The 45th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival is going to look a little (read: very) different this year. With most screenings online and a sharp reduction in the number of premieres – 60 feature-length films, compared to 245 last year – TIFF 2020 should be easier than ever to conquer. But you still have to know where to focus your energy and where you can’t afford to let your guard down. To that end, The Globe and Mail’s Arts team has been picking over this year’s programming with our very own virtual fine-tooth comb to bring you our most anticipated festival titles. Catch ’em all, if you can.
It is still an open question as to how busy the fall film season might get, in terms of awards bait. But leading the Oscar-campaign charge is Francis Lee’s romantic drama about the burgeoning relationship between a British paleontologist (Kate Winslet) and a geologist (Saoirse Ronan). Based on the real lives of Mary Anning and Charlotte Murchison, the drama boasts two high-wattage stars, a director who is tipped to be making a breakthrough, and an actual November, 2020 theatrical release date. The fact that Ammonite was scheduled to screen at the now-cancelled Cannes and Telluride fests only adds to the film’s cachet.
Get the Hell Out
While absolutely no one is going to be gathering en masse at Toronto’s Ryerson Theatre at 11:59 p.m. this year, TIFF’s Midnight Madness sensibility lives on with the selection of this Taiwanese martial-arts horror-comedy. Mixing political satire with gory silliness, director I-Fan Wang reportedly makes a crimson-soaked splash with his feature-length debut. Shame we won’t be able to collectively gasp – at least not more than 50 of us – when the splatter hits the fan.
With a large contingent of Hollywood fare keeping its social distance from TIFF this year, the hope among the local community is that there will be more room to highlight Canadian talent. If that ends up being the case, form a line for Fauna, the ninth film from Mexican-Canadian filmmaker Nicolas Pereda. While the film’s log line is deliberately vague – “a comedic take on how violence in Mexico has infiltrated the popular imagination” – Pereda is likely to bring his idiosyncratic, experimental approach to the subject. Prepare to watch a film unlike anything you’ve ever seen, pandemic year or not.
For five seasons, TV viewers who tuned into the APTN dramedy Mohawk Girls (it arrived on CBC this year) got a view of life on the rez as they’d probably never seen it before: sexy, contemporary and sometimes very funny. Tracey Deer, one of the show’s creators, has a track record in documentaries, and in this, her feature film debut, she tells a story inspired by her own real life: a 12-year-old girl thrust into the middle of the Oka Crisis of 1990.
The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel
When The Corporation arrived in theatres in early 2004, it became the unlikeliest hit of the year: A 145-minute documentary, equal parts sober and enraging, about the malignant growth of the institution known as the corporation. It kickstarted an extraordinary conversation. But in the intervening years, there’s been an explosion in anti-corporate documentaries that corporations seem to bat aside like houseflies. Hell, you can even catch anti-Amazon docs on Amazon’s own Prime Video movie service. And so we await this follow-up with both optimism and dread. Will it make a difference? We can only hope.
Okay, the trailer made me cry. Viggo Mortensen’s debut as writer-director, inspired by his own dysfunctional family, is the crushing story of a man (Mortensen) dealing with his homophobic, racist father (Lance Henriksen) who is afflicted by dementia. Reviews from Sundance raved about Mortensen’s sensitive, unpretentious direction and suggested that Henriksen, best known as an action star (Hard Target) may finally receive his due as an actor for this late-career turn.
The it-person at this year’s TIFF isn’t an actor or writer – it’s director Michelle Latimer, who helmed two of the hottest titles: Trickster, the upcoming CBC series based on Eden Robinson’s bestselling novel, Son of a Trickster (TIFF will screen two episodes); and Inconvenient Indian, based on Thomas King’s award-winning book. In Inconvenient Indian, Latimer – who is also an actor, and is of Algonquin, Métis and French heritage – mixes movie and archival footage and interviews with subjects including visual artist Kent Monkman and filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. I suspect that her film will showcase, in English, Inuktitut, Cree and Anishinaabemowin, truths that have been here all along in plain sight, despite how rigorously colonizers have tried to twist, hide, ignore or justify them. I suspect it might make audiences, myself included, squirm with discomfort at our own conscious and unconscious biases, misconceptions and failings. I also suspect that’s long overdue.
Midway through every TIFF, I try to treat myself to a whale-sized film, something three-plus-hours long that takes me out of the festival and sinks me into the screen. Many of these – including At Berkeley, In Jackson Heights and Ex Libris: The New York Public Library – have been made by Frederick Wiseman, the legendary documentarian who turned 90 in January. This year he’s back with City Hall, a four-hour-and-35-minute opus that observes Boston Mayor Marty Walsh from the fall of 2018 into the winter of 2019. I say “observes” because that’s Wiseman’s style – he records around 100 hours of raw footage and then shapes it into the story it wants to tell.
I Care a Lot
TIFF is a heady, challenging week. Watching three, four films a day churns up a lot of emotions, and I do a fair bit of ugly-crying. This COVID-19 year brings with it a new raft of practical and psychic challenges, too. So I’m looking forward to I Care A Lot, a British thriller written and directed by J. Blakeson. I’m a sucker for a steel-nerved conwoman, and this film’s anti-heroine, Marla (Rosamund Pike), sounds like a juicy one: She becomes the legal guardian to retirees, gaslights them and sells off their assets. One mark, played by Dianne Wiest, looks ideal – until a crime lord (Peter Dinklage) shows up with designs of his own.
Iranian film is a refreshingly different cinema, full of twisting domestic stories with unexpected developments, startling imagery and subtle metaphors. So, I’m excited to hear from a new – and female – voice, Farnoosh Samadi, who has written and directed a series of well-received short films with her collaborator Ali Asgari. Her first feature, 180° Rule, tells the story of a school teacher who disobeys her rigid husband to take her young daughter to a wedding in northern Iran, with life-altering results.
Another new voice I’m eager to hear belongs to the Canadian filmmaker Emma Seligman. She is bringing her first feature to TIFF. Shiva Baby is a comedy of awkwardness set at a shiva, the Jewish equivalent of a wake. In Seligman’s short film of the same title, the mendacious twenty-something Danielle dutifully attends the family occasion only to encounter the older man with whom she is sleeping for money. The feature version promises to explore yet more difficult encounters at the same event. Uncomfortable hilarity ensues.
This film about an elderly man slipping into dementia is another debut, but of a different nature; the French writer Florian Zeller is already well-established as a novelist (Fascination of Evil) and dramatist. Now, he directs the English-language film adaptation of his award-winning 2014 play The Father. The cast is tempting – Olivia Colman plays daughter to a father played by Anthony Hopkins – but what also intrigues me are the descriptions of how Zeller messes with the action to replicate the man’s confusion.
One Night in Miami
History meets topicality in a fictional Black alpha-male fandango that imagines a hotel-room meeting in 1964 of Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay), Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Jim Brown. It takes place on the night of Ali’s world-shocking victory over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. The film is based upon Kemp Powers’s stage play of the same name and directed by the Academy Award-winning actress Regina King. Anticipation for the film is high. Headline writers undoubtedly hope it packs a punch.
Chloé Zhao’s first two films (2015′s Songs My Brothers Taught Me and 2017′s The Rider) were set in South Dakota, and now she hits the road with Nomadland. The beloved Frances McDormand stars as a woman who leaves her home in rural Nevada for parts even more unknown. We’d follow the Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri star anywhere.
More TIFF coverage:
- TIFF 2020: How the Toronto film festival hopes to pull off a pandemic-era Hollywood ending
- TIFF 2020: Your guide to making the most of TIFF at home
- TIFF 2020: With only 50 films premiering, the festival is looking beyond the Oscar bait that built its past
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