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

‘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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