insult-driven crime saga, the perfect showcase for international superstar Pierfrancesco Favino and proof that Bellocchio has not mellowed with age.


Courtesy TIFF

‘True History of the Kelly Gang’

He’s Australia’s version of Jesse James, the subject of outlaw ballads and outback-rebel mythology — both Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger have played him in movies. Now we get a new take on Ned Kelly, courtesy of filmmaker Justin Kurtzel, the man behind that recent bloody, grotty take on Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender. British actor George MacKay plays the down-under gang leader of yore; Russell Crowe is his mentor in all things criminal; Nicholas Hoult and Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnam are along for the ride.


Courtesy TIFF

‘The Truth’

A beloved French actress (Catherine Deneuve — also French, an actress and beloved) is publishing her memoirs, much to the dismay of her daughter (Juliette Binoche) and son-in-law (Ethan Hawke). Then the star’s assistant quits right before her new film is set to begin, so her already-annoyed offspring decides to temporarily take the position…and things quickly go from bad to unbearably tense. A poet of Japanese family dynamics, filmmaker extraordinaire Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters, Still Walking, Nobody Knows) shifts his attention overseas for a different look at the ties that bind, reminding us that the concept of old wounds being reopened and longheld filial grudges being trotted out have a tendency to cut across cultural lines.


Courtesy TIFF

‘Uncut Gems’

If you’ve seen Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time, you know these brothers have a knack for sustaining tension and putting actors through their paces. Now the filmmaking siblings hope to do for Adam Sandler what they did for Robert Pattinson, i.e. scuzz him up, jangle his nerves and run him ragged. The Sandman plays a hustling New York City jeweler who comes across a too-good-to-be-true deal involving gems stuck inside a large chunk of stone — if he can procure this smuggled item and auction it off, he can make a fortune. That, naturally, is not as easy as it sounds. The Safdies have been trying to make this movie for years; the fact that they finally got enough clout to get it down with someone who can bring a whole other level of manicness to the role feels like kismet.


Courtesy TIFF

‘Varda by Agnes’

“Nothing is banal if you film people with empathy and love.” Borrowing the title from a book she published in the 1990s, the swan song from the late, great Agnes Varda finds the French filmmaker ruminating on life, death, men, women, art, photography, literature, cats (naturally), the spring of one’s youth and facing your autumnal years. And, of course, cinema — the creative element that connected, reflected and refracted so much of those subjects for this nouvelle vague-and-beyond legend. Varda’s loss was, and is, incalculable. The chance to spend a few more hours with her is too good to pass up.


Courtesy TIFF

‘The Vast of Night’

Imagine a Steven Spielberg-esque, gee-whiz throwback about strange happenings in 1950s small town U.S.A., complete with bright young techno-savvy nerds, mysterious transmissions and a pinch of Roswell paranoia. Now scale back the big-budget bells and whistles while upping the imagination factor substantially. One of the stronger picks of the fest’s Midnight Madness program, this ingenious debut from director Andrew Patterson has been kicking around the festival circuit all year and quietly wowing audiences by the dozens; it knows exactly how to work its retro Twilight Zone mojo without feeling like a third-generation copy of film-brat nostalgia.


Courtesy TIFF


A promising high school wrestler (Luce‘s Kelvin Harrison Jr.) tries to balance the pressures of living with a dad (Sterling K. Brown) who pushes him to his limits, a potentially season-ending injury, girlfriend trouble and being a young black man in America. Then tragedy strikes, and the story shifts to his sister (Taylor Russell), a shy girl falling in love with a charmingly awkward fellow student (Lucas Hedges). To say that this new film from Trey Edward Shults, the 30-year-old filmmaker behind Krisha and It Comes at Night, is ambitious would be putting it mildly; love it or hate it, he’s made a sprawling, painfully emotional American drama that confirms he’s a real-deal auteur.


Courtesy TIFF

‘Western Stars’

After he put out his brilliant Western Stars this past May, Bruce Springsteen mentioned that he had no plans to tour behind the album. He did hint, however, that he’d performed the whole thing live, from start to finish, for a small audience in his barn — and had filmed the show for posterity. Now, thanks to Bruce and his co-director/longtime collaborator Thom Zimny, you’ll get to see the man himself rip though “The Wayfarer,” “Tucson Train” and other cuts from his sunbaked country-inflected record. The trailer suggests there’s a whole lotta soul-searching going on between cuts as well.

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