The 44th Toronto International Film Festival will, like the editions that have gone before, will see the emergence of a clutch of Oscar favourites. The focus of observers will be not only on the film that wrests the festival’s coveted Audience Choice Award, but also on a host of other buzz-generating titles By Saibal Chatterjee
World cinema greats like Pedro Almodovar (with the autobiographical Pain and Glory, which fetched Antonio Banderas the best actor award in Cannes), Bong Joon Ho (whose Parasite bagged the Palme d’Or this year) and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth (follow-up to the 2018 Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters) in the TIFF program seeking to launch their Oscar bids.Which are the other TIFF films that have the power to capture attention in the awards season?
Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, isn’t premiering in TIFF. The Netflix film arrives in Toronto after competing in Venice. The indie director’s new drama, which delves into a once-happy marriage falling apart under the weight of the clashing individual compulsions of the partners, promises to be one of the buzziest titles at the festival. Marriage Story, ironically focused on a divorce, also has notable performances from Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta Both Driver and Johansson have another title each in the TIFF 2019 programme – the former is in The Report, the latter in Jojo Rabbit. Both films are expected to be talked about in the lead-up to the Oscars.
Another film that is most certainly up for Oscar glory is the Tom Hanks starrer A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, directed by Marielle Heller. While Hanks is one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars, Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? earned three Oscar nominations earlier this year, including two in acting categories (for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant.
In A Beautiful Day…, one of over one hundred world premieres in this year’s TIFF line-up, Hanks plays children’s television host Fred Rogers who becomes the subject of a profile for a cynical, reluctant New York journalist (Matthew Rhys).
The TV personality’s wisdom and generosity transforms the writer who starts out with the intention of rustling up a superficial writeup. But the encounter turns out to be much more than that. The film is based on Tom Junod’s Esquire article about his experiences with Rogers.
Todd Phillips’ Joker, a comic book movie with a difference, narrates the origin story of the arch-villain. The eponymous character is played with customary vim and vigour by Joaquin Phoenix. While the lead performance will surely be on the Academy’s radar leading up to Oscar night in 2020, the film is in with a chance to become the second comic book movie (after Black Panther) to earn a Best Picture nomination.
This searing portrait of the quintessential bad guy is set in early 1980s crime-infested Gotham City. The cast of Joker includes Robert De Niro as a talk show host who is idolised by Arthur Fleck, a hard-up clown who aspires to be a successful stand-up comic and, thwarted in more ways than he can countenance, lets the demon inside him wrest control of his being and turn him into a crazed killer.
We will also be keeping an eye on the flight of The Goldfinch, the John Crowley film that Warner Bros. will launch at TIFF. Starring Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort, the film adapts a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt about a layered coming-of-age crime story woven around a young man who loses his mother in an art museum bombing.
Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio that won the 2017 Best Picture Oscar for The Shape of Water, will bet big this year with Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit, another buzzy TIFF world premiere.
The inventive film centres on a German boy who, on discovering a Jewish girl hiding in his home, consults his imaginary best friend Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi himself).
Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, is a sharp dramatization of the Panama Paper leaks, which revealed the unsavoury world of global finance. Adapted from an investigative journalist’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reportage, the film has been scripted by Scott Z. Burns, who also has his own directorial project, The Report, in TIFF.
The Report, a powerful expose of CIA’s torture tactics, stars Adam Driver as an investigator deployed by the US Senate to probe the country’s use of third-degree methods post-9/11.
The cast includes Annette Bening, who could well be in Best Supporting Actress Oscar contention for her part in a political thriller that tracks one man’s dogged, half-decade pursuit of answers to many questions triggered by CIA’s unbridled use of torture as a tool of investigation.
Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, which world premieres at TIFF, could make amends for the total snub that the Scottish director’s most recent film, The Death of Stalin, received from the Academy. The new film is bolstered by a cast of proven actors – Dev Patel plays David Copperfield and is supported by Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw and Hugh Laurie. Iannucci imparts a decidedly contemporary sensibility to the Charles Dickens 19th century classic.
TIFF hosts the North American premiere of Benedict Andrews’ Seberg, the biopic of French nouvelle vague icon Jean Seberg. The titular role is played by Kristen Stewart in a drama in which the FBI turns the spotlight on the actor owing to her growing friendship with civil rights activist Hakim Jamal. Among the less fancied titles that might acquire a higher profile by the end of the festival is Cory Finley’s Bad Education, starring Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney and Ray Romano. It is based on a true story of a financial crime in the US school system.
This film, as much a character study as a dramatized account of a massive coverup of a scandal. Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet, featuring Tonywinning Broadway actor Cynthia Erivo, is another film that has the potential to attract wide awards season attention. It is the rousing biopic of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and led other to freedom through a network of safehouses known as the Underground Railroad.